Italy Travel : Six Essential Tips For Making the Most of Your Trip

essential tips for your italy trip

Year after year, Italy continues to be a top vacation destination for travelers. That’s no surprise to me, someone who’s been enamored since my first trip, continually returns and sings its praises to prospective clients.

What’s not to love? Italy is steeped in rich history, grand architecture, food and wine, culture, lifestyle, picture-perfect landscapes and gregarious people. All combined, it’s enough to make the most unfeeling traveler fall in love. And fall hard.

But for those who haven’t been, the thought of visiting a foreign country can be daunting and overwhelming.

Here are some essential tips that will help you relax and enjoy your first trip.

1. Adopt the Right Attitude

Italy’s lifestyle and culture are very different from that of the United States. But, that is exactly why you are visiting, isn’t it? To experience something new, exciting and different.

Honestly, if you’re expecting it to be the same, or will be disappointed when you find that it isn’t, I would advise you to stay home and save your pennies. It’s best to be mentally prepared for the differences and adopt a relaxed and positive attitude before you go. Be ready, willing and open for everything.

If something doesn’t work out as planned, and it will happen, don’t revert to what I call the “comparing Italy to America syndrome.” It’s offensive and rude to continually complain to hotel or wait staff about how things are done in America.

Making statements like “This isn’t the way we do it back home”, or “In America, we always get ice with our drink” will quickly get you labeled as an “Ugly American” and it won’t solve any problems.

Remember, you’re there to experience their country, not convince them that your country’s way is better.

2. Understand the Differences

One difference is space – it’s at a minimum – so hotel rooms and bathrooms will likely be smaller than what you’re used to. Some older, charming budget hotels don’t have elevators or air conditioning, so if these are important to you, you’ll likely spend more for these creature comforts taken for granted back home, because many are considered a luxury in parts of Italy.

It’s important to be aware of meals and meal times as well. Italians eat three meals a day, and make several stops at the local bar to down a cup of espresso with lightning speed. Breakfast consists of a roll, or cornetto and a cappuccino (never after 11 am) or espresso. Don’t expect a full American breakfast.

Lunch is usually served during a very limited window around mid-day. You’ll likely be out of luck for a good lunch after 3:00 pm as most reputable places don’t offer continuous service. Typically dinner isn’t served until at least 7 or 8pm, though locals eat even later. If you find yourself hungry out of normal meal times, head to a wine bar or grab a slice of pizza to go. When all else is closed – opt for gelato!

3. Learn (some of) the Language

You don’t need to be fluent in Italian to visit, but learning a little goes a long way. You’ll find people in larger cities speak English, but don’t expect that in tiny villages or off-the-beaten-path locations. Even if the plan is to stick to big cities, it’s polite to at least learn a few basics before you go. It’s fun, easy and you’ll get better treatment from locals. I recommend you learn the basics and use them often.

Bring a good menu translator or at least a list of foods you don’t want to eat when traveling. If you have any food allergies, it’s also a good idea to write them in Italian on index cards and carry them with you to show your waiter.

4. Know When to Go

Summer months may be the best time for families with kids to travel to Italy because their schedules easily allow it – but keep in mind, traditionally it’s very hot in the summer and you’ll be joining everyone else traveling during this time, so large crowds will be the norm.

Much of the country takes their vacation in August, so many places where you’d like to eat or shop may be closed. Tours and guides will likely be booked well in advance. It’s also the most expensive time to travel, so airfare and hotel rates will be at a premium.

Instead opt for an off-season visit, in spring or fall, which can offer lower prices, lesser crowds, better availability for excursions and more pleasant weather.

5. When it Comes to Planning, Less is More.

Most people go to Italy with a mile long checklist and run through, checking things off at a marathon pace, in order to get it all in. That’s Italy done wrong. It’s impossible to see everything, so don’t try.

Depending on how many days you have, stick to larger cities, which are easy to get to and spend a minimum of three days in each place. Don’t pack too much into your daily itinerary. Italy is a country meant to be savored at a slow pace – so adopt a slow travel and slow dining philosophy. Build in lots of downtime to watch the museum of life go by and soak up the local atmosphere. That’s Italy done right!

6. Getting Around

If you are sticking to the larger cities of Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Bologna or Naples, there is no need for a car. Italy’s high-speed train system is fast, clean, and efficient. However, if you plan to explore more remote areas in Tuscany, Umbria or Le Marche, you’ll have the most flexibility by renting a car. For those who want to splurge, hiring a private car and driver is a relaxing and stress-free option.

Be prepared to walk more than you ever thought possible. Fashionistas, leave the stilettos home and opt for comfortable, yet stylish shoes. It won’t hurt to pack a few extra Band-Aids for much-needed blister relief, either.

Planning your first trip to Italy and don’t know where to start? I’d love to help! Click here to find out more.

How to Pack Light for a Two Week, Two Climate Trip

how to travel 2 weeks with a carry on

On my most recent trip to France, I knew packing light would be a bit of a challenge. I would be in Paris, which can be finicky in terms of the weather – especially with wind, rain and temperature fluctuations. And then I’d be off to the South of France, which would be much warmer and sunny.

The Languedoc boasts 350 days of sunshine a year, but I would be on a barge on the canal, so it might be very hot during the day and then cool down at night. And there was a dress code on the barge – you were expected to dress up a bit for dinner. No ball gowns, but no track suits either.

The secret? Layers, people. Layers. Layers are your friend.

I can happily and wholeheartedly shout from those Paris rooftops that I was able to successfully travel with just my carry-on wheelie, one personal item and feel like I had everything I needed for the trip. I made it work.

My goal is to travel lighter each time I take a trip, so I am consistently editing and finding ways to downsize what I feel is essential.

For example, my smartphone replaces many travel items I used to take with me, which saves space in my luggage.

What I did not take:

sunscreen (I bought my favorite French brand there)
my laptop or camera (I used my iPhone for everything from maps to email and taking photos)

Other than basic unmentionables and my toiletries, here is a glimpse of what I packed for the two weeks:

pack for 2 weeks

BOTTOMS

  • pair of dark wash denim
  • black capri pants
  • dark denim capri pants
  • black knit skirt

TOPS

  • 5 lightweight solid basic knit tops (black, white, grey, royal blue, kelly green)
  • 2 lightweight print dressy sleeveless tops
  • 1 lightweight print dressy short sleeve shirt

MISC

  • lightweight grey cardigan
  • waterproof black jacket with a hood
  • black knit dress

SHOES

  • flat gold strappy sandals
  • comfortable black and white sneakers
  • lightweight,casual brown shoes

ACCESSORIES

  • 3 print scarves
  • 2 necklaces – one gold, one silver
  • 2 bracelets – one gold, one silver
  • floppy hat for sun protection
  • travel umbrella
  • my trusted travel neck pillow (mine’s a Bucky)
  • 2 pairs of Smartwool no show socks
  • 2 pairs of compression knee highs – one nude, one black
  • small grey crossbody bag
  • navy and cream striped tote (which served as my bag when visiting the French markets, and also as my personal item on the plane)

Mixing and matching all of these pieces, I was able to create many different outfits. That’s the key. 

No matter what the weather threw at me I was ready.  Sunny and hot – no problem – skirt, short sleeve shirt and hat.  Cold and rainy – denim jeans, knit top, scarf and my waterproof jacket. Dinner on the barge – swap the short sleeve knit top for a dressy one, throw on some jewelry and done!

Looking back, I would have ditched the black dress, which I hardly wore and replaced it with a long sleeve knit black knit top. It got downright chilly in Paris even though it was May, and I could have used it.

The takeaway is this - you can still be stylish, comfortable and not feel bored with your options, while travel lightly.

I hope it inspires you to travel with less.

If I can do it. You can do it, too.

If you struggle with packing lighter, here’s how I can help.

8 Reasons to Take a Canal du Midi Barge Cruise in France

I just returned from a once in a lifetime experience that had been on my France bucket list for quite sometime – a French barge Cruise on the Canal du Midi aboard the Athos.

Athos Barge Canal du Midi

Athos moored along the Canal di Midi

Located in the Languedoc region of France, the Canal du Midi is a 300 year old very unique stretch of water and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The canal itself is about 150 miles long and runs from Toulouse to Sète and tops out in the Mediterranean.

It was originally designed for trade to transport goods like wheat, textiles and wine by barge, before the invention of railroads. But in the early 1990′s, some of the boats were renovated into luxury vacation barges and a new tourism sector was born.

If you’ve followed me, you’ll notice I don’t talk about cruises. I’m not a fan of the typical cruising experience, which is generally ginormous ships that resemble floating cities with millions of people, food buffets and aggressive itineraries. That type of travel doesn’t appeal to me.

But a barge cruise seemed the antithesis of a cruise, a slow travel experience, with just a handful people on a small vessel, only covering a short amount of ground per day with more focus on local food and wine.  And that’s exactly what it was.

Here are some reasons I think you should consider a French barge cruise along the Canal du Midi.

1.  The Scenery

scenery along canal du midi on Athos barge

Beautiful plane trees lining the Canal du Midi

Some of the most amazing scenery.  A mixture of poppy fields and vineyards, postcard pretty.  An old house here and there, beautiful bridges, aqueducts and charming villages, all surrounded by the backdrop of the canal, which is lined with Cyprus, Plane and Umbrella Pine trees. Dappled sunlight that dances across the water through the leaves. It’s very serene.  And as you’re driving to and from daily excursions, you get to relax and enjoy different views of the French countryside.

2. The Slow Pace

The barge travels about four MPH and you have the ability to get on and off to either walk or bike (they have bikes onboard) along the towpath and meet up with the boat or just take it easy on deck, read a book, take a nap, chat with fellow passengers or the crew.  It’s a very relaxing vacation or it can be more active – you get to choose. Another bonus – absolutely no seasickness, so if you’re prone to that on ocean liners, you won’t need to worry here.

3. The Weather

The Canal du Midi is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France. The area boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year. And though it can be windy and a there can be a chance of rain – during the season, which only runs from April through October, you’re almost guaranteed good weather.

4. The Locks

locks at fonserannes canal du midi languedoc france

One of the eight lock chambers of Fonserannes

The locks are an amazing feat of architecture and engineering. Some are very small, but others, like the Nine Ecluse, a succession of eight locks near Fonserannes are a downright marvel.  Water gushes in to fill up the basins with the power of what seems like Niagara Falls.  And it’s fascinating to be on the barge to be part of it all.

5. The Crew

They pamper you, but not in an annoying way. Very unobtrusively. They ask before you even board what your favorite drinks are and if you have any food allergies. They know the area well and are knowledgable, entertaining and happy to tell stories about their time on the barge.  They really want you to enjoy your time on board (and off) and will go out of their way to make you happy.

6.  The Food and Wine

gourmet breakfast athos barge canal du midi

Daily gourmet breakfast aboard the Athos

We had some absolutely amazing meals on board.  Every day when we stopped in a new village, one of the guides would make a run to the boulangerie and the chef would shop for local specialities at the food market.  The food was fresh, gourmet, local and it was plentiful. We ate like royalty.

We enjoyed a cheese course every night at dinner which included a variety of local cheeses.

And since the Languedoc is a huge wine region -  all of the wine was local as well.  We had a nice mix of red, white and rosé and the bottles flowed at lunch, dinner and apéro for as long as you wished.  It was expertly paired with our meals and both the chef and wait staff would describe every course and each wine in detail, which was a nice touch.

7.  It’s All Inclusive

Everything from soup to nuts is included on the trip.  You pay one price which includes the barge, transportation to and from the barge, the crew, all of your meals on board, all of your drinks, wine, cocktails (as much as you want) and all of the excursions. You don’t need to worry at all about handling money or bringing it along with you, unless you wanted souvenirs or to buy something during one of the excursions.

8.  The Excursions

Caracassonne France on the Canal du Midi

Carcassonne, France – one of the villages we visited on an Athos excursion

We got to visit some pretty amazing places.  Each barge has a choice of the places they visit and create their own itinerary, but the Athos included the villages of Pézenas, Carcassonne, Capestang, Narbonne, Marseillan and Minerve.  We also got to visit the Noilly Prat vermouth distillery, a covered food market in Narbonne, a local olive cooperative and had time one night to walk to the Oppidum d’Ensérune with our guide.  It was a nice mix of history, food and charming villages.

Stayed tuned, I’ll be posting more about my trip over the next few weeks – you can look forward to posts on my favorite photos, what to pack and also a day-by-day account of exactly what the trip was like.

Disclosure: I was a guest aboard the Athos barge. All opinions and photos are my own.

So, what do you think? Would you take a barge cruise along the Canal du Midi?

Paris Travel : How to Get From CDG Airport to City Center

CDG Airport to center of Paris

There are many ways to get from Paris’s main airport, Charles de Gaulle, to central Paris.  Depending on budget, travel style, time of day and where you’re staying, one is likely to work better than another.  Here is an overview of the choices you have.

Taxi Parisien

The standard, good old-fashioned taxi, is still my favorite, most direct, and reliable way of getting from Charles de Gaulle to the center of Paris.  You’ll see signs directing you to the taxi stands at every terminal.

It’s always best to make sure you get in line at the taxi stand and only take a licensed Taxi Parisien.  Ignore any annoying hawkers inside the airport trying to offer you a ride. Head right to the stand, queue and wait your turn. The line moves quickly, but if you have no luggage to collect at the carousel, you’ll get into the line faster, which is one of many reasons to become a carry-on only traveler. 

On my last trip, my taxi driver whisked my luggage away to the trunk and handed me a cold bottled water before opening my car door. I paid €54 from the airport to the Marais in rush hour traffic. I’ve never had a bad taxi experience and they are always professional.

There is also talk of making a dedicated commuter lane, which may get you to Paris even faster if you’re traveling during work hours.

Cost : Depending on traffic, time of day and your final destination, expect to pay between €50 – €70.

Roissy Bus

This long time option connects the airport with Paris’s Opéra area, which is the 9th arrondissement. Depending on time of day, the bus runs every 15 to 30 minutes and the trip takes 75 minutes. The coaches are air-conditioned, they serve every terminal and there is plenty of room for luggage. Tickets are available at automatic ticket machines at the airport.

Cost €11, one way.

AirFrance Bus

Technically called Les Cars Air France, this reliable bus service operates two lines that service Paris, 7 days a week. Line 2 runs from CDG to the Place d’Etoile, between 5:45am and 11pm, and takes about an hour.  Line 4 runs from CDG to Gare Montparnasse (with a stop at Gare de Lyon) from 6am to 10pm and takes 75 minutes.

These leave every 30 minutes and service almost every terminal (though some require an extra connection).  Tickets are available online, at airport vending machines and even on board.

Cost :  Line 2 €17; Line 3 €17.50, one way.

easyBus

A brand new shuttle service owned by the British company EasyJet just launched a new shuttle service called easyBus. The buses run in both directions between the Palais Royal/Louvre area and Terminal 2 at CDG, making this the option that gets you closest to the actual center of Paris – the 1st arrondissement.

The trip takes 45 minutes to an hour and tickets can be purchased online.

Cost : Prices vary based on time of day you travel, but currently range from €2 to €10, one way.

RER Train

The RER B line runs from Terminal 2 or Roissypole from Terminals 1 and 3. Stops on this line include Gare du Nord, Châtalet, Saint-Michel/Nôtre Dame, Port Royal and a few more options as the train heads south towards Orly.

I’ve done it before, and doing it your first time does require prior planning and can be a bit confusing as you need to buy your ticket at the airport and then navigate your way to the RER station and beyond.  It’s also notoriously hit with technical problems and can be very unreliable.

This option is also not recommended if you have a ton of luggage, or if you’ll be hopping on during commuter times, as the trains are crowded, as are the Metro stations you may need to connect with in order to get closer to your final destination.  The other dreaded thing you need to worry about that makes this a risky option – STRIKES.  And we know how the French love their strikes.

Cost : €10, one way.

Shuttle Services

Popular shuttle vans like Parishuttle or Bluvan take up to eight passengers at a time from CDG to Paris.  These will bring you directly to your destination, like a taxi, as opposed to a bus just dropping you in a central location – but that also means you’ll have other passengers to drop off as well, so your trip can take longer depending on which order you’ll be delivered.

Parishuttle requires you to call them from the airport to get your pickup location, while Bluvan has dedicated pickup spots at each terminal.

Journey time on a shared van is impossible to determine – based on how many others to pick up, at what terminal, how many stops en route to Paris and what number you are in the queue.  Could be an hour, could be three days.

Both require you to book online, in advance. I’ve heard and read stories about their unreliability, so use caution and book at your own risk.  In case of delayed flights or very late arrivals, you may have a bit of a problem, as they tend to only wait one hour. And since these are prepaid services, you’ll need to request refunds if for some reason you miss your ride or you decide not to use them.

Cost : Prices start at €25 one way, per person for shared rides. There is a charge for extra luggage. Both also offer private transfer options.

What’s on the horizon?

A new high-speed express train that links Charles de Gaulle to the center of Paris is planned.  The line will run from CDG to Gare de l’Est in a mere 20 minutes.  Sadly, since this will be part of the French Railway system, it will also be subject to – you guessed it – strikes.  Ticket prices are predicted to be a hefty €24, but that’s still half the price of a taxi and will get you to the city faster.

Construction is set to begin in 2017, but the project is planned to take eight years to complete, so you’ll just have to a plan a trip to Paris and try it out for yourself in 2023!

Heading to Paris soon? Don’t miss one of these tasty Paris food tours!

Top Spots to See Roman Ruins in England

Hadrians Wall Roman Ruins  England

The United Kingdom is a land filled with thousands of years of history spanning a multitude of cultures. One of these is the Roman Empire, who ruled over the British Isles for over a hundred years starting in A.D. 43. Eventually the Romans left England around the fifth century A.D., as noted by the BBC, but not without leaving us with a wealth of historic sites and ruins.

I’ve already shared where to see Roman ruins in France and also Etruscan ruins in Italy, but for those looking for an Italian or Roman-themed vacation and aren’t quite able to make it to the famous boot-shaped country you can find plenty of history in England. These are a few of favorite sites to see for the Italophile in all of us.

Hadrian’s Wall

You knew I had to talk about this one. Hadrian’s Wall is the single most visited tourist attraction in all of Northern England and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1987. The ancient wall was constructed early in the second century (122 A.D. to be exact) and extends for 73 miles between the River Tyne and the Solway Firth. English Heritage has a terrific timeline of the rich history of the wall in addition to historic events that take place at the site throughout the year.

The British Museum

You’ve got to start somewhere and there’s no better place than the British Museum. British Airways writes here that the museum plays host to an incredible 7 million objects in its collections. That makes this museum one of the largest in the world! Don’t forget that what we know today as London was originally a Roman settlement dubbed Londinium, so it’s no wonder there are so many Roman artifacts in this massive collection. You can see bronze busts of the Roman emperor Hadrian, ancient Roman mosaics and much more to whet your appetite for antiquity. The Museum of London also has some terrific pieces and exhibitions. However, if you can only make it to one, make it the British Museum if for nothing other than its sheer size and scope.

Lullingstone Roman Villa

This awe-inspiring Roman villa was constructed during first century A.D. and is suspected by some to have been a vacation home for Roman governors during the occupation. The site has something for everyone, from art-lovers to kids. Parents will be wowed by the heated bath-suites, house-church and beautiful mosaics, and kids will be entertained by getting to try on period-accurate Roman costumes and recreations of traditional board games. It’s no wonder the Telegraph called Lullingstone one of Britain’s 50 best secrets.

With nearly 500 years of Roman rule, there are more forts, historic sites, statues and artifacts than you can shake an ancient spear at. You don’t have to go to Italy to satisfy your interest in the rich history of the country and you’ll be amazed by how much you can find right in England’s backyard.

Which of these Roman ruins would you visit on your trip to England?

Fun Facts about Puglia

trullo alberobello puglia italy

 

The Puglia region is a fascinating combination of unique history, culture and of course some of the best food and wine that Italy offers.  I learned so many things about Puglia on my trip, and I took a copious amount of notes.  What better way to share all of the facts with you than a bulleted list of the things I found most interesting from this very scenic region.

Did you know :

  • Puglia is home to over 50 million olive trees.  Many of them centuries old.
  • Puglia needed to enact laws to deter people from other parts of Italy coming down and digging up those valuable olive trees to bring them back and plant them on their land.  It’s now illegal to dig up a tree from Puglian soil.
  • Puglian cuisine, a fine example of the healthy Mediterranean diet, is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The famed Appian Way, that starts in Rome, actually ends in Puglia – you can visit the site.
  • Egnazia is home to archeological ruins and a museum filled with artifacts from graves of Greek and Messapii people.
  • Though Puglia has its own dialect, separate from the national language, there are still small pockets, near Lecce that speak Greek, or Griko.
  • The tarantella is said to have originated from the area of Taranto.
  • Puglia is responsible for over 60% of the olive oil produced in Italy.
  • There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Puglia, the most famous is Alberobello.
  • Lecce, is nicknamed the ‘Florence of the South’, due to all the Roman ruins and Baroque architecture.
  • As the flattest region in Italy, it’s a bikers paradise.
  • Puglia makes more wine than any other region in Italy.
  • The region has 500 miles of coastline and 10 Blue Flag beaches.
  • The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari is named for the saint who is known as Santa Claus. The church holds a tomb which contains many relics.
  • Castel del Monte, located in Andria, is known for being the only eight-sided castle and is pictured on the Italian one-cent Euro.
  • After Venice, Lecce is one of the most well-known cities for the craft of Papier-Mâché.

9 Easy Ways to Save Money For Travel

save money for travel

Traveling, seeing the world, experiencing life in different places and getting to know people from different cultures is eye-opening and essential for a well-rounded world view. It’s exciting. And thrilling. It makes you feel alive and everyone deserves the opportunity to try it.

I know many who would like to travel, but say they just can’t afford it. I don’t think it’s an excuse. I really DO think they believe that, but it doesn’t have to be true.  You change your perspective to change your situation. You have to DO something. It really depends how important travel really is to you.

If you make traveling a priority, an important goal in your life, and then take the necessary steps – you CAN make it happen.  

A little sacrifice now can help you travel later.

So, if travel is important to you, here are 9 easy ways to save the money to make it happen:

1. Ditch Starbucks. Or Dunkin’ Donuts. Whatever your go-to brand. Those four-buck-lattes add up, so make your own coffee at home with a French Press or Bialetti.

2. Ladies – skip the mani/pedi. Learn to do your nails at home. Or keep it simple – neat, trimmed, filed and moisturized. Save even more by coloring your hair at home instead of the salon. Splurge on a good haircut though.

3. Cut the Cable Cord. I did this recently and I save over $70 a month. HELLO, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

4. Instead of a full three-course meal and bottle of wine at expensive restaurants – treat yourself, but find cheaper alternatives. Think Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Burger Joint, Sushi or Pizza. If you must do the fancy restaurant thing – why not have a glass of wine at home and order just an appetizer or entree? Also, seek out happy hour deals in your area.

5. Skip the movies. Instead, rent DVDs for free from your local library or grab a Redbox movie.

6. Round-up all of your loose change (check the car, sofa cushions, pockets, zippered compartments in old purses), bring it to the bank and deposit it right into your vacation fund!  Make it a habit by keeping a collection jar and cashing it in when full.

7. Use less fuel. Either bike or walk when you can, schedule your errands into one trip, carpool to work with coworkers – there are lots of ways to save on gas! Go a step further and examine your auto insurance. You may be overinsured and can save money by stepping down coverage and lowering your premiums.

8. Don’t ‘shop’ as a hobby. Stop buying stuff you don’t need, and make do with what you have. If you do need (not want) something, try buying used instead of new. This includes things like – the latest miracle skin potion or the tech gadget of the moment (I’m talking about you Google Glass and Apple’s iWatch). And for the love of GOD- please unsubscribe yourself from daily deal sites like One Kings Lane, Zulily etc.

9. Sell stuff you already own. There are tons of things you can do without or that you don’t use. Why not round-up things you don’t need or have duplicates of and sell them on Ebay, Craig’s List or have a yard sale? All the proceeds can be used for a vacation – and you get the added benefit of decluttering your house at the same time!

Doing only one of these things isn’t going to pay for an entire vacation – but combine them and you’ll see it all add up over time. It’s fun to track your progress and watch your money grow. Get the kids involved too!

In time, you’ll be able to start planning that trip you think you can’t afford.

What are some ways you have saved in order to travel?

What’s New in Paris for 2014

New in Paris for 2014

There is so much new in Paris this year, it’s been hard to keep up! New museum openings, new services cropping up and even a new Paris tour that I’m offering.

I’ve already covered What’s New in France this year which also contains some Paris highlights, but there was more than enough happening to create a stand alone post for Paris. I keep adding to it as things pop up – so make sure you check back often.

New Museums, Tours and Attractions

> After a six-year restoration, amid lots of drama, the Picasso Museum finally reopened. The new space at the Hôtel Salé is more than double the size of the old, showcases more than 400 works in a fabulous space, and includes a garden and courtyard.

> A newcomer, the Louis Vuitton museum opened in a beautiful Frank Gehry designed building that some say resembles a spaceship or glass sails.  In true Paris fashion (pun intended) there is also a restaurant on site.

> Speaking of museums. The three most visited museums will soon be open seven days a week! This will make your planning much easier. The big three are the Louvre, Versaillies and Musée d’Orsay and technically new hours don’t take effect until 2015, but I know you’ll be planning early, riiiiight?

> The Eiffel Tower recently revealed a new glass floor. Those who are able to handle the feeling of walking on air and seeing 200 feet straight down to the ground have been having fun with all the photo ops provided. Those with vertigo or a fear of heights should probably skip it!

> 25 years after shutting down, the Piscine Molitor has again reopened. Swimming in this luxury pool, in the 16th arrondissement comes with a hefty pricetag - daily entrance fees run about $245. Nope, that’s not a typo.

> Are you familiar with Vélib’? It’s a bike sharing program in Paris. Well, this year the city launched a similar bike sharing program for kids! It’s called P’tit Vélib’ and it’s a great way for families to explore Paris.

> As if a visit to the Paris Catacombs wasn’t creepy enough, what about visiting after dark? You can, now that tours will run until 8pm.

> I’ve partnered with a local to offer a new Paris tour. This one is a relaxed walking tour in the Marais, exploring history, architecture and includes a real French breakfast, private lunch at a century-old bistro and a cheese and wine lesson.

New Travel & Apps

> Great news if you live on the East Coast of the U.S. A new all business-class airline, La Compagnie has started offering round-trip flights from New York’s JFK to Charles de Gaulle in Paris.

> Paris airports are now offering free unlimited WiFi at both Charles de Gaulle and Orly.

> It seems like every big city has a new taxi smartphone app and Paris is no exception. The city launched Paris Taxis, a free app for both iPhone and Android. It’s not an Uber-style app where you actually order and pay for a ride, it’s more to let a driver see you or to tell you where the closest cabs are.

> History, art and literary types will find the Travel by Art app worth a download. The 2o tours of Paris explore the lives and walk in footsteps of greats like Ernest Hemingway, Edith Piaf and more. Maps can be used offline, without an Internet connection. The app is free, but requires in app purchases for some tours.

Are you planning a visit to Paris and are stuck or overwhelmed by all the options? Click here to see how I can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Resources for Slow Food, Wine and Stays in Italy

Italy Resources Slow Travel and Slow Food

When it comes to Italy, less is more. Which is why I sing the praises of slow travel and slow food in Italy. Taking it easy, savoring every moment and not packing too much into your vacation.  Staying in an agriturismo, (farm stay) or on a vineyard in Italy is really a perfect way to relax and adopt a slower pace on vacation.  And isn’t that what vacation should be about?

But where do you find these gems?

From where to stay, where to eat and places to either drink wine or visit vineyards and wineries – here are some invaluable resources that will help you find and connect with places that also share and appreciate the slow pace of travel and support sustainable travel.

Italy Slow Travel, Food and Wine Guidebooks

  • Osterie & Locande d’Italia

This book is in its 17th revision, which means it’s been around for quite sometime. It’s available in English and basically combines both traditional places to stay with local flavor and character with places to eat and drink that celebrate regional cooking and recipes. It’s packed with over 2100 entires!

Available through Amazon (affiliate link)

  • Slow Wine 2013

Whether visiting Italy and wanting to visit and taste or if you just want to explore the best producers from home, this is a must!  The book not only includes reviews but gives some back story on the wine makers and favors those who have adopted sustainable and natural winemaking practices.  As a bonus, if you bring a copy of your book along some producers will offer a 10% discount!

Available through Amazon (affiliate link)

  • Go Slow Italy

Drop-dead gorgeous photography is the big draw with this coffee table sized book that features over forty hand-picked places to stay. Though you’ll never take this on vacation with you, it does give you a good description of rural life in Italy and practical information about many destinations. There are even some local recipes featured.

Available through Amazon (affiliate link)

All of these books make excellent reference guides at home when you’re planning – but no one is going to carry a tome around in their luggage on the road, no matter how tasty the contents may be!

The good news – many of them are available as apps, so you can take them on the road.

 

Italy Slow Travel, Food and Wine Apps

  • Osterie d’Italia 2014 (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch)

The reviews are in Italian, but the names and maps make it easy enough to navigate. Instead of high-end Michelin starred places, you’ll find more affordable spots where it’s all about the food. It’s a steep $8.99, but if you’re really passionate about eating in slow food approved establishments and you travel often to Italy, it may be worth it.

  • Locande d’Italia 2013 (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch)

Think of this as the counterpart to the app mentioned above.  Also $8.99, where the osterie app has food and wine selections, the locande version will list places to stay. You can browse authentic inns known for their charm, hospitality and slow pace. It covers all 20 regions, and has suggestions for hotels, B&Bs and farmhouses. In Italian.

  • Slow Wine 2014 (iPhone, iPad, iPod)

I’m pretty sure you can figure this one out!  This app is the Slow Food’s guide to the wineries in Italy. It contains reviews for over 400 wineries and 3,000 wines! New features added recently include over 700 restaurants and wine shops in the U.S. that carry the mentioned wines.  The detailed maps for both Italy and the U.S. makes it an essential travel tool. If you’re a wino, you’ll need this one.

  • Umbria Slow (iPhone, iPad, iPod, android)

This app is written in English, with a good humor and covers more out-of-the-way places in Umbria. It’s got great photos and maps and is a reasonable $3.99. A big bonus is the offline capability – you can use it without an Internet connection!

All of these apps are available for iPhone, but since Apple updates iOS frequently, I can’t make any guarantees if the latest versions of the apps work with updated software.

If you’re a food and wine lover heading to Italy, but don’t have time for the reasearch, I can help!

Let me plan a custom foodie adventure?

Book Review : Paris Vacation Apartment Guide

 

Paris Vacation Apartment Guide

Over the years I’ve researched and booked many Paris apartments for my clients, so I know a thing or two about the process. I’ve also written about how renting an apartment isn’t for everyone.

For those who are new to the process and are considering renting and booking an apartment on your own, there’s a helpful new e-book resource you should have.

It’s called The Paris Vacation Apartment Guide: Rent with Confidence – Learn Where to Stay Without Getting Overwhelmed, Ripped-off or Scammed! and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy for review.

The book is available as a download to an e-reader and is divided into the following sections:

Part Un – Answers the who, what, why, where and ifs of Paris apartment hunting

Part Deux – Detailed look at the arrondissements (neighborhoods) of Paris

Part Trois – Resources for rental agencies

Part Quatre (A little of this, a little of that) – General tips and warnings on everything from riding the bus and Metro to popular scams

I read the book from cover to cover and I’m sharing my thoughts on the book.

What I liked:

  • Practical Advice

I’m all about the practical advice – and Robyn’s book gives heaps of it.  I especially like that she’s clearly explained the differences between apartments in the U.S. vs. France in terms of everything from space, set-up, how building floors are numbered, appliances, what’s included and helpful tips.

Her suggestions for first time visitors to consider being closer to the city center rather than staying further away just to save money is spot on. She points out the trade-off between saving a few pennies, but spending more time on public transportation to get back and forth to the sights visitors come to see. Time is money after all.

  • The resources listed

She includes a Monoprix and a food market for every Paris neighborhood.  Foodies and those who need to shop for last-minute items will really love this information!

The book also lists and details reputable rental companies to work with, most of which manage small pools of apartments, which saves first timers much of the legwork. I’m familiar with most of the rental agencies and companies recommended and I’ve worked with several of them.

They aren’t the only game in town, and I’ve had lots of success working with others, but they are definitely a great, safe place to start.

What would make it even better:

  • More detailed maps 

I would love more detail on the arrondissement maps. The current links bring up a general Google Map with a pin showing the location of each arrondissement.  It would be nice if her recommended rental streets within each area were highlighted, as well as the Monoprix, food market and Metro stations.

This would make it so much easier for the person doing apartment research to quickly and clearly see where an apartment is in relation to the great resources she mentions.

Along the same lines, street names mentioned in the text of the arrondissement section could be bolded too.  For now, I’d suggest highlighting them on your eReader to make it easy to locate and refer back to later.

  • Cost analysis from both ends of the spectrum

For those who have no idea of rental costs, examples from both ends of the spectrum would be useful, because as she points out – there can be a huge difference in the price.  A spacious professionally decorated apartment in the tony Saint-Germain vs. a privately owned tiny budget studio in the Marais listed on VRBO might be a great study.

  • Pairing down of the arrondissement section  

The guide has a very comprehensive section covering all twenty arrondissements. While I totally agree with the advice that you can choose to stay in any one of them and have a good experience, there may be a bit too much detail, especially if the goal isn’t to overwhelm.

Perhaps a more succinct way would be to list a travel style or personality and suggest a few appropriate areas.  For example – if you want views of the Eiffel Tower and don’t mind paying top dollar - stay in x arrondissement.  If you want a hip vibe and exciting night life consider y and z neighborhood.  You get the idea.

That said, if you are really interested in an in-depth description of all twenty neighborhoods, you’re going to get it here.

So, if you’ve always dreamed of finding an apartment for your Paris vacation, and you have the time and patience to do the research and book on your own, this guide is definitely worth the download – especially since it’s a bargain at $2.99.

You can purchase a copy of the book here or in my Amazon store (affiliate links).

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Disclosure:

I was given a complimentary download of this e-book for review purposes. As always, the opinions are my own.