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Exploring Liguria: Portovenere

Exploring Liguria: Portovenere











There were two regions of Italy I wanted to explore deeper this summer -- Umbria and the Ligurian Coast. Both were regions I had spent little time in, and both are often overshadowed by their more famous neighbors, Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. After this summer's explorations, however, I would argue that these less-visited regions might actually be more enjoyable thanks to their lack of popularity. You can read more about why you should seriously consider visiting Umbria here.

While the Cinque Terre is certainly well-known and popular, there is so much more to the Ligurian Coast, or Italian Riviera as it is called, than these five famous towns. Case in point, the adorable fishing port of Portovenere.

Becky and I escaped the sweltering heat of Florence a couple weekends ago and headed for Portovenere for the day. The southern portion of the Ligurian Coast is close enough to Florence that you can easily take a day trip to the Cinque Terre or to one of the other sleepy fishing villages that dot the coast line. We selected Portovenere thanks to a recommendation from a friend in Florence.

You can reach the Ligurian Coast by train, car, or bus. Getting there by train only takes a couple hours and usually requires switching trains in Pisa. Renting a car is a great option as well, especially if you want to explore the region for more than a day.

Like most of the villages in the region, Portovenere has ancient origins. After the fall of Rome, the region was dominated by the Byzantine Empire and was subjected to frequent raids by the Saracens and Normans. These Medieval raids explain why so many villages in Liguria were built on high cliffs and seemingly hostile terrain. Eventually the region became a fiefdom of a local noble family and was later conquered by the seafaring empire of Genoa.

Portovenere was the perfect Saturday escape. It has just enough history, clear turquoise sea, and traditional cuisine to keep you happy and relaxed for a day or two. We explored the colorful port, climbed the ruins of the medieval castle, swam in Lord Byron's Grotto, and stuffed our faces full of pesto! It was pretty much a perfect day and a much needed escape from the sweltering and crowded streets of Florence.

I will be sharing more of the Ligurian Coast next week!


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Ashley B
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Dagne Dover Petite Tote

Dagne Dover Petite Tote









If you have been reading here long enough, then you are well aware of my love of Dagne Dover bags. I purchased my first DD work bag in 2013 and I was immediately impressed with both the quality of company and the product. Over the years I have developed a fabulous relationship with Dagne Dover. I have visited their showroom in NYC several times and they even send me new styles, patterns, and colors to try out!

One thing I love about Dagne Dover is that while they sell an already incredible product (no one does organization like they do), they are always looking for new ways to improve and innovate. They take customer feedback very seriously and are constantly making their bags even more functional. Case in point the Tiny Tote, which has recently been updated and improved, and renamed the Petite Tote.

At first, I was skeptical of the Tiny's redesign. I loved my Tinies. They had traveled Paris, Budapest, New York, and L.A. with me (just to name a few). When I travel, I like to go with the smallest bag I can get away with, and the Tiny fit the bill. While the Tiny was pretty much perfect, it was just a hair too small to fit my camera (I travel with my Sony A7 and this lens).

Last time I was in NYC, the fab ladies at Dagne were showing me the new line and all the improvements they had made. That's when they broke the news to me -- the Tiny was no more, she was now the Petite Tote. Turns out Dagne made a great product even better. They added just enough to bag's dimensions that it retains its cute and "tiny" shape, but it can now hold more, including my camera. They also made the bag lighter without sacrificing the quality of the coated canvas, which is the best material to travel with since it does not scratch or stain easily.

The small but mighty Petite Tote holds everything I need for a day of exploring or working with students. I can fit my keys, wallet, cell, a couple lipsticks, extra camera battery, and my camera. I love that it has both the top handles and shoulder strap so I can carry it in different ways throughout the day. And let's talk about this Jasmine color, gorgeous! It is the same color as my Simone Satchel. It's one of those perfect pale blues that can add a bit of color to your look or function as a neutral with a bright red dress.


You can read more about the best purses for travel here.


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Ashley B
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Santorini on a Budget

Santorini on a Budget













Surprisingly, Santorini is a relatively quick and inexpensive trip from Florence (as island vacations go). I first discovered this while living in Florence. I learned from my friends that the Italian/European view of this charming little island is quite different than the American. Americans tend to see and do Santorini as an expensive, luxury vacation complete with exclusive resorts. While you certainly can spend a lot of money on a fancy resort in Oia, you can also stay in a more local/European beach town like Kamari for less than you would typically spend on a hotel in Rome!

Both EasyJet and Vueling offer cheap flights to Santorini from Venice, Florence, and Rome in the summer (aka Santorini’s season). Obviously, the earlier you buy, the better deal you can score. I flew out from Venice with friends and returned directly to Florence. I will warn you, however, that the Santorini airport is not big or well run, so do not make any plans that depend you arriving or departing exactly on time (arrivals tend to go more smoothly than departures)!

Kamari is a great town to stay in because it is right on the beach, near the airport, and remarkably cheaper than the more famous towns on the other side of the island. You can rent a beach chair and umbrella for the day for just 5 euros! While the town itself is not overly beautiful (think small Florida beach town that’s a little past its prime), it’s a great way to enjoy the best of Santorini on a budget (without feeling like you are on a budget).

Once in Kamari, you can cheaply rent scooters and ATVs to explore the entire island. My ATV was only 20 euros per day! Trust me, exploring the island on an ATV is so much fun and far more interesting than never leaving your resort in Oia. We explored the towns of Pyrgos, Kamari, Fira, Oia, Emporeio, and the Red Beach near Akrotiri. Pyrgos and Emporeio are two of my favorite towns. They are both stunning little traditional towns that are virtually unspoiled by tourism. These towns also offer better, more traditional food for much less than you would pay in the resort towns. Obviously, you still must visit the more-famous towns Fira and Oia. They are, after all, famous for good reason.

I plan on sharing a full recap/guide on Santorini when I have the time to sit down and write such an in-depth post. But, for now I wanted to share these gorgeous pictures from my trip. Between the stunning scenery, affordability, and absolutely delectable Greek food, it is easy to see why I absolutely love Santorini!


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Ashley B
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Italian Switzerland

Italian Switzerland












Believe or not, there a small region of Switzerland that, while identifying as Swiss, speaks and acts Italian! Well, they almost act Italian. The region is super clean and the trains run on time! Clearly, there is some Swiss influence.

This region of Switzerland is called the Canton of Ticino. When you're there you would swear your were still in Italy, except the stunning landscape feels very Swiss! Historically this area was Italy or, at least, politically and culturally tied to the various Italian principalities or dukedoms of Northern Italy. It only became a part of Switzerland in 1803, which explains why Italian remains the official language of the region.

It is a great region of Switzerland to visit because it has the food and charm of Italy with the cleanliness and efficiency of Switzerland. Oh, and the Swiss chocolate of course. The region is dominated by its famous lakes to the south, east, and west, and the beginning of the Swiss Alps to the north. The lakes to the south -- Lago Maggiore, Lago Lugano, and Lago Como -- weave in and out of the borders of Switzerland and Italy. Lake Lugano (where I stayed) is mostly in Switzerland, where as the other two are mostly in Italy. Despite these national borders, it is very easy to move in and out of both (just remember to carry your passport). While in Lake Lugano I wanted to experience the best of the region, so I spent one day hiking through the gorgeous Valle Verzasca and another exploring the lakes.

Hiking through the Valle Verzasca was an incredible experience! And yes, I did it in a skirt and sandals lol. Thanks to melting mountain snow the valley boasts numerous waterfalls. The gorgeous, but often dangerous, turquoise Verzasca river runs through the length of the valley with quaint medieval stone villages dotted on the mountainsides along the way. We began our day chasing waterfalls near Sonogno before heading to Lavertezzo. Lavertezzo is an adorable stone village complete with an ancient Roman bridge and some of the most beautiful water and rock formations I have ever seen!

I spent my second day in the region exploring Lugano and Lake Como. I will be honest, I don't love the northern Italian/Swiss lakes, and I am especially not crazy about Lake Como. I just don't think it lives up to the hype. But it certainly was a delightful enough day strolling the river banks and exploring the towns.

If you are interested in exploring the Italian region of Switzerland, you can reach this area easily via trains from Milan. Lugano is a great central location to stay in.

And PS - My amazing neoprene Dagne Dover Backpack has been a lifesaver (or should I say back-saver) this summer. It is perfect for travel!


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Ashley B
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Cinque Terre Travel Guide

Cinque Terre Travel Guide








The Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful and unique regions of Italy. It is made up of 5 (hence the cinque) colorful cliff-side fishing villages that, until recently, managed to remain virtually cut off from the modern world. The villages are situated in the Liguria region, famous for its seaside and pesto pasta.

The remoteness of the region means that visiting can be somewhat complicated. The easiest way to visit is to arrange a day trip from Florence. Yes, you can visit a couple of these charming towns via a well-organized day trip! These tours transport you by private coach and typically arrange for you to visit 2 or 3 of the towns. This is a great choice because it requires zero planning, and getting to the Cinque Terre can be a bit complex.

Each year I take my students on just such a one-day tour. Our bus drops us off in Manarola, we take the train to Vernazza, and then hike from Vernazza to Monterosso where we enjoy some beach time before taking the train to La Spezia to catch our bus back to Florence.

If you decide that one day is simply not enough, and you want to see all of the villages, you will need to stay at least two nights. The logistics of getting there make staying one night impractical. But be warned, if you want to stay in one of the five famed towns in the summer, you will need to reserve well in advance.

Driving in the Cinque Terre can be difficult (think very steep inclines) and parking is scarce. If you want to arrive by car, I recommend staying in one of the nearby, larger cities that are well connected via the train. I like Portovenere and La Spezia. You can leave the car in La Spezia and take the train into the Cinque Terre.

Hiking trails, trains, and ferries connect the five towns of the Cinque Terre. You really should do all three while there. Buying the Cinque Terre Treno MS Card (more info here) will get you access to the National Park (where all the hiking trails are located) and unlimited use of the local trains.

Cinque Terre is probably most famous for its hikes, so you definitely want to make sure that you do at least one! The views are absolutely incredible and worth every step. There is one hike (of varying degrees of difficulty) connecting each of the tows – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. You can read more about the hikes here. Although considered one of the more difficult hikes, my favorite is the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.

Once you have worked up a good appetite on your hike, make sure you eat the pesto, focaccia, and the fresh seafood (these villages are fishing villages after all), and drink the white wine! You will also want to make sure you take a dip in the crystal clear blue waters of Monterosso.

Have you visited the Cinque Terre?


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Ashley B
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