vicarious vacations

Friday Escape: Ravello, Italy

Hello Friends! Happy Friday! Sorry for the late post, internet troubles this morning. ugh. Okay, are you ready for your escape?

Look, I know we have already been to Italy on one of our Vicarious Vacations...but who can get enough of Italy? I mean, really. I know I can't, especially since I've never actually been there.

Sad.

So, yeah you bet I'm going to go there vicariously as much as I can! Besides, this place is a completely different feel to our last trip. I think you will love it!

Enough chit chat. Today, we are going to Ravello, Italy, along the Amalfi Coast. Map here.

Breathtaking isn't it?

I've got us booked into the Hotel Palazzo Sasso.  It was ranked #8 in the World's Best Hotels for 2010 by Travel + Leisure...so I think it will fit our extremely high standards! Let's go check it out.

The Hotel, which is actually a 12th century villa, is perched 1000 ft above the glimmering Mediterranean sea. Drop dead gorgeous views are a given!

Let's go see our suite! When you travel vicariously, you should always stay in the most extravagant room, don't you think?

Please, go out onto our private terrace...the view is simply superb...

I know...amazing. I have a feeling we will back here later with a glass of something fabulous to watch the sunset!

So, since we got here so early, let's have breakfast out on the main dining terrace.

Shouldn't everyday start like this?

After we enjoy our lovely breakfast I thought we'd go on a bit of a boat ride. Gotta get some one on one time with the Amalfi coastline...

Come with me down to the lower terrace...my gorgeous friend Marco is picking us up. (Yes, Marco is imaginary...but just go with me on this one...)

Here he is now...perfect timing...meet imaginary Marco...( cue - giggle and toss hair)

Ciao!

Off we go!

Ooh...look it's the beautiful city of Positano up ahead!

So pretty! We may have to come back here sometime.

Well, I'm starving and although, Marco provides eye candy, he doesn't do much for my rumbling tummy so let's head back, eat a huge lunch and go into a food coma next to the pool. Plan?

Sit back, enjoy the Mediterranean sun and relax. I told Marco to go whip up some cocktails for us...he should be serving them any minute! ;)

I hope you enjoyed our little getaway! Thanks for coming along!

Have a wonderful weekend!

xo,

Images via HotelPalazzoSasso

Friday Escape: The Most Romantic Hotel in the World

My first thought of where we should go today was Paris. With Valentine's day upon us, I figured it would be a suitable destination...but...I found myself hesitating. Too obvious. So, I did a little digging and decided to take us somewhere a little bit unexpected - India! Currently ranked as the most romantic hotel in the world is the breathtaking Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur. Incredibly beautiful and dreamlike, this white marble palace seems to float on Lake Pichola waters, like a precious ivory flower. This architectural masterpiece was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1743. Royalty used it as a summer get away to escape the intense heat. Not too shabby for a summer home right? Let's go!

Obviously we've got to hop on a boat to get to the palace so...all aboard!

Almost there...

Welcome to the Palace. Ready to be treated like Royalty? Yes please.

I can't wait to see what the rooms are like! Let's have a peek into several of the suites...

Gorgeous right? Tough choice! But I think we deserve the Presidential Suite...don't you? Go big or go home.

Check out the view from our private terrace! This place is beyond magical.

I'm dying to explore the pool and gardens...come on...

I'm getting the feeling that romance was actually born here. Aren't the grounds stunning?

Okay, so I have a real treat for you. We usually hit a spa of some sort on our escapes but today...we are actually going on a SPA BOAT! Yup. Why not sail on the gentle waters of the lake while we slowly slip into a state of bliss...here it comes...

This spa boat idea is pure brilliance!

As the sun sets, let's go enjoy some dinner...

Don't want to join us? Would you rather have a private dinner out in the middle of the lake with your love? Go for it. It can be arranged. How's that for romantic?

As for the rest of us...let's enjoy a cocktail in the lounge while our table is being prepared...

I think we should dine in the gardens...don't you?

I leave you here to enjoy your meal and watch as the Palace is veiled in darkness. Experience the twinkling lights of a thousand candles, the fragrance of exotic blooms and hopefully a romantic night you'll never forget!

Thanks for coming with me on this Friday escape.

Happy Valentine's Day Weekend! Spend it with those you love.

xo,

p.s. Not quite ready to leave the Palace...watch the video tour here.

Images via here, here and here.

Escape to: Santorini

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Portland. Yes, I even can deal with the rain...but I'm only human and sometimes on a dreary, wet day like today, I can't help but dream of the sun, warm sand and an exotic destination. We haven't been anywhere in a long time so, while this isn't a full on Vicarious Vacation...I thought we'd revisit Greece for a moment. Sit by the pool, sip a drink and feel the warmth of that glorious sun on our faces...ahhh...sounds so good. Last time, I took you to Hydra Island and that was spectacular but today we are going to peek in on the island of Santorini and a gorgeous resort called Vedema. Let's go...

Oh Greece...how I love your blue and white! Cobblestone streets and blooms everywhere, I'm in heaven.

Oh yeah...this looks like our kind of place...

Yes...more blue and white. It's so fresh and I find it rather hard to get sick of, especially with all that sunlight pouring in! Let's check in.

Of course I got us a gorgeous suite! Only the best! I love all the white in these rooms with the splashes of bright color. I feel tanner already!

A cocktail poolside you say? I'm so there!

Santorini as night falls...so gorgeous right?

Ahhh...okay, I feel a tad better. It's nice to just escape for a minute isn't it? Hmm...I might have to plan little escapes for us each Friday. We deserve it don't we?

Have a fantastic weekend!

xo,

Christmas around the world: Paris

I miss our Vicarious Vacations. Do you? I do love to research new places and although it was hours of work, I miss that feeling of discovery. So...I thought I would start a new little series celebrating the holidays. These journeys won't be as thorough as the VV's, but I couldn't resist hunting down beautiful images of places around the world and how they look at this special time of the year. I asked Grace which city I should begin with and of course she said, "Paris!" Together we perused Flickr, finding the prettiest pictures of Paris during Christmas.

Here's what we found...

The City of Lights certainly doesn't disappoint. It would be truly magical to stroll the Parisian street during Christmas. Maybe one day we will...

Want more? Check out this video tour...featuring some of the elaborate window displays on show this season...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLU_qjTSYbU&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

What is your favorite city at during the holidays?

Hope you have a lovely Monday.

xo,

Photos via Flickr 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Vicarious Vacations # 4: Luxembourg

Hello friends and Happy Friday! Welcome to our last Vicarious Vacation. I know the previous destinations have been off the beaten path but I couldn't resist taking you here. Like many girls, I have a soft place in my heart for fairytale castles. So far...the only one I've ever seen, is the one in Disney World and frankly, I don't think that counts. So, I decided to take you to the a land where fairytales castles were born - we are headed to gorgeous Luxembourg.

Image 1.

When you are surrounded by three of Europe's most beautiful countries - Germany, France and Belgium - it's hard not to be amazing! Map - here. The history of Luxembourg dates back to the year 963. Over the centuries, its territory may have diminished but it still stands as the richest country in the world and is often referred to as the "Green heart" of Europe. Beyond material wealth and banking success, Luxembourg offers a culturally diverse population, fantastic food and wine, breathtaking landscapes and an impressive art and theater scene. Oh, and then there are the castles...did I mention that already? Yes...there are over a dozen castles in this magical land. It makes my heart skip a little beat...

So where shall we stay you ask? We came here for fairy tales and I intend to deliver...Welcome to Chateau d'Urspelt. A castle fit for a princess right? This romantic castle has a 300 year old history and was terribly damaged in World War II.  In 2005, Mr. Freddy Lodomez came across this diamond in the rough, instantly fell in love and committed to having the Chateau restored to its original beauty. Thank you Freddy! What a prince!

Images via Chateau d'Urspelt

Lovely isn't it? That claw-foot tub will be a fabulous treat later on.  I will try and contain the girlish squeals...but isn't this place to die for!

Let's go for a stroll...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/39448__juletdomi__amb_rue_caumartin.mp3]

This is the Grand Ducal Palace and official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg - Henri and his lovely wife,  the Grand Duchess Maria Teresa.

A fairytale destination would not be complete without some Royalty, after all. As for Henri's heir - Guillaume (William)...

well he fits the Prince bill rather nicely...don't you think? Okay, enough Royal gawking...let's keep exploring...

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Ahh...here we are at the Place d'Armes or as the locals refer to it - Plëss. It is truly the city's living room and a fantastic place to people watch, listen to some live music and grab lunch at one of the numerous outdoor cafes. I've got the perfect one in mind...

Play to listen to the sounds of the plaza...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/49938__rossgk__take5contrescarpe1.mp3]

Here we are at Le Cafe Francais, one of the oldest brasseries' in the city. Are you ready for some delicious food? They prepare a mix of French and Luxembourg style dishes here.  Luxembourg's food is inevitably influenced by neighboring France and Germany, resulting in a rich blend - the delicacies of French cuisine artfully entwined with the robust, heartiness of Germanic dishes.  More recently the cultural influence of Luxembourg's Portuguese immigrants is also emerging within many of Luxembourg's recipes. You won't leave the table hungry, that's for sure. So let's have a taste...

To pair with our meal, I have selected a lovely dry white wine, typical of the region or if you feel like bubbles, we can toast to our adventure with the local sparkling wine, Crémant de Luxembourg! Cheers!

Let's start with a classic Luxembourg dish: Nettle Soup. Ever had this? I haven't! Often served in the Spring, Nettle soup has a subtle, grassy taste, sweet and mild made rich with lovely cream and potatoes.

On to our next course...oooh...I don't know about you but I am a total sucker for mussels!! So succulent, with all that buttery, wine sauce to sop up. Here in Luxembourg (in the French tradition) it is often served with pomme frites! Yum! This wildly popular dish is served in the months that have an "r". October works, lucky for us. Here's a recipe straight from the region. Recipe. Make sure you use a German or French Riesling for your sauce to make it truly Luxembourg style.

Okay dessert anyone? You know we can't leave that out. How about some Questscheflued? aka Plum Tart - a local favorite. And no, I don't know how to pronounce it. Dig in! It looks delightful and it's heart shaped! Too cute. Recipe.

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Now that our tummies are full, I think it's time to tour a real castle! We are heading to Vianden. It's about an hour north of the city and is a beautiful medieval town, famous for its stunning castle and charming village. Let's hop on the bus, I for one, can't get into that castle quick enough!

*squeal* - sorry I couldn't help it! Look the castle is up ahead!!

Isn't it simply amazing? Straight from a storybook!  A little history: The castle was built between the 11th and 14th centuries and became the seat of the counts of Vianden. It was further developed until the 18th century but with the departure of the Counts of Luxembourg to the Netherlands combined with the effects of fire and an earthquake, it slowly deteriorated. The final blow came in 1820 when William I of the Netherlands sold it to a local merchant who in turn sold off its contents and masonry piecemeal, reducing it to a ruin. There were several attempts at restoration but these were hampered by problems of ownership. Victor Hugo lived in the castle for three months in 1871.Not until 1977, when Grand Duke Jean ceded the castle to the State, was it possible to undertake large-scale work, most of which has now been completed. - Wikipedia

Let's go take the tour!

Check out the view overlooking the town of Vianden...gorgeous...

Can you imagine cooking up a feast in this kitchen?

Here is the castle's chapel.

Oh, is that a wishing well?

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

What shall we wish for? World peace? A castle of our very own? How about free plane tickets to anywhere in the world? hmmm...

Alright my friends, I think I will have to leave you here. While you ponder over your wish, I want to wish all of you the best and thank you for coming along with me on these Vicarious Vacations. I hope you have enjoyed them. I know I have. Thanks to Flickr for being a wellspring of beautiful images and talented photographers. In the future, I will be doing more travel pieces. As you may have noticed, Grace and Ivy is in a state of evolution. Lots of changes are to come and I hope you will stick with me. I promise to continue bringing you beautiful posts that hopefully give you some inspiration. Thank you for all your input. I love reading your comments. Till our next adventure...

Have a gorgeous weekend.

xo,

Audio via freesound.org

http://www.vianden-info.lu/en/gallery/4/vianden-attractions.html?pageID=6

Vicarious Vacations #3: Hydra town, Greece

Happy Friday and welcome to another Vicarious Vacation. I can't even express how excited I am to travel with you today! Our destination promises beauty, relaxation and of course some amazing food. We are off to the Greek island of Hydra. A completely car free town, that is known for its magical architecture, stunning beaches and wonderful walking trails. Rental cars are so last year...let's use our feet and explore this gorgeous destination! We may have to forgo our stilettos but it will be worth it!

Image 1.

Let's board the ferry and I'll tell you more about the island on the ride...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/22508__gadzooks__carferry.mp3]

Fans of mythology will recall that Hydra was actually a nine-headed sea monster, sister to Medusa. Yikes! Don't worry though, no such beast inhabits this majestic island.  Of course, the word Hydra is also derived from the Greek word for water...which is a little more appropriate. The island of Hydra is in the Argo-Saronic Archipelago, between the islands of Poros and Spetses. Map here. Popular with artists, Hydra town, is home to quaint tavernas, chic boutiques and a gorgeous coastline.  Being completely car free, (except for the town's garbage collection trucks) one must get here via ferry. Donkeys...yes, donkeys and water taxis are the only forms of transportation once on the island.

Looks like we are approaching the island. Beautiful isn't it?

Yah! We're here! Let's go check into our hotel...change into some comfortable (but cute) shoes and go exploring.

Welcome to the Hotel Miranda. Nestled amongst the white washed cottages of Hydra town, this historical building dates back to 1810 and was originally built by a wealthy sea-captain. Its 18th and 19th century artwork and furniture only add to its nostalgic charm.

That's it up ahead...

I got us lovely suites, that are simple and elegant.

Isn't that white stone archway wonderful? I love the clean white walls with the contrasting dark floors and furnishings.

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Great view from our rooms! Love the bougainvillea...

Okay ready to head out? Let's go!

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/22509__gadzooks__streetsounds1.mp3]

You will see this blue and white architecture all over the town. Charming isn't it?

So pretty! Let's stroll down to the harbor...I think there is an open market today.

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

My tummy is a rumbling...so...let's go find some gorgeous place to have lunch and soak up some sun. I'm thinking ocean side...

Welcome to the Sunset Restaurant. Famous here and highly prized by the locals and tourists alike.

Don't worry...I got us a better table than that. Only the best for us vicarious vacationers!

Images via Sunset Restaurant

How's this? Not too shabby eh? Amazing view - check. Sunshine - check. Now for some food and drink!

Is it too early for Ouzo? No, of course not. We have to have a toast after all...and what better than ouzo to kick off lunch. Ouzo is Greece's national drink and has a strong anise or licorice flavor to it. You don't need much of this potent little liquor before you understand why the Greeks love it so! The expression "Opa!" is often used upon toasting, which translates to happiness and good life!

Let's start our meal with a traditional Cretan Salad...recipe here. So lovely, crunchy and fresh. I swear I could eat feta cheese all day...

Have you ever heard of Haloumi? Well, it's a Greek cheese that originated in Cyprus. It's made with a blend of goat and sheep milk, which gives it a mild, salty flavor and because of its high melting point, it can be fried or grilled. At the Sunset Restaurant, they serve it with tomatoes and pitta bread...shall we give it a go? (recipe)

When on the Grecian islands, one must take advantage of the fresh bounty of seafood! Lobster spaghetti is a true Greek delight! Recipe. Sweet, succulent lobster meat, freshly made pasta, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Yum!

On to dessert...although not on the Sunset Restaurant's menu, I couldn't resist including one of my all time favorite desserts (which also happens to be very Greek) - Baklava. I adore this stuff. Recipe.

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Wasn't that an amazing Greek meal. I'm stuffed.  How about a hike up to an old monastery ending up with a nap on the beach?

We could ride this cute little guy...but I didn't spend a fortune on these hiking sandals for nothing. Come on, we've got calories to burn.

Almost there...

This monastery was actually built in 1813, by the monk Ierotheos. Of the four monasteries on Hydra, this one is the most famous and frequently visited. Four monks still reside here. What a peaceful existence it must be, nestled among the mountains, overlooking the town.

So beautiful...

I am ready for some down time. Let's head to the beach to work on our tan and have a little snooze.

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/83935__acclivity__turkishwake.mp3]

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

I think Mandraki beach will do nicely. Can you believe the color of the water! Stunning! Sit back, relax and enjoy the sounds of the waves.

Thank you so much for coming to Greece with me. I hope you enjoyed our little adventure on this jewel of an island.  Next week we head off to a new destination. It will be the last of this series (for now at least). Where are we going? It's a surprise! Make sure you come back on Friday so you don't miss it.

Have a fantastic weekend!

xo,

audio via freesound.org

Gallery of images can be viewed here.

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.kerasma.gr/UserFiles/Image/SPIRITS_BEVERAGES/132716_ouzo1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.kerasma.gr/default.asp%3Fsiteid%3D1%26pageid%3D97%26tablepageid%3D31%26langid%3D2&usg=__HiB_GId98UMw7-JJuMxljIckvGU=&h=312&w=400&sz=18&hl=en&start=30&zoom=1&tbnid=_O_jsO6uwj0yzM:&tbnh=132&tbnw=169&prev=/images%3Fq%3Douzo%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26sa%3DN%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26biw%3D1503%26bih%3D601%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C785&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=397&ei=iBuuTKuLDoX6swPxwIX-Cw&oei=gRuuTPnVHYe8sQOs-4WDDA&esq=2&page=2&ndsp=25&ved=1t:429,r:20,s:30&tx=90&ty=66&biw=1503&bih=601

Vicarious Vacations #2: Ronda, Spain

Happy Friday! Ready for our next fabulous trip? I am! Today we are headed to Ronda, an ancient city in the Spanish province of Málaga. Map here. Spending time with you in Tuscany last week was simply amazing but we have much to look forward to today.  Strolling through this historic town, we are sure to encounter breathtaking views, sip Spanish wines and munch on traditional delights. A dash of culture and a little history are on the agenda too. We have to be well-rounded travelers right? Okay, enough chit chat...let's go!

Image via flexijourney.com

Let me introduce you to Ronda. No, it's not the girl from accounting but rather an incredible city dating back to Neo-lithic times. Yes, I'm talking cave paintings and they have real ones here seen in the Cueva de la Pileta. From the Celts, to the Romans and the Moors, this city has a long standing in the history books.  Perched 750 meters above sea level, overlooking the El Tajo canyon it offers majestic views of the surrounding valley.

Now that you have been formally introduced, let's check into our hotel...

I searched and searched to find us the perfect haven. Just outside of town I found this jewel - Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera! Expensive? Of course, but if you are going to vicariously travel you have to go BIG!  Isn't it gorgeous?

Listen to the beautiful sounds of the Spanish countryside...(this is an actual recording from this area in Spain)

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/33196__dobroide__20070325-windy-forest-stereo-021.mp3]

We must come back here to watch the sun set over the valley and delight in a large glass of wine...

The grounds are simply divine...let's go inside and check out our room!

Oh my...

Images via hotellafuente.com

I hope this will do! Now, come on let's head back into town and explore. I'm getting hungry, as usual.

To cross into Ronda we will traverse one of its three impressive bridges.

Images: 1. 2. 3.

Let's go exploring...

Listen to the sounds of the city...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/69960__dobroide__20090325-walking-00.mp3]

Images: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Oooh...look at this beautiful, hand painted pottery! All the gorgeous colors of Spain...might have to get some of these. Shop for them here.

Speaking of dishes...I'm getting a tad peckish... and I just happen to know that Don Miguel is the place to eat!

Images via DonMiguel

Perched along the cliff side this dramatic hotel and restaurant are famous for the fantastic views and traditional cuisine. Let's try some local dishes! Are you game?

Let's start with gazpacho. Mmm...a lovely cold tomato soup that got its start right here in Southern Spain. Recipe here.

We simply must have the Paella! It's quite famous here! A sumptuous mix of seafood, spiced sausage and meats, fresh herbs and rice, get ready to seriously eat your fill!  Recipe.Let's wash it all down with a fine bottle of Spanish wine. In Ronda, wine is a serious business with a 6000 year old history. They even have a Museum of Wine! This is my kind of place.

What's that? Your sweet tooth is complaining...no worries, let's feast on some Churros con Chocolate!

Translation: Fried dough dipped in warm, rich, chocolate...sigh...drool. Recipe.

Images 1. 2. 3.

What's next? Oh right...we have to get our culture/history fix.

Did you know that modern bullfighting originated here? Ronda's bullring is the oldest and most ornate in the country. In the 18th century bullfighters went from horseback to the pedestrian matador that we think of today. Ronda's own famous fighter was Pedro Romero, who apparently slayed many thousands of bulls without injury. You may think that this bullring sees regular use but today, the sport is more of an annual event. I'm sure the bulls appreciate this.

Every girl likes a spa but how about an ancient bath house? Sound intriguing? Let's take a little walk and head below the city to the Arab Baths dating back to the 11th century.

Images 1. 2. 3.

These bath ruins are some of the best preserved in Europe. Amazing aren't they? It's no coincidence that the baths are at the entrance to the city, since Ronda was the gateway to a large Muslim population who believed that one must purify themselves upon entering.  It's fascinating to understand what it took to heat the waters. I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to anything anthropological, so if you are curious and want to learn more watch this video.

Okay all that eating, drinking and learning has made me rather tired. Let's head back to the hotel and nap, poolside.

Ahhh...that was a lovely trip wasn't it? I so enjoyed learning about this incredible town. So full of history!

What did you like on our trip? Have you ever actually been to Spain?

Thank you for joining me. Next week we will be headed to beautiful Greece! Don't miss it!

xo,

p.s. If you are wondering why I didn't take us to the big cities of Spain or Italy, it is because I am trying to focus on the more hidden spots...the not so obvious destinations. I feel like it gives us more of a sense of discovery...finding secret places to explore. Make sense?

Audio via freesound.org

http://www.flickr.com/photos/deftgurl/4603347839/#

Hello.

Forgive my absence. Its been a crazy week and although I can't wait to post our next Vicarious Vacation, each one takes hours of research, so that's what I've been up to. I love it, but I get a little sucked in. On top of that, I've been finishing up my last week with the BYW class and attempting to do some more collage work in my sketchbook. I get ideas for posts all day long and then can't seem to find the time to do them. grrr. I wanted to do a quick post today and let you know that I didn't run off to Italy or anything (tempting as it was). I've just been a little overwhelmed with everything. My dad said to me on the phone the other day..."Sounds like you are spreading yourself a little thin." Maybe he's right but when I'm passionate about so many things it can just be hard to focus...

What's a girl to do?

I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, here are some floral shots I did for my homework for BYW.

Enjoy, and make sure you check back in on Friday for our trip to Spain! I promise, it's gonna be beautiful!!

And I played with some textures too...couldn't resist...

Have a fabulous day and I'll see you on Friday!

xo,

Vicarious Vacation # 1 : Casole d'Elsa

Happy Friday and welcome to our Vicarious Vacation. Today, I'm going to whisk us off to the quaint, little town of Casole d'Elsa in the hills of Tuscany. Strolling down the ancient cobblestone alleyways, decadent wine tastings, a visit to the Siena marketplace, a brush with history and of course a large helping of the local food are all on the agenda. Sound good? Okay, come on!

Image via casalecapita

Let me tell you a little bit about this beautiful town. Casole D'Elsa is located in the Tuscany region in the province of Siena. Conveniently located between Florence and Siena, it provides a peaceful respite from the bigger, touristy cities. See map here. Pedestrian friendly streets, intimate cafes and a few notable historic attractions should keep us busy but not overwhelmed. Leaving plenty of time to soak in the Italian sun, sip Chianti and gobble up the local delicacies. Now where are we staying, you ask? Well...

I hope you don't mind but I booked us into a rather fancy hotel just outside of town. I think we deserve it, don't you? Welcome to the Relais La Suvera. Steeped in history this medieval fort turned sumptuous Mediterranean villa is our place of relaxation and refuge after all that sightseeing. Sigh...isn't it simply dreamy!?

Ready to see your room? Images via Relais La Suvera

Fit for a princess right? Okay, freshen up and let's go exploring. I know you are tired from the trip but it's nothing a glass of Chianti can't fix! Besides, we have massages scheduled later at the spa. Yes, even medieval fortresses in Italy have spas!

Let's go for a walk...

Press play to listen.

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/italian-walk.mp3]

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Am I Hungry? Of course I am! This place looks charming...let's stop here - Osteria del Caffè Casolani- and have some treats.

Here's what I'm thinking...wine, cheese & cured meats. The local cheese -Pecorino di Pienza and fresh cold cuts such as salumi di cinta senese, will make the perfect blend of tastes and textures. Creamy and nutty in flavor, the Pecorino is a perfect pairing with the saltiness of the meat and sweetness of the wine.  The celebrated local wine is aptly named Erta, meaning steep slope, indicative of the agricultural landscape of the region. A completely organic wine, it is a lovely blend of 95% Sangiovese grapes and 5% Merlot. Subtle herbal notes and deep cherry overtones will delight your palette! Want more...why don't we try the testaroli? It's a crepe like pasta usually combined with pesto. Yummy! This place is famous for it!

Images 1. 2.

Now to walk off all that scrumptuous food...

Ooh...before we go...is that a little bakery I see?

We had better stop in and grab some dessert! This region is known for its pastries and traditional sweets. One of the oldest treats around is the famous Panforte margherita!  This "spiced bread" is a magical combination of dough, almonds, candied fruit, cinnamon, all spice and a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. Isn't it beautiful?

Images 1. 2.

On to some history...

This is the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, which dates back 1161! The original Roman bell tower still remains with the upper half of the building being constructed in the 14th century. Inside are the sacred tombs of Beltramo Aringhieri, by Marco Romano, and of bishop Tommaso Andrei, by Gano di Fazio.

Directly next to the church lies the Museum of Sacred Arts. A beautiful collection of religious art can be enjoyed here, including the works of Alessandro Casolani and sculptor, Marco Romano.

Got your culture fill? Let's go to the Siena Markets!

Press play to listen to the bustling market square...

[audio http://graceandivy.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/31429_fonogeno_mercato_di_montevarchi2.mp3]

How gorgeous is that fruit?

Images 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Don't you love all the amazing colors and textures?

I don't know about you but the hotel spa is calling my name...let's head back and end our trip on a relaxing note.

You go on and get your massage. I'm heading down to the hot pool for a nice soak...so lovely...

Images via Relais La Suvera Spa

I hope you enjoyed your day in the Tuscan countryside. Loved vicariously traveling with you! I learned a lot and loved seeing this little corner of the world. The village of Casole d'Elsa was enchanting, the food delectable and the Siena markets were utterly inspiring.

Join me again next Friday, when we head to Spain!

Have a beautiful weekend!

xo,

audio files via freesound.org

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A New Series: Vicarious Vacations

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to travel and as a kid, my family and I were lucky enough to travel abroad many times. Those days are long gone but a girl can still dream... For example, mention Italy and I deeply sigh and slightly swoon. I even burst into tears during the first Italian scenes of Under the Tuscan Sun! It's kinda pathetic - especially since I've never been there. Yet, I dream of Italy....I long for it...

Okay, reality check - I'm a mother to a four year old, a domestic engineer (aka homemaker) and we aren't exactly loaded, so my sappy little self isn't going to be getting to Europe anytime soon. Fact.

Soooo...I'm going to have my own little Vicarious Vacation series and I want you to come with me!! Game?

Here's the plan. Over the next four weeks, I will be posting a Vicarious Vacation on Fridays. Seems appropriate right?

Researching is kinda my thing, so I will be hunting down some fabulous places for us to explore. Tantalizing all your senses with wonderful imagery, recipes, local hang outs and even sounds - I hope to provide a mini getaway via my blog.

Excited? I am! If we can't travel in real life...let's play pretend. My four year old is a pro at it, so let's pull out our imaginations and do a little sight seeing.

Pack your proverbial bags because this Friday we are headed to - you guessed it - Italy! It's not the big cities that everyone talks about but I promise it will be a unique little adventure. I can't wait!

Here are a few images to get you in the mood...

If anyone has any thoughts of where we should go the other three weeks I am open to suggestion! If not, I have my own growing list...

Can't wait for Friday!

xo,

Images: 1. toprural 2. chinita_jill 3. ascord04