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Fresh Squeezed in Positano

Fresh Squeezed in Positano











I don't think I will ever tire of Positano. No matter how many years I go, I am always in awe of its charm and beauty. And, obviously, one of my favorite aspects of Positano, and the Amalfi Coast more generally, are the delicious and amazing lemons that are in (from pasta to chocolate to alcohol) and on everything!

Like I said, lemons are everywhere in the Amalfi Coast and I plan on sharing more about these special citruses in a post next week on Sorrento and the cultivation of lemons in the region. For now, however, I wanted to share these amazing lemoned-themed pieces I picked up from J.Crew shortly before my departure. I mean how can you say no to the perfect lemon coin purse? And don't even get me started on the earrings.

I have always had a fondness for a great lemon print, but I was especially drawn to this adorable yellow lemon cardigan and coordinating scarf. When I saw these fabulous (and comfy) green gingham shorts, I knew it was kismet, and I had to wear this ensemble while visiting the Amalfi Coast this summer. I decided to wear my cardigan the day we visited Positano because it was early May and still a bit chilly in the mornings and in the shade (May in Italy can be a bit all over the place).

cardigan // top (old) // shorts // sunnies // scarf // bag (similar) // coin purse // shoes // earrings

This trip was a bit of a last minute adventure. I had just arrived in Rome from Umbria when I met up with a friend who lamented that the one thing she did not get to do while in Italy was visit the Amalfi Coast. I had a free weekend and I figured why not! We booked a place and two days later we were headed south on the high speed train.

The Amalfi Coast is not the easiest quick or last minute trip. The region is a bit more remote and difficult to get to. I typically recommend spending at least 4 days there, but, if necessary, it can be done in 2 and a half days (you can read all my tips for visiting the Amalfi Coast here). Which is exactly what we did! Our trip was short, but amazing as usual. And it was nice to visit without students in tow for a change. In fact, I return this next weekend for three days with 40-something students. I know, I am totally spoiled!

Have you ever visited Positano? 


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Ashley B
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6 Reasons You Should Visit Umbria

6 Reasons You Should Visit Umbria








As I recently discovered, Umbria is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. Often overshadowed by her famous sister to the north, Umbria has everything Tuscany has – stunning countryside, history, culture, art, and phenomenal regional cuisine and wine – without the mass tourism and commercialization!

1) Less Commercialized/Exploited
I am not going to use the phrase “more authentic” to describe Umbria verses Tuscany because the notion of “authentic” is exactly what has stunted the culture of much of Tuscany. For too long Tuscany has played into touristic notions of authenticity, which often depicts Italy as traditional, frozen in time, and incapable of progress. Things do not have to be old-fashioned to be authentic. Umbria gets this, and rather than become what they think tourists want, the region welcomes tourists to part take in and enjoy the actual culture and cuisine of Umbria – a culture and cuisine that is both traditional and innovative.

2) More Bang for Your Buck
Because the region as a whole is less know and exploited by tourists, you will get so much more for your money in Umbria. Take Villa Louise for example. You can stay in a luxurious villa with all the modern conveniences for the same price per night as a sub-par, 3-star hotel in Rome or Florence (that I can guarantee will not have the same fabulous amenities like a pool, air conditioning, and large comfortable beds). You can also eat like a king on a budget, but more on that in number 5.

3) The Gorgeous Countryside
Tuscany isn’t the only region of Italy that boasts movie-worthy countryside scenery. Rolling green hills, olive groves, vineyards, dancing wheat, cyprus trees, and fields of sunflowers define the Umbrian landscape. Set within this idyllic landscape you will find old churches and monasteries, pastures, and medieval hill towns to explore.

4) The Adorable Hill Towns
Todi, Gubbio, Spello, Orvieto, Assisi, Perugia, and Spoleto are simply magical. All are fairly close to one another and easy to visit. Each is packed with charm and history and can be explored slowly or quickly, one after another. And unlike more famous tourist centers, these towns retain their local character. While technically just across the Umbrian boarder in Lazio, Bangoregio is another amazing medieval hill town and is close enough to include in your Umbrian adventures.

5) The Food and Wine
Umbria leads the way in the organic, slow food movement. Sticking to traditional agricultural production, Umbria protects its heritage but approaches food and wine with a modern sensibility. This produces a rich gastronomic culture that seamlessly blends tradition and innovation. Expect to be surprised by just how unique (and yummy) the traditional dishes and wines are. Honestly, I had some of the best meals of my life while in Umbria!

6) The Region’s Rich History 
Situated in the middle of the Italian peninsula, Umbria has a long and important history. You can explore ancient Roman and Etruscan ruins such as tombs, amphitheaters, roads, baths, aqueducts, and homes in cities like Spoleto, Gubbio, and Perugia. The history and power of the church is on display in Assisi and Orvieto, while towns like Spello and Todi retain their quaint medieval charm. Under the rule of the Pope in the sixteenth century, the region became a center of learning, art, and culture, and officially joined the Italian state in 1860.


Trust me, you are going to want to visit Umbria before everyone else finds out just how amazing it is!

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Ashley B
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Exploring Spoleto

Exploring Spoleto









Thanks to the guidance of the wonderful team at Villa Louise, I managed to see and explore five of Umbria's stunning hill towns during my short stay. The first and largest was Spoleto. I had no idea what to expect with Spoleto. I had only heard of the town in passing. I was shocked to learn it has such a history.

Originally a Roman city, Spoleto grew in at a strategic position along the Via Flaminia, an important road that linked Rome to Adriatic Sea (over the Apennine mountains). The current town dates from the 12th century, but retains parts of its original Roman walls, amphitheater, and a spectacular aqueduct that spans the valley.

During the middle ages the city was the seat of an independent duchy, before becoming part of the Papal States. While visiting the medieval fortress/castle on the top of the hill, it finally dawned on me why I heard of Spoleto prior to my visit -- the famous Lucrezia Borgia was appointed governor of Spoleto by her father Pope Alexander VI in 1499. I mean, who doesn't love the Borgias!

The main sights of the town include: a Roman amphitheater, a restored Roman house, the aqueduct, the Rocca Albornoziana fortress (worth the hike for the views alone!), the Palazzo della Signoria (which has a city museum), a the duomo, or cathedral. The entire town is picturesque with little medieval alleyways leading up the hill.

My reward for a day of climbing was an amazing wine tasting at a winery just down the road from Villa Louise, Colle Uncinano. Family owned and operated, this pink winery produces outstanding local Umbrian wines. They even opened a special bottle for us, their very first production, bottled in 2005!

When in Umbria you definitely need to try their distinct and delicious wines. There is the Grechetto, a fruity white with a bit of spice, the Trebbiano Spoleto, another delicious but slightly more citrusy white, and the famous Sagrantino, which is the regions signature bold red wine. Trust me, you will want to try them all!

For my day of exploring, I wore these perfect-for-travel J.McLaughlin floral stretch pants (c/o). Hill towns require I lot of walking up hill (duh), so I wanted something that was both cute and functional. The stretch of these pants makes them perfect for a day of walking. Since the weather was still a bit chilly, I paired my floral pants with this adorable gingham top (c/o), wicker tote (c/o), and my favorite denim jacket, which travels everywhere with me.


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Ashley B
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Villa Louise, Umbria

Villa Louise, Umbria









You might say that Umbria is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets (you can read why here). In all of my years of traveling in Italy, I had never really explored Umbria. Sure, I had made the obligatory pit stop in Orvieto on my way to Rome, but I had never experienced the charm and magic of the Umbrian culture and countryside.

That all changed when the team at Villa Louise contacted me. They invited me for a stay in their newly established, enchanting villa situated in the hills of Umbria. After four intense days in Paris, arriving at the tranquil Villa Louise felt like a dream.

The villa and its surroundings are simply idyllic (my first morning I awoke to a symphony of birds chirping). The estate is nestled between vibrant green hills, olive groves, vineyards, and blooming flowers. And if the wind is right, you will hear old church bells ringing across the valley. Villa Louise perfectly combines the traditions and charm of old-world living, with the creature comforts of home – Wi-Fi, satellite TV, pool, full kitchen, modern bathrooms, fireplaces, central heat, air conditioning, and luxurious queen-sized beds.

While Villa Louise offers exceptional amenities, it is their customer service and dedicated staff that really sets them apart. The villa is family owned and operated by an exceptional team. Because their goal is simply to share the culture and magic of Umbria that they love so dearly, they go above and beyond to make your Umbrian vacation unique and spectacular.

From the moment you book, the Villa Louise team is ready to help you organize and plan your stay. Everyone on the team speaks excellent English and is always happy to answer your questions. They offer everything from detailed driving directions from the airport to helping you arrange guided visits and restaurant recommendations. They can also help arrange truly special experiences like frolicking through a field of Umbrian sunflowers (in July and August), picking fresh wild asparagus for dinner, wine tastings, taking a cooking class, or having a five-course, five-star meal prepared and served to you at the villa.

For me, having a gourmet meal prepared and served at the villa was truly a once in a lifetime experience and a highlight of my trip. The chef from the best restaurant in nearby Foligno (and might say best in the entire region), Il Cavaliere, personally planned and executed our incredible 5-course meal. The menu highlighted local Umbrian specialties, like scrambled eggs with truffles and polenta. This is the best part about the Villa Louise; it is completely customizable! You can go all out with a catered gourmet meal, have a simple meal prepared for you, or cook for yourself while you are there (and even a combination of all three over the course of your stay). There are also plenty of amazing restaurants near the villa to try. I ate traditional Umbrian fare next to a medieval castle at Osteria delle Torre, and got really adventurous at Locanda Castellina (I tried the intestines and animal glands... both were surprisingly delicious!).

Are you ready for the best part? This stunning villa is completely affordable. That’s right, you don’t have to stay in crappy, overpriced hotels. You can enjoy all the comforts and charms of Villa Louise for what you would typically pay for a small, sub-par hotel in Florence or Rome. And that’s just if you stay alone or as a couple. The villa has three bedrooms, two baths, and can sleep up to 7 people. When split between just four people the villa becomes cheaper than almost all hotels in Rome!

Finally, don’t let the perceived remoteness of the villa dissuade you. It is important to remember just how small Italy really is (about the size of Florida!) and how easy it is to rent a car, drive, and park in the countryside. I have said it before and I will say it again, you have not truly experienced Italy until you have explored the Italian countryside. And I will be sharing more in my next post explaining why I think the Umbrian countryside is truly a special and unique experience.

Getting to Villa Louise is a pleasant drive through calm country roads and you can easily rent a car from the airport in Rome (Fiumicino) and drive straight there in just a couple hours (completely bypassing the chaotic center of Rome). From the villa you can effortlessly drive to and explore all of the adorable medieval hill towns, which I will be sharing more of later this week, so stay tuned!


You can check out Villa Louise's website for more info, or to book your next amazing vacation!


Finally, one tip for planning and booking accommodations in Italy. In general Italians pay a lot in taxes and many of these small family run estates, villas, and "agriturismi" lose a substantial percentage of their revenue listing their properties through third party sites. Often, if you book directly through their website, and not a third party, these family run establishments will pass the savings on to you and you can get a better price dealing with the property directly!
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Ashley B
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Springtime in Paris

Springtime in Paris








Springtime in Paris can be gorgeous... Or, it can be a cold and rainy mess. You never really know what you are going to get. Unfortunately, I realized (as I obsessively checked the weather before my trip) that I was going to have the later this spring in Paris.

You can't control or predict the weather when you travel. As unfortunate as a rainy trip may seem, you really cannot let it ruin your trip! Because rain is so common in Paris in the spring you need to come with the mindset that no matter what you are going to enjoy and see Paris (you can read my suggestions for things to do on a rainy day in Paris here). Case in point, Sophia and I had to endure downpours during both of our fabulous Fat Tire Paris bike tours. Instead of concentrating on how wet and cold we were, we focused on the incredible experience of biking through Paris at sunset.

Our only semi-sunny day was our first day. Of course, the day that I was exhausted and fighting jet lag. But, because we knew it might be our only chance to enjoy a bit of sunshine, I rallied and we set off for lunch at my favorite little bistro, Au Petit Suisse, and the Luxembourg Gardens.

Because Paris was so chilly, I basically wore this gorgeous floral Club Monaco trench every day. My motto, if it doesn't feel like spring, I can at least look like spring! Honestly, there were moments where I wished I had packed a heavier coat, but I did not want to drag a heavy coat around Italy for the summer. I picked up this flouncy, wrap skirt just before I left. I had been eyeing it for some time and I am happy I decided to get it for this trip. It is comfy, flirty, and fun, and can easily be dressed up or down, making it a great travel piece.

If you are headed to Paris this spring or summer I highly, highly recommend a Fat Tire bike tour. They are a fabulous company who offer really great tours of Paris at even better prices!

trench coat // top // skirt // shoes // bag // sunnies // hat


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Ashley B
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