Oh Cortona...how I love thee so. Most people know of this town because of the famous book/movie from France Mayes (who still has her famed Bramasole Villa tucked up in the hills above Cortona), it's popularity shows on any day during the summer by the throngs of tourists cruising down via Nazionale.
When I lived in Italy during my internship, Cortona was one of the easiest towns to get to from Castiglion Fiorentino. It was a convenient bus trip away from the convent when we didn't have a lunch shift, but close enough that we could get back in time to work the dinner shift! Plus at the time, the bus picked us up at the top of our hill and dropped us off at the top of Cortona in Piazza Garibaldi! Win!
You'll hear quite a bit of English in this town too, not just from tourists. Cortona hosts a popular study abroad program for the University of Georgia. Similar to Castiglion Fiorentino, you'll find a many expats who met their spouses while studying abroad in Italy!
While it's a lot more crowded than it used to be, Cortona is still worth a visit for some shopping, dining and sketching!
We’ll be the first to admit that Italians have some bizarre customs and habits. It took us a while to get used to them and just accept them as fun Italian quirks! What’s strange to us is second nature to them. Here’s some of our favorite bizarre and fun customs you may encounter while in Italy!
Oh Panzanella...how I love thee so. After Farro Salad, Panzanella is my 2nd favorite go-to summer salad to make. Especially on a budget! When I was living in Lucca for a couple months during the summer, I'd bounce between these two salads all the time because they were tasty and made a LOT for not much money! Plus, making them in the summer has the added benefit of all the fresh seasonal produce that make them even more delicious.
They're actually really similar recipes too. Nearly identical actually except this recipe has the added tasty ingredient of fresh croutons! Traditionally, Panzanella is made with stale bread which is then softened with water to make edible again, then tossed with all the other ingredients. I like to make mine with day old focaccia which is a whole other level of YUM!
The first time I ever visited Lucca was the fall of 2011. I had been fulfilling my internship at the study abroad center in Castiglion Fiorentino for most of the year when my good friend Vanessa sent me a message. She and her boyfriend at the time were staying in Lucca and were shopping for apartments. I had a day or two free from work so I hopped on a train for this small town west of Florence. It was a quick train ride through Western Tuscany, an area I had only passed through as a student on our to the Cinque Terre. As the train rolled into the train station at Lucca, I spied a tower with trees growing on the top of it and wondered how in the hell had I never heard of this place before.
When people think of Italy, they usually think of the food, the museums and churches, the crazy drivers and, of course, the artwork. In particular, David...the giant, towering carved marble statue by Michaelangelo. This gigantic beauty is housed in the Accademia, one of the most visited museums in its home city Florence! Also known as Firenze, Florence is a bustling city that tends to be boiling hot in the summer, crowded as hell but almost always worth the wading through the tourists to enjoy the gelato, panini, and more hidden spots away from the well trod tourist paths.
It honestly took a while before I actually spent more than half a day in this crazy gorgeous and crazy crowded city. When I studied abroad in Castiglion Fiorentino, Florence as almost a weekly destination to visit museums (hello David), cathedrals, small churches and historic sites. Even when I lived an hour south after college, we'd often only go into the city to visit our favorite sandwich shop, do some shopping and sketching and then catch the train home to be back for dinner shift.
It took a few more years before I actually had a solid 24 hours in this city. The first year I ever did a retreat in Italy was actually based in Florence for a week! Showing our guests around a city I studied so much as a student really changed my perspective of this city and gave me a chance to finally discover Florence.
It can be tricky landing in a foreign country after a long flight and hitting the ground running. Feeling the need to squeeze everything in such a short span of time while all you want to do is sleep can be a miserable way to start a vacation.
I feel ya, I've been there many times. But I've always found that I'd rather have one really long, tiring day to get over jet lag than have the first week of my trip be disrupted by an unusual sleep schedule and the subsequent exhaustion. Especially when you're in the most wonderful country for a small chunk of time!
This past summer going to Italy was my biggest jet lag battle I've ever had when I landed in Rome a week before our next round of retreats. I think I walked over 10 miles that day to stay awake but I wouldn't have done it any other way...
Welcome to the "A Day In..." series! Even if you can't come along on a Wanderful Retreat, I want to share some of my favorite places and spots throughout Italy and other locations around the world!
I remember the early days of my travels through Italy and the frustration I would feel over choosing a place for dinner. Back when my Italian wasn't that good and Trip Adviser or Yelp weren't as popular, this was doubly frustrating trying to find a decently priced place without the tourist crowds with a local stamp of approval. Che palle!
Luckily over the past decade my Italian has improved, and my list of favorite spots around Italy has grown! So, to kick off this first post in the "A Day In" series, let's start with one of the top destinations in Italy and my personal favorite...Rome!
One of my favorite things about summers in Italy is the produce. Going to the market, be it an actual market or the local weekly market, is always such a treat because the quality of the produce in Italy is phenomenal! It's amazing how flavorful the produce in Italy is and just how affordable it can be in season too. Plus, lots of the produce you find at the market was probably grown in the nearby region!
A staple during my summers is a fresh Farro Salad. Farro is a small grain-like ingredient that has a chewy texture and is similar to barley. You'll see it pop up in salads, as sides or even in soups during the colder season. But during the summer, farro is the perfect addition to a fresh salad. The best thing about a farro salad is that you can easily change ingredients if something isn't available or you'd just like to add your favorite produce instead!
In the summer of 2009, I boarded a plane in Los Angeles, California bound for Rome, Italy. I'd have a few hours to kill at the Toronto airport before boarding my final leg to the Fiumicino Airport outside of Rome. It was nervewracking traveling abroad by myself but I was thrilled by the prospect of what lay ahead...six full weeks in Tuscany. Six weeks for adventures in Italy, exploring famed cities, seeing the art from my textbooks and, most importantly, six weeks to make art.
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats