The city of Florence flanks the river Arno

Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence seems to me to be a city stuck in time. This, perhaps, is its charm. It’s not difficult to imagine Michelangelo hard at work on another masterpiece or the Medici family ruling with an iron fist. Buildings in the historic center are perfectly preserved and cobblestoned streets have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. An ambitious new plan to make the city more pedestrian friendly has shut down the Piazza del Duomo and many streets in the center of town completely to scooters and cars. It’s great news for walkers, interesting for motorists. While the Centro Storico’s restaurant scene seems a bit dated, the trendy, less touristy Oltrarno south of the river has a lot of great dining options.


Quattro Leoni

The owners of our hotel suggested this trattoria located in a quaint square in the Oltrarno. The unfussy restaurant has a cozy interior and serves delicious bistecca alla fiorentina and many other Tuscan specialties. We went a step above the house wine and purchased a bottle of chianti. It was still cheap and delicious. I also loved our no nonsence waitress.

4 Leoni Via de-Vellutini, 1r (Piazza della Passera)

055 21 85 62


Gelateria della Passera

Patrons order at Gelateria della Passera

This gelateria is also located in Piazza della Passera and is a real gem. In Florence, gelateria’s are on every corner. Many are touristy and mediocre, but Gelateria al Passera serves unique fresh flavors in an incredibly quaint store front. Grab a cone and chill in the square or take your time meandering through the Oltrarno’s cobblestoned streets before heading back to your hotel.

Piazza della Passera 15

Cafe Giacosa

It’s no surprise this historic cafe is owned by well known designer Roberto Cavalli. Complete with animal print seat cushions and black and white photos of famous visitors, the cafe sits adjacent to his Florence boutique. It’s frequented by beautiful Florentines and the espresso bar is absolutely buzzing in the morning. Don’t miss the mouthwatering pastry case.

Via della Spada 10r

055 21 16 56

Pop Cafe

This artsy cafe and bar is frequented by students and is located in lively Piazza Santo Spirito. The inside is tiny, but I like the nice outdoor covered patio. Grab coffee or an aperitivi. The cafe is open all day, and reportedly serves a good healthy breakfast.

Piazzo Santo Spirito 18r

055 21 38 52



The David stands alone

Galeria dell’Accademia

No visit to Florence would be complete without a visit to the Galeria dell’Accademia where Florence’s most famous resident, the David is on display. The shear size of the masterpiece is awe inspiring and a 360 degree view allows you to see the pale white lines that mark where he has been repaired over the years. The Galeria also features stunning paintings by Florentine artists spanning the 13th-16th centuries. Reserve a ticket in advance if you want to skip the lines which can be atrocious.


Via Ricasoli 60

055 238 86 09

The Uffizi

Construction on the Uffizi

Home to the Medici family’s private collection, you might expect Italy’s most famous art gallery to be modern and efficient. Sadly, this is not the case, still the infamous Uffizi is worth a visit. Jam packed with the best the Renaissance has to offer, the collection is unmatched. The spectacular Sala del Botticelli featuring Botticelli’s most famous works, including the Birth of Venus and Spring, is a highlight. Works by such masters as, Titian, Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Raphael are also on display. The U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi is huge, don’t expect to take in all 50-plus rooms in one visit. Renovations have begun. Here’s hoping the new amenities won’t be far off.

Piazza degli Uffizi 6

055 238 86 51

Looking up at the frescoed dome inside Florence's Duomo

The Duomo

Florence’s dramatic Duomo is the heart of the city and its most iconic landmark. Started in

The view from the top of the Duomo

1296, the word’s 4th largest cathedral took almost 150 years to complete.  A visit inside the cathedral is a must do, instead of just wandering around the interior, pay the extra money and scale the steep stone steps up the cathedral dome. Although not recommended for those with claustrophobia, spaces are tight, the climb rewards you with a 360 degree view of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Go through the Porta dei Canonici (Canons’ Door) to climb up inside the dome.

Piazza del Duomo

055 230 28 85

Palazzo Pitti

The real draw of the palace of Medici rivals, the Pitti family are the beautiful 16th century Boboli gardens. The terraced gardens are a prime example of a formal Tuscan garden and provide spectacular views of the Florentine countryside. The palace’s royal apartments and art galleries are also on display. Reserve at least one afternoon if you want to take it all in.

Piazza de’Pitti

055 238 86 14


Hotel Cestelli

This boutique hotel owned by a Japanese/Florentine couple is a great value. Located near the Ponte Vecchio, the location can’t be beat. The common areas are a bit dark but the rooms have high ceilings and tasteful decorations. Pay more for a bathroom en suite.

Borgo SS Apostoli 25

055 21 42 13


Casa Howard Florence

This quirky guesthouse opened its Florence outpost in 2005. Located in a historic palazzo, rooms feature the same eclectic taste and affordable prices as the hotel’s Rome locations. Each of the 13 rooms is uniquely furnished, like the Hidden Room, a sexy den complete with red walls and erotic japanese prints. Casa Howard Florence is located a little ways from the Centro Storico but just yards from beautiful Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Cooking classes are also offered if you stay 3 nights or longer.

18 Via della Scala

Firenze, 50123

06 699 24 555


The Duomo's ornate facade



The Colosseum

I really hate it when people say, “Rome, it’s just a big dirty city.” Why is Rome so consistently underrated? I can only surmise, when people go to Italy they’re lusting after a more small town experience. To me, Rome is one of Europe’s most beautiful and fascinating cities and a highlight of my trip to Italy every time. With ancient history around every corner, there is no end to what you can see and do in Rome. Thanks to the revitalization of some grittier areas, there’s now plenty of new to compliment the old.


L’Asino d’Oro

Outside seating at L'Asino d'Oro

This restaurant, which evokes the traditions of central Italy, is a true gem. Located on a quaint street in Rome’s hip Monti neighborhood, it is unpretentious and delicious. The cuisine is sort of creative peasant. Tender wild boar in chocolate sauce and caramelized pork ribs were standouts. Portions were ample and prices very reasonable. We were so blown away by the affordability of the wine list, at first we thought prices were by the glass. We decided to splurge on a bottle of Brunello. At 25 euros, it was still a steal. To guarantee a good table, preferably outside on a warm night, I recommend reservations.

Via del Boschetto 73

06 489 138 32


Urbana 47

This restaurant in Rome’s Monti neighborhood also emphasizes local ingredients and only sells food and wine from the Lazio region. The owner started a successful home delivery business selling newspapers and food, before opening the restaurant. The ingredients at Urbana 47 can all be purchased or delivered to your home and the producer of each ingredient is listed on the menu.

Via Urbana 47

06 4788 4006


Inside Pastificio San Lorenzo

Pastificio San Lorenzo

Sleek Pastificio San Lorenzo is a worthwhile destination in newly revitalized and still somewhat gritty San Lorenzo. Located in an old pasta factory, the restaurant has a cool industrial feel, complete with white subway tiles and low hanging lights. The wine list is stellar and includes some great wines from the Lazio region. We loved the creative twist on Roman cuisine and the happening bar, which would have been a great place to grab dinner if you wanted to pop in without a reservation.

Via Triburtina, 196

06 9727 3519


Enoteca Provincia Romana

This wine bar restaurant is a welcome addition to the ancient center of Rome, which for years was notorious for having no good non-touristy eating options. Located behind Trajan’s column, this modern restaurant sells only food and wine from the local region. We loved the roasted pork sandwich. There was also a great selection of salads and meat and cheese plates. Serves lunch and dinner.

Largo del Foro Traiano 82/84

06 6766 2424


This restaurant includes a pizzeria and wine bar and serves food in a sleek loft-like setting. Gusto is massive but different areas are well placed and still manage to feel intimate. We sat in the seating section near the wine bar and ordered salads and small bites, but we’ve heard the pizza is delicious.

Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9

06 322 62 73



The lunch rush at Pizzarium

Hip Pizzarium is a contender for best slice in Rome. The tiny shop near the Vatican serves mouthwatering rectangular slabs with creative toppings. The restaurant promotes seasonal local ingredients and offers local beer and wine. Seating is extremely limited, basically a bench and counter outside, so expect to eat standing or sitting on the curb.

Via della Meloria 43

06 39 74 54 16


Metropolitan Moma is part café, part upscale restaurant. Downstairs you can grab stand-up espresso and delicious pastries at the sleek modern counter top. The upstairs dining room serves creative cuisine in an upscale setting. I like Moma for breakfast. The picture perfect muffins and croissants are delicious, and there are tables outside the café if you don’t feel like sipping your espresso standing up.

Via San Basilio 42

06 420 11 798

Il Gelato Di San Crispino

There are no cones at this gelateria, known for incredibly fresh, seasonal flavors. Considered one of Rome’s best, Il Gelato Di San Crispino takes itself very seriously. The interior is meticulous and offerings are stored under stainless steel lids. Portions are not very big, but flavors like honey and melon are unforgettable. The gelateria now has two locations. The original is by the famed Trevi Fountain, the second is near the Pantheon.

Il Gelato Di San Crispino with the Pantheon in the distance

Via della Panetteria 42

06 679 39 24

Piazza della Maddalena 3

06 976 01 190



Giolitti winding down for the night

Another contender for best gelato in Rome, Giolitti has been serving heaping portions of delicious gelato for decades. Famous for being Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s pick during the filming of Roman Holiday, Giolitti is definitely on the tourist track. The gelato doesn’t disappoint and flavors like dark chocolate and hazelnut are rich and indulgent.

Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40

06 699 12 43

Salotto 42

This slinky lounge bar serves clever cocktails and looks out on to a pleasant square backed by 11 Corinthian columns. The bartenders know what they’re doing. Drinks like the spicy basil- vodka, strawberry, chili, and basil and a twist on a mojito- rum, basil and muddled tomato were delicious.

Piazza di Pietra 42

06 678 58 04



When in Rome, there are certain things one must do even though they are extremely touristy, see the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel, The Colosseum, the Mouth of Truth. The details are in every single travel guide. I won’t bore you with those, but here are a few lesser-known activities I recommend.

View from the Palatine

Palatine Hill

Considered the birthplace of Rome, the Palatine is home to some of Rome’s most storied ruins. Ancient Rome’s most wealthy residents called the hill home. Sandwiched between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, visitors can now visit the restored Casa di Augusto, home to Augustus before he became Emperor of Rome or stroll through the 16th century Orti Faranesi gardens. Archeologists also claim to have found a pillar belonging to Nero’s fabled rotating dining table beneath a terrace on the hill. Some findings are still under dispute, but there’s no doubt the Palatine is a breath of tranquility in the city. Tickets include admission to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Via di San Gregorio 30

06 399 67 700


The Pantheon

The Pantheon's spectacular domed ceiling

This temple turned church is no doubt one of Rome’s most famous attractions, but it’s one of my favorites and it’s free. Built by Hadrian in the 2nd century where Marcus Agrippa’s original temple stood, the domed temple never ceases to take my breadth away. A perfect semisphere, it’s considered the ancient Romans finest architectural feat. It also holds the remains of some very notable Italians including famous artist Raphael.

Piazza della Rotonda

06 683 00 230

Villa Borghese

I must confess, I did not make it here on my last visit to Rome but it will be at the top of my list should I return. Many call the art gallery a must do and well worth the hassle of a mandatory prebooking. Cardinal Scipione Borghese was reportedly one of the most ruthless art collectors of his day but the collection, which includes works by Caravaggio, Bernini and Raphael is said to be among the best in Italy. Borghese built the villa to house his ever expanding art collection. Located in one of Italy’s most loved parks, it’s a beautiful setting. Make it a day trip and pick of fixings for a picnic lunch.

Piazzale del Museo Borghese

06 3 28 10


Visit Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps Late Night

Trevi Fountain during the day

During the day and even into the evening these two famous attractions are so swarming with people, it’s impossible to soak up their true aura. The Eternal City’s candle burns bright well into the night tough and I suggest visiting after midnight. Basking in the street light’s orange glow viewing the Trevi Fountain with just a handful of others is truly magical.

The fountain at night

Visit the Trastevere

During the day, Rome’s left bank is swarming with people spilling out of cute cafes and languishing the day away in picturesque squares. At night, young Romans and expats take to the bars which rock well into the night. Some of my favorites bars include Freni e Frizioni, a cool lounge located in an old garage and Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa, a small beer bar offering one of the best beer selections in town.


Casa Howard

More of a guesthouse than a hotel, Casa Howard is a stylish home away from home. Split between two guesthouses, each room is uniquely decorated and ranges from the quirky Flower room to the more modern Zebra room. I like the Indian room complete with rich yellow and red tones and a beautifully tiled bathroom. Rates at Casa Howard are around 200 euros a night, reasonable for Rome, and the location by the Spanish Steps can’t be beat.

Capo le Case Guesthouse-Via Capo le Case 18

Via Sistina Guesthouse-Via Sistina 149

06 699 24 555


A Night In Rome

Trevi fountain at 2:30 am

My husband and I are not night owls, but one of our favorite things to do when we travel to big cities is to have one epic night out. Places like New York, Paris and Rome are so stimulating, we find it easy to burn the midnight oil. If we were locals, I’m sure the novelty, and lack of sleep, would get old, but for now, this often ends up being the most memorable night of our trip. All you need is a long list of places, restaurants, bars etc… to check out, don’t get over served (a recipe for disaster) and allow yourself to be swept away by the city. You want to check out that bar you heard about but it’s in a completely different neighborhood, just hop in a cab and go. Before you know it, you’ll be scarfing down gelato at 1:30 in the morning, walking through the bewitching streets of Rome, thinking- now this is traveling.

San Lorenzo’s Hip New Spot

Inside Pastificio San Lorenzo

After much debate, sleek Pastificio San Lorenzo is where we decided to start our last night in Rome. It was a bit of an adventure getting to the restaurant in newly revitalized and still somewhat gritty San Lorenzo. We took the metro as far as we could and tried to get a cab from there, which wasn’t easy. Did you know in Rome you have to hail a cab from a designated spot, similar to Paris? I’m happy to say, it was all worth it. Located in an old pasta factory, Pastificio San Lorenzo had a cool industrial feel, complete with white subway tiles and low hanging lights. The wine list was stellar and included some great wines from the Lazio region. We loved the creative twist on Roman cuisine and the happening bar, which would have been a great place to grab dinner if you wanted to pop in without a reservation.

Bar Hopping in the Trastevere

Rome’s hip left bank was our next stop. We got dropped off in the heart of the youthful neighborhood and felt like we had been transported to Mardi Gras. People were absolutely spilling out of bars. It was a Wednesday night. The Trastevere has a reputation for being a bit too ex-paty, but we noticed lots of hip young Romans. Our first stop was Freni e Frizioni, one of Rome’s coolest bars. Located in an old garage, the décor was a mix of funky furniture and chandeliers. The real party though was outside where young hipsters were draped all over the chairs and tables that littered the large outdoor plaza.

The plaza outside Freni e Frizioni

After finishing our drinks, we went back down the street to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa, a long name for a tiny bar with the most extensive beer selection in the city. Choosing was a bit daunting for me, but I fared better than the Norwegian kid who seemed fresh out of high school and when asked by the bartender what we wanted replied, “a beer.”

Late Night Pizza

After finishing our frothy ones we decided it was time for meal number two and it had to be pizza. Bir and Fud, an offsoot of Pizzarium, was already closing up for the night so we hopped in a cab to Pizzeria Remo in the Testaccio. The Rome staple is nothing fancy, but we were delighted to find a healthy crowd still digging into their thin crust pies at almost 1 am. My husband and I sat and ordered a margherita pizza, which was at our table in minutes. We wolfed it down and then decided we might just have time to make it for one last gelato.

A Roman Holiday

Devouring our hard earned gelato as Giolitti closes up for the night

We hopped in yet another cab and told him to step on it. Giolitti, the Rome landmark where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck famously used to grab gelato during the filming of Roman Holiday, closed at 1:30 am. We made it with just minutes to spare and slipped in as the shop was closing for the night. I decided to go for broke and ordered my favorite combo, chocolate and hazelnut on a cone.  Triumphantly we started walking slowly back to our hotel, but couldn’t resist getting one last drink.

Columns and Cocktails

The view from the bar at Salotto 42

I had read about Salotto 42 in Lonely Planet. Luckily it was right on the way. The slinky lounge bar serves clever cocktails and looks out on to a pleasant square backed by 11 Corinthian columns. The bartenders took great care in making our drinks. I ordered the spicy basil- vodka, strawberry, chili, and basil. It was delicious, but Justin’s twist on a mojito- rum, basil and muddled tomato was truly clever and amazing. The bar closed at 2 am. Seeing as we had criss crossed the city and closed down nearly every place we had been, we decided maybe it was time to call it a night.

The end of an amazing night

The walk back to our hotel took us right passed the Trevi fountain where we stopped to take in the moonlit setting. Joined by just a handful of others, including a few cops to prevent any shenanigans, it seemed a world away from the touristy trap feel we experienced at the fountain earlier in the day. Basking in the street light’s orange glow, I thought to myself, this is the way to see Rome. Back in our hotel room by 3 am, my feet thanked me, but the magical night is not one I will soon forget.

Pastificio San Lorenzo

Via Triburtina, 196

06 9727 3519


Freni e Frizioni

Via del Politeama 4-6

06 5833 4210


Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa

Via Benedetta, 25

Bir and Fud

Via Benedetta, 23

06 589 40 16


Pizzeria Remo

Piazza Santa Maria

Liberatrice 44

06 574 62 70


Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40

06 699 12 43

Salotto 42

Piazza di Pietra 42

06 678 58 04



Looking back at Double O Arch

One year, when my mom was driving me back to school at the University of Colorado, we took a detour to Moab. I instantly fell in love with the landscape and the sporty feel of the town. I’ve jumped at the chance to go ever since. One of my favorite national parks, Arches, is mere minutes from Moab and offers absolutely jaw dropping scenery. I love the color of the evergreen trees against the red rock. The arches around every corner seem too perfect to be real. I’ve been to Moab in the fall and the dead of summer. While I love the warm nights, 110 during the day isn’t so great for hiking. I suggest going in September or October when the days are warm, the nights are cool, and the dry air is invigorating.


Desert Bistro

Moab’s most upscale option, the Desert Bistro has delicious salads and inventive entrees like smoked elk tenderloin with caramelized onions and a huckleberry, port wine reduction. Located in a historic ranch house with little twinkling lights outside, the ambience is very inviting and a special treat after a hard day of activities. Reservations are recommended. The restaurant is only open March-October.

1266 N. Main St.

Moab, UT 84532



Muffin Love Cafe

The morning rush at Muffin Love Cafe

This new bakery and café seems to have struck a cord in Moab. There was a line almost out the door the whole time we were there.  Healthy breakfast and lunch options, many of them vegan, abound and are all served in a colorful, but not too earthy interior. We went for breakfast. Standouts included the vegan waffle and a warm quinoa bowl with nuts and agave. The bakery case was filled with delicious looking vegan and non-vegan muffins.

139 North Main St.

Moab, UT 84532



Slickrock Café

This cafe has been in Moab for as long as I can remember and serves reliable burgers and salads. The décor is a bit 90’s southwestern, but prices are reasonable and its located right in the heart of downtown Moab.

5 North Main St.

Moab, UT. 84532



Moab Brewery

The atmosphere at this Moab staple is nothing special, but sometimes after a day of mountain biking you just want a cold beer. This micro brewery has plenty of delicious hand crafted ales to choose from. The food isn’t bad either. The menu includes the typical things you’d expect to see on a brewery menu but with a southwestern flare. I like the gazpacho spinach salad with jalapeno cornbread. The brewery also makes and serves it’s own fresh gelato out of a cold case in the front of the restaurant. Perfect for those hot Moab summer nights.

686 South Main

Moab, UT 84532




Inca Inn proudly touts its Trip Advisor status

Inca Inn

This locally owned motel is nothing fancy and proud of it. The hotels website proclaims while they are not big or fancy…..”rooms are just as clean as we can possibly get them along with regular washing and maintenance of just about everything else.” The Inca Inn is proud of its rating on Trip Advisor, four out of five stars, and the continental breakfast, which includes fresh baked bread, is better than your typical hotel breakfast. The location between the center of town and Arches National Park is great. Rates, which can be anywhere between $50-$100 a night depending on the season, are very reasonable.

570 North Main

Moab, UT 84532



Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park

One of my favorite places to camp, campsites are spacious and are either nestled in amongst the red rock or offer spectacular views of the park. Fire pits with grates allow you to cook over an open flame and allow you to stay warm as the temperature starts to drop dramatically when the sun goes down. You’ll want to stay out as long as possible. The stargazing is absolutely incredible in Arches and will leave you wishing you knew a whole lot more about constellations.

Insider tip-Reservations are a must during peak season. Try to snag campsite #50. Nestled in amongst a large rock and beautiful trees, we loved the protected feel. The sight was still open enough to allow for great star gazing.

Our campsite for the first night #50

Devils Garden Campground is located in Arches National Park


Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn

I stayed at this hotel years ago. It has a great location right in the heart of Moab and is walking distance to many of Moabs best shops and restaurants. Rooms are clean and it has a nice pool.

16 South Main St.

Moab, UT 84532




Devils Garden Primitive Loop

Partition Arch

This is the longest hike in the park and leads to eight arches. I’ve done it every time I’ve been to Moab, but it never gets old. Although it’s about 9 miles long if you walk from the Devils Garden Campground, it never feels that long to me. Each time you round another corner and see another arch you feel awestruck and rewarded for the miles you’re putting in. The hike is a mix of walking on sandy trail and scrambling on slickrock. It’s a great workout and a photographers dream. I can never resist sitting in the little window next to partition arch and taking in the view.


Hike up to Delicate Arch at Sunset

View of Delicate Arch

It’s the most photographed arch in the park. When you hike up to the base, it’s easy to see why. Perfectly perched on the edge of a cliff, it seems straight from a movie set. Famous for the light that reflects off of it at sunset, I recommend hiking up in the early evening. You’ll notice many others have the same idea and it can be a bit crowded, but it’s worth it. Bring your headlamp. The hordes of people tend to turn around before the light gets really good, not wanting to hike back in the dark. There’s something magical about sitting in the natural amphitheater that circles out from the base of the arch waiting for the sun to go down. It’s as if everyone has purchased tickets to see nature’s most spectacular show. The hike is about 3 miles round trip. A good burn on the way up, but the decent is quick.


Mountain Bike

Moab is famous for mountain biking and there are trails for all levels. If you’re beginner to intermediate like me, try Klondike Bluffs. The ten mile trail is about 15 minutes north of town. It’s good exercise and you get to experience what it’s like to ride on rock, but it’s not too technical. Once you’ve mastered that, then maybe you can move on to the Slickrock Trail, Moab’s most famous and notorious mountain bike ride. Bike rentals are made easy in town.Shops will even rent you a bike rack for about ten bucks if you don’t have one.

Poison Spider Bicycles

497 North Main St.

Moab, UT 84532



Rim Cyclery

94 West 100 North

Moab, UT 84352



Camping Essentials

French press, good coffee, sierra cups, one decent knife, two non-stick pots, two frying pans, tin foil, cutting board, rags or dish towels, heat proof mugs, metal tongs, camping plates and utensils, bottle opener, tinfoil, camping wine glasses optional.

We love camping, but we also love great food. We try to elevate our cooking while camping to be a little more gourmet then heated up spaghetti sauce and noodles (although this does work in a pinch). I loved what we made in Moab. These recipes are easy and delicious.


Cooking dinner over an open fire

Grilled rib eye with asparagus and baked sweet potato

Serves two

(We made this over a fire pit, but a camping stove would work too. You may still want to use the fire for the potatoes or change the method and steam or boil them.)

Two large rib eyes, bone in or out

Half a bundle of asparagus

Two small sweet potatoes

Olive oil



Start a fire in fire pit. Allow large flames to die down and smouldering to set in, meanwhile wrap each sweet potato individually in tin foil. Place sweet potatoes on the hottest part of the grate, turn every five minutes to avoid scorching. Rinse and trim ends of asparagus then cut in half. Toss in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and place in frying pan. When potatoes have been cooking about twenty minutes, put asparagus on the grate along side them. Cook until slightly soft, 5-10 minutes. Remove from direct heat.

Heat other frying pan on grate with a little olive oil. Season steaks with salt and pepper then place in the hot pan. Cook four-five minutes each side for medium rare.  Remove from direct heat. Check potatoes. If soft to the touch, they should be done. Cut steak in half and serve. Reserve the other cooked steak for the next night.

Steak fajitas with simple guacamole

Serves two

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 large yellow onion

Packet of fajita seasoning

1 large ribeye (If don’t love red meat, tofu or chicken could easily be substituted)



Small tomato

Garlic salt


1 can of black beans

Whole-wheat tortillas

Sizzling steak fajitas

Start a fire in fire pit. Allow large flames to die down and smouldering to set in. Cut peppers and onion into long thin slices. Place all peppers and ¾’s of the onion into a non stick pot and put over fire. Cook until onions are caramelized and peppers are a little soft, about 10 minutes. Open a can of black beans and rip off the paper label. Place on the grill. Thinly slice steak. When vegetables are ready, add 1 cup of water and ½ a packet of fajita season. Stir it in and cook until mixture thickens. Add sliced steak and stir. Move to indirect heat.

Make guacamole. In a bowl combine one avocado, chopped tomato, rest of the onion chopped, juice from half a lime, a pinch of garlic salt and pepper taste. Mix to desired consistency.

Heat tortillas one minute per side on the grate and serve filled with steak fajita mixture, black beans and guacamole.


Archway in Castiglioncello del Trinoro

Tuscany with its rolling hills, bucolic settings, ancient wineries and hilltop towns is a true gem. It is possible to have an experience akin to the one popularized by Francis Mayes best selling Under the Tuscan Sun, if you do your research. It’s a vast area and some towns are more touristy then others. Chefs are doing amazing things in some of the lesser known towns and new boutique hotels are bringing modernity to the region, while also preserving the integrity of the original stone exteriors. My husband and I didn’t make it to every village we wanted to see (you would probably need a whole week to see everything) but we enjoyed our time in Tuscany immensely, and definitely plan to go back. These were some of the highlights.

Chianti Region


Dario Cecchini’s Solociccia and Officina Della Bistecca

One of Dario Cecchini's buildings in Panzano

This master butcher has taken over an entire street in tiny Panzano with two restaurants and a butcher shop. Solociccia and Officina Della Bistecca are true destination restaurants- delicious food served in memorable settings. At Solociccia, food is served family style and includes six different meat courses. At the more expensive Officina, it’s all about the Tuscan specialty Bistecca alla Florentina (a huge slab of bone-in rib eye grilled on the outside but rare on the inside). Cecchini’s aesthetic is modern yet whimsical and the communal atmosphere makes for a memorable evening. Menus are fixed price and include house wine, water, bread, dessert and a narly grappa. Reservations are recommended for dinner. Also a great stop for lunch if you’re on the wine tasting circuit.

Via XX Luglio, 11

Panzano in Chianti Firenze

39 0558 52020



Castello D’Albola

This beautifully restored medievel castle winery specializes in delicious Chianti Classico. Castello D’Albola is owned by one of Italy’s largest producers but it actually feels more laid back and less corporate than other wineries we visited. Castello D’Albola offers a great free tour of the winery several times a day and wine tastings are laid back and generous. Castello D’Albola’s Chianti Classico is incredibly smooth and at about 10 euros, very reasonably priced.

Pian d’Albola 31 53017
Radda in Chianti
0577 738019


Castello Di Brolio

Considered the birthplace of Chianti Classico, Castello Di Brolio is one of the oldest wineries in the world and well worth a visit. The castle itself dates back to 1000 AD. I found the tasting room, which is located in a more modern building at the bottom of the hill, to be fairly lackluster, but the castle itself is stunning. Park in the designated parking area and climb 15 minutes up the forest path to the castle gates. Purchase a ticket and enjoy a walk through the castle gardens.

53013 Gaiole di Chianti – Siena

39 0577 730220


Southern Tuscany


View from the dining room at Osteria Aquacheta

Osteria Aquacheta

Eating at this osteria may be one of the most entertaining and delicious meals you’ll ever have. The stars of the show are Giulio Ciolfi, the owner/chef, and his meat cleaver. From the small dining room, you’ll be able to see him hacking away at a huge piece of meat in the open kitchen. A two inch thick slab is brought out to those who have ordered steak for inspection. If you approve of the size, Ciolfi will write the price down on your place mat and grill it for you with a simple preparation of olive oil, salt and pepper. The rareness of the meat might take you aback at first, but try it. My husband and I were both knawing on the bone at the end of our meal. Most steaks are big enough to share. Aquacheta offers two seatings a night at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. Tables are shared. Reservations are an absolute must. Not open Tuesday.

Via del Teatro 2,

53045 Montepulciano Siena

0578 717086


Osteria Del Merlo

Outside Osteria Del Merlo

We heard about this restaurant from a local and it ended up being one of our favorite meals of the trip! Osteria Del Merlo is everything you hope to find in a restaurant while you’re traveling- delicious inventive food, great ambiance and affordable prices. We were aboslutely blown away by our appetizers, grilled peach with gorgonzola cheese and a burrata and slow roasted tomato salad. Located at the end of Garibaldi square, the restaurant’s main dining room is located inside a beautifully restored medieval tower, ahh Italy. The wine list offers all the regional favorites at reasonable prices. If you decide to indulge in dessert, the chocolate cupcake, basically chocolate cake with a gooey center, is delicious.

Via Sobborgo, 1

53040 Cetona – Siena

0578 238299


Inside Cafe Monteverdi

Cafe Monteverdi

Located in the tiny etruscan village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro, Cafe Monteverdi is a great place to grab lunch or a snack when you’re touring southern Tuscany. Like all the other buildings in Castiglioncello del Trinoro, the outside of the cafe has been brilliantly preserved but the inside is very modern. There’s even an ipad on the wall where you can check your email, or look at pictures of the beautiful villas that are also located in the town. Cafe Monteverdi is owned by the same person as the Villas at Mondeverdi (see below), but luckily, you don’t have to be a guest to eat there. The cafe has great salads, meats, cheeses and panini’s. It’s also the only place in the world where you can Tenuta di Trinoro by the glass-an extremely exclusive wine grown in the valley below.

Castiglioncello del Trinoro

Sarteano (SI)


Enoteca La Dolce Vita

This wine store and restaurant in Montepulciano offers a great wine list and delectable small bites. The restaurant is known for their bruschetta, but there are other fun things on the menu like pork shank with prunes and scallions and delicious meat and cheese plates. Go for lunch or a light dinner. Enoteca La Dolce Vita has several tables on the cobblestone street, but I also like the restaurants cellar like interior.

Via di Voltaia nel Corso 80/82

53045 Montepulciano (Siena)

39 0578 758760


Osteria Del Teatro

We did not get to eat at this restaurant in Cortona, because it’s closed Wednesday (the only day we were there). We thought dishes like filettini di maiale all mele e caffe, pork fillets with apples and coffee sounded delcious-think Tuscan food with a twist using seasonal ingredients. Hopefully we’ll be back.

Via Maffei, 2

Cortona (Arezzo)

39 0575 630556



Pool at Poggio Piglia

Poggio Piglia

It took 7 years to turn this old tuscan farm house into a hotel, but the attention to detail paid off. The newly opened boutique hotel is the perfect place to pick as a base while you explore southern Tuscany. Poggio Piglia maintains the beauty of the original structure while the interior and grounds infuse it with elegance and modernity. The vanishing edge pool, which overlooks the countryside, is stunning. Imma, the hotel’s concierge, provided us with some of the best service we’ve ever had at a hotel including making restaurant reservations and printing out directions on how to get everywhere. The guestrooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with rustic, yet modern furniture. After braving small, antiquated bathrooms at most hotels in Italy you’ll scream with delight when you see Poggia Piglia’s large modern ones. Starting at 135 euros a night, the room rates are extremely reasonable for a place of this caliber.

Frazione Macciano

53043 Chiusi (SI)

39 0578 274286


The Villas at Monteverdi

View from the Villas at Monteverdi

If you can afford it, and are traveling with a group of 4 or more, stay at the Villas at Monteverdi. Located in 900 year old Castiglioncello del Trinoro, the villas have been beautifully restored and retain the original facade, while the interiors offer all the comforts of a modern 5 star hotel. Owner Michael Cioffi, is behind the only privately funded archeological dig in Tuscany at Castiglioncello del Trinoro and a visit is a great opportunity to see archeologists and historians at work. Accommodations can sleep 4, 9 or 12 and a Saturday to Saturday stay is required. Dinners by a private chef under a grape arbor at your villa can also be arranged. Work has also started on a boutique hotel in town, so stay tuned.

Castiglioncello del Trinoro

Sarteano (SI)



Taste Brunello somewhere

Aged a minimum of four years in oak, Brunello is one of Italy’s most special wines. The grape, a rare clone of Sangiovese, is grown in the hills surrounding Montalcino. Unfortunately, the 14th century town seems to have one purpose only these days-selling Brunello. Its narrow streets are filled with wine shop, after wine shop each the same as the next. It all feels a bit touristy and inauthentic. Instead of tasting in town, I recommend going directly to one of the vineyards. Casanova di Neri is located just outside of Montalcino and grows some of the most delicious and award winning Brunello d’Montalcino. Go in for a tasting, and consider taking a bottle home. Brunello’s can be aged for decades, but beware, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bottle for under 30 euros.

Podere Fiesole
53024 Montalcino SI
0577 834 455

Sant'Antimo Abbey

Sant’Antimo Abbey

This blush colored Abby sitting in a field surrounded by gentle Tuscan hillsides seems to be plucked from a painting. The church was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and is considered the most important Romanesque building in southern Tuscany. Simple and anadorned, the Abbey is a refreshing departure from many of Italy’s famous and more opulent duomos and cathedrals.

From Siena take direction Buonconvento > Montalcino. Once in Montalcino follow the signs for Abbazia di Sant’ Antimo or Castelnuovo dell’ Abate. Before you reach Castelnuovo dell’Abate you will see the Abbey on your right.

Walk through the wine cellar at Redi Winery

Redi Winery makes delicious Vino Nobile but perhaps the most fun part about the winery is making your way to its tasting room deep within the hillside. After finding the entrance next to the Palazzo Ricci, you’ll travel down an ancient staircase that leeds you through cavernous ancient wine cellars. You’ll pass through rooms filled with large wooden casks of wine that look like they haven’t been moved for centuries, before ending at the wine tasting room and shop. There you can taste and purchase wine.

Via di Collazzi 5


39 0578 716092


Hike to the top of Cortona

Tuscany’s many hilltop towns will no doubt give you an appreciation for a nice flat stroll, and perhaps none more than Cortona. The town, which was made famous by the film Under the Tuscan Sun, has a web of quant cobblestone streets that snake their way up a very steep hillside. Why not embrace it and put on your hiking shoes? At the very top of Cortona is an ancient fort that offers spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside. It’s a good climb and will certainly leave your heart pumping. On your way down, treat yourself to dinner at Osteria Del Teatro. You’ve earned it.

Just start walking up. If you pass the 19th-century Chiesa di Santa Margherita, you’re on the right track.

Taste cheese in Pienza

Pienza is famous for two things, being the home of Pope Pius the II, and pecorino cheese. The town is a bit touristy for my taste, and I wouldn’t recommend staying there, but you can easily see everything in an afternoon. Park your car outside the city walls and stroll through town, taking in the well preserved Renaissance architecture and the beautiful Palazzo Piccolomini which contained the Pope’s private apartments. On your way out stop at Bottega di Naturalista and pick from a mouthwatering array of pecorino di pienza. You can choose, fresh, medium-aged or mature depending on your taste.

Pienza is on the main road to Montepulciano

Bottega di Naturalista is at Corso Rosselino 16

Facade of the Cathedral in Orvieto

See the Cathedral in Orvieto

Orvieto’s 14th century cathedral is a true masterpiece and a must do for anyone interested in Gothic architecture. When you approach the cathedral, you’ll immediately be struck by the ornate golden frontage. My favorite part is the more simple side walls made of alternating white travertine and blue-grey basalt stone. The Dr. Seuss like effect is echoed on the inside and gives the cathedral a more whimsical feel then other religious buildings in Italy. Once inside, you’ll be humbled by the sheer size of the nave, which was left uncluttered on purpose. The cathedral is famous for the Chapel of Madonna di San Brizio, or new chapel. Painted by Luca Signorelli in the 1500’s, the frescoes depict the events surrounding the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment and are said to have influenced the style Michelangelo used in the Sistine Chapel. As in all cathedrals in Italy, make sure your shoulders and knees are covered or they won’t let you in.

Orvieto is in Umbria, south of the Tuscany region right off the A-1


Located 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is a quaint surf community with great food and local flavor. To get there, take a cab from the airport for around $40 U.S., or take the bus for around $2.50. Sayulita is small and addresses are scarce. We’ve tried to include directions to each recommended location. It’s so tiny, a quick walk around town should get you oriented, but if you’re having trouble finding a place, just ask someone.

Here’s a link to a video of our most recent Sayulita adventure.



Choco Banana

A must do. One of the best chocolate-covered bananas you’ll ever have. Also- great for coffee, internet connection, breakfast, and smoothies. We love the green goddess.

The center of Sayulita on the Plaza

Miro Vino

This Italian Latin fusion restaurant is one of the more upscale in town. With views of the kitchen you’ll enjoy fresh fish, a choice of pasta dishes, amazing thin crust pizza, and great drinks. Although just steps from the main street, the Italian owner has created a very inviting dining ambiance with tables tucked back in amongst foliage and lights strung overhead.

On the Sayulita Plaza (follow your nose)

Fish Taco

Not to be confused with Sayulita Fish Taco Restaurant and Tequila Bar, the name says it all. It’s simply the best fish taco we’ve ever had. A healthy piece of fresh mahi mahi is served on a flame broiled flour tortilla and piled high with guacamole, cabbage, salsa and drizzled with ranch dressing. It might sound strange, but this combo is absolutely delicious. At about 2 bucks a taco, it makes for a cheap but satisfying meal.

On Ave. Revolution east of the main plaza

Tacos on the Street

Located on the other side of the bridge, this tiny restaurant serves just two types of tacos, steak and veggie. The steak is likely to be the best you’ll have. The meat is marinated all day. The veggies are fresh and local. The owners are friendly and double as your wait staff. It’s BYOB so stop at a local market and grab some frosty drinks. Not to worry, if you forget, there’s a market across the street.

On the brand new road that runs into Sayulita. It’s before the bridge if you’re on your way into town.

Capitan Cook/Patricia’s

If you’re lounging on the beach and get a snack-attack, find your way to Patricias. It’s located on the beach and has the best guacamole and ceviche you’ll find on the beach. Owned by native Oregonian’s, it also offers some thirst quenching beverages like limonata.



This french-owned bar specializes in wine and gourmet tamales. The tiny place has a great cozy atmosphere and the wine selection is one of the best in town.

It’s on Ave. Revolution just west of the Petit Hotel Hafa

Buddha Bar

This east-meets-west restaurant lounge offers some of Sayulita’s best nightlife. Surf movies sometimes play on a projection screen and DJ’s spin current hits. The drinks are decent and the sushi is not a bad option for a late night meal.

On Calle Marlin at the end of the street by the beach.


There is great food to be found on the streets of Sayulita, but it’s not always the easiest to find. Keep your eyes, and nose alert for a lady cooking chickens on the street. You can buy a whole or half chicken. This grab-and-go option comes with rice, beans, and tortillas. Eat it on the beach or take it back to your hotel or condo if you want to eat in. Visitors can’t get enough of the churros that are made fresh and sold out of a flat-bed truck. We’ve often seen the truck located near the bridge in town in the afternoons, but locations seem to change. If you can’t find it, ask around.


Petit Hotel Hafa

Owned by French proprietors, this charming boutique hotel is located a stone’s throw from the main plaza… but far enough for a fairly quite nights rest. The decor has a bohemian, romantic feel. I love the gift shop on the ground floor which sells beautiful leather and pearl jewelry. The communal roof deck is also amazing. At around $75 U.S. a night it’s very reasonable.

55 Avda. Revolucion
Calle Jose-Mariscal, 63732 Sayulita, Mexico
01 329 291 3806


Casa Higuera

Ocean views, great sized rooms, and private steps to the beach.


Villa Pcaso

Antonio Gaudi meets Pablo Picasso. You can rent out single rooms or the entire house for larger groups.




Sayulita is primarily a surf town. The beach break located out front offers great surfing for all levels. If you’re a beginner stay to the left (the left if you’re facing the ocean) some of the best surfers in Mexico surf the break to the right and rocks closer to the beach make it a little more treacherous. Check the tides, surf charts, and storm systems for a more accurate surf report. There are plenty of places in town to rent boards and great surf camps if you want to polish your skills.


Many yoga studios conduct week long yoga retreats in Sayulita. Sometimes classes are open for drop ins. Classes are also offered weekly in the palapa above town. The Haramara Retreat south of town hosts many of the yoga retreats and also offers classes. Core Power Yoga has a week long retreat in Sayulita every year. For more information check,


For Haramara’s year-round yoga schedule go to,


Hike/Rock Jump

Take a stroll on the beach… and continue south past the Villa Amore to increase the adventure. After a half-hour of minor rock scrambling you’ll come to a rock you can jump into the Pacific Ocean from. Time the jump with the incoming tidal swell to maximize the water’s depth. Please, only do this if you have scouted out the area and done your research. Locals often jump off the rock, it might be a good idea to watch them do it first.  The whole trip should take you about 2 hours, there and back.

For more of an adventure- Start south of the jumping rock by about an hours hike. Directions are difficult—but will give it a shot. Follow roads from Sayulita to the Beach of the Dead. Travel North along the waters edge. It’s some walking, some rock scrambling. About 45 minutes in, there will be a medium-risk up-climb (about 40 feet) with a high-risk down-climb. Make sure to wear rubber-soled shoes. Continue north until you get to the Jumping Rock. Continue north until you reach Sayulita beach. This is not recommended for those who have never rock-climbed or rock scrambled. If you are afraid of heights… this is also not for you.


Do some soft-sand training or stay on the streets and attack the hills. There are a few routes that will take you up into the hills North of town and into the forest. The trails will eventually dump you onto the beach… do some circuit training on the sand, stretch and turn around, or run south on the beach back to town.

Other things to consider:

Take a boat trip to an island- private boat, cold beers, and a secluded island.

Captain Cook/Patricia’s can arrange boat tours.

Polo Grounds- watch a polo match, ask around for times.

Palm Springs and Joshua Tree

Palm Springs is a mere 2 hours from San Diego, but seems a world away. The playground of the rich and famous during the golden age of Hollywood, it harkens back to a bye-gone era, think three martini lunches and duck a l’orange. Parts of Palm Springs seem a bit lost in time, but some cool hotels and restaurants are breathing new life into the city. Joshua Tree National Park is a gem and just 45 minutes from Palm Springs. We recommend a couple nights of outdoor adventure in Joshua Tree followed by some pampering in Palm Springs for a well rounded vacation.


Canyon Flours Bakery

We’ve been eagerly awaiting the grand opening of this gluten-free bakery. Located in a stylish mid-century modern building, we’re pleased to say it’s now open on the weekends as a tasting kitchen. Take advantage of the free beach cruisers provided by the Ace Hotel and peddle two miles down N. Palm Canyon Dr. to get to the bakery.

515 N Palm Canyon Dr. Suite B-10
Palm Springs, Ca 92262

Ace Hotel’s Kings Highway and Amigo Room

In addition to a fun Hipster vibe, the Ace Hotel’s two restaurants have great food and drinks.

The Kings Highway is a good option for breakfast, or lunch. Whether you decide to dine inside the sixties-style diner or chill poolside, you’ll be able to order Stumptown coffee and an array of breakfast items. Options include a great huevos rancheros or lighter home-made granola with fresh fruit. The Kings Highway also serves pie and other deserts… great for a late night snack attack.

Escape from the Palm Springs sun into the Amigo Room. The low lit bar and restaurant serves refreshing mixed drinks made with fresh fruit. They also offer a great local beer called Kings Highway on tap, a great deal during happy hour.

The Amigo room menu can be ordered in the restaurant, or out by the pool. The popcorn with truffle oil and black bean burger are highlights but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

701 East Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA

The Parker

Swallow the pill and fall down the rabbit hole… the look of this hotel is a “trip.” A photographers dream, the well-manicured back forty allows you to get lost at the pool, pingpong tables, or a hidden area for pictures. The Parker also has three different places for food and drinks. Mr. Parker’s is the most upscale and offers an old hollywood vibe with big booths and a very french menu. Sit outside under the covered patio and enjoy breakfast or lunch at Norma’s, a sort of upscale diner. Located in the lobby, “The Mini Bar” is a great place to get a drink or light meal.

4200 East Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA


The Ace Hotel and Swim Club

As Ace Hotel loyalists, we have slept, eaten, and partied at each of their four  locations (Seattle, Portland, New York, and Palm Springs). While we love them all, this might be our favorite. The stylish boutique hotel has found the perfect mix of functional space, hip vibe, great location, and fantastic food. We typically like to explore on our vacations, but the Ace is so cool we hardly leave once we step on the premises.
There are two great pools which allow for a respite from the consuming desert heat. Wait staff offer food, refreshments, and snow cones. 3-speed beach cruisers are a free amenity provided to all guests, making it easy to ride through the neighborhoods and into downtown… or if you want a change of scenery, peddle due south on East Palm Canyon Dr. two miles to the Parker.
Fireplace common areas are scattered throughout the grounds great for enjoying wine late in the evening. If you are traveling with a larger group/event, look into renting the event space located by pool #2 and inquire about the taco dinner the hotel offers for bigger parties. The Ace’s rates are pretty reasonable but we’ve found some screaming deals on travel websites during the hotel’s off season.

701 East Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA

The Parker

We have yet to stay here (it’s hard to stay anywhere but the Ace), but we do plan on trying it one of these days. The Jonathan Adler designed hotel is mid century modern meets Alison and Wonderland. It’s very playful and whimsical and I especially love the vast and extremely lush grounds.

4200 East Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA

29 Palms Inn (Joshua Tree)

An oasis in the middle of the desert, the 29 Palms Inn is simple but stylish and seems at odds with the town it’s in (Twentynine Palms is dusty, sprawling and completely lacking character). The only reason to go to Twentynine Palms would be to gain access to Joshua Tree National Park or stay at the Inn or both. 29 Palms Inn also has a great restaurant that serves simple but well prepared dishes. It’s actually quite popular. Reservations are recommended.

73950 Inn Ave.
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277



Many of the most well preserved mid-century modern homes in the U.S. are in Palm Springs. The best examples are in the neighborhoods right around old town. We love running or biking through the neighborhoods and pointing out our favorites.

A run in Palm Springs is a stroll down memory lane and a trip back to the golden-era. If you decide to run, get out early… it heats up fast and there is very little shade.

By bike: there are signs that point out good routes for cyclists.  Follow posted signs into town, through the neighborhoods, or along the edge of the local foothills.


Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs is a great place to station yourself if you’re planning to visit Joshua Tree National Park. A playground for rock climbing enthusiasts, you can go for the day or camp overnight. Joshua Tree has nine campgrounds to choose from. Our favorite is Indian Cove campground, which offers roomy campsites and great rock scrambling/top-roping. Each site has a fire pit. Tent camping doesn’t have to mean “roughing it.” The restaurant at 29 Palms Inn is a short 20 minutes away if you’d rather dine out and enjoy a nice cocktail… but wine under the stars at your campsite isn’t bad either.