Travel is one of the best ways to reinvigorate your creative spirit, and experience life from a different perspective. It can be difficult to find the time and money to make it happen, but if you can, do it now! I recently spent a dream week in Italy with my sister Lisa, and our good friend Melissa, and it was so much fun. Our trip was 9 days total (1 work week plus 2 weekends - leaving late Friday evening, returning the following Sunday afternoon), and all in I spent $1800 - that's air fare, Airbnb lodging, food, drinks, transportation, everything. We certainly weren't roughing it, but we also didn't do anything too lavish. We bought groceries for breakfast most days, and made a couple home cooked dinners. Mostly we ate out at casual restaurants, but we did splurge on a couple fancy meals. It was worth every penny, and I came back feeling completely refreshed and inspired. While there are so many amazing places to visit in Italy, we decided to take it easy and visit two resort destinations - Lake Como in the north, and the Isle of Capri along the southern coast. I'm really glad we stayed in these areas as the cities we passed through felt very hectic and stressful. I'm sure Rome and Milan and the other places in Italy are quite interesting, but coming from New York, we were looking to escape the crowds and chaos of city life. Keep reading for a full itinerary of our trip with lots of pics and all the details about where we stayed and what we did:
Day 1 - Travel (New York City to Lake Como, Italy)
We arrived at Lake Como in the early evening, after a long journey from New York City. We took a red-eye flight from JFK to Milan, a train from Milan to Como, and finally a bus from Como to the charming lakeside village of Pognana Lario. Lake Como is surrounded by steep mountains, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Visiting the town of Pognana Lario is like stepping back in time. The air is crisp and fresh, and the winding cobblestone streets feel Medieval. There is a local bar, a couple markets, and only one restaurant (La Meridiana) a 25 minute walk from our AirBnb past the old church and cemetery. Our first night we had dinner on the terrace overlooking Lake Como, and it felt a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of New York City.
We stayed in the most adorable AirBnb, and our host Melanie was so kind and helpful. The house was delightfully European with chunky stucco walls, an amazing roof deck, and courtyard barbecue. The kitchen was well-equipped and we had everything we needed for a lovely stay. There were two bedrooms on the 2nd floor, and a comfy sofa bed in the living room. It was the perfect size for us three girls. I will mention that the stairs were a bit steep - it was fine for us, but may be a concern for guests with any kind of mobility issue.
Day 2 - A Day Trip to Bellagio
I particularly loved visiting Lake Como in late September, just after peak season. There weren't a lot of tourists, and the towns felt sleepy and quiet. The locals were mostly elderly people, and everyone was so sweet and friendly. On Day 2 (our first official day in Italy), we headed by bus to the nearby town of Bellagio. Bellagio is a bit more bustling with pretty hotels along the water. We spent most of the afternoon wandering through the cobblestone streets and alleys, visiting local shops, and taking in the Italian ambience. I definitely recommend stopping by the Villa Melzi, known for it's romantic and meticulously manicured gardens.
Day 3 - A Boat Trip to Cernobbio
Lake Como is shaped like an upside-down Y, and there are little villages located all around the lake that are accessible by boat. Today we took a ferry to the historic town of Cernobbio, and had the most amazing lunch at Osteria Cantinafrasca. The homemade pasta was fresh, delicious and very authentic, and the host was so warm and welcoming. Later we headed for a drink at the nearby Villa D'Este, a fabulous and well-known resort hotel. Technically the grounds are for hotel guests only, but the guard let us come in for a stroll. There are beautiful gardens to explore, and the interior spaces are traditional, rich and elegant. We had a leisurely drink by the jaw-dropping lakeside swimming pool, and it felt like we were in heaven. On the ferry ride back to Pognana Lario, we think we might have spotted George Clooney's mansion, so basically me and George are best friends now.
Day 4 - A Hiking Adventure
As I mentioned, our AirBnb host Melanie was truly the best. The house came well stocked with every little thing we needed including lots of helpful information regarding bus and ferry schedules, and nearby things to do. We found a guidebook for local hikes and decided on a 4 hour hike to Monte Piatto. First we hopped a bus to the town of Como, and then took the Funicular (a hillside cable car) up to Brunate. From there we began a 3 hour wooded hike to Monte Piatto. The trail was fairly easy, and mostly downhill, although there were some narrow parts with a sharp drop that made me a little nervous. It was reasonably safe, but always be careful and don't go alone. The trek was woody and peaceful. We joked that it felt like we were walking through Upstate New York, if not for the stunning views of Lake Como to our left. The real treat was arriving at the rustic hamlet and church near Monte Piatto. The tiny hamlet felt so quaint and peaceful, so remote and removed from time. There were backyard vegetable gardens and wild goats, and an ancient church atop the mountain with sweeping views of Lake Como. From there, we hiked another hour down the mountain to the lakeside town of Torno. We picked up some groceries from the market in Torno, and headed by bus back to our AirBnB for a home cooked dinner.
Day 5 - Travel (Pognana Lario to Capri)
Today we set out on the second leg of our journey, heading from the northern villages of Lake Como to the southern isle of Capri. In total the journey took about 12 hours. We left our AirBnb in Pognana Lario around 9:30am, and arrived at our AirBnb in Capri about 9:30pm. First we took the bus from Pognana Lario to Como, and then a train from Como to Milan. From there, we took a 5.5 hour train ride to Naples (Milano Centrale to Napoli Centrale). We purchased our tickets same day, but it's a good idea to book ahead as the trains can sell out. Be careful and watch out for pickpockets in Naples! As I was walking down the street, a man unzipped my travel bag and was fishing around in the pockets. By the time I realized what was happening, he had run off and disappeared into the crowd. Thankfully he didn't get anything, but it was definitely pretty scary. He was very brazen, and it happened very quickly so do be alert! From Naples Central Station we took a taxi to the port, and then boarded a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Capri. From there you take a Funicular to the top of the hill where the center of Capri town is located. You can have a porter help you with your bags during the day, but we arrived late at night and had to lug our suitcases a good 20 minutes uphill to our Airbnb.
Our Airbnb was nice in a dilapidated mansion sort of way. The rooms were spacious and servicable, though the decor was sparse and no frills. But the best part was our fabulous backyard terrace, where we enjoyed sunset drinks every night overlooking stunning views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Day 6 - Exploring Capri
While Lake Como is serene and rustic, Capri is equally charming in a different way. It's actually a tiny island located just off the coast of Naples in the South of Italy. It's a beautiful, sun-drenched hilly place jutting up from the turquoise blue waters of the Tyrrhenian sea. The climate is warm and Mediterranean with lush vegetation growing everywhere. The scene is very posh, and while it can feel touristy in some areas, it's still an incredibly gorgeous place to visit. Capri town center consists of narrow, meandering streets dotted with designer boutiques and high-end restaurants. We started the day with a stroll through the streets of Capri, but got a little lost on the way to the beach. So we treated ourselves to a fancy lunch at J.K. Place, a gorgeous hotel overlooking the sea. The interiors, designed by Michele Bonan, were effortlessly chic, relaxed and elegant with crisp white and shades of blue. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch followed by a quick dip in the sea, and headed back to our house for sunset drinks on the terrace.
Day 7 - Lazy Day in Capri
One of the attractions Capri is most famous for is a beautiful sea cave called the Blue Grotto. We had hoped to take a boat tour to see it, but unfortunately the sea was too rough to make the journey that day. Instead we decided to have a super lazy chill day. We picked up some snacks at the market and spent the rest of the day on the beach picnicking, swimming and people-watching. It was just what we needed. For dinner we headed to Le Grotelle, a rustic restaurant and pizzeria located a short walk from the center of Capri town. While some of the restaurants in Capri can feel a bit overpriced and touristy, we loved the relaxed, off-the-beaten-path vibe of Le Grotelle. We dined on a gorgeous outdoor terrace overlooking the sea. It was the perfect setting for our last night in paradise. If you do have more time to explore in the area, I would recommend a day trip to the Poseidon Spa on the isle of Ischia. You can take a ferry from Capri (or more conveniently from Naples) to get to Ischia. For a 32 euro admission fee, you can spend the day enjoying the facilities which include a restaurant, spa, beach access, and over 20 thermal baths and pools.
Day 8 - Travel (Capri to Milan)
Our last day in Italy was pretty uneventful, and devoted to travel. We took the ferry from Capri to Naples, and then boarded a train from Naples to Milan. We had an early flight the next day, but needed a place to crash for the night that was close to the airport. There is a Sheraton located right at the airport, which would have been the ideal place to stay. Unfortunately it was fully booked so we stayed instead at Hotel Oleggio. Oleggio is about 20 minutes from the airport, but the hotel provided a free shuttle service to pick us up from the train station and drop us off for our flight. The hotel is no frills and the decor is super dated, but the staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful, and it was fun to get a slice of suburban Italian life.
Day 9 - Travel (Milan to New York City)
We left Milan at 7 in the morning, and arrived back in New York City shortly after noon. It was a 12 hour journey, but it went pretty quickly. And we arrived back home with plenty of time on Sunday afternoon to get readjusted to normal life. I was pleasantly jet-lagged the whole week after I returned, waking up bright and early every morning and hitting the sleepies around 9 or 10 o'clock.
I'm back in New York now and reminiscing on the great adventure we had. It was more fun than I could have imagined. If you've been thinking about making travel plans, don't hesitate. Book your tickets now and figure out the details later. The world awaits you, go explore!