Wanderlust: The Best of Italy

J&A Wanderlust

Sep 27, 2018

Travel Tips and Adventures // Wanderlust // Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland

I still can’t believe this dreamy trip to Italy happened! {Get the whole scoop on how this trip happened – and why we planned it in 2 months on this post here}

We saw so many incredible things during our 10 day trip through northern Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. I’ll be sharing a series of blogs for each city in the next few weeks, but first I wanted to give you the highlight reel!

Best Travel Guide Ever

This was the first time we used a Rick Steve’s travel guide. It took a little bit to win me over because it felt a little overwhelming at first, but now I give it all the gold stars! Best travel guide I’ve used yet! I’ve tried almost all the major ones (Frommers, Eye Witness, Fodor’s, etc). This one wins, hands down. It takes awhile to get through, but the extra detail on how to adapt to the culture was priceless. It has all the extra details (where to park, what to avoid, etc) that a local would be able to tell you.

Off we go!

We booked our tickets out of Atlanta, so our journey started with a little road trip. (A shout out to our friends at Huntsville Traveler for telling us about these $500 tickets to Italy!) An 8 hour flight to London isn’t so bad with all the snacks and personal movie screens. It’s hard to complain about international flights, even if the leg room isn’t quite enough space for Joel. From London we hopped on a plane for Milan!

Milan, Italy

We landed in Milan around 2:30pm the next day. Since our luggage was on a later flight, we headed into the city center before we needed to be back to meet the second flight.

And the first thing we did: find gelato on our way to a castle!

Sforza Castle started as a military fortress before a Renaissance palace was added on. There’s a whole collection of museums there that we browsed through, but the big highlight is a Micaelangelo’s final and unfinished Pietà.


After visiting the castle, it was time to head back to the airport, collect our luggage, find some dinner, and check into our AirBnB. After an overnight flight, a 7 hour time difference, and trying to figure out how to get around in a new foreign city, we were more than ready to crash for a few hours!!

We started the next morning with a caffe latte at a coffee shop near our AirBnB. This is where we discovered that lattes in Italy cost around 1.50 euros instead of the $5 we’re used to. WINNING! Once Joel discovered that, we usually had a minimum of 2 or 3 caffe lattes a day. Baby Palmer isn’t letting me drink a lot of coffee right now, but I indulged in a few sips every time. The coffee culture there is different, but we really loved it.

Our first official stop in Milan the next morning was the Duomo! This. Place. Was. Breath-taking. We’ve seen a lot of cathedrals in our travels, and the Duomo in Milan was definitely a stand-out. We don’t usually pay to go inside cathedrals, but this one was totally worth it. It was huge!

Next stop: coffee and pastries. This is where we also discovered that pastries only cost about 1.20 euros. Now we always order pastries with our coffee. Joel decided to try a macchiato this time. Italians like strong, dark coffee. Most of them seem to put sugar in, no matter what kind of drink it is. We didn’t always have to add sugar, but the macchiato was one time we did!

But that nutella croissant….I’m still dreaming about it. Croissants were one of our main food groups in Italy, along with pizza, pasta, and gelato.

After pizza for lunch, we wandered all around Milan to explore. We ended our afternoon at Naviglio Grande (the canal district) for some more gelato before heading into the city to find pasta for dinner.

Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera

Oh, the amazingness that was Cinque Terre!

The next morning, we headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car. It was our first time driving in a foreign country, unless you count Canada! Joel rocked the crazy Italian driving, and I rocked the GPS. It was definitely a team effort.

But back to Cinque Terre. We parked the car and hopped on the train that connects you to the 5 coastal cities. With the time we had, we explored 3 of them: Monterosso al Mare, Varnazza, and Manarola. They were all beautiful and had a flavor of their own! I think my personal favorite was Varnazza, but they all were equally charming.

Here is a quick snapshot from these towns – including our first time at the Mediterranean Sea!!

Pisa, Italy

After a few hours in Cinque Terre, we stopped by Pisa on our way to our AirBnB. ( <– Which was epic and I’ll tell you about later!!)

You always hear about the leaning tower of Pisa, but we didn’t realize that there were so many other incredible buildings along with it! The Baptistry is the largest in Italy.

Seeing the leaning tower in real life was really quite an experience. We also discovered that there’s a whole little town of Pisa. We found a great little coffee shop that felt pretty Americanized. I didn’t have high hopes for the coffee, but they totally surprised us! It turned out to be one of our favorite coffees of the trip. The raspberry doughnut was pretty scrumptious, too.

Capannori, Italy

This is the view from our AirBnB. No kidding. We stayed in an ancient village called Castelvecchio (“old castle”). We wound our way up this hill to stay in a castle wall. Best AirBnB ever, I think. The view from the back porch down into the valley was incredible! The houses are built with only 1-2 rooms on each floor, so there are multiple stories in the house. We stayed on the top floor. *swoon*

Florence, Italy

The next day was my birthday and our day in Florence! This is one city where we really wished we had more time. We saw a lot, but there were some worthwhile museums (like the Uffizi Gallery) that we didn’t have time to visit.

The Florence Duomo was also incredible! Just check out the colors!

We loved wandering the streets, stumbling across art everywhere we went, and following Rick Steve’s Renaissance Walk tour.

Heads up: these sculptures didn’t wear any clothes. Fair warning for the following picture!

We reserved tickets to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Micaelangelo’s David. I debated so much about whether to put this not G-rated picture in here, but David was just such a majestic piece that it ended up on here after all. I tried to compromise a little bit with a pull-back shot. It was stunning in real life! The technique, the detail, the expressions. It was really the only thing much worth seeing in the museum, but totally worth the ticket price in a crowded, non air conditioned room.

We spent the late afternoon hiking up (just kidding, we totally took the bus this time!!!) to Piazzale Michelangelo for this incredible view of the city. It was one of our favorite parts of Florence! A shout out to our friend Aislinn for recommending the best gelato we had on our entire trip, which was just down the street from here.

And since it was my birthday, it was the perfect day for the most epic dark chocolate gelato ever.

Tuscany and Siena, Italy

The next day had some flexibility, so we spontaneously decided to drive through Tuscany and visit Siena before heading up to Verona that afternoon.

Best. Decision. Ever.

This was definitely one of the highlight days of our trip. Especially after being in big cities for most of the trip so far, Tuscany was just a dream. We just drove through rolling hills filled with vineyards and picturesque villages.

We only had about an hour in Siena, but it won our hearts! Joel still votes this his favorite city of the whole trip. It felt a little less touristy but still had some incredible sights. We loved wandering around the streets, grabbing some pizza, and enjoying the Tuscan vibe.

A Photo Session of Our Own!

After our time under the Tuscan sun (and it was hot!), we headed on to Verona for our photo session that evening! We met up with the fabulous Giovanna Aprili for a sunset session in this beautiful city. She and her husband were so sweet to work with our crazy travel schedule. We loved spending that time with them! Here are a couple sneak peeks from our session. We’re super excited to see the rest of our gallery!! *all the heart eyes*

{Photo credit: Giovanna Aprili}

{Photo credit: Giovanna Aprili}

Verona, Italy

After some pasta and some much needed sleep, we got up early to enjoy the cool-ish morning in Verona! We beat the crowds and the heat to start exploring this incredible city.

Verona is at the top of my list! It’s my favorite Italian city so far. Joel sometimes even agrees to a tie with Siena.

We checked out Castelvecchio before exploring the Roman Arena (so cool!). I loved all the piazzas!! Every city has cool piazzas, but Verona had some of my favorites!

Next stop: the house of Juliet!

Now I totally understand that all this is fictional, but I’ve been dreaming of this moment ever since I watched the movie Letters to Juliet. It’s still one of my favorite movies. I love how this first picture is so peaceful and perfect…and then you get to see how crowded it actually was. We were glad we got there early because later in the day, the line was so long just to get into this courtyard!

One of my all-time favorite Italian piazzas! {Piazza Erbe}

We explored, ate gelato, then climbed a gazillion stairs to get an epic view of the city (so worth it). It was a day and a city to remember. For dinner, we had our favorite pasta of the trip here in Verona! Yuuum.

Bolzano Region // Italian Alps

After we left Verona, we headed off to an adventure in the Alps! This was Joel’s dream for our trip. We dropped Rome from our itinerary to be able to head further north into the Alps. My conclusion? I’m really glad I agreed to it! It was a total change from city life, and the Alps are an experience all in itself.

We stopped in the town of Bolzano, Italy to explore and find some lunch. This part of Italy has a lot of Austrian and German influence, and it felt much more like Germany than Italy! Everything was in both German and Italian. The food, architecture, and culture felt like we stepped into Germany.

We found a great market in the center of Bolzano. Perfect for lunch! We love European market lunches, but we didn’t find many outdoor food markets in Italy. After a week of pizza and pasta, our lunch of bread, cheese, tomatoes, grapes, and sausage was everything we wanted.

After lunch, we hit the road to check out more of the Italian countryside. There are castles everywhere and churches in every little village.

We tried to make it up to this castle to check it out (we thought it was supposed to be open to visitors).

But after driving up the mountain on this narrow one lane road, we got to a point where we decided it might not be a visitor’s entrance after all. And believe me, I was praying so hard when Joel had to back down that narrow little lane. He rocked it, of course, but I was convinced death was near.

The views from the mountain were worth it, though. Almost…

Augustinian Monastery, Italy

Our next stop was much more grounded. The Kloster Neusift is an Augustinian Monastery that you can wander through. While only some of the buildings are open to the public, the grounds alone were worth the stop! Their basilica was extremely complex, frilly, and fascinating. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a cathedral interior quite like it.

We ordered some apple strudel for a snack on our way out. After driving past orchard after orchard, it only felt right!

Alpe di Siusi, Italy

The Dolomite views from Alpe di Suisi were originally on our itinerary, then were bumped back off in favor of more countryside. But we visited in the end. It meant getting in late to our AirBnB that night, but we decided that we couldn’t be that close and not see it for ourselves!

Alpe di Siusi is the largest mountainhigh meadow in the Alps. We knew we didn’t have much time to hike before dark (we got there at 5:30pm), but the little trail we took was perfect for us! We found some amazing Dolomite views and met many Alpine cows with clanging bells.


The next day, we left Italy behind as we headed to Austria. The drive through this countryside was spectacular! There weren’t many easy places to stop for a photo op, so I did my best to capture it from the car windows. Just imagine these pictures times 10 in real life.

Austria is a place we both agreed we want to come back to someday. Our little drive through made us want more!

Innsbruck, Austria

We stopped at a perfect little Austrian town. We loved Innsbruck! Our first stop was to get some brunch. We found a cafe that served an “international” twist on breakfast – which meant we had a chance to get eggs! Our little Americanized European breakfast consisted of eggs, bread with Alpine butter, deli style ham, hard cheese, and grilled vegetables. Most of our time there was just wandering through the town without an agenda.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein 

The afternoon was spent in the fascinating little country of Liechtenstein! The entire country is only about 62 square miles and has a population of less than 40,000. We didn’t really know anything about Liechtenstein before we came – but it surprised us!

After ancient Italian cities and German-flavored towns, Vaduz was very modern. Instead of Roman ruins, they have modern art (see shoe sculpture below). We discovered that they do a lot of industry and international banking. They seem to be a wealthy little country, judging by everything we experienced!

The prince of Liechtenstein lives here, for real! Vaduz is the capital city and houses the official royal residence. We hiked up a very steep path to get to here, but the views (and being right outside a real castle) were worth it!


That night’s AirBnB was in a little Swiss town, so across the border we went!

We woke up in a little Swiss village to our last day in Europe. Our hosts provided a great breakfast (fruit, yogurt, and OJ are delectable after 2 weeks of the Italian habit of pastries!) – and off we went to check out what Switzerland has to offer!

And oh, it did not disappoint. This was another highlight of our trip! (And these were taken through the window of a moving car. The real life version was even better, if you can believe it!)

St Moritz, Switzerland

We just had time to stop through one Swiss town, and that was St Moritz. It had a really ritzy downtown (covered with stores like Prada and Gucci), coupled with this old leaning tower and lakeside views. It felt like a town of complementing opposites in many ways.

In the Switzerland blog post, I’ll show you a picture of the $32,000 watches we browsed through on our way to find Swiss chocolate.

We did find our Swiss chocolate, and it was everything we dreamed it would be. I might even venture to say that it was better than chocolate in Belgium (with the exception of the Chocolate Line in Bruges, of course. Best chocolate ever.)

A lakeside view on our way out of town, and we’re back on the road toward the Italian border and Lake Como!

Literally castles everywhere. A lot of them were well kept up and looked lived in.

Varenna, Lake Como, Italy

The very perfect way to spend our last afternoon was relaxing at Lake Como. We thought about trying to jump on a boat to also explore the lakeside town of Bellagio while we were there. In the end, though, we decided to just have a quiet couple of hours in Varenna.

It was a great decision, and we filled our time with gelato. We wandered through the streets without much of an agenda (Baby Palmer was happy about both the rest and the gelato).


And then back to Milan! Coming full circle to our first city was a little surreal. We don’t usually do that, but it was a neat way to round out the trip. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our rental car, and headed back into the city for one last Italian dinner! Risotto was on the menu that night – followed by gelato, of course.

A night time stroll around the romantically lit Milan Duomo later, we headed off to get some rest before our 4:30am wakeup call.

We hope you loved this highlight peek at this super fun trip! I’ll be blogging each city in more detail later, so keep an eye out for that!



Want more? Check out our adventure on an Alaskan cruise (you do not want to miss Glacier National Park), Nova Scotia (that incredible place was even better than we ever dreamed!) and Copenhagen, Denmark (looove that place, especially Nyhavn!)

  1. Betsie Z says:

    Sounds like a lovely time! We always use Rick Steves’ books for our European travels, too! Glad you had so much fun.

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