Oh how the adventures of backpacking can swing dramatically from lows and highs. Trust me, I would know, because for a chunk of my time in Italy and across parts of Eastern Europe I was living on bread and ketchup as my budget bottomed out and I was left pondering what to do next. Well, slightly freaking out.
And then, the next thing I knew I was on a blog tour around parts of Italy with a group of bloggers, dining on some of the best culinary traditions of Italian cuisine, and exploring the country in ways I wouldn’t have been able to afford. Luckily, I had met a person with a similarly adventurous spirit who was setting up her first blogger tour around the country based around the sole idea of living your life to the fullest.
We met on one of the historical tours I had taken in Rome, and after meeting up a second time to hear about her idea for her blog tour, she invited me to come along. To say I was stoked is an understatement, because what she had told me for the goal of her blog tour fully encompassed the sprit of adventure and inspiration.
That is where Linnea and Alina come in — the two who incubated the idea of a tour through Italy that would embody the ideas of taking advantage of every moment in life, to explore Italy into the deep roots of its culture by taking in everything in a slow-paced and relaxing way, and to get the real Italian experience by spending time with locals. And of course the would be our marvelous guides for the week and half.
With their powers combined, the Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour was formed! It would take us outside of the bustling Eternal City into the countryside of Umbria, amongst the rolling hills and endless olive orchards and vineyards, where we would discover the very essence of Italian cuisine by seeing first hand how hearty pastas, award-winning olive oil, and robust red wines are made. We would hike around the turquoise Il Trasimeno Lake learning from the locals how the flavors of Italy are grown in the fields around us, and what a fisherman’s life is like on the lake.
Then, we were off south of Rome to the Island of Ponza for a complete contrast of culture and flavor. Here the white wine and Proseco flowed, and meats and red sauces became fresh-caught seafood in spices and white sauces. We would explore the island by boat, taking in all of the geo-gasmic natural beauty, and underwater by scuba diving to see what lies beneath.
There wasn’t much mention about this tour on the blog as it happened in June because well, the majority of the tour we were busy doing epic things, and my hands were tied with copious amounts of wine. So for the next few weeks I will be sharing all of the tour on the blog.
But who is this “we” I keep mentioning? I can’t be rude and not introduce the rest, so without further ado I give you the gnarly blogger crew!
Roster of awesomeness in no particular order:
Ryan (why that’s me of course!)
DJ of Dream Euro Trip
Serena of Wishversilia
Anna of Green Holiday Italy
Diana of Browsing Italy
Claudia of Travel Stories
Gillian of Gillian’s Lists
Now let me introduce you to some of the delicious and adventurous tidbits we experienced that we took part in while on this blog tour as a teaser for what is to come!
Part 1: UMBRIA
It was such a contrast going from an uncomfortable and hot hostel, to a villa in the hills above Paciano that felt immediately like home. Though the home of my past never had views like those outside my window, nor did it look this nice, I instantly felt warm and cozy. The villa, Campodalto, is where DJ and I stayed while the other bloggers were split up into other locations around the area. From high up in the hills it overlooked the valley below, with fireflies that would light up the darkness at night, and our host Marliza with the biggest smile and sweetest heart. One of my favorite aspects of the trip happened here, which was the massive Italian style dinner she cooked up for all of us, which was my first true experience of Italian hospitality. Read about the heart-warming experience HERE!
One of first activities that we did, which was fitting since we were staying on or around vineyards, was to take a winery tour and tasting of Giacomo Mori. A historic winery set in the hills of Umbria, we were taken below the house into the brick-lined cellars where we learned about their process for making wine, how long their blends are aged, and a bit of the history. Then we went upstairs into the dining room where the table was lined with meats and cheeses — and of course wine! The view out the window was breathtaking, and the wine maker gave us tastings of their best wines, and even their reserve. This was the beginning of my love affair with wine, which I normally do not drink at all!
Marked as one of the most beautiful historic towns in Italy, Paciano, dating back to the 15th century, is an incredibly well-preserved town in the Province of Perugia in the Umbria Region. With the mayor and the head of tourism of Paciano, we were led around the cobblestone streets and learned about the rich industries of agriculture, metal work, and textiles in the region, while admiring the rustic architecture.
One of the blog tour guides, Alina, also helps run Fontanaro Farm which is owned by her family and the place she grew up — and was our main base of operations while in the Umbria region. Here, Aline showed us how their families award-winning olive oil is produced, and cemented my appreciation of Italian wine by letting us taste the delicious red wines produced on the farm. Also, a big perk for me seeing that I lack a bit in the cooking department, Alina taught us how to make homemade Italian pasta and how to stew up a thick Umbria argue that would easily keep you warm in the winters. The property was surrounded by the vineyard and olive trees, with mountains ranging being and the valley sinking below into golden fields. To be invited into someones house, whether she was our guide or not, was something very special.
Cantina de Redi
Deep below the stone street of the mountaintop town of Montepulciano was the wine cellars of Cantina de’ Ricci, which were carved into stone below the city by the Etruscans dating back before ancient Roman times. In the silent darkness, massive oak barrels lined the vaulted stone corridors which led us into the modern-day Cantina de’ Ricci where we tried fresh-cut prosciutto, cheeses, and other meat while trying their red wine selections. The building, inside of a historic Palazzo or palace, holds onto the traditions the now extinct Ricci family guarded hundreds of years prior.
What’s the best way to really explore a region? To hump it. No not that kind of humping ya’ pervert, but a real long hike or trek throughout the region to really experience it. On our last full day in the Umbria region we met up with the team of UmbriAction, a company specializing in eco-tourism and adventure tourism in the area. When we first me up with them, we were off to do some bird watching around the marsh area of Il Trasimeno Lake populated by tons of local and migratory birds. After, we went off for a hike into the hillside to see first hand the natural beauty sprouting in the region, and an ancient tower overlooking the lake. We hiked all the way to Azienda Agrarian, the farm of Flavio Orsini where he explained the agriculture in the region, showed us what is unique about his own farm, and gave us a taste of some local flavors. Then we headed around to one of the villages where we met up with local fisherman who took us out onto the lake to show us how they making a living fishing.
Part 2: Ponza
The second portion of our blog trip began. I was sad to leave Umbria and the villa that we stayed in, but as we left the harbor of mainland Italy 2 hours south of Rome and pulled into the port in Ponza, I was slapped by the incredible beauty of the island. Ponza greeted us with its dark blue waters, brushed green hills, rocky cliffs, and colorful villas sprouting about. We took a dinky van from the port to the villa where we were to stay, and to say that the route was treacherous would be a light statement. Treacherous but worth it as the roads on this island were snaking up and down cliff-sides.
It had been a long day of travel on the train and on the ferry, and after we were done unpacking in our terrace overlooking the harbor, we were all famished. It was grub down town and Linnea had something special planned for the dinner. We hiked into the hills rising above our terrace and to the highest point in Ponza to the restaurant Il Tramonto, where we were greeted with this breathtaking view from our seats. As the sun set the sky afire, we tried the specialties of the restaurant with buttery melt-in-your-mouth octopus and potatoes, white wine, and other amazing seafood dishes. Oh, and a full desert spread to top it off!
Boat Tour around Ponza
One way to truly see a region is to hike it like I mentioned in Umbria, but on an island, to truly take in the beauty is to boat it! Day two in Ponza we explored the island by cruising around, taking swims in the warm Tyrrhenian Sea, and had a chance to explore ancient Roman sea caves carved into rocks around the island. My favorite part though was when our boat guide took us over to a natural sea cave, where you had to dive beneath the water and swim under a rock arch to reach the interior cave, it was like something out of a movie!
It had been a long day at sea, so after a couple naps and showers it was time to feast again! We boated into town from out private dock and walked atop the hill to Orestorante, a restaurant hugging the cliffside and overlooking the port as the sun set. The restaurants brightly colored and hand-made plates immediately grabbed my attention, but later the seafood would grab hold of my taste buds. From calamari pasta to skewered fish cooked on hot rocks, we sat around enjoying the flavors of the sea we had explored that day while getting to know the owner and chef and hearing his stories about life on the island.
Ponza Diving Centre
Our last day on Isola de Ponza was an extremely special one for me, and I can’t tell you just how giddy I was. Because I was going scuba diving! For years I’ve dreamed of scuba diving and while in Thailand I figured I would get my certificate, but I never took the time to. After boarding, the crew of Ponza Diving Centre took us out into the sea, where the certified divers went down exploring depths we weren’t allowed to. But the sun was beaming and we were treated to some snack while we hung out and waited for our turn. Once they were done we cruise on over to an area with massive rock crags jutting out of the sea. I geared up and waddled to the edge of the boat and my destiny, and leapt in. At first, I struggled a bit to get acquainted with the gear, but with their help I was swimming 20 meters down with ease through underwater caves. And this has now become an addiction. See the awesome video HERE!
Da Enzo al Frontone
The last piece of our blog trip in Ponza was dinner at Da Enzo al Frontone, a candlelit restaurant carved into the rock face beside the beach. Here we were treated to the zero-kilometer style cooking of the restaurant, where they served us tastes of the sea caught that very morning. Now, I’m not huge on seafood normally, but Ponza had really changed that for me. We ate whole grilled anchovies, skewered of white fish that was breaded and served with sweet peppers, and so much more. We were all pretty bummed that the trip was coming to an end, but one last dinner on a beautiful summers night in Ponza eating fresh seafood and drinking wine, you can’t beat that.
And so it ended (sad face)
So, as we cruised back toward mainland Italy and Ponza shrunk into the horizon, our Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour came to an end, but those experiences that I have from it are forever engrained in memory. And of course the awesome people who I met on it! As my budget neared empty I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to experience Italy in an in-depth way, that I’d be stuck just seeing Rome and that’s it, but this tour gave me the opportunity.
*Special thanks to Linnea and Alina for inviting me on this blog tour. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO ITALY? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE REGION?