Florence, Italy

Well, I may have a new favourite city. Gosh Florence/Firenze is beautiful! We stayed for a few nights, in a little place called La Scaletta next to the Ponte Vecchio bridge (THE sunset catching spot of Florence). Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have picked this place to stay if we’d bothered to spend ANY time planning our honeymoon but it’s a really quaint spot with a fantastic location. The rooftop view is simply amazing and it was within walking distance of everything we wanted to see.

From the very first second you set eyes upon Florence it’s just art, architecture, colour – SO much to see. Although it’s a compact city, you’ll need to be prepared for walking. Luckily, there are leather sandal shops on every corner!

Olive groves en route to Florence

Ah Florence!!!

Florence’s rooftops

Sunset from the Ponte Vecchio

Hands down Florence’s number one can’t miss (because even if you tried you couldn’t) sight is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. THAT DOME. I must have 1000 pictures of just that. Haha, worth it.

There was a classical concert on our first night in Florence and as we’d just had Canon in D (Johann Pachelbel) as our ‘walking up the aisle song’ (wedding entrance song?) we thought it was a little sign that we should go. It was just over an hour and there was this little girl in front of us (I think probably about 3 years old and learning the violin) who was really into like the first 15 minutes and then kept nodding off – head bobbing to the left and right for the entire concert. So cute. The concert was in the Santo Stefano al Ponte church/auditorium – which was STUNNING. So glad we went.

That dome!

Florence’s Cathedral

Perfection

Last one!

Michelangelo’s David. Go see him! He’s in the Accademia Gallery. Don’t queue. Why do people queue?! You can either pre-purchase your tickets online or you can buy them at 105-107 Via Ricasoli – right across the road from where the queue starts. I think there was a 4 euro difference in ticket price between queuing (for hours, honestly) and just going to the counter on the left hand side of the entrance to the Accademia Libreria. We bought them on a Sunday morning about 9am (as they were all sold out online) and walked straight across the street past the queue. Quick security check and you’re in. There are also guides and touts around the place selling tickets for there are then entry.

David

Kinda want one for each of my necklaces…

So apparently the cafe at the Gucci Museo is worth a visit…we wouldn’t know as it was closed. Sob.

As we were in Italy we thought it was our duty to sample every gelato offering around. Generally in Italia you pay first and then bring your receipt over to the gelato counter and they’ll tear it and serve you. Vivoli was my favourite spot. It was quiet here after dinner one night so we sat in a cosy corner nattering away. We also tried La Strega Nocciola on Via Ricasoli (right behind Eataly) one afternoon. This is a tiny place with the loveliest chap behind the counter. You can try whatever you want here before committing (you can do that everywhere in Australia really but it doesn’t seem to be the done thing in Italy. I guess they’re afraid of wasting gelato!). Grom – John ordered lemon gelato here. I tried it and my cheeks are still wincing. Crikey. Venchi – not sure what’s with the queues coming out of these outlets. It’s like the McDonalds of gelato. Meh.

We adore Eataly and pretty much every time we see one we’ll go in. One afternoon we got some picnic supplies and bought tickets for the Giardino di Boboli/the Boboli Gardens. We had to queue for tickets, maybe for about 20 minutes (7 euro per person) but it was the perfect place for a city picnic – it wasn’t too easy to find a spot to picnic initially…you know when you’re just looking for somewhere that’s just perfection? We found the spot eventually – under the shade of a tree, overlooking the Fountain of Neptune with the city in the background.

There are specialty paper shops called Il Papiro all over Italy, and there was one right next to our hotel where we came across them hand decorating their paper – a technique called peacock feathering! It would be beautiful for wrapping paper. If you fancied spending 20 euro to wrap like an A5 sized book. Ahhem 🙂

Our picture perfect picnic spot

Boboli Gardens

Sculpture in the Boboli Gardens

Those colours

Street market stalls

Street graffiti

Haha

There’s art EVERYWHERE in Florence!

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Modena, Italy

It’s a pretty long drive from Zermatt, Switzerland to Modena, Italy, taking approximately 5 hours…maybe a little longer with food stops. It’s just over an hour to the Italian border (although there are no border checks) and the scenery around the border area is absolutely stunning – snow capped peaks and plenty of switchbacks to keep the driver awake 🙂 You could just go straight to Milan and it would be a relatively quick trip but we were keen to stay away from big cities for a little while and as the weather was temperamental we skipped the Lake Como area too. Next time! We really did plan our honeymoon on the fly!

Fidenza Village

We had a little stop en-route at Fidenza Village Outlet Village. I kind of assumed the shopping in Italy would be great and this place would be amazing but I’m not sure I’d really recommend it. Dolce & Gabbana have a pretty nice store but all the rest are the same outlet stores you get in all these villages – the Calvin Klein store had exactly the same stuff as the Kildare Village in Ireland…although they’re both run by the same company. You can visit on a day trip from Florence but I’m not sure if I’d go out of my way to go back to be honest…

Shopping at Fidenza Village

Modena

We arrived in the early evening and all of Modena was on holidays so we had the whole place to ourselves! We stayed at the Best Western Premier Milano Palace – it was maybe a 7-10 minute stroll to the centre of Modena. We decided to visit Modena as we’d seen it on Aziz Ansari’s Master of None show on Netflix (which is awesome). Massimo Bottura runs a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Modena, Osteria Francescana, which obviously we were dying to try…but they were closed for holidays so we’ll just have to go back! Massimo also has a more informal restaurant, Franceschetta58. We ended up at a fantastic little spot called La Bicicletta – and what a charcuterie board we had. SO GOOD! Our gelato fix was had at Gelataria Bloom, delish!

The romanesque Duomo di Modena (cathedral) is well worth a visit – it towers over Piazza Grande, a huge square brimming with wanderers. It’s a striking cathedral, founded in 1099 and consecrated in 1184 – it’s also a UNESCO site of universal outstanding value. After our dinner at La Bicicletta we wandered past the Ducal Palace of Modena and eventually found ourselves at a summers evening concert in the Parco Giardino Ducale Estense – how random! The whole city was there relaxing, dancing and checking out the art exhibition indoors. It was a lovely end to our evening in Modena.

Our hotel

Getting the lay of the land

Modena’s streets

Modena

Duomo di Modena

Duomo di Modena

La Bicicletta

Duomo after dinner

Modena street details

Ducal Palace of Modena

Palazzo Ducale di Modena

Art exhibition at the park

Some dark stuff in here too…

Montreux, Vevey, and Zermatt, Switzerland

Montreux

We drove from Geneva to Montreux all along Lake Geneva, which took maybe an hour and a half – it’s a pretty drive with some beautiful views just as you’re approaching Vevey, about 7km from Montreux. We stayed on the top floor of the Grand Hotel Suisse-Majestic – the hotel’s not amazing by any stretch of the imagination but the view is fantastic. There’s not a whole pile to do in Montreux, we just wandered around the lake and ate a whole pile! We had a really lovely dinner at La Rouvenaz one night. I’ll admit we also did the Irish Bar, Barrel-Oak one evening for dinner and drinks. There’s also a castle right at the end of Montreux called Chillon Castle which is one the main attractions in the area but it rained quite a lot whilst we were there so we didn’t quite make it. Next time!

Montreux

Along Montreux’s promenade

La Suisse

La Suisse’s stairs

Inner workings

Vevey

We took an afternoon trip to Vevey which is a beautiful little town back towards Genevea. We went there on the La Suisse paddle steam boat which honestly was so lovely. We reserved our tickets online that morning from Montreux to Vevey-Marché – we purchased first class tickets which were 17 CHF/17 Euro one way for both of us. Nobody checked our tickets and the only difference I could see between first and second class was that you could go upstairs and outside upstairs – there’s nobody stopping anybody from walking anywhere though. It was definitely worth doing this trip for the views alone. We ended up getting the train back from Vevey to Montreux – I don’t think it even took 10 minutes and the trains are very frequent.

Whilst we were in Vevey we went to the Alimentarium, or Nestlé’s food museum. I didn’t really rate this place to be honest, the 8 metre high fork in the water outside guiding you there was much more enjoyable! Nestlé’s world headquarters are in Vevey so it makes sense to have the museum here – Vevey was also the birthplace of milk chocolate so obvs we were going to visit! Thanks Mr. Daniel Peter!

Charlie Chaplin lived in the Vevey area for 25 years and you can visit his home which has since been turned into a museum, Chaplin’s World.

Vevey has a lot more little shops and alley’s to stroll around that Montreux – if I had to choose again I’d probably stay in Vevey.

Hey Vevey!

Arriving in Vevey

Vevey’s cute buildings

Vevey’s cute streets

The Alimentarium

The Fork

View from inside the Alimentarium

Charlie’s shoes!

Zermatt

Jesus were we underdressed for Zermatt! Who’d have thought the base of the Matterhorn would be so God damn cold! We LOVED Zermatt. It’s so unbelievably gorgeous, typical Swiss chalet buildings (mostly hotels to be fair) – it’s chocolate box Switzerland! We stayed at the cosy-as-you’ll-get Chalet Hotel Schönegg – we had a room on the ground floor with it’s own terrace looking out at the Matterhorn. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the main town area and they’ve got their own Batman style underground entrance!! Amaaaazing.

Zermatt is a German-speaking town (as opposed to Montreux and Vevey which are French) and the area is car-free (although you can technically drive in there – if you do you’ll get a handsome fine) so they have these little Thai-style tuk tuk type electric vehicles whizzing around the place. We parked at Matterhorn Terminal Täsch. We booked our parking online a couple of days before arrival – you just pop in the registration and the barriers open automatically for you on entry and departure. Easy as. The train/Zermatt Shuttle goes directly into the centre of Zermatt from Täsch. This is 16.80 CHF return per person. We just called our hotel from there and they were down in their little tuk tuk in just a few minutes. Brilliant!

Batman entrance!

As we were at the foot of the Matterhorn we decided to go on the cable car up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. The ticket prices are convoluted as feck so I don’t know what we actually paid but the lady behind the counter said something about it being the afternoon so I think maybe aroun 160 CHF or about 140Euro return. It’s a tad on the ridiculous side but you are going on the highest cable car in Europe and you’re out and about for about 2.5 hours or more. We didn’t see too much to be honest as it was quite overcast – it actually snowed whilst we were up there which really was awesome. I had to buy a raincoat down in Zermatt before we headed up – I was not prepared for ‘summer’ in Switzerland!!

Footwear I don’t recommend!

Cable cars in Zermatt

There’s Zermatt!

Not a picture!

The prettiest little town

The Matterhorn

We tried twice to get into Whymper-Stube for fondue twice but it was packed to the rafters both times and when we’re hungry there ain’t no waiting! We went to Restaurant Le Gitan for our fondue experience. It was only alright to be honest, they had Swiss wine but I’m not sure it suited us to be honest…they should probably stick with cheese and chocolate…After dinner we checked out Little Bar – they’re not lying, it’s probably one of the tiniest bars in the land! Cute place though and the staff are friendly. We also checked out Hexen Bar – it was a bit random with flying witches hanging everywhere. Nice but not really that memorable.

I’d been reading about the Grand Tour in Switzerland and happened upon some information about the snack-box. Picnic? I’m in. Picked up the Grand Tour Snack-Box in Bistro Fuchs on the morning we were leaving for Italy. It’s available from 45 different outlets (map) and each of them have their own version – generally sandwiches, some fruit and water. It basically just looks like a large First Aid kit but…souvenir!!

Typically Zermatt

Keeping warm in Zermatt

Little Bar

Inside Little Bar

Zermatt Beer!

Souvenirs

Geneva, Switzerland

So we FINALLY got some time off work for our fantastic wedding, which we had in Chateau La Durantie, France. I’ll do a post just on that but I’ll do a few posts now on our honeymoon. We took 5 weeks off work, went home to Ireland and then after our wedding we started a bit of a European road-trip 🙂

Firstly, we drove from Lanouaille in France to Geneva, Switzerland. It was a lovely drive, through little French villages at first and then just motorway – the service stations in France are fantastic, they’re very frequent, well signposted and have the BEST hot chocolate for €1.30 from these little machines. So good.

We just spent an evening in Geneva. We stayed at Les Armures in the old town which was the perfect location. The Geneva Festival happened to be on so we stumbled on to a great fireworks display – a lovely little honeymoon starter! All the waterside was filled with amusement rides and bars – it seemed like all the city was out milling around. So our first honeymoon meal was…pizza. Obvs. It was so good to just sit down and relax with some vino after the racing around we did getting organised for the wedding. We absolutely savoured the meal!! (We ate at La Cantinella: Rue de la Tour-de-Boël 2, 1204 Genève)

We really just wandered around Geneva the following morning, checked out the Victorinox Swizz Army Store – basically 2 floors of Swiss Army knives in different finishes. We could have spent a few evening wandering around Geneva and looking at watches for €30K but decided to move on to our next spot – Montreux.

Geneva’s streets

Honeymoon pizza!

Canons outside Les Armures

Walking Lake Geneva

A moonlit walk

Happy Honeymooning!

Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia

Ya, so we’re not getting out much lately…this saving for a wedding malarkey is REALLY cramping our travelling style!!

However we are getting out of Sydney a little bit and just took a Valentine’s trip to the Hunter Valley, 2 hours north of Sydney. More specifically, we spent time in oh so lovely Pokolbin. We stayed at the beautiful Convent Hunter Valley Resort (which used to be Peppers Convent but was recently taken over by the Escarpment Group who run some pretty nice spots in the Blue Mountains). Randomly, this beautiful building used to be  in Coonamble in western New South Wales – they moved it more than 600km! The grounds are beautiful, full of pepper trees, a lovely swimming pool and fairy lights for the evening. Give me a few fairy lights and I’m sorted.

Here’s the Convent Hunter Valley:

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Nestled away up there

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Convent Hunter Valley

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So pretty

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The life!

On arrival we went straight for a dip in the pool as it was 44 degrees celsius. Ridiculously hot!! We then took a little wander (about a 2 minute stroll) to Pepper Tree Wines and had a wine tasting for about an hour. 6 bottles out of the bank account later and we were back to the hotel for the loveliest of naps. I’m so old. There’s exactly zilch better than a day nap.

We took a little wander around here – there’s a fine dining restaurant called Circa 1876 housed in the historic Halls Cottage right next to Pepper Tree Wines. There was a wedding on so unfortunately we couldn’t have dinner here (how rude!) but we had a little mosey around anyway (pre-wedding…we didn’t crash). They grow their own produce, they have hens and lots of little quirky rooms with antiques – it’s trés romantic.

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Just look at that!

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The entrance to Circa 1876

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Circa 1876’s Garden

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A little church on-site

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Circa 1876

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And obviously some church vines

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Pepper Tree Wines

Post nap we required some dessert so took off to sample Sabor in the Hunter. #worththecalories

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Lemon Meringue Pie and Black Forest Gateau

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Suuuper cheap cookies

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Heart Art

So, what DID we do for dinner you ask? We actually ended up having THE BEST DINNER OF OUR ENTIRE LIVES. We ended up booking 2 seats at the chef’s pass at EXP. HOLY CRAP. Part of the Oakvale Winery, EXP. provides you with either a 5 or 8 course tasting menu ($85 or $110 per person plus drinks). I’m generally not that adventurous when it comes to dinner…when you’re hungry you want to eat something you’ll absolutely enjoy right? Not to worry here – we devoured every single morsel put in front of us. Like Savages. There’s very little wait-time between courses. Chef Frank Fawkner is a god damn genius. Ever heard of crab custard? Me neither, but my life will never be the same again now that I’ve tasted it! I don’t think I’ve ever used the word sublime before…but that’s what dessert was – Australian made chocolate mousse (made from Daintree Estates cocoa – from the Daintree rainforest region in Queensland) with the softest honeycomb. Melt in the mouth.

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Ham on Toast

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Chia and Honey Beer

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Heaven

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And a nice romantic moon to end the evening