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Fun Times Traveling Europe with My Family

Cinque Terre, Italy

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell a story. Make some light.” – Kate DiCamillo

I am a firm believer in writing our own stories. Life is story and story is life, and life is easy in our comfort zones. Stepping out of our normal routines sometimes means tapping into a long-held dream, saving dollars and coins in a jar, and taking action by making the plans. In this case, stepping out meant the pursuit of fun times and family travel. Destination: Europe, with my three almost-grown teenage sons.

Every once in a while, I note that my sons are far taller than I am, and are growing into themselves, which I love. This has always been the goal. But I also note that times with the four of us won’t always last forever. I love it when we are together. And so, taking action on the “I wish we could go back to Prague” wistful dinner conversations, I booked tickets last fall for us to travel to Europe together. It is a dream trip, and it came true. I am so grateful.

For some reason, tickets across the pond landing in Belgium were astoundingly reasonable, so that is where we began: in Bruxelles.

We had a few hours to spare before our next train, so we took the chance to have a local breakfast of waffles and walked around the Grand Place. With a clear blue sky, the buildings shone. It was beautiful – a place filled with sunshine, the sounds of footsteps across cobblestones and spoken French and Flemish, with the fragrance of chocolate accompanied by pristine architecture.

The hours to our next stop didn’t quite go as planned – our trains got mixed up with a cancellation, which was lost in translations. And so we boarded the wrong train, but luckily still made it to our Amsterdam destination to see best friends, arriving only an hour later than planned. We spent days with them in their native Haarlem and enjoyed days on bikes, at the beach, and at the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh museums in the city. It was wonderful.

We flew out to Prague and landed amidst the celery green fields waving with wheat in the morning. Most things have not changed at all in the five years since we’ve repatriated to our native US after living in Prague from 2009 – 2013. Our favorite nearby restaurant on a pond still serves the same pizzas and goulash. The same heavy trucks still consume the narrow roads. The village potraviny still operates exactly the same way. Daily life has continued without us, which was good to see. Our apartment rented through TripAdvisor impressed us immensely with its views over the Vltava River, National Theater, and Charles Bridge. We soaked up every minute in our former home. (More to come in future posts…)

Our final stop was a bit of a reach, but it, too, wowed us. We flew to Milan and took trains south to the coast and stayed in obscure Cinque Terre. It surpassed our hopes with its fun, natural surroundings, and beauty.

Finally, we boarded trains through Nice, France, and returned for a night in Bruxelles before returning to the US.

More photographs on our adventures to come…

Hope you all are having a great start to summer!

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Unforgettable Italy: Hiking, Polenta, Lake Como, and the Italian Alps

Lake Como, the view from the Alps -- sheer beauty

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful privilege of traveling to Italy and spending a week in the shadow of the Italian Alps along Lake Como. The people, the food, the wine; the sunshine and lake breezes and bells clanging in the campaniles; all were unforgettable, magical. I have come to realize even if I breathed every breath in my lifetime in Italy, the time would not be enough to take all of its goodness in.

Now home, back in Ohio, U.S., I look back and savor many of the experiences. But one day on this trip, the simplest things filled me up, all on a hike up into the mountains surrounding Lake Como.

Unforgettable Italy: Hiking, Polenta, Lake Como, and the Italian Alps

From Menaggio, the road toward Lugano, Switzerland, leads up into the mountains. We began at a small village for which we didn’t even know the name, simply that we could park the car, find a trail, and begin, up. The morning along the lake was hot, and the path into the mountains was cooler, covered with tall grass and loose rocks, and passed through shady forests and along ancient rock walls.

Italy and Lake Como area map
Italy and Lake Como area map
Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como, Italy — gorgeous beside the Alps, hot in the summer sun

 

Rock walls everywhere along the trails up into the mountains
Rock walls everywhere along the trails up into the mountains

 

For part of the way, we hiked through a pasture where cattle grazed. Giant metal bells hung from the cows’ necks and clanked as they shuffled along, chewing grass, swatting at flies with their whip tails.

Walk along a farm trail, above Lake Como, Italy
Walk along a farm trail, above Lake Como, Italy
Mountains above Lake Como, Italy
Mountains above Lake Como, Italy

Crotto Buba

One of the greatest treats while hiking up and up is to find a place to return to for food. We were not sure we would find a place to refill for water, much less a place which served up spectacular food along with great views.

We passed this place, Crotto Buba, and smiled, knowing we would return hungry. When we stopped for lunch, tired and starving, we discovered local families and groups of workers filled every table. To me, the more local the place and the less English they speak, the better. In this case, this was true, too.

Crotto Buba, above Lake Como, Italy
Crotto Buba, above Lake Como, Italy

Polenta

I have Celiac disease, which means I use the phrase Senza Glutine frequently in Italy.

Most of the time, if a local restaurant or osteria offers risotto, a traditional meal based on rice, I am lucky and very happy. But at Crotto Buba, their only non-gluten meal was polenta.

I ordered it, not expecting to have one of the best-tasting meals I can remember. But it was.

In the photograph below, the polenta doesn’t look like much. Creamy cornmeal, at most. I don’t know if I loved it because I was eating outside overlooking Lake Como far below, or if the cheese and olive oil and polenta were simply the perfect blend baked in its own cast iron dish. But this polenta, I will never forget.

Best Meal Ever, Crotto Buba, Grandola Ed Uniti, Italy
Best Meal Ever, Crotto Buba, Grandola Ed Uniti, Italy

Hiking into the Italian Alps

One of the animal friends along the way …

the locals
the locals

I love the local villages, the steps and narrow alleys and doorways, and the black cat who followed us.

streets of the village
streets of the village
Light and shadows
Light and shadows

 

Hat, camera, hiking boots: check!
Hiking on a hot day — hat, camera, hiking boots

The View of Lake Como from the Italian Alps

All photos above have been taken on my iPhone, and one below, from my Nikon. I took thousands of photographs on my full-frame Nikon while in Italy … but they take quite a while to get through. 🙂

Every time I have traveled to Italy, the country, its people, its natural beauty, and its food and drink have been beyond compare. This trip was the same, and even more unforgettable in every way.

Lake Como, the view from the Alps -- sheer beauty
Lake Como, the view from the Alps — sheer beauty

Have you traveled to Italy? If so, have you tried polenta? What did you think?

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Darkness, Perspective, and Light

Storms, Darkness: Praiano, Italy

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami

About five years ago, I traveled to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Reflections of Capri along the Mediterranean, from Praiano, Italy
Reflections of Capri along the Mediterranean, from Praiano, Italy

From the perch in the village where I stayed, the view looked like the above photograph, and the view from neighboring Positano, below:

A Church high above Positano, and the view of Capri's Faraglioli (Fingers)
A Church high above Positano, and the view of Capri’s Faraglioli (Fingers)

One afternoon, storms rolled in from the sea. The change was drastic.

Dark Seas across the view from Praiano to the Faraglioni and Isle of Capri, Italy
Dark Seas across the view from Praiano to the Faraglioni and Isle of Capri, Italy

 

Storms, Darkness: Praiano, Italy
Storms, Darkness: Praiano, Italy

Once the rain had pelted the dramatic coastline for hours, and the sea surged and crashed into the rocks far below, a stream of light peeked out from the heavy clouds. When the darkness parted, the landscape looked even more beautiful than it had before. Why is that?

Stunning Painting in the Sky, above Capri and the Amalfi Coast, Italy
Stunning Painting in the Sky, above Capri and the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Darkness and Perspective

Storms come. Life isn’t easy. Last week, I wrote using the same quote as the beginning of this post. In a wider view, in the past few weeks, the state of the United States has been dire. The Presidential debate, the shootings, and the riots — all of these have weighed heavy on our hearts. The GreatNewBooks.org team have talked about the difficulties in our country recently. Has it ever been this bad? It’s impossible not to shake our heads and wonder how we have gotten where we are as a nation.

I’m not a political person, and I’m also not one who has an explanation for all the things happening. But I am one who has learned to set my feet on the ground in hard times, root into faith, set my face to the wind, and watch the storm come.

storms
Storms

Storms aren’t pleasant. They’re completely out of our control, and maybe that’s why they’re so uncomfortable — we have no control over what happens. There is no explanation for why a tornado devastates a certain town, or why lightning strikes, much in the same way it’s difficult to make sense of the metaphorical storms which plow their way through our lives, in events big and small, public and personal.

The one thing I do know is that after the storm, we can appreciate beauty much better than we could before the storm. Without darkness, it’s difficult to see the light. There is nothing that has more importance than the task of keeping our lights shining. For it is with the light we’ve kept burning that defines who we are despite the storms.

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Art and Sculpture in the Veneto, Italy: a Photojournal

the Barchessa I loved

The best artist has that thought alone Which is contained within the marble shell; The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell To free the figures slumbering in the stone. – Michelangelo

In Europe, art is everywhere — in the architecture, in paintings and frescoes, in statues and sculptures, even in the arrangement of cobblestones in the sidewalks. It is one of the elements that makes Europe its own. Every corner and door handle are inspired, it seems. Art is the air which that continent breathes.

One of my favorite places in Europe is Venice, which I’ve written about several times. When my family and I traveled to Venice from Prague, we stayed on estates outside the city in the Veneto region. Not only was staying outside Venice far less expensive, but since the Veneto is known for its wines, vineyard estates, and its longtime grandeur, the Veneto is an experience in itself.

Our first visit, we stayed at Montecchia, an estate near Padua, west of Venice in the Veneto. (I wrote about it here: The Charm of Italy’s Veneto Region.) The second visit, we stayed at Brandolini-Rota, in Cordignano, north of Venice at the foot of the Alps.

The estate was beautiful, stunningly so. The estate produces Fruili wine, harvested from its fields and stored in the on-site 18th century barchessa cellars. The vintner let us tour their facility and taste the wines. Bella!

But even more, the Brandolini-Rota estate is filled with surprising 1600s statuary throughout its extensive grounds. Like the estate Villa, which I imagine was once impressive and well cared for, the statues are now neglected. Yet even after 400 years of weather and wear, they speak.

Art and Sculpture in the Veneto, Italy: a Photojournal

the Villa at Brandolini-Rota, Veneto, Italy
the Villa at Brandolini-Rota, Veneto, Italy

 

the Villa at Brandolini-Rota
the Villa at Brandolini-Rota

More than 48 statues stand along the lanes throughout Brandolini-Rota. In the photograph above, you can see a few at the right.

A few of my favorite statues from Brandolini-Rota, accompanied by a few of my favorite quotes on the importance of art …

Brandolini-Rota statue

Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Brandolini Rota statue

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious – the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”- Albert Einstein

 

Brandolini Rota statue
“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” – Émile Zola

Brandolini Rota statue
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton

Brandolini Rota statue
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”- Pablo Picasso

Brandolini Rota statue
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”- Edgar Degas

Brandolini Rota statue
“Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.” – Flannery O’Connor

Brandolini Rota statue

an artful twist of decay and beauty, Veneto, Italy
an artful twist of decay and beauty, Veneto, Italy

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”- Ansel Adams

the Barchessa I loved
the Barchessa I loved

 

These photographs, I discovered recently while writing on the four years I lived in Prague and on the twenty-three countries we traveled while there. I’m delighted to have found them, and to get to share them with you here. Have a wonderful week! and a beautiful Advent season.

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10 Favorite Photos of Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy, in February

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

 

When my family and I moved to Prague, Czech Republic, five and a half years ago, we brought with us a few new essential electronics. One of those items was a new laptop. I knew I’d need it for writing (my previous one was a dinosaur), and for keeping the photographs I hoped I’d capture during our time in Europe.

What I didn’t plan for was that new laptop crashing with a dead hard drive six months after we arrived and another nine months after that. Although I backed my writing up almost hourly, my photo backups weren’t as regular. As a result, I lost a lot of photographs.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working hard on a new writing project — a memoir of the stories and travels from my time in Prague. I hope to combine some of my favorite photographs into the project, as well, so that it might be a full-color book, filled with the outer journey of living in a former Soviet bloc country and traveling to twenty-three countries, paralleled by the inner journey from who I was before and during the four years in Prague to who I am now. I’m very excited about it.

In the process of digging through my collection of data giga-banks, I discovered a whole six months worth of photographs that I previously thought I had lost. Some of them: from Venice, Italy — one of my favorite places on earth.

To celebrate, I want to share them here with you …

10 Favorite Photos of Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

Venice, Italy, in February

We visited Venice also when the weather was beautiful and sunny (link to photos here), which, like magic, turned the water and the canals the purest blue. But, as you can see in the photographs above, gloomy skies turn the water a moody gray, which to me, might be even more enchanting. What do you think?

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With the promo code RBGIFTS15 , you can have 15% off wall art, duvet covers, and pillow purchases at RedBubble. If you’re looking for a unique, high-quality gift, this is a great opportunity. To find my photography at RedBubble, click here. I think you’ll love it!

The offer is valid now until 11:59pm on Thursday, November 13 2014.

PS. If you can’t find a photograph you love there at RedBubble, send me a note on my contact form, and I’ll be happy to arrange for that photo to be added to my portfolio there. Thank you!

 

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My Latest Oil Painting, of Positano, Italy

Jennifer Lyn King and her painting

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”- Pablo Picasso

In 2012, my family and I drove south from Prague, over the Alps, through Tuscany, past Rome and Naples, and found the most beautiful place along the Amalfi Coast of Italy. We spent a week there in a tiny town called Praiano, in a primitive apartment with a tremendous view, and fell completely in love with the place. The colors were purer than any I’d ever seen–the blue of the sky, the yellow of the lemons growing an arms-length outside the windows. I took a million photographs.

 

Positano, Italy, from the Path of the Gods
Positano, Italy, from the Path of the Gods

Halfway through the week, we set out to explore the path which led straight up the mountain behind us. We thought it might take an hour. Six hours later, drenched in sweat, more sore and hungrier than I’d been in a long time, we arrived in Positano, the next village, by way of the most stunning hike imaginable, along the Path of the Gods far above the Mediterranean Sea. The views we saw have haunted me. And so this past month, I’ve been painting…

Painting the view from the path of the gods, Italy
Painting the view from the path of the gods, Italy

Oil Painting of Positano, Italy

It started with the image in my mind and a huge blank canvas, 36″ x 36″.

the blank canvas
the blank canvas

Over the past several weeks, the canvas has evolved…

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

 

Stage 4

 

Stage 6

Jennifer Lyn King and her painting
Me, with close to the finished version (happiness!)

 

And now, it brings me right back to the Amalfi Coast, to the View from the Path of the Gods above Praiano and Positano, Italy.

 

I took oodles of time with this one, taking time to step back and evaluate, change brush sizes, mix more colors, add more shadows and highlights, add detail and layers upon layers upon layers–weeks of work, of painting and allowing time to dry, and taking up the paint brush again.

This piece, in addition to my View from the Walls of Siena paintings, is the longest, and most detailed I’ve been with a single canvas. I’m really happy with it. And now I think: Good art takes time. Good art requires patience, most of all.

Question for you: I once heard the musician John Mayer say “the greats work fast”. What do you think? What kind of work do you prefer?

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A Year of Oil Painting on Canvas

me (Jennifer Lyn King) painting one of the Siena canvases

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen” -Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

Ten Years of Oil Painting on Canvas

Just over ten years ago, I bought my first handful of oil paint tubes, trio of brushes, and a big white canvas. I didn’t know what I was doing. Though I’d always loved to draw, paint, and take photos, I’d never trained in art. Yet on that day back in 2003, I simply couldn’t wait another day to paint a canvas with oils.

When I arrived home with my 3 sons, all practically toddlers at the time, I remember wondering what to do with the canvas when I painted. I hadn’t bought an easel. And so when the boys were all tucked snugly in bed that night, I laid the canvas flat on the table, and found out in moments just how hard painting with oils really was.

Oil paint usually has the consistency of toothpaste. Imagine dabbing a brush into toothpaste and trying to get the trailing smear to resemble something recognizable. It was, and still is, a challenge.

Not long after, my mother-in-law gave me an enormous gift — she bought lessons with a renowned local artist for me for my birthday, and the gift came with childcare. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked her enough for that gift. It was truly one which has kept on giving.

Jennifer Lyn King painting
Garden House, painted in 2004, 36″ x 24″ canvas

In the years since, I’ve painted and painted, everything from flowers to landscapes to cities to people. Sometimes I’m happy with what comes out on canvas, sometimes not. One of the benefits of painting with oils is that they are easily scraped off (oils take up to 2 weeks to dry) and reapplied later.

Over the past ten years, I’ve discovered not only the joy in it, but that I love to paint.

A Year of Oil Painting on Canvas

This past year, I’ve been working on a series of canvases of one of my favorite places in the world: Tuscany, Italy. The scenes are a stitched together view overlooking the hills, olive groves, and vineyards of Tuscany from the high vantage point of the walls surrounding Siena.

After I painted the first, central canvas (36″ x 48″), I felt like I had hardly begun the scene as a whole and knew I had to keep going. Now, almost a year later, this is the result.

Siena Paintings: the View of Tuscany from Siena's Walls, by Jennifer Lyn King
Siena Paintings: the View of Tuscany from Siena’s Walls, by Jennifer Lyn King

While everyone sees art differently, these canvases turned out the way I’d envisioned them. I feel that these, after this year of effort and play on canvas, are a personal triumph. I’m delighted to get to share them here with you.

me (Jennifer Lyn King) painting one of the Siena canvases
me (Jennifer Lyn King) painting one of the Siena canvases

 

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Italy and The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sunrise in Maremma, Tuscany, Italy

Books and travel, the only things you can buy that make you richer.

If there is one place in the world that I’ve written most often about, it is Italy. I love Italy, from the top to the bottom, through its musical language to the art which appears everywhere. And, if you’ve read some of what I’ve written about Italy, you know that one of my favorite places is on the coast of Tuscany, in the Maremma region, south of Pisa and Grosseto, north of Rome and Civitavecchia.

The view from one side of my Italian kitchen: Capalbio, Tuscany, Italy
The view from one side of my Italian kitchen: Capalbio, Tuscany, Italy

There is much history there. In the near distance, the hill city of Capalbio sits high above the olive groves and sheep pastures, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Off the coast of the Maremma, a peninsula juts out into the sea, one with a tall, dark mountain called the Argentario.

The Beauty of the Mediterranean Sea from Maremma region in Italy
The Beauty of the Mediterranean Sea from Maremma region in Italy

Two islands appear like dots on the horizon in the sea, one is Giglio and the other Giannutri. About two years ago, disaster struck the island of Giglio when a massive cruise ship from Civitavecchia collided with the rocks and sank there. We could see the wreckage from the tiny villa where we stayed on the mainland of Tuscany.

Tuscany, Italy, and the Maremma
Tuscany, Italy, and the Maremma

That brings me to a book I’ve recently read called The Other Story by the author of Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay. It is set off the coast of Tuscany on the island of Giglio at a very posh resort. The book’s setting is close geographically, but very different than the basic place where we stayed in the Maremma (think sand, sun, no shoes, cooking in a teeny kitchen and hanging laundry on lines overlooking the sea). This week, I’m recommending The Other Story over at GreatNewBooks.org, the site I lead and run with five other writing friends. A little more about it …

The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay

Imagine a posh resort on an island off the coast of Tuscany, awash in sunshine, sparkling like the guests’ diamonds. A young man steps off a yacht, Nicolas Kolt, an author on a getaway, supposedly to work on his next novel. The poolside crowd swoons when they recognize him; his first novel had become a worldwide success as well as an Oscar-winning movie. It is there under the Tuscan sunshine that we come to know the flawed man, Nicolas Kolt. The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay

Nicolas spends his time doing everything but writing. His behavior has driven his family and friends away. He runs from the blank pages of what should be becoming his next novel. Only he knows he hasn’t written a word on his next, and the pressure is high. What happens at the resort, though, is important. It is there that the character makes a notable transformation.

I love to hear about writers and artists and how they create. What de Rosnay has written in The Other Story is not about the act of creation, though, but about the resistance which every human must overcome to fully live and to live well. It is a mocking of celebrity culture, a parody of sorts. And on a deeper level, it is a difficult and important story with many layers, on how the decisions made by those in past generations echo and ripple and touch the lives of others for years to come.

I hope you’ll stop by our site, sign up for the weekly book recommendations, and enter to win a copy of Tatiana de Rosnay’s newest novel, The Other Story. The giveaway runs from Wednesday to Friday night.

 

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The Italian Alps: Scenes from Chestnut Forests and Stone Villages

Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps

“Schilpario was one of the last villages to the north, which lay in the shadow of the Pizzo Camino, one of the highest peaks in the Alps, where the snow did not melt, even in summer. So high in the cliffs, the people looked down on the clouds, which moved through the valley below like rosettes of meringue … The mountain people were sustained through long winters by the contents of their root cellars filled with bins of plentiful chestnuts, which carpeted the mountain paths like glassy brown stones.” – The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, an excellent novel, page 14

 

the Italian Alps
the Italian Alps

Italy is a country of many beautiful, varied terrains. To the far north, the Alps cross and form the border with Switzerland and Austria. Only one hours’ drive north of Milan, the Italian landscape changes from flat to mountainous. Milan sits like a jewel pressed flat onto the expansive plateau wedged between the sapphire Mediterranean Sea to the south and the crown of mountains, the Alps, to the north.

The terrain changes drastically in that drive north, from flat to rising and skirting Lake Como and Lugano to the jagged, steep mountains of the Alps. It was there, twenty-five kilometers north of Lake Como, in the mountains overlooking Valchiavenna, where my family and I spent a week in a rustic stone chalet for a vacation.

When we arrived, we knew we wanted to ski (which we did, link to the post here, over the pass into Switzerland), but we didn’t anticipate how much we would love the area surrounding the tiny village where we stayed.

the Chestnut Forest, Prato Camportaccio, Italy
the Chestnut Forest, Prata Camportaccio, Italy

One morning, we hiked up the steep slope above the chalet, and found ourselves thick in chestnut forest. The ground was covered in the spiny, round fruits which had fallen from the trees.

Palm Tree in the Italian Alps
Palm Tree in the Italian Alps

Amazingly, palm trees also grow in Prata Camportaccio and the mountain above, as well as olive trees. One man explained it was because of the thermal springs and heat which rises up through the ground in the area. It was surreal to see palm trees thriving in two feet of snow.

Centuries' Old Stone Villages, Italian Alps
Centuries’ Old Stone Villages, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
Prata Camportaccio, Italy
Photos from a Foresting Booklet at the site picturing families living in the stone village, Prata Camportaccio, Italy

The cluster of what seemed to be abandoned stone buildings sat in a tight formation near the thermal springs higher up on the mountain.

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
A stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

 

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
A stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

 

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

A sign describes the process of drying chestnuts and preserving them.

Sign describing the process of drying chestnuts, Italian Alps
Sign describing the process of drying chestnuts, Italian Alps
Moss, Abandoned stone building, Italian Alps
Moss, Abandoned stone building, Italian Alps
Stone and Chestnut
Stone and Chestnut
A Fresco, on an exterior of a stone village building high in the Italian Alps
A Fresco, on an exterior of a stone village building high in the Italian Alps, Year 1828
Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps
Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps

The area in the Italian Alps is a place like no other. The people are friendly and helpful and welcoming, the food incredible, and the views beyond compare. Most impressive, to me, is how civilization has thrived among the clouds in the high Alps for centuries. The Italian Alps are a must-visit region of the world. The only problem is that once you have spent time there, it is almost impossible to want to leave.

 

the Italian Alps, the peaks above Prato Camportaccio, Lombardy, Italy bordering Engadin, Switzerland
the Italian Alps, the peaks above Prata Camportaccio, Lombardy, Italy bordering Engadin, Switzerland
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10 Favorite Places to Visit in Italy

Amalfi, Italy

“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.” -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

 

The View toward Positano, Italy, that begged to be painted
The View toward Positano, Italy, that begged to be painted

The Great Love Affair with Italy

Out of the twenty-six countries I traveled in Europe, one country in particular captured my heart: Italy. My love might have something to do with the music in the language, the depth of the history, the variety of the wines, and the authenticity of the people, but I know for sure that I love Italy because of the places I visited.

Upon first glance, each of the 10 places I have listed below are gorgeous. But it’s different after you stay at that place and let the setting grow into your senses — that is when I fully knew I loved Italy. Each of these places are ones, that if you have the opportunity to visit and travel Italy, you must see. And if you can, stay a while…

10 Places to Visit in Italy

1. Rome

Everyone knows Rome for its history, but the city itself is like no other in the world for its combination of old and new, wrought together in stunning beauty. Personal favorites include Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon, and the Vatican, but the espresso shops anywhere are must-dos in order to watch and really see it all blend together. For more on Rome through my lens, click here.

Rome, the view from Castel Sant'Angelo, the Colosseum just to the left of the white Piazza Venezia
Rome, the view from Castel Sant’Angelo, the Colosseum just to the left of the white Piazza Venezia and Vittoriano

 

2. Venice

When I stepped out from Santa Lucia station for the first time, I was not prepared for Venice. The city, the buildings, the architecture, and the water as it reflects and connects and binds–I’d never imagined any place like it. For even though I’d heard of Venice and seen movies and photographs, I hadn’t felt it for myself. The experience is one you’ll never forget. Fore more on Venice through my lens, click here.

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

3. Maremma

My family and I spent weeks in the Maremma, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, playing and walking along its edge, and looking back toward the mountains and hill-towns of Tuscany. October is the perfect month here, when the women beat the olive trees with long sticks and gather the olives on white sheets. The wine and cheese and olives, and sand and sun and sea, are the perfect combination — so much that I think it is heaven. For more on the Maremma, click here.

Tuscany, Italy, and the Maremma
Tuscany, Italy, and the Maremma

 

4. Amalfi Coast

Photographs do not do a favor for the Amalfi Coast, which juts out below Naples (Napoli) south of Rome. I fell in love with the lemon trees, the steep cliffs and houses which cling to them, the artfully tiled churches, and the blue, blue, blue sea. For more, click here.

 

Amalfi, Italy
Amalfi, Italy

5. Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre means the Five Lands, and dates far back into antiquity. It is in the northern Italian Riviera, and the charm and views are stunning. For more, click here.

 

Sunrise over the Mediterranean, Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy
Sunrise over the Mediterranean, Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

6. Tuscany

Florence, Siena, Montapulciano, Montalcino, and more, Tuscany sits in the middle of the calf of Italy’s boot. Come looking for art, Renaissance, wine, cheese, and inspiration. Tuscany is a must, especially in the autumn during the harvests. For more, click here.

 

the view from Siena's walls, Tuscany, Italy
the view from Siena’s walls, Tuscany, Italy

7. Veneto

If you’re looking for authenticity and the chance to taste great wines, the Veneto is for you. The region extends north and west from Venice, to the Alps and Lake Garda. I recommend staying at a bed and breakfast situated on a working vineyard. For more, click here.

 

Wine Production building, Brandolini Rota estate, Veneto, Italy
Wine Production building, Brandolini Rota estate, Veneto, Italy

8. Dolomites

In the winter, the Dolomites, or the Italian Alps, are the place to be, especially for skiing. I recommend staying in a village, one especially where you can walk to the store, and enjoy the local flavor, the woodworking, and the friendliness. For more, click here.

 

Italy's Dolomites Alps
Italy’s Dolomites Alps

9. Chiavenna

This village is tucked into the northernmost niche of Italy as it juts toward Switzerland. It is known for its forests and woodworking, for the grottos and grappa, and for my family,memories like no other, as we stood alongside locals in their tiny church for Christmas mass. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. For more, click here.

 

Chiavenna, Italy
Chiavenna, Italy

10. Praiano – Positano – Path of the Gods

Positano, Praiano, and the Path of the Gods sit high above the Mediterranean along the Amalfi Coast — and were one of the places which, if I close my eyes, I can still see the turquoise of the water against the onyx black of the mountains jutting straight up out of the sea. If you can, walk the trail that is called The Path of the Gods. It takes hours, and is far longer and harder than I imagined possible, but is one of the experiences I count as golden from my lifetime. For more, click here.

A Church high above Positano, and the view of Capri's Faraglioli (Fingers)
A Church high above Positano, and the view of Capri’s Faraglioli (Fingers)

 

How to Find Where to Stay in Italy:

To close, my favorite site to find places to stay in Italy:

We stayed with the wonderful folks at Trust and Travel at various places on their list in the Maremma and in the Veneto. I highly recommend them. (A warning, though: once you visit their website, you’ll never want to leave.) Their real places are even more beautiful than the photographs on their website.

Enjoy your Italian travels!