For my birthday this year, knowing how much I enjoy traveling, I was given the amazing gift of picking anywhere in the world I wished to go to for 9 days. That’s quite the romantic gesture but I was simultaneously thrilled and overwhelmed – there’re simply too many places I’ve yet to explore! I thought of the far flung (Iceland), the adventurous (Atacama salt plains anyone?), the cliche (Amalfi Coast), and even the Game of Thrones inspired (Dubrovnik, otherwise known as King’s Landing). But eventually I had to go with what were really my most compelling dream destinations – Cinque Terre and Puglia.
Cinque Terre is up in the north near Genoa, while Puglia is way down south. This presented quite the logistic challenge for the boyfriend. Hence we had to throw in a few other destinations in the mix but it turned out to be the most visually, romantically and gastronomically incredible journey that allowed us to see the best of the North and the South. Perhaps this would inspire a future trip, bring back great memories from places you’ve been before, or simply indulge me as I share my love for Italy with you.
Our first stop was the picturesque seaside town of Portofino. We landed in Genoa and our hotel, the historic Hotel Splendido was an easy car ride away. To be honest, Portofino was one of the things we threw in just because I wanted to visit the nearby Cinque Terre which doesn’t have any great hotels. But the second I arrived I never wanted to leave.
Hotel Splendido is perched on the hilltop with an astonishingly beautiful view. The decor is old school luxurious Italian, not typically my cup of tea but somehow in this setting it just works. The town itself is right by the marina and teeny tiny (like you could walk around it in 20 minutes tiny), but there’s always the option of taking a boat out and cruising the nearby towns.
The best restaurant is hands down the famed Da Puny. I think the Parpadelle Da Puny is possibly be one of the best pastas I’ve ever had.
Ok let me put this out there first – Cinque Terre is flooded with tourists. So if you were drawn in by beautiful photos online the way I was, definitely lower your expectations somewhat because it’ll be a challenge to enjoy the colorful storybook towns or take good photos while tour groups with little flags and visors are swarming about. It depends on what you’re looking for here – a leisurely exploration of each town or just seeing the best sights. If it’s the latter, I highly recommend visiting just Manarolo and Vernazza by boat. These two towns have the best views and believe me I researched a ton on this! There are plenty of restaurants and shops as well but we retreated back to the peace and calm of Portofino as soon as we could.
The next leg of our journey brought us to Venice. In terms of logistics it was a necessary stop to transition between the Ligurian seaside to the Puglian seaside, but who can complain about stopping over in Venice?
I hadn’t been here in almost 10 years and it was just as beautiful as I remembered, perhaps more so with the addition of my new favorite hotel, the Aman Canal Grande. Set in what was once a private residence, it is both opulent and intimate, in a class of its own compared to the larger than life Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli. Each suite is unique but my pick would be the Maddalena Stanza, which looks out to the Grand Canal and has both modern and classic elements. It is sublime, to say the least.
The common perception that Venice is not for foodies is a complete myth. We ate incredibly well in Venice from fine dining to trattorias to random aperitiv spots and even just at the fantastic Rialto Market. For a night out I loved the Ristorante Quadri despite its incredibly touristy location right on St Mark’s Square. For lunch the most perfect spot in the summer has to be Locanda Cipriani – a scenic 30 minute boat ride away that allows you to pass by Murano and Burano and set in a beautiful garden. We were also obsessed with hunting down the most historic local eateries and found two – Al Diavolo e L’Aqua Santa and Antiche Carampane – that were mindblowing. Order squid ink everything would be my recommendation!
Finally, we arrive via Bari to the enchanting grounds of Borgo Egnazia. I think most seasoned travelers or anyone that is keen on doing lots of travel research often find it next to impossible to be impressed by a destination at first sight (First World problems, I know), but Borgo Egnazia completely took my breath away, and Puglia as a whole was every bit as spectacular as I had hoped it would be.
There are several villas across the gigantuan property to choose from as well as rooms in their main compound. We opted for the Villa Magnifica, a 3-storey villa built from white lime stone, that comes with 4 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, 2 maids, a beautiful pool and a lower ground level orchard of lemon trees and bougainvillea – in short, it’s just incredible. The 4 days we spent here were a daze of ridiculous breakfasts (raw red shrimps by the dozen and pounds of mortadella and fresh burrata cheese), exploring the magnificent grounds and seaside, driving around nearby towns and just soaking in the vivid colors of Puglia.
Besides the villa and the beauty of the landscape, the highlights were most definitely learning to make burrata and ricotta from scratch at a local cheese shop, dining in a cave under a pink sunset, and exploring the stunning white grotto in Ostuni.
Our final stop was Matera, home to the enchanting Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda. We were recommended the Palazzo Margherita and it did not disappoint. The family home of director Francis Ford Coppola, it really felt like we were just guests at a friend’s (ridiculously beautiful) home rather than a hotel. You can eat anything anytime you want, stroll straight into the kitchen to watch the chefs cook, learn to make pasta from the adorable pasta lady, grab your umpteenth Aperol Spritz of the day by the pool or in the gardens or wherever you wish, or watch a movie on a huge screen in the living room with freshly made pizza. Each room is uniquely designed, and we chose to stay in Sophia Coppola’s room, a dream-like sanctuary with a sublime bathroom that has a built-in hammam.
We also drove to nearby Alberobello to visit the charming trulli villages and admired the ancient ruins at Basilicata, but frankly we could’ve chilled at Palazzo Margherita all day, every day. This was the perfect end to an amazing journey.
If I had to pick one place to revisit out of this trip, it would have to be Puglia. The natural beauty of the region, the crystal clear waters, the incredible food…I hope you enjoyed this visual diary and I can’t wait to share my next adventure with you.