Exploring Tuscany from Greve in Chianti

I discovered Greve in Chianti many months ago through my Airbnb search of the Siena and Chianti region of Italy. I saw an adorable villa (the room we are currently renting) which looked absolutely perfect for our 5 night stay. It was in a town called "Greve in Chianti." Perfect. I didn't know a thing about Greve in Chianti other than it was "in Chianti" and the villa looked traditionally Tuscan so I booked it and didn't give it another thought.

Little did I know that Greve in Chianti would actually be the perfect home base for us to explore Tuscany and this region of Italy in the exact way that we like to travel. I couldn't have asked for a better location. We're an hour from Florence, an hour from Siena, an hour from San Gimignano, and 20 - 30 minutes from many charming Italian hill towns that we've taken to love exploring. The word "in Chianti" following many of the town's names is because for the winemakers, in order to be considering "Chianti Classico," a top honor, they have to be made from wines in Chianti-- similar to the word "champagne" or they cannot be considered Chianti Classico. That is why there are so many "in Chianti" towns-- because they are the heartland of where the Chianti wine is produced.

It's been nice for us because we've spent most of our times stopping into towns we've never even heard of and had wonderful experiences-- weaving in and out of alleyways, exploring hills, poking into quiet shops, having lunch at trattorias that don't charge a cover charge (more on that, later) and eating gelato at places that don't have swarms and swarms of people waiting in line. Oh, and we never see selfie sticks in the small towns, either...

I have mixed feelings about the touristy Italian cities. For one, if you travel in the summer, Italy is very, very hot. Add 1,000 people side by side in alleys, piazzas, cathedrals, etc., and you're going to be sorely disappointed that these towns aren't as quaint and quintessential as you expected them to be. It's funny to me because we have seen no American tourists in the small villages-- we've mainly seen European tourists in those villages. And in the major cities, we have only seen Americans. So. Many. Americans. When did we get the idea that all Italy is is Florence, Siena, Assisi, Venice and Rome? Are people afraid to venture outside of what they've read in guidebooks and explore what really is the heart of Italy? The Italy that they have come to admire and dream about from "Under the Tuscan Sun" and their computer image backgrounds?

Because while there is great history in those cities, the major touristed cities are not what Italy is all about. It can be incredibly frustrating trying to "see" Italy while being pushed, stepping in front of their selfies and photo ops (we're guilty of selfies here too-- I'm not on my high horse!), waiting in lines, being charged more for food than normal, sweating profusely, being charged an arm and a leg to see famous sights and cathedrals, and trying to buy something "authentic" only to realize that the exact same items can be found two stalls down, made in China.

There's nothing wrong with being interested in Siena, Florence, Assisi, Rome, Venice and even Naples if you have a true passion for history and a desire to see the architectural and historical legacies of these cities. I have been to all of them and don't regret going for a second. But if you want to experience Italy in all of its glory... through a "La Vita Bella" dinner alfresco on a hillside at sunset, strolling the streets in love with a stratciatella gelato in your hand, visiting with a Chianti Classico winemaker and eating fresh charcuterie with him, and shopping in villages with hand-crafted artisan's goods... then do not go to Italy and only visit the major 5 tourist towns. Get out of town. Get out of your comfort zone. Stay in a small village and rent a car to drive and explore. Experience "agriturismo"-- that is, staying in a B&B in the farm countries and vineyards with local winemakers and olive oil producers and let them show you true Italian hospitality.

As the wine maker we chatted with all night last night said to us, "I have worked at a large ristorante in Florence for too long, and now I quit and work in smaller restaurant in Chianti. They became too big because of tourism and people stopped appreciating the art of the food."

(Side note: We've come to realize that Tripadvisor shows Americans where to go in Europe because reviews are written by Americans, for Americans. So if you want to go to a restaurant that Americans think are great and see a lot of American people, go to the #1 restaurants on Tripadvisor. ;) Not that this is a bad thing... but we started realizing each time we'd consult Tripadvisor with where to eat that, "Hey, there's a lot of English conversations around us..." "Hey, there are a lot of Americans here in this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the back alley of Siena..." 

However, the Americans don't lie because we also have found these amazing restaurants because of Tripadvisor reviews. The sneaky American tourists like us just keep stumbling into these must-go places and seeing our like-minded camarades there as well. :) 

Also, be informed that in Italy, almost all places outside of Rome that are in touristy areas charge a "cover charge," which can look like a lot of different things. In smaller towns it's mostly a charge for bread (usually about 3 EUR for the bread basket) that servers will bring you without asking. It's usually a gesture of hospitality, but nothing is free when eating in Italy. Accept the basket if you don't mind the charge, other way you can say, "No grazie," before the basket hits your table. 

We have also seen "copperto" added, which is basically just a charge for eating there, using their plates, etc. This is usually around 2 EUR per person as well. We've also just seen a tip automatically added to our bill as a service charge-- sometimes around 10% of the bill which is roughly 3 - 4 EUR. However, today in Siena, at the #1 rated hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the city thanks to Tripadvisor reviews, we were charged for all three "cover charge" points-- we were charged 2 EUR for water, 6 EUR for a cover charge, 3 EUR for bread and 3 EUR for a service charge. It was absolutely outrageous. We've never been charged that much at any restaurant in all of Italy just for small things we didn't even order, and we weren't even eating in an area of Siena that was near tourist spots. It just goes to show that there is even more reason to avoid the overly touristy cities because places will take advantage of the unknowing traveler. One thing to note is that a service charge is not a tip; servers, unlike in the US, receive a salary and benefits so actual tipping is not done and not expected whatsoever.) 

Digression aside, these are some of our favorite small towns that we have loved visiting during our time in Tuscany and highly recommend stopping in for an hour or so (that's all the time you'll need unless you have a meal there) during your visit to this area:

1. Radda in Chianti

2. Castellina in Chianti

3. Monteriggiore

4. Montefioralle

5. Greve in Chianti

6. Panzano in Chianti

7. Montainole

8. Montepulciano

9. Pienza

10. Montalcino

We also visited Siena and San Gimignano during our visit which are worth a quick trip but know what you want to see and plan accordingly if you visit in high tourist season. Again, no regrets visiting, but we probably won't be back. There is too much authentic Italy to continue to know and explore!

So many people everywhere...

Timothy's so excited that we got charge 12 Euros for nothing at this restaurant...

The Duomo in Siena

Just doin' a selfie like everyone else! 

Panorama of Piazza Del Campo in Siena

These are the types of restaurants you avoid!

More crowds with selfie sticks...

Piazza del Campo in Siena

Siena... and people. 

Entering into Siena

These are the types of gelaterias you want to visit... the ones in quiet towns! Not the ones boasting "World's best..."

An evening with a wonderful winemaker at his vineyard in Montefioralle

Tuscan views

Relaxing on the steps in Castellina in Chianti

Castellina in Chianti

It's always time for gelato in Italy!

Radda in Chianti

Radda in Chianti

Competing gelaterias in San Gimignano... if you see a line of tourists, probably best to go someplace else. :)

Was it the best ice cream in the world? 

Ahhh... the views just do not get old here. 

Arriving in Greve in Chianti {Tuscany, Italy}

We departed yesterday from the Lake Como town of Cernobbio with mixed emotions. We were sad because it was such a beautiful place to retreat for four days, and we were just getting into the habit of waking up, having breakfast, reading, eating lunch on the terrace, napping, cooking dinner, listening to concerts from the city center, watching a movie, watching fireworks, going to bed... and repeat. It was so nice and simplistic, and a great way to slow down our budget.

However, we were also excited to explore another new area, be in a room with AIR CONDITIONING (!!!!!) and also do some activities where we'd have interactions with the outside world. I was also glad to get away from the swarms of mosquitos surrounding the LC area as I literally got ravaged by them and had to go to the pharmacist for help. The mosquitos here are really, really bad and somehow I never read that before this trip or I would have come prepared!

Italian roads are full of hairpin turns and switchbacks, bumps and gravel. We had envisioned in our mind that our 4.5 hour trip from Lake Como to Chianti was going to be full of hassle, but the Italians have built majorly beneficial roads for commuting... for a price. It was so glorious to travel on these monopolized expressways with wide lanes, high speeds and plenty of room to pass and turn. However, it cost us a pretty penny as you have to take a ticket when you enter the expressway, and then pay at the end when you get off. Your cost is based on how long you were on the expressway for. A trip from Como to Greve cost us 30EUR... But, Timothy felt it was worth every cent since he has been the one navigating through Europe on less-than-ideal roads for 3 weeks!

Tuscany is general is absolutely beautiful. It's hard to imagine that something could top Lake Como, but there is a really satisfying feeling walking around in dry heat with cypress trees all around, a cool night air, no humidity, and a golden sunset across thousands of acres of vineyards. I guess this is why they made a movie about it!

We're staying in another fabulous Airbnb rental-- this time at an actual B&B, where she advertises her rooms on airbnb but also on Trip Advisor as well and in the local community. It has been wonderful to receive the hospitality of a true B&B but with airbnb prices-- a surprise to us as we had no idea it was a real bed & breakfast! Our villa is located at the entrance to the main part of Greve in Chianti and is only a 5 minute walk from the piazza and many great restaurants. Greve in Chianti is the first major town in the Chianti region, and is also one of the most popular for tourists. Thankfully it hasn't been too crowded, although we can see that this is the area of Italy where many Europeans take their summer holidays. I highly recommend Greve in Chianti as a home base to explore Tuscany from, because it has a little of everything while not being too big or bustling yet.

Our living space + bed in the B&B

Dining area in our B&B room

The exterior of the B&B

Views from the front of our B&B

Downtown piazza in Greve in Chianti


Kitchen area of the B&B

Chianti really is the center of Italian wine. I haven't seen so much wine everywhere before-- souvenier shops are filled to the brim and "enotecas" (wine shops) can be found on every corner, selling local wines for the many different wine makers. There are way more enotecas here than coffee shops, that's for sure.

A unique thing about coming to Chianti for wine tasting is that if you want to visit a vineyard, cellar or winery, you need to schedule an appointment in advance or call the owners. It's frowned upon to just drop in, as many of the wineries are also the personal homes of the growers so they don't want a bunch of tourists coming in unannounced. The wine tasting fees, when you do get an appointment, are generally higher than in the US because the vinters want to show you Italian hospitality by taking you on a tour of the vineyard, providing some snacks and sampling their wines. Wine tasting, when you visit an actual vineyard, takes around 1.5 hours. It's not like, say, Oregon or Napa, where you pop from winery to winery tasting what you want and where you want.

However, because there are SO many (and I mean so many-- hundreds, if not thousands) of wineries, growers, vineyards, etc. in the Chianti region, the enotecas serve as a gateway to wine-taste without having to arrange appointments and drive around to many different vineyards. I do recommend scheduling at least 1 - 2 appointments just because it is so great to hear from the winemakers themselves on the process and learn about their pride in the work that they do, but if you want to taste some good Chianti Classico, visit an enoteca on an off day. An enoteca is a place that sells many different bottles of wine, almost like a wine distributor, and offers tastings of those wine as well. Basically like a wine shop that also does wine tastings.

What is interesting about the enotecas here in Chianti is that they have many different sampling stations set up featuring wines all around the region, and from specific varietals and cities as well-- Montepulciano, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva (the best of the best), Montalcino, and more. The stations are set up with at least 15 different wines from each region and they rotate new wines in and out to taste. Guests receive a tasting card and put a certain dollar amount on it, and then pay for each tasting they have and whatever size of a taste they want. Most tastings are around 75 - 80 cents, but higher-end wines can have a $1.50 tasting fee as well. In reality it's quite reasonable because most wineries in Oregon charge a minimum $10 tasting fee and you might get to taste 4 wines. If you spent $10 here, you'd get to taste at least 10 wines.

We stumbled upon an awesome meat cafe today which had prosciutto hanging from the ceilings all over the place, and then they'd pull one off the ceiling and slice the meat up to serve customers on their charcuterie boards. It was the most delicious salami and prosciutto I have ever had! You could immediately tell the freshness, and it was a great place to grab a quick lunch.

Last night we wandered around Greve in Chianti and ate dinner there and had some gelato, and then today we went in all of the artisan stores since they were open during the day only. It is a really cute town with many Tuscan hand-crafted goods. The only unfortunate part is that they sell the exact same things (exact) in the neighboring towns as well-- from the same companies even-- so you know they are just targeting tourists who want to bring home a little bit of Tuscan goodness. I have a love/hate relationship with the tourism economy...

The shopping area of Greve in Chianti

We drove an hour after lunch to the hill town of San Gimignano, and I was kind of disappointed because it was SO crowded. We planned to visit Siena tomorrow which is even bigger than San G., but I don't know now. We were in Tuscany exactly two years ago as of yesterday and visited the small Tuscan hill towns of Montepulciano and Pirenza. They were exactly what you'd picture when you imagine strolling through Tuscany and wandering through cobblestoned streets and around tiny alleys with hanging laundry above. I loved those towns so much, and knew that San G. is another popular hilltop city so I thought it would be the same. Problem was, so did the other hoards of tour groups. Restaurants with photos of their entrees and menus in English overtook the streets and alleys and contented tourists sat talking at their tables in loud English and taking pictures with their selfie sticks. It kind of takes the charm out of such a beautiful Italian city-- especially when we had to drive around for 30 minutes just to find a parking spot in one of their 4 major parking lots. The sad part was, all of the shops along the alleys in San G. were filled with the exact same items I had just purchased in Greve in Chianti-- literally identical everything.

Anyway, I digress. I'm in Italy and it's beautiful and I love it, but I completely understand why Italians don't care for tourists because Italy is just so touristy. And yet here I am, being hypocritical, as a tourist in Italy. :) In planning our route for tomorrow, let's just say I'm looking for some quiet, sleepy hill towns where we can experience some authenticity, instead of the stopping in the popular 3 Tuscan cities of Siena, Assisi and Florence.

A reasonable daily budget for a trip to Europe

In this post I'm going to be discussing how it is that we can pay for a 6 1/2 week trip to Europe on a limited budget, and how you can economically plan for your own trip to Europe as well.

A lot of people have asked us, "How can you afford a trip like this?" "Where did you get the money?" "How long did it take you to save?" 

It's been no surprise to our friends & readers that the large majority of our funds from this trip came from renting out our home for the summer on Airbnb. Since our home was nearly fully booked for the entire summer, we obviously had to go somewhere. Europe it was.

However, is renting out your home on Airbnb the only way to afford a 6 1/2 week trip to Europe? No. Is renting out your home on Airbnb a surefire way to make money? No. Our home happens to be in the epicenter of wine country and summer tourists have flocked to the area for weddings, couples' weekends and half-marathons which made us fortunate to have a place located conveniently for these things. If you have genuine interest in trying to rent your home out on Airbnb to travel someplace while guests have it booked, you should definitely try. We were shocked with how quickly ours booked and were certainly not counting on that being our "Europe fund" money. It just ended up working out that way and for that, we are grateful.

Regardless of how you come across funds for a trip to Europe or how long you choose to stay, your budget and experience is entirely up to you. We are actually on a relatively tight budget, which might sound like a lot per day, but I will break it down for you.

Our budget is $150 total per day in Europe, which includes everything except our car rental and our plane tickets. 

Daily Budget

$150 a day is very doable for two people-- especially if you rent a room in a villa or an apartment for a week or two and don't city-hop like we are. How we came up with our daily budget was that we took the amount of money we were going to make from our Airbnb rentals and divided that number across 47-- the amount of days we would be in Europe. We came up with $150 per day, which did not include anything we had already paid for ahead of time during our planning months.

We average:

$100 for lodging
$40 for meals (We often have free breakfast at our locations, picnic or home-made lunch, and share dinner out or cook at home. Totally doable.)
$10 for transportation (fuel)/miscellaneous/entertainment/etc. (This is sometimes a lot more, and sometimes nothing at all, depending on what we've chosen to do each day)

We have had cities where we have gone significantly over-budget (all through Switzerland and some parts of Sweden) and cities where we have been very under-budget, not spending any money during the day (parts of Germany and Italy).

$150 a day goes by VERY quickly in Europe, so our $150 applies only to actual spending during this trip, NOT to anything we pre-booked when we were at home.

For lodging, we try to look for places that are under $100, and try to be creative in how we hit that target. For example, there are some places we have stayed that were free (Couchsurfing, with friends & family, etc.). That added onto our "lodging budget" for future cities when we needed the flexibility to spend a little bit more on a room. We also have stayed in room rentals through Airbnb, which tend to not be over $100. (Room rentals average around $60-$75 for two people). We pre-booked a few apartments early on last year ahead of time while the Airbnb rates were still low (the popular and economically priced apartments book up rather quickly) and then we "carry over" whatever we did not use that day to apply towards maybe a more expensive dinner, a touristing outing, fuel, parking fees, rooms in more expensive cities that are not Airbnb and other unexpected costs. Other ways we've saved on lodging was to use a couple of free nights with credit card points we had saved up, used some Airbnb travel credit and even a free hotel room voucher from a family member in Amsterdam.

We don't beat ourselves up if we go over budget, either, because there are always things that are out of our control. Am I going to miss going up to the top of the Santis mountain with my high school friend, just because it's going to be 80 Swiss Francs ($90)? No. But what that will mean is instead of renting a water taxi on Lake Como or taking the tram in Gimmelwald everywhere, we'll need to either walk, share lunches, pack a picnic, or cut costs some other way. We're splurging on a cooking class in Tuscany because seriously: Why not. We have also cooked at home 3 of the 4 nights in Como, so there's that.

With our budget Timothy and I have agreed not to pass up any "must-see" or "amazing" opportunities just because we are trying to stick to a budget. If it's something one of us really, really, really wants to do (take the meal we hired the chefs for on our patio last night...) we go for it. If either of us are indifferent or "meh," we skip it.

Renting an apartment in a slow-paced city as a home-base ahead of time for a few days has been wonderful for our budget because it has allowed us to cook our meals at home, relax and enjoy the views without going anywhere, and really "pay back" some of the budget that we over-spent on in Switzerland the past week. Our daily Europe budget is a constant ebb and flow, borrow and pay back. And it works.

Pay in Advance

Something I'm really glad we did was pre-booking and paying in advance for as much as we could ahead of time when we had extra money lying around. This included:

*Airbnb rentals (they charge your credit card upon booking; might seems like an annoyance at first but you'll be very grateful that you don't owe any money upon checking in)

*Tour tickets (Most tours charge you ahead of time, including bike tours, museum passes, cooking classes, Viator day trips, etc.)

*Reservations for trains, spas, etc.

That way, our $150 a day budget could apply solely to what we are spending in Europe on a day-to-day basis, with the pre-purchased items being extras as we prepared for our trip. The reason being, $150 goes by very fast each day in Europe-- especially in places that don't use the Euro.

How long to stay?

If you are on a budget, $150 can work very well as long as you are willing to stick with it. Obviously our daily amount would have been higher the shorter we stayed in Europe. The catch being for us is that our home was rented all summer, so we had to be gone for 6 1/2 weeks. We also had the budget that we did for our trip because of our Airbnb rentals all summer, so the daily amount went hand in hand with our budget and how long we needed to be gone for.

If you are intrepid enough and have the fortitude to be explore all around Europe, renting a car and driving around for 6 weeks is highly recommended and is much cheaper than taking the train (unless you're a solo traveler). If you'd rather stick to a home-base and explore just a few cities, you can easily have a great trip in 3 to 4 weeks. If you're only planing on seeing 1 - 2 cities, a two week trip will suit you just fine.

If you'd rather have a higher daily budget to allow for nicer accommodations, more sight seeing and more dining opportunities, you could shorten your amount of time you spend in Europe, increasing your overall daily budget.

Skipping certain countries if you're on a tight budget

I might receive some flack for this, but if you are desperate to travel to Europe but are really on a tight budget like we are, I might advise that, for now (unless you Couchsurf), skip a couple of places that are very expensive and hard on a strict budget: England and Switzerland. Currently the British Pound is at an all-time low compared to the American dollar (1.50 USD for 1 GBP); however, that means you are still paying 150% for each thing you purchase. Switzerland has higher prices for everything overall, which translate to even higher prices for US travelers. (Think: $35 for a pizza, $8 for a cup of brewed coffee at Starbucks.)

If your travel dreams are destined to take you to the UK, the good news is there are loads of things to do in London for free (think: Parks, museums, galleries, etc.). You can also pick up fresh take-away meals at many grocery stores and share food in pubs with your travel partner. Tube rides are very spendy but London is walkable if you're up for it. There are also city bikes available for rent that can also take you all around the city if you don't want to shell out 2.30 GBP ($3.50) for each one-way ride on a subway. If you must get to Switzerland, look for an Airbnb rental that comes with a kitchen (and maybe a bike!) and buy groceries to prepare your meals at home to cut down on some costs.

Right now, the Euro is amazing ($1.09 USD for $1 Euro) which is the lowest it's been in years. It's a great time to travel to Europe if you're on a budget, and France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Austria and Spain all use the Euro. Also, the prices in these countries are also relatively low, which means you'll get a great bargain many places you choose to stay and eat compared to even some US prices on hotels, B&Bs and restaurants.

Depending on where you want to go, what you want to see, what you want to do and how long you want to be gone for, a $150 daily budget, while tight, can be done with two people. If you've got a few more dollars to spare in your budget each day, go for it. $150 a day has gotten us some incredible experiences so far, and at no point was our safety, cleanliness or comfort (except Gimmewald!) jeopardized. Plus, we've stayed in some out-of-the-city-center locations which we actually discovered that we much preferred, compared to the expenses (and crowds) being directly in the city can bring.

If you have any questions about our planning and budgeting process, feel free to ask!

Life in Lake Como (No G+A sightings, yet!)

Lake Lugano in Switzerland and Lake Como in Italy are only about 30 minutes away from eachother, but they couldn't be more different in my opinion. Lugano has steep cliffs and tall mountains, and Como has smaller mountains and more expansive viewpoints. We left our beloved Hotel Moosmann on Thursday morning to make our way to the small town of Cernobbio on Lake Como in Italy.

Lake Como has so many towns and I found during my research of which one to settle on that everyone has varying opinions of which is the best. Menaggio, Ravenna, Bellagio, Laglio, Cernobbio... how does one choose?! What we ended up doing is deciding on the town that had the exact type of villa or home we were looking to stay in. We have a car so proximity to towns wasn't a problem for us, and we knew we wanted to rent a place where we could cook on our own for a few nights. I also consulted listings on Airbnb first (as I always do) to see what they had to offer in all of the Lake Como villages.

We discovered a few villas that we absolutely loved, and Lake Como is a popular summer holiday spot because back in January, we were too slow (by only a couple of days!) and villas we were interested in had already booked up. We decided to jump on this rental (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4109589) so that we wouldn't lose another one to someone who jumped quicker than us, and looked forward to 4 nights on the hillside in Cernobbio.

Our home has so much character! It was carved into a hillside so the rock you see in the photos is real rock throughout the house. The owners are also musicians, so they painted the white steps like piano keys and have instruments for use inside. There are also three large patios with balconies overlooking the lake, and we are the highest villa on the hillside so we have (literally) the best views in town.

After eating out for the last week or so, we were looking forward to buying our own groceries to prepare some Italian breakfast, lunches and dinners and save some money. I'll be writing a post this week about how we are affording a trip like this and what our daily budget has looked like, but this particular stay has been great because it's been so refreshing not to spend any money each day. ;)

Coming into Italy from Switzerland was SO wonderful in a number of ways, but financially probably the most so. The euro is 1.09 right now to the USD-- the lowest at any point that I've ever seen it! It's fantastic because basically the price in euros is the price in dollars and things in Italy are relatively cheap compared to European standards.

We discovered this huge Fred Meyer-like grocery store in Cernobbio called "Bennet" and while we were totally overwhelmed at the available offerings we could buy and the organized shopping experience of it all, we stuck with what we knew (tomato sauce, garlic, fresh pasta, bread, cheese, water, Coca-cola...) and purchased enough items for all the meals of our 4 1/2 days at our Airbnb rental. Our entire bill came to 70 EUR, which also included some extras like charcuterie, fruit, tomatoes, gelato, pesto and more. Four days worth of eating was the same price as one dinner in Switzerland!! I could get used to this kind of spending. :)

After leaving the Bennet, we drove up windy, windy Italian hills (think Fast & the Furious or The Italian Job) and made our way round dozens of one-way corners until we reached our villa. The pictures of this place seriously don't do it justice. We were absolutely stunned at the views, the various levels (there is a garden level for BBQing and sitting, a level for eating dinner on the patio, a patio level for drying clothes and laying out after a shower, and even a patio balcony off the master bedroom for taking in the views, morning or night.) You can experience Lake Como views from at least 4 different levels.

Our hosts left breakfast for us, many different ingredients for cooking in the pantry, coffee, travel guides of the area, binoculars for taking in the view, and even have movies in Italian and an XBOX 360 for playing Gran Turismo!

Another great perk of our villa is that our host is the brother-in-law to a popular chef in Cernobbio, and they have offered to cook us a three course Italian meal tonight with coffee, and dessert for an added supplement. Somehow we keep getting lucky in booking these rentals of village chefs without knowing it!

Settling into "home" life for a few days was a bit challenging in the beginning, though. We bought gelato and then discovered that our home didn't have a freezer. They also don't have paper towels and only sponges for cleaning used by previous guests. (My OCD-ness couldn't get over that and I had to go and buy my own sponges for cleaning at the Bennet store...) They have a washer but no dryer (common again in Europe), and the washing instructions are completely in Italian so I had to consult some FB friends & Google Translate to figure it out! I also had to Google a photo of the oven because the settings are completely different than ones at home, and I didn't want to burn our pizzas... They also only have a small one-cup Italian coffee pot (like the one seen here:)

... which we are now obsessed with and will definitely be purchasing when we get home. We had to figure out how to use this for one cup the proper way AND which type of grounds to use. (Not the instant Nescafe grounds that we were left with, which we quickly discovered....)

Once I got over some of the quirks of "living" in Italy, I was able to relax, read a book, let my laundry dry outside in the fresh Italian air, use binoculars to look for George and Amal, and prepare a charcuterie plate for lunch around 4 in the afternoon. We're getting into our groove here and figuring out how to slow the pace down and enjoy the ride.

What is it that they say... La Dolce Vita? La Vita Bella? Either way.. sweet or beautiful... the Italians know how to live the good life. We're just living vicariously through them.

The most expensive haircut of Timothy's life... in Switzerland, of course.

Views from inside our villa. REAL stone walls from the hillside!

I just adore the architecture in here

The dining balcony

The master bedroom balcony

The BBQ balcony

Views from the Master Bedroom

The bathroom & laundry balcony

Our villa sits right at the top of that hillside!

Windy narrow streets... who gets to pass first?

Just a motorcyclist and his dog...

More views of the villa

The front side of the villa

Just enjoying a good book and a view in Italy!
A view of our hill and villa from downtown Cernobbio
Just trying to cook dinner in an unfamiliar (Italian) kitchen!

Just can't help myself with these views!

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