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Postcards from the Cinque Terre


One of the best parts about living in Florence is that you are centrally located in Italy, which means nothing is very far away. Rome is an hour and a half by high-speed train and Venice is just two hours away. Likewise, the incredible Cinque Terre (or five earths) is only a 2.5-hour drive (or train ride) from Florence. Last Sunday, I decided to take advantage of this and spent my day hiking in the Cinque Terre.

The Cinque Terre sits on the northwest coast of Italy in Liguria (a.k.a. where pesto was invented). The area is made up of five adorably colorful villages perched high above the sea on rugged rock cliffs. Fishermen initially settled in this remote region for safety and security. Over the centuries they developed farming and building techniques that allowed them to thrive in this rather harsh and steep environment.

Thanks the remoteness of the villages and difficulty reaching them, the towns remained untouched by modernity and were poorer and more traditional for much of the twentieth century (you will not find a single chain restaurant). Recent tourism, however, has brought a plethora of travelers to the region, revitalizing the towns' economies and overcrowding the one train that connects the towns.

Despite this, the Cinque Terre remains a magical and enchanting place steeped in tradition. If you love nature and hiking, I suggest spending a couple days in the area. The five towns are connected by hiking trails and the entire area was declared a national park and UNESCO heritage site (click here for information on the park and ticket information).

Unfortunately, in 2011 mudslides devastated the region and not all of the trails have reopened. Fortunately, what I think is the best and most challenging trail (it is not for the faint of heart) is the hike from Vernazza (the fourth town) to the last and largest town, Monterosso. It is an invigorating trek full of incredible views.

Visiting the Cinque Terre is also an easy day trip for those that don't want to devote several days. FlorenceForFun runs affordable day trips every Friday and Sunday in the summer and throughout the fall. I have to be honest, if you are looking for some serious beaching, I would advise heading to the Amalfi Coast. The beaches in the Cinque Terre are gorgeous, but small and rocky. I much prefer the beaches down south. Instead, I prefer to play to the region's strengths and spend my time hiking, exploring, and eating pesto!

Have you visited the Cinque Terre?


Ashley B
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Outfit: Heat Wave

Are you tired of hearing my complain about how hot it is in Florence? In my defense, the locals are telling me that this is the hottest summer in years. Some say a decade, while others claim a century. Let's go with a century since it sounds more dramatic. These photos were taken at the height of last weeks scorching temps, which, fortunately, dropped this week (but unfortunately the +100 temps are forecasted to return this weekend and all next week).

When it's too hot to care, I always go for my favorite and most comfortable shorts, an easy, breezy top, and a hat. I've basically been living in these Lilly Pulitzer Callahan shorts on weekends and after work. They are the perfect cut, relaxed but flattering, and I have them in several prints back home (for sizing reference I'm wearing a size 4). Sadly, this versatile chambray top from Zara is no longer available, but I have linked a couple cute options below.

Now, I know you are thinking, "Shorts in Italy? Isn't that a taboo?" My answer is yes and no. While I am probably the only one (besides the other Americans) waking around in Lilly Pulitzer shorts (I love them, so I don't care), shorts have lost there taboo status as they entered mainstream European/Italian fashion. I wouldn't say, however, that they are common, but they aren't abnormal. So if you are overheating in Italy, wear your shorts!

One of my favorite purchases this summer has been this NARS matte lipstick in Heat Wave. Finding a great red lip isn't easy and I swear this color goes with everything. It is a great everyday red and the name is so fitting!


Ashley B
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Hotel Le Sirenuse, Positano

I get a lot of emails asking for advice on where to stay in the Amalfi Coast. So today I wanted to share my absolute favorite hotel in Positano, the Hotel Le Sirenuse. Now, this is not a budget hotel, but it is the perfect spot for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Amalfi Coast!

Hotel Le Sirenuse is centrally located in Positano (which isn't hard because it's not very big). The hotel has amazing views of the sea and adjacent town. They have capitalized on this perfect position and created several restaurants and bars with stunning views (many of the rooms also have incredible views, but you have to ask). The roof-top pool is the perfect place to relax and escape the crowded beach below. And everyday at 6 pm the roof top hosts a prosecco and oyster bar (which is my personal favorite and you can go even if you aren't staying at the hotel).

Being a five-star, award winning hotel you can image that the hotel service and amenities are excellent. In addition to several gourmet restaurants, the hotel also just launched a new bar/night spot called Franco's Bar (I am obsessed with the blue, white, and yellow decor!).

The Hotel Le Sirenuse really has everything you need for an incredible and relaxing vacation. It is not the type of place you stay if you are looking to explore as much of the area as possible, but it is the perfect getaway when you want to relax and recharge in one of the most gorgeous places on earth!

Do you have a favorite hotel in the Amalfi Coast?

Ashley B
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Outfit: Sunflower Season

Sunflower season in Tuscany is magic! From mid-July until mid-August, the countryside turns into a sea of bright and huge "girosoli" that extend as far as the eye can see. Frolicking through fields of these beauties was probably my favorite part of my road trip through Tuscany. Seriously, it is hard to do anything but laugh and smile (and twirl) when surrounded by sunflowers.

I purchased this great vintage navy straw hat and blue striped dress from a great little boutique in Florence. This summer has been nothing but sunshine and high temps, which means I have become something of a hat lady... and I like it. I couldn't resist this wide-brim navy boater! And nothing says summer like a blue and white striped dress. Although these were both purchased locally, I have linked some similar state-side options.

You can read more about my road trip through Tuscany here.

Ashley B
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20 Tips for Traveling in the Amalfi Coast

1) Take the train
You don't have to fly into Naples to visit the Amalfi Coast. You can easily travel to the coast via the high speed train from any major city (Milan, Venice, Florence, and/or Rome). The high speed train arrives in Napoli Centrale. From there you hop on the local train called the Circum Vesuviana, which stops in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Sorrento. You can also take the high speed train to the last city on the coast, Salerno (Sorrento is the first).

2) Visit Pompeii or Herculaneum on the way to or from the coast
Because the Circum Vesuviana passes through Pompeii and Herculaneum, it is easy to make a quick stop as you arrive or depart the coast. Unless, of course, you have a lot of baggage, then it would be worth getting to your hotel first. These archeological sites also make an easy day trip from Sorrento or Naples.

3) Take the public bus
Once you arrive in the Amalfi Coast all of the little towns are well connected by the SITA bus. You can purchase a 24-hour ticket for 8 euros, which will let you explore all of the towns along the coast. In Sorrento you can get the bus (and purchase the ticket directly from the driver/operator) in front of the train station. The best bus stop in Positano (closest to the beach) to get on and off of is the "La Sponda" stop. You can see the timetable and bus stops here.

4) Invest in motion sickness pills
The road that connects the coastline is called the "nastro azzuro," which means blue ribbon. It is named this because it is a very long and winding road, like a ribbon. I have seen people who have never been car sick in their life turn green as the bus zooms down this road. In the high season the busses will also be crowded and hot, which only adds to the problem. I suggest sitting towards the front and bringing some motion sickness pills just in case.

5) Arrive by ferry
While the bus is convenient and cheap, arriving by ferry will give you incredible views of the cities. Amalfi, Capri (of course, it's an island), Sorrento, and Positano are all connected by ferry.

6) Reserve your ferry tickets
It is best to reserve your ferry tickets ahead of time, especially in the summer months (a.k.a. high season). You can reserve ferries and see the timetables here.

Where to Stay:
7) Stay in Sorrento or Salerno
For logistical reasons, I prefer to stay in Sorrento. From Sorrento you can hop on a ferry to Capri, catch the Circum Vesuviana to see Pompeii, or take the bus to Positano (or any other town). And since Sorrento is connected to Naples via train and ferry, it is easy to get to and from with luggage. If you decide you want to stay in Positano, I recommend splurging for the car hire to take you directly from Naples to Positano (it will cost you about 100 euro and your hotel can help you arrange this). Like Sorrento, Salerno is connected by train. And since it anchors the southern part of the coastline, it is the best option if you want to explore the smaller more southern towns like Ravello, Minori, and Vietri.

8) Stay overnight in Capri
Because Capri is the most expensive destination on the coast, people usually only visit for the day. This makes the island super crowded and touristy during the day, but deserted and magical at night.

9) Avoid high season
To save money and avoid crowds it is best to travel in either May/June or September/October.

10) Get an early start
If you have to travel in high season, you can avoid overly crowded busses and ferries by getting an early start. I always manage to get a seat on the 8:30 bus from Sorrento to Positano, although you need to show up at least 15 minutes early to grab one (otherwise you have to stand in the aisle).

11) Rent a beach chair
It may seem expensive at first, but the beach chair/umbrella rentals are worth it since they typically come with access to facilities.

12) Rent a boat to tour around Capri
This is an absolute must in Capri! It is the best way to see the gorgeous grottos, famous Faraglioni rocks and, of course, the blue grotto. I recommend Motoscafisti Di Capri.

13) And tip your driver to take a swim
If you want to stop and swim during your boat tour around the island, just ask and offer a tip!

14) Put on your sneakers and hike/explore to take in the views
There are amazing hikes all along the coastline as well as on the island of Capri.

15) Visit the Blue Grotto when it's "closed" (before 9 am or after 4 pm)
You can do this by grabbing a taxi from Anacapri and asking for the “Grotta Azzurra.” The taxi will take you to a set of stairs that lead down into the ocean and to the opening of the grotto. But only do this if you are an excellent swimmer and knowledgable about ocean currents and tides.

16) Don't miss Amalfi
Despite it being the principle city of the coastline, few people make it to the city of Amalfi (it's about half way down the coast, or 1.5 hours by bus from Sorrento). Amalfi is a gorgeous city with a stunning cathedral and was the capital of the region when it was an independent and powerful seafaring republic from the 7th to 11th centuries.

17) Taste the limoncello (or anything citrus flavored)
The region is famous for its citrus. You will see lots of lemon trees and giant citrons in every city. Their famous drink is limoncello, but the region also makes incredible lemon candies and lemon chocolate!

18) Eat the seafood
Obviously, it is fresh and delicious!

19) Save money and picnic on the beach
One of my favorite things to do is to have a picnic lunch on the beach in Positano. The nearby shop "Vini e Panini" sells panini, wine, prosecco, water, fresh fruit, and snacks, everything you need for a picnic.

20) Splurge on pottery and sandals
While the region can be expensive, the gorgeous pottery and handmade sandals are worth the investment if you want to splurge a bit.

You can read more of my post on Amalfi here:
Postcards from the Amalfi Coast
10 Things you must do in Positano
Packing for a long weekend in the Amalfi Coast
La Costiera Amalfitana

Is the Amalfi Coast on your bucket list?

Ashley B
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Home Sweet Home

In less then two weeks I will be back in the States indulging in everything I have missed! I have to admit that one of the things I have missed the most is shopping. I know, I know, as I listen to myself write this I realize how horrible that sounds. But, I love American sportswear. I have a more classic, preppy style, which is next to impossible to shop for in Italy (I have better luck in France and England).

Sure, Italy has amazing high fashion (I make a point to pass Dolce and Gabbana at least once a week), but when it comes to everyday wear, or street style, we don't see eye to eye. Italian fashion is either high-end designer or low-end trendy. Only a handful of stores offer quality, classic items at middle of the road prices. When I do find things I like, I struggle with fit and proportion. For all of these reasons, I am super excited to return home and indulge in a bit of shopping. I also plan on enjoying everything else I missed -- giant American coffees, cable TV, breakfast, Amazon Prime (just being able to get everything I need in one place and delivered in 2 days!), and non-Italian food (Indian and Thai especially). I realize this list makes me sound a bit shallow, but I am just keeping it real, it's the little things you miss the most! Of course, I am also excited to catch up with friends and family and cuddle my sweet Ophelia who, let's be honest, I have missed the most!

This trip will be especially sweet because I get to savor being home while knowing that I will be back in Florence in three weeks (I think it will actually feel strange to sleep in my bed again). So going home is my summer vacation. You can bet that these past few weeks I have been cutting back and saving as much as possible so that I can shop till I drop state-side. Here is a peak of some of the items I have my eye on (I already caved and ordered the red gingham skirt):
Ashley B
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Road Trip Through Tuscany

Seriously, look at the size of these sunflowers!
Just fields of sunflowers as far as the eye can see!
The Medieval Abbey of San Galgano
The famous Val d'Orcia
No trip to Florence (or Italy for that matter) is complete without a road trip through the gorgeous and rightfully-famous countryside of Tuscany. This is especially true during sunflower season (don't worry I will be sharing more pictures of these amazing sunflower fields next week). 

After my incredible experience in the sunflower fields last summer, I knew I wanted to return this year. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and overcome my fear of driving in Italy by renting a car for the day to explore the sunflower-filled countryside. My friend Jackie, who works with me at the archive, was brave enough to join me as chief navigator.

I spent about a day researching the best routes and stops. The weather has been ridiculously hot this summer, so I wanted to keep the trip manageable. Based on location and proximity to sunflower fields and provincial roads (getting off the main highway is half the fun), I picked four towns I wanted to explore -- San Galgano, Montalcino, San Quirico, and Pienza. 

If you are traveling to Florence for the first time or have never explored the countryside, I highly recommend expanding this road trip to include San Gimignano, Siena, and Montepulciano with an overnight stop in one of the regions amazing agriturismi (they are like farm house B&Bs). The route would remain the same -- south on the SS73, east on the E78 and SR2, and then north on the A1 -- with an overnight stop half way through. 

Fortunately, while driving in Italian cities can be chaotic and overwhelming, driving through the Tuscan countryside is easy and relaxing (Tip: you can avoid the chaos of Florence by picking up and dropping off your rental car at the airport). We started our journey heading south out of Florence towards the abandon ruins of the Medieval abbey of San Galgano. Just before turning down the final road to the abbey we stumbled upon the most amazing field of sunflowers (of course it turned out to be one of many). We immediately pulled over and started frolicking and taking pictures in the fields (of course we asked the proprietors first, who were happy to let us). 

After visiting the roof-less abbey (it was abandon in the middle ages thanks to drought and plague), we headed east to hill towns of Montalcino, San Quirico, and Pienza. Each little town offers gorgeous  views and amazing food and wine. I also suggest making time for a impromptu wine tasting at any of the wineries along the way. We ended our journey with the incredible Val d'Orcia, which is so gorgeous and famous (tons of movies have been shot there) that it is a UNESCO World Heritage sight. Images of this countryside have become emblematic of Tuscany. It ended up being a long and exhausting day, but completely worth it!

Have you road tripped through Tuscany?

Ashley B
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Outfit: Red, White, and Blue in Positano

 Nothing beats this view!
 Balcony of the Hotel Le Sirenuse, Positano, Italy
 Le Sirenuse also has a rooftop terrace, perfect for sipping coffee or cocktails
Being out of the country for the Fourth of July is bitter sweet. On the one hand I love being in Italy, but a piece of me always misses home and the fireworks, barbecue, and time with friends and family. But if you can't be state-side for the 4th, a weekend in the Amalfi Coast is the next best thing! 

I made sure to wear red, white, and blue while spending the day in my favorite seaside town, Positano. I couldn't find an American flag anywhere in Florence (go figure), so I had to settle for a borrowed American flag kozy (to keep my mini prosecco chilled of course). I paired my favorite red pull-on shorts with this navy Lilly Pulitzer tunic. And I added a final touch of red with my favorite new lipstick, NARs Heatwave. You can see more from my weekend in Positano here

Ashley B
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