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Travel Beauty Travel Diaries: Italy

Our travels through Italy took us to some charming places that we thought were worth noting…and sharing! So if you should find yourself in any of these regions, read on for things to do, eat or experience.

Where to Stay in Lake Como

The first stop was Lake Como. Originally built in 1568 as the summer residence of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, Villa d’Este is the quintessential must-experience hotel. The property sits on 25 acres of magnificent gardens overlooking Lake Como. The décor is impeccable; a true icon of old world luxury. It is impossible to be here and not feel like you are on a magical vacation.

Where to Eat in Lake Como

If you are looking for a fabulous place for lunch, make sure to stop at the elegant Ristorante Navedano. This structure is an old windmill converted into a restaurant! It is situated in a lush, tropical setting near Villa d’Este. The authentic local cuisine changes seasonally and is prepared using fresh local produce and ingredients from the region. You must indulge in a glass of wine, even if a liquid lunch is not your norm. The wine list is dynamite and the food is superb.

On The Way to Florence

Next we headed to Asolo where we visited the Palladio Villas in the Veneto.  This site provides a unique glimpse into the lifestyle of 15th century Italy.

We then headed to Tuscany for a couple of days. Fifty minutes from Florence we arrived at the Antinori Vineyard. It is a picturesque place to slow down and relax in the countryside after days of driving and running around. Over 26 generations of The Antinori family have dedicated themselves to the art of winemaking. This vineyard is nothing short of majestic and the vino is spectacular.

What to See in Florence: Art & Culture

On to Firenze! Let’s start with a little culture; this town is rich in that department.

travel-diary-italyThe Palazzo Vecchio

Florence’s majestic town hall. Overlooking Piazza della Signoria, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy, boasting an impressive collection of paintings and sculpture. It was originally the home of the Grand Duke de’ Medici prior to his move to the Pitti Palace. (Another great landmark to visit while you’re in town.)

The Vasari Corridor

This almost kilometer long covered passageway, which crosses the Arno river, originally connected The Pitti Palace with The Uffizi Gallery, the Duke’s office. In 1973 the corridor was reopened to the public and can be visited by appointment only. It houses one of the most unique collections of art, dating from the 16th – 20th centuries. This magnificent collection is continually updated with new additions. Over 1000 paintings completed by master artists call The Vasari Corridor home.

Where to Eat in Florence

While in Florence, book a dinner at The Alle Murate. This is a unique Tuscan restaurant located in The Palazzo Dell’Arte dei Giudici e Notai (the 14th-century seat of the city’s magistrates’ and notaries’ guild) where a series of frescos from the 1300s have been uncovered. The restaurant also boasts a vaulted basement with plexiglas floors suspended over a Roman archeological site. Audio cassettes explaining the archeological site are available to listen to while you dine.

Where to Stay in Florence

The Portrait Hotel: This ultra luxe, 34-suite hotel is owned by The Ferragamo family. While views overlooking The Arno River and The Ponte Vecchio lend an old world feel, the luxurious interiors are modern and sleek.

Hope that this mini-tour of the region gave you some ideas of where you might want to spend time, should you find yourself in Italia. Keep a look out for part II or our Italian travel diary.

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Travel Beauty Travel Diaries: The Outer Banks, NC

Perhaps you can’t make it to Majorca this year and are considering a domestic locale for a beach getaway. Miami may seem an obvious choice, but we suggest staying north of Florida in the picturesque Outer Banks, NC. It is the perfect place to take a stateside beach trip – from a fun girls’ getaway to a wholesome family beach vacation.

Pick Your Perfect Beach

With over 100 miles of gorgeous shoreline to choose from, selecting your perfect destination within the Outer Banks won’t be easy. It is all so beautiful! We took an extended family vacation (we’re talking three generations) to Avon, NC. We chose Avon specifically because the beaches have a rustic beauty that felt closer to nature than other parts of the Outer Banks. Indeed, looking out from the deck of our house to the dunes and beach below, my kids were jazzed to spot lizards, bunnies and crabs scurrying among the brush and bright wildflowers.

On a more practical level, Avon had necessary conveniences right in “town” (hello, huge Food Lion supermarket!) that are downright lifesavers with 5 kids to keep fed and entertained.

House Rentals in Avon, NC

Basically every house in Avon is available for rent, so while the best homes book up quickly during the summer season, if you reserve early enough you should be able to find your perfect house from among the inventory. We rented our house through Surf or Sound Realty. When you select your rental, be sure to get a house that gives access to one of the pool clubs in the area. Many houses don’t have their own pools (but DO have their own hot tub), but include access to one of these pool clubs in the price of the rental.

Our house came with a gold membership to Koru Village. Club Koru has a nice-sized and well-appointed pool (complete with tiki bar – BONUS), gym, restaurant that you can order from poolside and a spa! They also host events like fam-friendly luaus. All in all a really great rental perk!

Fun Vacation Activities in a Historically Rich Area

I remember being thoroughly freaked out when I learned about the “lost” Roanoke Colony in elementary school: A settlement of 116 men, women and children who disappeared without a trace. Roanoke Island, where Sir Walter Raleigh founded his ill-fated colony, is in the Outer Banks – and you can visit it! The entire Outer Banks area is not only beachy and beautiful, but also full of such historically significant places…more than I could possibly list here. But know, if you’d like to do a bit more that lay on the beach all vacation long (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), the Outer Banks has so much cool stuff to offer. If you’re vacationing with kids, be sure to get a permit for a beach bonfire. Your realty agency can provide one. Our kids had such a blast making smores in the moonlight. Bring flashlights, too, so you don’t miss the march of the ghost crabs! Every night these guys come crawling out of the ocean towards the dunes, and your kids will love spotting them with flashlights.

If you’d like to burn some calories while sightseeing, I highly recommend visiting the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton. It was built in 1803 and is the tallest lighthouse in North America. Historical significance aside, best believe your beach body will thank you for making the almost 300 step climb to the top of the tower. Yowza…talk about buns of steel!

travel-diary-outer-banks-ncYou can pack back on all the calories you burned at the lighthouse with a family-friendly lunch at Buxton Munch Co., just down the road from Cape Hatteras. With its psychedelic, kitch-ed out decor and uber-casual vibe, this is the spot to eat with kids. There are piles of books on hand for the kids to read and tchotchkes hanging on every inch of wall space, so the whole family will stay entertained throughout the meal. The super-fresh fish tacos are the specialty here, and definitely a must-order, but their homemade tortilla chips are INSANE: Something between a traditional tortilla chip and the dried noodles you get in little bags with Chinese takeout. May sound odd, but trust me on this one…we all were fighting over every chip in the basket! Such flaky, salty, fried goodness could only come from the south.

Don’t Miss Out on Fine Dining

Though this was a family vacation, the hubby and I did sneak in one romantic dinner while in the Outer Banks. We heard from numerous sources that Cafe Pamlico at The Inn on Pamlico Sound was the spot in OBX for a romantic dinner.

“Casual fine dining” may sound like an oxymoron, but this place gives life to the phrase. You can get dressed up or wear flip flops – either is completely appropriate. From the specialty gimlet to the crème brulee, everything we ordered was spot on. The menu changes frequently, but if you see mahi-mahi, make sure to order it…it was cooked to perfection! Cafe Pamlico’s most delectable offering, though, is its location. Situated right on the edge of the Pamlico Sound, we got to enjoy our dinner while watching the summer sun set over the water. It was the perfect (and peaceful) night out we needed.

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