Italy was at the top of my list of places to visit for quite some time. I heard the country was incredibly beautiful, so my expectations were pretty high. But from the moment I touched down in Milan, I was overwhelmed by just how picturesque my surroundings were.
It was a spur of the moment, last-minute trip, prompted by an outrageous deal on airfare to Milan that was impossible to pass up. I could only get away for 3 full days, so I was on a mission to make every minute count. Mission accomplished.
Getting there: As mentioned above, the flight to Milan from New York was a steal. I’m always hunting for bargain prices on airfare and have found that being open-minded about where you travel to is advantageous, plus it’s exciting! One travel site I like to use is Kayak Explore. It allows you to input the month you’d like to travel in and then pulls up average airfare prices all across the globe for that specific time. It just so happened that in September of last year, Milan was great deal.
If you haven’t already noticed, I’m a big fan of renting a vehicle and hitting the road yourself. An international driving permit is easy to obtain and this option allows you to be in control of your travels and it lets you explore much more. A Fiat 500 was the mode of transportation this time around and proved to be very suitable. You can rent a car right at Malpensa airport in Milan and be on your way. I had little time to spare and wanted to get down to the coast so I left Milan behind, with the plan to spend some time there the night before the flight back home. La Spezia would be the next stop, before heading to Cinque Terre, where I would ultimately leave a piece of my heart.
Where to stay: Le Ville Relais in La Spezia was where I ended up after driving down from Milan. This was a great spot to unwind, get familiar with Italian hospitality and take in the view from the infinity pool- wow! Le Ville Relais is a fairly small property consisting of two houses alongside a steep hill overlooking the waters of the Gulf of La Spezia. The property managers are very warm and take great care of the grounds. Breakfast on the patio outdoors with a panoramic view of the water and port city below was a pure delight.
Grand Hotel Portovenere could possibly the best place to stay if you plan on visiting Cinque Terre. The hotel is in Porto Venere, which is not one of the five little village towns that make up Cinque Terre, but it’s just as lovely, if not more so! It’s also just a quick ferry ride away. The hotel was recently renovated but it looks and feels like it’s brand new. Seaside rooms have incredible views of the harbor and the fairytale town built around it. The property is modern and sophisticated but also very warm. It ties in well with the atmosphere in Porto Venere.
Hotel Château Monfort offers a luxurious stay. There is a genuine castle-like feel about the hotel, located right in the heart of Milan. The service is exceptional and the rooms are whimsical, elegant, romantic and incredibly imaginative- something out of a dream! I also loved the playful bunny rabbit theme they had going throughout the hotel. Very cute. Didn’t get to dine at the hotel restaurant but I can say that a cocktail at the lounge bar is a must!
Must see/do: Cinque Terre is a magical place. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Five little fishing villages perfectly built into the landscape. Each one with impossibly narrow alleys and brightly-colored, centuries-old structures. As I sit here and type this I’m thinking, no words, photos or videos could truly capture this place (I’m still trying). The five villages are similar, yet each one is different. They are all connected by trains that shuffle back and forth, with no cars allowed. Manarola seems to be the most popular, or at least the most photographed. Catching the sunset from the tiny town is amazing. Just before it goes down, make your way to the harbor and hike up the hillside. There’s a railing that wraps around the edge that will give you the perfect vantage point. I should mention that it would be beneficial to get there early because everyone knows that that’s the spot for money sunset photos and it can get pretty crowded.
Porto Venere is a town I mentioned earlier. It has a similar Cinque Terre feel to it but it’s a bit more modern. There’s newer construction around but it in no way detracts from the historical beauty. Also, vehicles are allowed through the town, which may or may not appeal to you (it can get a little congested). If you happen to be an experienced boat operator or you’re traveling with one, I highly recommend renting a small boat from the locals and taking it out around the Ligurian Sea or to the Cinque Terre villages. The rates are reasonable and the experience is unforgettable.
Duomo Di Milano or Milan Cathedral is an architectural wonder. You have to imagine that something that took almost 600 years to complete must be pretty spectacular- and it is. It’s a huge tourist attraction so plan to find a crowd of Instagrammers around it at all times. Also, expect to be approached by folks trying to make a dime by offering you friendship bracelets or bird feed to attract pigeons for photo ops. Although not initially, they will ask for money in return and they can be pretty demanding. I have to admit though, my photo with a pigeon eating out of my hand in front of that incredible cathedral is priceless to me.
Just three days, but three perfect days. Till next time Italy, Ciao!
* These are simply my observations, opinions and suggestions.