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Discovering the World with a Baby on Board

Category: Italy

Orvieto – An Unforgettable Day

A stunning 14th-century cathedral, Etruscan caves, world-famous wine, and a town surrounded by Tufa rock, towering above the Italian countryside.

If you haven’t been to Orvieto yet, go. One of the most picturesque towns in Italy (and there is stiff competition), this beautiful city has enough sights and experiences to make it well worth a full-day or even two-day visit.

We only went for one day this time, so the following will be an itinerary if you don’t want to do an overnight. However, for an unforgettable overnight experience, I recommend booking a room at La Badia, the 12th-century Abby turned hotel that lies amidst acres of countryside at the bottom of the hill. This 4-star abode has been frequented by celebrities from across the world, but inside you will feel like you personally discovered your own peaceful, rustic, romantic getaway in one of Italy’s most visited small towns.

11 a.m: We arrived by train (about an hour from Rome) in the late morning and took the Funicular that is right across the street from the station to the top of the hill, into the old town of Orvieto. Surrounded by walls, the town is emblematic of the Etruscans, who always built their cities high up and surrounded like a fortress to protect from evil invaders (like the Romans). The Etruscans were also known for their development underground. Caves and passageways have been found throughout the area, where Etruscans would store wine, weapons, statuary, and build rooms for the dead. If you are interested in seeing some of these tombs, you can visit the largest Etruscan Necropolis near Civitivecchia and outside of Tarquinia.

At the funicular, we had a taxi take us to Orvieto’s majestic church that crowns the town and glistens in the sunshine as if made with fine gems and paved with gold. Sitting on one of the stone benches in front gazing at the masterpiecesof it, we craned our necks to take in its majestic glory. It is truly one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and alone is worth the visit to Orvieto. We then went inside and paid a nominal fee to see the masterpieces, among them The Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli. It is a different experience to see these paintings in situ, as they were meant to be shown rather than in a museum, and you can create several wonderful church tours in Italy that will be better than visiting some of the most famous museums.

 Yy<<<y baby typing

^was left there on purpose. While I was writing the draft for this, my little one crawled up and started typing on the keyboard, which I couldn’t bring myself to erase.

1 p.m: Small towns in Italy shut down during the hot afternoon hours, when workers go home to eat delicious lunches and then rest for a bit before returning to work, so take advantage of the quiet and do the same. We ended up at a touristy spot, where the prices are inflated and the food mediocre. However, we enjoyed a delicious glass of Orvieto Classico wine. This wine is famous world-over and the restaurants here usually have the best years on hand. Another famous Orvieto wine is Est! Est! Est!. The story behind the name derives from a German bishop’s quest for the best wine as he was making the long journey to see the pope. He sent a prelate ahead of him to search and received a message when the servant reached a nearby commune called Montefiascone and the message read Est! Est! Est! (here it is, here it is, here it is!).

Street in Orvieto

3 pm: I wanted to see the Etruscan caves in Orvieto and there are a couple of ways to do this. There is the official cave tour, which lasts about 45 minutes and you can buy tickets for it at the cave tour center right across from the church. However, because they are long winding tunnels, I wasn’t comfortable carrying my baby down there, so I skipped it (my husband went though and really enjoyed it, as they explained how the caves have been used throughout the centuries after the Etruscans). However, I did enjoy the second option, which was a tour of a private Etruscan cave. The owners of the restaurant La Buca di Bacco discovered Etruscan caves underneath their property during an archeological dig and Etruscan cavethey invested a lot of money into making them tourable and beautiful. Carving Etruscan statuary inside and showcasing some of the relics found there, they have turned this into a must-see for tourists in Orvieto. There is a fee to participate in the tour, but it is worth it. They also used to serve several course meals down in the caves for certain tour groups (my mom runs a tour company and we enjoyed many a meal down there, with candles flickering everywhere and wine flowing). Now, they only serve tour Inside Etruscan cavegroups upstairs, but you can still participate in the cave tour if you call ahead or stop by the shop and talk your way in.

4 pm: There is an archeological museum right next door to the church – it’s not going to blow your mind away, but it is a nice, small museum with some Etruscan treasures. They also have rooms with Etruscan paintings on the walls, which look just like the tombs. It won’t take you very long to go through here and when you leave head left for a stunning view of the countryside and the aforementioned La Badia hotel.

La Badia nestled in the countryside

La Badia nestled in the countryside

Orvieto is also famous for its hand-painted pottery and there are also beautiful stores along the old streets, so take some time to shop and just enjoy the atmosphere of this ancient town before heading back to Rome!

 

 

The Appian Way to a Perfect Family Day – Rome

Baths of Caracalla, a 2,500 year-old road, magnificent villas, and a picnic to boot.. here is our itinerary for the Appian Way day.

Despite having to been to Rome probably a dozen times in my life, I had never visited the Appian Way – probably because it is out of the way. But, I am happy to report that this 2,500 year-old ‘Queen of the Long Roads’ is not only worth discovering, but it is a must-see. And, with a little planning, we found that we could create the perfect day on the Appian Way (no, I never tire of the rhyme).

Now, first off, a little history. This road isn’t just any old road.. it is the beginning of ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius, it is the first long road that allowed Roman troops to really start conquering all of the lands around them. Extended over the centuries, it witnessed the incredible rise and fall of the Roman Empire, as well as served as more than just an avenue for transport. In 71 B.C., after the slave revolt led by Spartacus, 6,000 slaves were crucified and the crosses carrying their bodies lined the road for miles. Sorry, a little gruesome, but not at all an unusual punishment back in the day.

But, you don’t have to picture that particular scene when you head to the Appian Way. We mainly marveled at the villas, imagined ourselves marching down this road thousands of years earlier (not to our demise), and relished in the undiluted history that graciously embraced us as we went back in time.

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Morning: Rise and shine! We woke up fairly early to avoid spending too much time in the afternoon heat and headed out the door, baby strapped to my body. We caught the bus from our apartment in Trastevere to the Circus Maximus, where we glimpsed a view of the imperial palace atop Palatine Hill before making our way to the Baths of Caracalla. The baths are amazing for a couple of reasons: almost nobody goes there, so you can really walk among the ruins and let your imagination run wild;  it is included in the combo ticket that also allows you to see two villas on the Appian Way (we will get to those next); it is an incredible structure and once served 6,000 bathing Romans a day, who also did their exercise there, engaged in political discussion, plotted against their enemies, and so on.

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Mid-Morning: After seeing some of the beautifully preserved mosaics and the enormous walls at the Baths of Caracalla, we caught a taxi (about 10 Euros) to the old part of the Appian Way (Via Appia antica). There are many ancient buildings you can see along the road, which extends for miles, but since we had a baby and I am a firm believer in less is more while traveling, we limited ourselves to a couple of sights and opted for a more relaxing experience. The ticket for the Baths of Caracalla include entrance to the tomb of Cecilia Matella and Villa dei Quintili, and our plan was to do both of these, but because of Italy’s belief in very long lunch breaks and the heat, we ended up doing just Cecilia Matella, which was beautiful. The truth is, you can see most of the villas and tombs from the road, and there really isn’t a need to buy entrance tickets to any, unless you are dead set on looking at more mosaics.

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Noon: Along the road, there is a little restaurant that also has sandwiches and salads to go. We picked up a couple of sandwiches, bottles of water, and fruit cups, and wandered until we found a good place to picnic. Now, what we ended up doing is not officially allowed, but again, this is Italy. We saw a beautifully manicured lawn filled with statues, benches, and a small villa, and decided to hunker down there for our little picnic. Innocently spreading out our blanket and food, we played with the baby, took pictures, and happily ate before the groundskeeper came and informed us that this wasn’t actually a public space for picnics. It ended up being the grounds to a museum and the Appian way information center, which turned out to be quite convenient. But, what I love about Italy is the groundskeeper waited until we had finished our picnic and even spent time playing with the tot before asking us to pack up. No doubt he saw us earlier, but who can resist a cute little family enjoying some quality time outdoors? Certainly, not Italians. In case you don’t want to kicked out, a little further down the road there is a park, where you can legally picnic and play.

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Afternoon: We leisurely walked down the road, took in some of the sights, and then randomly hopped on a bus (there is only one out there) that took us to an even more random road from which we found a taxi and headed back home.

In a nutshell: The Appian Way is magnificent and if the weather is cooler, you can spend even more time out there than we did. The Villa dei Quintili looks incredible, as do so many of the other sights. So, come with good walking shoes and get ready to explore, wander, and get lost in time. The road is very bumpy (made of big rocks) so I would not recommend a stroller. Baby carriers are the best!

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of the Antipasto(ish) Platter

Antipasto platters are wonderful. You get a little taste of many delicious foods without feeling bloated from too much pasta or pizza or any of the other tasty carb-laden delights Italy has on offer. When we were in Rome, we started making our version of an antipasto platter every day, mainly because we knew we would eat out for dinner and we wanted lunch to be a little lighter. But, even now we love to make these as an afternoon treat. Sitting outside with a chilled glass of wine and a delicious platter of these finger foods, you can almost transport yourself to the Tuscan countryside, lovingly embraced by the warmth of the Italian sun.

Since we’re vegetarian, the antipasto plate we put together on a daily basis didn’t include Italy’s famous prosciutto and the like, but obviously you can include whatever your little heart desires. When we had Italian guests over, they also made up some quick platters (including meat) and suddenly, within 10 minutes we had a delicious meal on our table for all to enjoy.

So here is an idea for a yummy, easy antipasto(ish) platter. Normal antipasto platters that you buy at a restaurant will include grilled vegetables, along with some meat, and cheese. But, here is our light version. The main rule is : decide on whatever sounds good to you, put little portions of it around the plate, and sit back and enjoy.

  • Fresh olives (preferably from the supermarket’s olive bar) but you can use jarred olives if that is what you have
  • Sharp Parmesan cheese nibs or another cheese that you love cut into bite sized pieces. Alternatively, you can put a burrata cheese ball in the middle.
  • Fresh strawberries (or, as my husband prefers for some reason, cut up raw red pepper)
  • A handful of pistachios or walnuts, whichever nuts you love the most
  • Some crackers

antipasto2

Here are some alternative platters. With almost no work, you can create a delicious presentation and eat a great meal. If you are traveling, pick up seasonal, fresh foods from the local market and try this out. If you are back home, this is a great way to relive your wonderful vacation!

Left: Prosciutto straight from the deli on a bed of rucola (rocket lettuce)

Middle: Three types of Italian cheeses (also from the deli) with rucola in the middle, covered in yummy olives

Right: A delicious Caprese – buffalo mozzarella cheese (ideally packed in their juices when bought) sliced up with the sweetest tomatoes you can find (datterini in Italy), tons of fresh basil, and topped off with olive oil and a smattering of salt.

These are simple, easy to make platters that you can have anywhere, even while traveling since no cooking is required. They are also great appetizers for guests. With so many different foods on offer, everyone is bound to taste something they love. And, remember, these platters are basically an ensemble of whatever delicious foods you find that are fresh and easy to prepare!

Like a Virgin – in Tivoli

Entering Tivoli is like entering a more magical and peaceful world, especially if you are taking a day trip from the hustle and bustle of Rome. I am not even sure a day does it justice, especially if you are traveling with kids, since there is so much to see. This would even be a great two-day trip from Rome, so you can relax and really enjoy all of Tivoli’s beautiful sights.

Tivoli

Like a virgin, you ask? Well, in beautiful Tivoli, you can experience what only the nobles once experienced on their grand tour through Europe : dining in the shade of an ancient (2,000 years old) Temple of the Vestal Virgins. But, don’t worry, here you don’t have to take any vows of chastity (Vestal Virgins who broke their vows were buried alive, but no need to think about that during lunch).

The train to Tivoli from Rome takes about one hour. When you arrive, trust me, it is easier to just walk into town (we attempted waiting for a bus and got caught up in a senior citizen row as they tried to find a bus driver willing to transport us all – apparently the drivers were all private hires and not for the general public). If you arrive around noon like we did, then I suggest first treating yourself to a scrumptious meal at Sibilla, an almost 300 year-old restaurant that has served everyone from dukes to princes to authors, and countless other luminaries from the past. Though not budget, the restaurant surprisingly isn’t that pricey compared to Roman restaurants and delivers an ambiance like no other. We ordered their special ‘tapas’ platter (just many small dishes to try) and two glasses of wine, and felt more than satisfied as we climbed into the temple and took pictures (the entrance was blocked, but we just moved the rope and, of course, nobody stopped us).

tivoli10 Sibilla

Villa D’Este: From there, we walked to the famous Villa D’Este and its magnificent gardens and waterfalls (a UNESCO world heritage sight). There are many steps, so I wouldn’t even bother bringing a stroller here (as many places in Italy, where the cities are all on a hill). I strapped the baby to my chest and we descended into the gardens, where we enjoyed incredible views, and relaxed in the shade.

Villa D'Este

Villa Adriano: Hadrian’s Villa is another top sight in Tivoli, though you will have to take a bus to get there. This 1,900 year-old villa was a country escape for Emperor Hadrian (who knows what went on inside, but feel free to let your imagination go wild.. it probably will still be tamer than reality). Emperor Hadrian was one of the Five Good Emperors and left a lasting mark on Rome, perhaps most notably with the rebuilding of the iconic Pantheon. Check out my Perfect Day in Rome with Trajan and Hadrian for another itinerary idea.

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Villa Gregoriana: Unfortunately, with a baby on me and after an already long day of sightseeing, we didn’t get a chance to visit this park. But, it looks beautiful from the photos and I will definitely go when I return. Probably all three of these would be too much in one day (especially with a kid), but this would be a great inclusion in a two-day trip.

Grand Waterfall

In a nutshell: Tivoli is a must-see. With the incredible gardens, majestic waterfalls, and unforgettable dining experiences, you will be able to understand why the emperors and popes chose this area as an escape from everyday life.

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