After 2 weeks of travel, Don and I ended up in the Tuscan city, with the famous tower. It was our last night in Italy. We stayed in a charming B & B, with a curious name.
The name reminded me of the popular preschool song, "Skinamarinky Dink" But Rinascimento is actually the Italian word for rebirth... like the French word, Renaissance! Does everyone know that, but me?
Our B&B was located in this impressive, corner building, dating back to medieval days. The structure and the nearby buildings, were built long before the Italian Rinascimento... Renaissance.
Our yellow building with its arching portico, faced the street Borgo Stretto. It was bustling at noon, on a Friday in April.
When I booked our hotel, I knew it was just a 10 minute walk from the Leaning Tower. I didn't realize the B&B was located in a wonderful historic area, called Borgo Stretto. That loosely translates to "narrow village". The street (and neighborhood) runs through a charming, medieval section of Pisa.
This shows the street in front of our hotel, winding north towards the Arno River. My 7:30 am photo shows no activity. But during the day, shoppers strolled along the porticos, bikes and pedestrians filled the street and guests sat at cafe tables.
Arrival by Taxi
Our taxi ride from the train station was pretty nerve-wracking. After our driver took us on a rather frantic trip through some less picturesque parts of Pisa, he came to a screeching halt. We stepped into the alley at the back of the yellow building.
We found the door beneath the Italian flag and pressed the buzzer, as our cab tore off.
We stepped inside the compact, windowless office and admired all the wood...
... and some kind of room fragrance, that filled the space.
Andy and Andrew
Then we were given a warm welcome by Andy and Andrew! Our hosts were a delightful comedy team as they checked us in. "Oh no! You just visited Lucca? That's our favorite city!" Both shook their heads and teased (in decent English) about how Pisa could not possibly compare.
Andrew got out a map and circled this and checked that and slashed that. "Oh good! You've been to Pisa before. Skip the leaning tower! Stay away from that tourist trap! Of course you can avoid the crowds and walk up on the old wall. But you have to pay for that... I know, I know, the wall in Lucca is free..."
Third Floor on the Corner!
We only had 1 night, but we were given tons of suggestions for exploring and dining. Then Andy grabbed our bags and took them up to our third floor, corner room. Oh I love a corner, with more view!
It was also a treat to have help with our bags and to ride up in an elevator, after 2 weeks of bag lugging and stair-climbing.
Rinascimento has 6 guest rooms. Our room (#1) was off a locked hall, just steps from the elevator.
We stepped inside and I was thrilled with our spacious suite. 3 windows was enough to please me, right there.
My eyes were drawn first to the canopy bed with bed curtains!
The wispy curtains reminded me of Juliet's chamber, or maybe Sleeping Beauty. Which delighted the kid in me.
Bed & Ceiling
Actually it was the combo of white bed and painted ceiling! It felt like a stage set and I loved it!
The ceiling was made of 3 painted panels. The decorated section directly above the bed, had a small face peering down!
Nope. Just entertaining and curious!
With my head on the pillow, the little cherub-child, was upside down. Maybe that was to make us feel less watched.
When I flip the photo around, the child does seem to stare a bit.
We also had this trio of lady-faces, looking out from the wall! Some might find any wall or ceiling "characters" intrusive. But Don and I are perfectly comfortable with faces and figures in the room.
The night before, we had 4 angels looking down at us in our hotel room in Lucca. No complaints! Our own guest room at home has a portrait of Lincoln, an antique Uncle Sam doll and a painting of bonnet-wearing cherubs right above the bed! (we wonder why we don't get more visitors!?)
Our room didn't have a couch for lounging, but it did have 2 comfortable-enough chairs. We were able to bring them together at the round table for a late night snack.
In the corner, we had a small desk, holding a TV and tea kettle. A fridge below held complimentary water and sodas! Yay for Orange Fanta! And cookie packets as well!
The bathroom was comfortable and spotless. The shower was large, the towels and slippers were soft and the bath products were luxurious! There was even a make up mirror.
Looking South and North
But most of all I loved the view! We had no Leaning Tower view, but we could see Borgo Stretto, in both directions. To the right, the street led south, towards the Arno.
To the north we could see numerous cafes, including Lo Sfizio, across the street. I was entertained by a man working on the scaffolding, across from the cafe.
Exploring in Both Directions
In the slideshow below, it's clear that we took some of Andy and Andrew's tips for exploring. We didn't climb the Leaning Tower, since we've done that. But it was well worth the fee for climbing the medieval wall. What views! On the way back we stopped for pizza and Aperol Spritzes!
We also ventured south and crossed the river. There are photos of the amazing marble, "Petite Church" and lounging at the Piazza Garibaldi! Lots of other photos are thrown in!
Food in Pisa
With one night in Pisa, Don and I failed have a real dining experience. Across the street, Lo Sfezio looked so charming and tempting, but we were too full from drinks and Apertivo (Italian cocktail snacks) and gelato.
We ended up snacking in our room much later and watching the lively street below. I wish I'd gotten night photos. We closed our shutters at 11 to muffle some of the sounds. Falling asleep to happy activity below, reminded me of being a kid and going to sleep when my parents had a party.
We woke before dawn on our last day in Italy. Our B&B served breakfast at 8, but we needed to catch a cab at by 8:15. Andy and Andrew encouraged us to come to breakfast early.
We got our bags downstairs first, then headed to the breakfast room at 7:45.
The cozy bearkfast room was directly below ours. There were 6 tables, ready for guests. 2 other tables held food selections... delicious breakfast sandwiches were ready to pop into the grill.
There were pastries and muffins and breads and jams. There was yogurt. with many topping options.
We were the only earlybird guests. Andy brought us a cappuccino and espresso and 2 soft-boiled eggs! I devoured a chocolate croissant and Don went for an apple tart.
Andy called us a cab for 8:15 and told us to be ready 2 minutes early. He helped us get our bags out and sure enough, the cab pulled up at 8:13!
We stepped into the quiet alley and had a rushed good-bye, filled with thank yous and praise, handshakes and cheek kisses. We were off to the airport after a surprisingly, wonderful stay in Pisa!
We booked a night in Pisa, mostly as a convenient last stop before the airport. But we left with fond memories of our hotel, our hosts and our little neighborhood.
I will always remember A & A, at our B&B! They were fun and funny and made us feel right at home. I'll remember the breakfast in the cozy room. I'll remember storybook-feel of our room, with the canopy bed and painted ceilings. I'll remember the views of Borgo Stretto, from our 3 windows. And I'll remember wandering from the Leaning Tower to the Arno River and all the little discoveries along the way.
Our stay at Rinascimento was a good ending to a wonderful trip.
"Torre del Travaglio"
Torre del Travaglio is a classic medieval building, inside the oldest part of a Lucca. It was our "home" very briefly, last April.
Torre del Travaglio was once a typical Lucchese noble residence. It dates back to the twelfth century, when many of Lucca's wealthy homes proudly flaunted a torre, or tower. Today, the lower floor flaunts some fashionable mannequins! That make perfect sense, because Lucca was once known as the City of Merchants and Weavers.
I've been in love with this charming Tuscan town, ever since my family visited 55 years ago. At age 11, I loved climbing bell towers and clock towers. I counted the stairs and recorded in a little spiral notebook. The towers in Lucca impressed me. There were once over 200!
In 1969, Lucca felt magical. The stone walls surrounding the old city, looked like something from a fairytale illustration. I always hoped to return!
L'Antica Bifore is the name of the guesthouse that occupies the second floor of Torre del Travaglio. For 2 nights, Don and I were guests, in a medieval building with an actual tower. The 11 year old in me, loved that!
I stood across the narrow street to take this photo of the puzzling exterior. Brick and stone, arches and columns... a patchwork of designs and materials! I wish I knew which parts were 300 years old... or 500... or 10?
I read before arriving, that the guesthouse was named for its beautiful, arched windows.
When I looked up the translation, I learned that L'Antica means old and Bifore means mullioned windows. That was a new one for me. Mullions (vertical window dividers) were common in Gothic architecture. But what about that curious carved decoration between the windows?
When planning our trip to Italy, I was glad to see that Lucca would fit nicely into our plans. The city is located in northwest Italy, near the Ligurian Sea. We could travel by train from Cinque Terre. I hoped we could find a decent hotel, within walls that encircle the old city.
On the internet I found excellent reviews for L'Antica Bifore. Guests raved about the hosts. Interior photos excited me. The rooms were restored beautifully, keeping the historic feel of a 700-year-old building. I found no exterior images, but went ahead and booked. What a fun surprise to find our hotel on a charming "via" directly across from the lovely San Cristoforo. The narrow via, made it look like the church was having a stare down, with Torre del Travaglio!
Via Fillungo 5
The hotel was located on the Via Fillungo, the old city's main street.
Our cab driver took us as far as he was able. Then Don and I dodged a few bikes and pedestrians to reach the set of wooden doors, near the hotel's plaque and buzzer. Someone was leaving as we arrived, so we stepped inside.
Where is L'Antica Bifore?
We arrived early, so I had Don wait with our bags, while I headed past the bikes in search of L'Antica Bifore.
We weren't sure what else was housed in the old building, but we saw bikes and smelled pizza. I headed towards the stairs and looked back at the primitive doors we had just entered.
There was light shining on the stairs from a skylight. I headed up, while smells of toasty pizza dough and spices escaped from an open door, a half flight up.
The door belonged to the pizza restaurant on the bottom floor.
Luckily we (later) found a light switch to illuminate the stairwell. It would have been tricky, climbing those well-worn stairs in the dark!
I was relieved to see the brass plate with the guest house name. I buzzed and only waited a few seconds. Our hosts Alessandro and Alice greeted with big smiles.
The green doors opened to this lovely room, with a chandelier hanging from the coffered ceiling. A grand mirror hung above the fireplace.
There was something so relaxed and welcoming, despite the formality of the period furniture and decor.
Our hosts couldn't have made us feel more at home. As soon as I stepped in, Alessandro dashed down to help Don with the luggage.
We were glad to learn there was no problem checking in early. Alessandro and Alice gave us maps and lots of tips about exploring Lucca. We took one suggestion right away and ate pizza at Dante & Gentucca, downstairs! Yum!
Books, Coffee and Candy
I spotted 4 doors leading from the reception room to the guest rooms. Who would our fellow guests be?
Would we meet them later, sitting and browsing through some of the books on the table? Or having coffee in the morning, sitting at the dining table, with the curious candy holder?
I was a little jealous of the guests in the other 3 rooms, because they had arched windows, with colored glass. The colorful window in the reception room, reminded me of something out of Cinderella's Castle.
But Alice said she had given us the room with the best view, since she remembered my request, when I booked. Entrance to our room was through the left door, in the corner. Our room was within The Tower!
The door opened to a gold framed mirror. We turned right and stepped into our room, facing the front of the building. As I moved towards the window, I let out a happy gasp! What an unforgettable view! That church was comically close!
Moments before we'd been on the pedestrian street, looking up at the tower. Now we were inside, looking out of the window with the green shutters.
I knew from our hosts, that our room in the tower had more than a wonderful view. Our space had some interesting history!
Our room didn't have an arched window or stained glass, but I was thrilled to have the "Dante Room". The room was named for the medieval poet, who spent time in Lucca after he was exiled from Florence. There is some documentation that he was hosted by a woman named Gentucca in 1317. Her husband was a merchant who owned this building.
Supposedly Dante spent time in this tower. Who knows for sure, but it was kind of fun picturing Dante hanging out, writing and pondering. Just like us, he probably studied the incredible brickwork of the arched ceiling. Maybe he gazed out the window towards the church. Then again, Gentucca could have spent time with him in this tower! No time for pondering... who knows?
I loved all the curious details of our room. The brickwork was fascinating.
And 4 angels watching over us! They were a bit lovely and funny and worrisome and memorable!
The light fixture could have been worrisome too.
But that's only because my home in Texas, is a mere quarter century old. I know nothing about attaching artwork or fixtures, to stone or brick!
Don and I weren't really worried about anything falling. We were mostly amused... and delighted and fascinated.
I loved studying the decor... and looking through the books, displayed on the wall shelf...
... and sampling the sweet treats from Santa Zita Biscotteria, which we visited later!
Floors and More
I believe the terracotta floors were all original. The tile and frescoed walls in the bathroom... I'm less sure about.
I was perfectly happy with our cozy, modern bathroom. Soft towels and nice bath products.
I'm always grateful for a private bathroom, in an Italian hotel. My early memories of hotel bathrooms in Italy, are funny now. But at age 11, I was appalled that our family had to walk down the hall to a shared bathroom. Shared with strangers! And what was that thing they called a bidet! Ugh!
I can't say enough about that window, with its stunning view of San Cristoforo.
I loved studying the rose window. It was nice to know I could stare away, without worries of someone staring back
At night the dramatic Romanesque & Gothic church, was lit.
The sounds from the street below were entertaining. Voices and music and footsteps! It was never annoying, just curious and oddly amplified. The sounds echoed, off all the surrounding stone.
Open and Close
Luckily the inside shutters could close out some of the sound at bedtime.
I loved it that we could do the opposite and open up, to all the sounds and views and fresh air!
With windows wide open, the view was even more dramatic!
We were so close to the church, we could have shared a clothesline!
It was fun watching activity below. Via Fillungo is mostly closed to traffic, but I did see some delivery and work trucks. I watched the workmen enjoy pizza on the steps.
A school group gathered one afternoon. I failed to get a photo of the contestant flow of bicycles!
Left and Right
I was delighted that we could see Torre del Ore (Clock Tower) from our window. I walked down and bought a ticket to climb up, for some amazing views. I forgot to count steps, but there are 207.
I wondered about the green shutters on the outside. Could they be closed? In the U.S., shutters are mostly decorative.
And then there was our little table, beside the window. We made use.
We wandered very early one morning and picked up goodies from a bakery.
Alice made us a little coffee, served in the perfect cups. A good start to the day!
The location of our hotel was perfect, especially for finding food. Our first meal was at the little pizza place, within Torre del Travaglio. We exited the front door and took 2 steps to reach "Dante & Gentucca".
The pizza was delicious and how about the name of the restaurant! Another little spotlight on Dante and his friend he met during exile!
Plaza del Anfiteatro
We were a short walk from the elliptical plaza, that once held a Roman Amphitheater. The original structure goes back to the first century.
We had a wonder lunch at L'Anglolotondo, where our host, Allesandro just happened to work!
Caffe Santa Zita
After an intriguing visit to San Frediano Basilica, Don and I grabbed a table next door, at Caffe Santa Zita.
We toasted to Santa Zita, the patron saint of maids and domestic servants. We had just seen her mummified body on display in the church. That was something to talk about over a glass of wine.
Feast at Grand Universe
The last night, we allowed ourselves slightly more upscale dining adventure at Grand Universe.
The food and service was exceptional. Don gave high marks to the comfortable chairs!
Old Lucca hasn't changed all that much since I was 11. The things I loved then, I still love best now. Climbing towers and walking up on the wall! The views were most lovely at sunrise and sunset. In the slideshow there are glimpses of so many wonderful parts of Lucca, all within an easy walk of our hotel.
Simply put... Lucca is such a picturesque city!
We slept an OLD building! Torre del Travaglio was over 600 years old, when composer Puccini was a baby, living a few blocks away! I believe this may be the oldest building I've ever slept in!
Besides loving our building's age and history, our guest room was clean and cozy. The view and architectural details were over the top memorable! Our hosts were delightful and welcoming. The location was perfect!
Don and I rarely revisit hotels, even ones we love. There's so much to experience out there! But, I would love to return and stay longer at L'Antica Bifore! Maybe next time we'll change it up and book a room with am arched window! Bellissima!
Seaside Guesthouse in Riomaggiore
I've spent years drooling over stunning photos of the five Italian coastal villages, known as Cinque Terre.
Last April I was finally able to absorb some of the scenery, with my own eyes! Riomaggiore is one of the colorful villages that Don and I visited. At last, I was able to snap my own photos of the Ligurian Sea and the bright tower houses clinging to the rocky hills. In this photo, you can actually see our guesthouse, overlooking the narrow harbor.
"Scorci di Mare"
Scorci di Mare, was our home for 2 nights. When I booked, I didn't realize what was behind the name. If I'd known scorci was the Italian word for glimpse, or that mare meant sea, I might have guessed we'd have a sea view!.
Our guest room in the narrow pink building, wasn't a glamorous seaside Hilton. I'd say it was better. The historic building was perched right above the harbor, with a "glimpse of the sea" beyond.
Paolo was our host. He met us at the train station and escorted us to our 2-level guest suite. He opened up the door to our balcony and I couldn't stop grinning.
As the harbor below bustled with activity, Paolo shared stories. He was the 5th generation... to own the building I presume. He talked with such pride about his community, nestled between the hills and sea. He said there were over 1,000 residents now. Don guessed that he probably knew them all. He answered yes, then joked, "Not that I want to!"
Even though we were chatting above the water, Paolo reminded us that Riomaggiore had less connection to the sea, than the mountains. Terraced farming... grapes... white wine!
Paolo talked about how the hills kept the locals healthy. He mentioned that he (and his kids) made numerous trips up and down the hills each day. No driving the kids to school, since cars aren't permitted in the village center. There wasn't even a real road to the village, until the 1960's. Walking and climbing has always been part of village life.
Ups and Downs in Riomaggiore
When we first arrived, Don and I sampled some of that healthy hill climbing, when we met up with Paolo at the train station. He graciously took one of our bags and we followed along. So glad we packed light!
Our quick but rugged journey, took us through a maze of narrow passages and tunnels. We had a quick look at Via Colombo, (the main street) with its restaurants, shops and tourists.
Eventually the lane opened up to the cozy harbor, filled with pedestrians and boats. It was much quieter, when I took this photo at sunset.
In the busy afternoon, the festive harbor made me feel like I'd just walked onto a movie set. Even more so, in the quiet morning or evening.
Our Pink Building
From the harbor, Paolo pointed out the narrow pink building. He said the bottom story was built around 1280 and floors were added over generations. The top level was completed in the 16th century.
I spotted a door, on the lower level, but that wasn't for us! To access our guest room on the top, we had to wander around the wooden boats towards the stone stairs.
A walkway wrapped around the buildings and offered a lovely view of the sea. Then more stairs!
I'm still confused as I try to recall how many turns we took. But I do remember reaching the split.
I was glad to ignore the stairs that continued to the left. We headed right, through a passage between buildings.
I could see 2 more tiny sets of stairs at the end of the passage. I was so glad we were following Paolo. I was also glad we hadn't arrived after dark.
The primitive sets of stairs, led to two small landings. Our entrance was on the right.
The stone landing was a little worn and worrisome, but the green door to our guest room looked fresh and clean. A little glass sign welcomed us to our guest room named, "La Terrazza."
Don and I were huffing and puffing and grinning at this point. Here we were, standing in front of a sweet and tidy entrance, after 15 minutes of stumbling along, over uneven and often crumbling paths and stairs! Whew!
Before sharing the interior, I need to show our route in reverse! I'm clearly obsessed with the location of our guest house and I don't want to ever forget our crazy arrival adventure. This photo shows our green door and the passage that we had just come through.
Directly across from our landing, was another building and entrance. I've no clue about what was behind that cage-like door. I never paused to examine it, since I was very busy watching my feet most of the time. Luckily we never slipped into the gap, between the 2 landings.
Our comings and goings always felt like an adventure! I never tired of seeing this view, when we left our room and headed out of the passage!
Walking towards the light felt familiar. I was suddenly reminded of caving adventures when I was in college. It was always a thrill to spot the bright opening of the cave, after exploring in darkness. Our dim passage wasn't a cave, but it offered an even bigger thrill, as we headed towards the blue colors of sky and sea!
Our room/suite was named La Terrazza, which means terrace. I guessed that word, so I was expecting a balcony of some kind.
I somehow missed it, that our room would have 2 floors and 2 terraces. Double the fun!
This was what we saw as we stepped inside.
My eyes were drawn right away to the ladder-type structure, leading to the upper floor. I had no idea we would have so much space.
Clean and Updated
To the right of the door, was a nicely updated bathroom. It was clean and fresh, with a nice little window.
I couldn't help but wonder what it was like living here in the 1500's, long before plumbing. It would have been a long journey to get outside, to use some kind of outhouse. I'm guessing chamber pots were common.
Kitchen and Stairs
There was a nice little kitchen space with stovetop and fridge... dishes and table. There was complimentary coffee, tea and cookies. All tidy and welcoming.
The steep stairway was a curious addition, leading up to an opening in the beamed ceiling. I was reminded of pulldown attic stairs. The kid in me thought about attic treasures... or a treehouse at the top... or heading to an upper boat deck! But actually using the stairs was more tricky than fun.
From this angle the stairs looked more like a slide. Once again, I was reminded of caving days! At age 19, it was challenging and fun, carrying a backpack up a caving ladder (think circus ladder). Carrying my suitcase up the steep ramp-stairs, was equally challenging, since I'm 66 not 19. Actually it was sort of fun...ny! Luckily no mishaps!
The bedroom was clean and comfortable. I wish I knew what this space looked like 50 years ago. Or 200!
I'm sure the walls weren't smooth and white. I wanted to know what was behind those clean walls.
I appreciated having at least one bedside table and lamp. There was even a collection of books. If only I could read Italian! Best of all, there were 2 doors, that opened to another balcony!
The table and chairs were still wet from an earlier rain, when I first opened them.
I didn't take a seat, but I enjoyed taking in the view. Even with cloudy skies and muted colors, it was all beautiful. I couldn't wait to see the building and sea, when the lighting changed!
We certainly didn't need a TV, but there was one. There was also heating, which was nice on a chilly April day. Don had to do a little figuring to get it going.
Having a couch was a plus, after lots of walking. Cinque Terre accommodations can be pretty cozy, so this was a nice addition.
It was chilly out, but I was determined to make use of the window and doors, that led to the little balcony. I wanted them open!
I wanted to feel the air and hear all the sounds from below.
Best Seat in the House!
This was my favorite spot!
The sun came out shortly after we arrived and the terrace was warm and inviting!
I made coffee and soaked up the warmth.
It was wonderful having a view of the sea, but watching the people below and across, was actually more entertaining. I wondered about the people who owned the buildings and lived behind the windows.
I felt a little like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, although I didn't get out any binoculars to snoop. I did spot a few terrace activities, from yoga to wine drinking to rug beating.
We only had 2 nights in La Terrazza, but we made sure to have at least one lunch on our terrace.
Focaccia sandwiches, from a shop in the village!
Yogurt and coffee in the morning. Wine and Aperol Spritzes in the evening!
We even did a little bit of clothes washing in the sink and made use of our sunny terrace.
I had fun pretending I was a local, hanging my soggy socks on the clothesline.
The location of our hotel made exploring so easy! I slipped out the first morning before sunrise and felt like I had the village to myself!
After a little post dawn wandering, I actually spotted a few people and an actual vehicle! Now I know how the food and supplies arrive!
Slideshow of Riomaggiore
I could go on for days about all the places we enjoyed within walking distance of our hotel.
But I've rambled enough. I'll share a slideshow instead.
Our stay at Scorci di Mare felt authentic. We stayed in a building that was over 500 years old... owned by the same family for many generations.
The view and location made our 2-night stay unforgettable. We could look across to the tower houses and hills... down to the harbor and boats and out to the sea. We could wander to the rocky beach and dine in great restaurants, just steps from our door. All for a reasonable price! Perfecto!
Cinque Terre at Last!
In April, Don and I spent 2 glorious nights in Vernazza.
It's considered by many, to be the most picturesque of the 5 villages. I've dreamed of visiting Cinque Terre, Italy forever!
That's a Lie
Not really forever. I didn't even know Cinque Terre existed until a friend showed me photos, over a decade ago. That's when I started dreaming of visiting the pastel village.
Rick Steves' travel books, made the area a much more popular tourist destination in recent decades. That means there are more guest accommodations than there used to be. But choosing one, still seemed like a daunting task.
La Mala Guesthouse
Even with the internet, finding a hotel in Vernazza seemed confusing. So many of the tiny guesthouses and apartments were rented out by individuals, with bad websites... vague info... There were no photos of exteriors.
That's because Vernazza hotels focus on location and view. The inns are mostly squeezed into buildings, on narrow alleys. I stood as far back as possible to take this photo of the entrance to La Mala. (that's our clothesline above the door!) This exterior wouldn't exactly convince anyone to stay, but my friend Lorrie did, with her photos and descriptions.
View of La Mala, from the Water
The other side of La Mala could only be viewed from the water. I took this from a ferry! It's the small white building, with shutters.
The photo makes our sweet 4-room guesthouse look like part of a sandwich! Layers of rock below and stacked terraces of farming above. And right between 2 castle towers! Look hard to find the tower on the right.
Luckily we had good communication with our host, Gian Battista. He said he would pick us up at the train station.
Since most travelers (besides hikers) use trains between the villages, we knew to expect crowds at the station. But I didn't expect this many people!
I told Gian to look for a couple in their sixties. Don was tall and would be wearing a cap. I was short and would be wearing a grin. He spotted us and welcomed us and grabbed our bags. We were off!
Don and I dodged tourists as we hurried to keep up. Then, just as we caught a glimpse of the Marconi Piazza, Gian lifted our rolling bags and took a left. Up we went, climbing the narrow stairway between buildings.
I wish we had a video of Don and me, stumbling along with our heavy-enough backpacks. We looked comical, I'm sure! The maze of stone steps seemed endless.
As I look back on photos, I can't even remember the route! We traveled right then left...
There was no such thing as a straight line or an even step. The walls varied, the steps varied.... stucco, stone, pale pink, then yellow...
I'm as confused looking at these photos as I was that afternoon when we followed Gian. Which passages did we walk by? Which did we enter?
Gian paused now and then to let us catch up. I paused to take note of the sign on the walkway. "Via Giov. Battista" Hmm? The street had Gian's last name. I learned later that Gian's grandfather once owned the old Ligurian House, that is now La Mala.
After passing through a short tunnel (with part of our hotel building above) we came to a dead end. I was glad we didn't have to climb those additional stairs to the red/pink building. Ours was the white building to the right. There was actually more stair climbing awaiting us.
Gian showed us how to punch in the code and we stepped into an entry space, with fresh white walls and lovely black and white photos, featuring local scenery.
After stepping inside, there was one more set of stairs to reach a tiny common area.
We paused in the sitting area, just below our room and Gian shared lots of info about the hotel and Vernazza... while Don and I caught our breath.
A few more steps up and Gian opened the door to our room. My eyes went straight to the windows!
A brief rain had stopped and I could see the green water starting to catch some sunlight. I felt like our room was floating out over the sea.
My friend Lorrie said Room #31 was her favorite. There are only 4 rooms, so we were lucky to get the upper room, with 2 windows overlooking the Mediterranean. (the artwork made me feel like we had 3 views of the sea!)
Actually luck had nothing to do with it. Finding 2 consecutive nights, (when #31 was available) took a lot of searching. April 15 & 16! We booked our entire 2-week (and 7-hotel) Italy trip, around our La Mala reservation.
The whitewashed walls, natural oak floors and minimalist furnishings, made our room look new and modern.
The painted white ceiling beams hinted at the building's age. I wish I knew more of its history.
Our little set up with table & chairs, got lots of use. The tray held a pitcher of water, wine glasses, coffee and espresso cups!
A closet near the bed held a few things. We made use of the fridge and coffee maker.
The bathroom with white Italian marble, felt bright and fresh!
The shower was extra roomy, with a large window... which needed no covering. If there had been a window in the stone building across the way, that would have been a different story.
I thought about washing out some clothes and using the clothesline outside the window. But I'm a little out of practice with clothespins. I was worried about fumbling and dropping...
When the skies cleared, the color of the water became brighter.
There was more to see out the windows, besides the sea. We could keep an eye on the terrace below and a rocky cliff and wall... wind blowing the palms, boats on the water, birds...
After getting settled in, Don and I headed down some stairs to take a peek at the stone terrace, which was available for all guests.
The wooden seating didn't look too comfortable for lingering, but we headed down to have a look.
In April we still needed jackets, but the sun felt good. Behind Don you can see our 2 windows above. The lower windows belonged to another room. Again, I was grateful for our upper room, with more privacy.
Left, Right and...
The views were lovely in both directions.
Directly below, we could watch the water swirling and crashing into the rocks.
When we later opened the windows, the sound was heavenly!
Table with a View
I loved the way the wooden chairs were set up, to invite us to sit a spell and enjoy the view.
We did that many times. One time, we picked up "toasts" and focaccia for a little snack.
In the morning, we made coffee and enjoyed sweets from the bakery, for breakfast.
We picked up little bottles of Aperol Spritz at the market and toasted, as the camera timer clicked!
This is the only photo I have that shows the couch and TV. We didn't need the TV at all, but the couch was very much appreciated!
Outside of our Oasis
Our hotel truly was an oasis, away from the day tourists. who filled the streets of Vernazza during peak hours.
But when we left our quiet, cozy space, we were just steps away from the harbor and restaurants and hiking paths.
Here & There in Vernazza
My favorite times in Vernazza, were in the early morning hours, when the village was cool and quiet. But the crowded hours were also fun for people watching. The slideshow below shares photos from the village and our hikes just above the village.
A few times I regretted leaving my Nikon at home. But it was mostly a relief, to carry only my cellphone up and down all the steps and hills.
Usually Don and I wing it a little when we pick hotels. We go with the flow if we choose a hotel that turns out to be flawed. But I was so excited about Vernazza, I didn't want to risk choosing a place that took away from our magical stay. La Mala ended up being the perfect fit!
This photo is our only selfie from the trip. (I hate selfies) That's how happy we were when we stood on the terrace at La Mala. I texted this photo to Lorrie to tell her the hotel was even better than we'd expected!
Our comfy and bright hotel room with the glorious view, was an absolute piece of heaven, after walks and hikes and meals. Gian was a lovely host. (he kept our bags after check-out) And the location, in the heart of the village was beyond perfect!
A Grand Stay in Italy
Don and I spent 2 nights in this fine palace, with a very grand entrance.
We arrived in the middle of a downpour, so we didn't look so grand ourselves. But the doorman greeted us graciously.
Hotel Since 1905
Hotel Bristol Palace felt Royal, but it was never actually a palace. The Art Nouveau structure was built as a hotel, in 1905.
The elegant hotel attracted high society guests, who mostly arrived by carriage.
We didn't arrive in such style. Our taxi driver was wearing a Las Vegas t-shirt when he dropped us off at the stylish hotel.
I was exited to see our hotel and to learn more about Genoa. I was also excited to see something special inside... the thing that made me book this hotel.
I knew little about Genoa, before booking our hotel. I knew it had something to do with Genoa salami. And I knew it was the capital of the Italian region of Liguia.I also knew it was one of the most important ports on the Ligurian Sea.
But, until our visit, I didn't realize what a beautiful city it was, or that it had the largest medieval area in all of Europe.
I'm not usually lured to hotels because of the elegance. Most of our lodging during our 2 weeks in Italy, was more quaint than luxurious. For most, we climbed hills and stone steps to reach them. Not marble staircases with wrought iron railings!
These are the stairs we spotted when we entered the lobby. I ignored the desk to the right and the bar straight ahead. I didn't even notice the handy container of umbrellas.
I ignored the red carpet that covered the steps and I looked directly up! This is why I booked the hotel! For the amazing stairs!
I discovered this hotel with its 6-story elliptical staircase, when Googling, 4 years ago. My eyes were glued to the image.
It was mind boggling to finally be in the hotel, where I could study the real thing, suspended in space. Not on my computer screen!
I turned in all directions and found myself getting more confused. The shapes seemed to move, or turn inside out. Like an M.S. Escher image! What was I looking at? I felt like I should be able to magically walk up the stairs, upside-down!
After checking in, I could barely wait to climb to the top and look down. Seeing the red carpet and marble floor below, made it easier for me to wrap my head around what I was seeing.
You can't visit Bristol Palace without staring upward for a while. I should have gotten a photo of faces below! When new guests arrive, they walk towards the desk, look up... and maybe snap a cellphone pic. But none of the guests seemed quite as obsessed with the glorious stairway, as me.
Looking down was easier on the neck. I could have studied forever. Before heading down, I looked at the glossy railing and wondered how many people have tried riding that banister!
That's a scary thought. I should have asked at the desk, to see if there have been attempts.
Speaking of scary, as in scary movies... Alfred Hitchcock has a little history with the Bristol Palace. He was a hotel guest twice. In the fifties he stayed while filming "To Catch a Thief". Years earlier, (in 1925) Hitchcock was a young man of 26. He was introduced to the luxurious hotel when filming his first movie, "Pleasure Garden".
It is said that he drew inspiration from the dramatic staircase, which led to his work on the classic film, Vertigo.
Don and I watched the movie before our trip. The movie's staircase scene, looks nothing like Bristol's stairway. But spiraling, elliptical images can be seen during the opening credits. I read later that the same swirling design can be spotted briefly, throughout the movie. (In Kim Novac's hairdo and a tree... ?) I need to watch again.
Room 227 on Floor 3
We didn't have to lug our bags up the spiraling red carpet, since there was an elevator. The wide doorway welcomed us into an impressive room on floor 3. (Italians count floors differntly)
Our yellow room was spacious, with a soaring ceiling.
The hotel was remodeled in 2014 and I was glad they hadn't filled the space with plush modern furniture and art. I do love classic decor in historic hotels.
The original floors were striking and spotlessly clean.
The dressing area was nice and roomy. Lots of options for holding bags and hanging clothes.
The large bathroom was bright and clean, with double sinks and an enormous shower.
The marble was cool, but the heated towel rack, robes and slippers, kept things warm.
What's Behind the Window?
There was a tidy little desk in the corner, beside the thick yellow drapes. I was of course more excited about looking our the window, than writing a letter.
Behind the drapes I found curious narrow doors, set into the deep window frame. Painted shut, so no discoveries!
The view of modern buildings was not too exciting. A room on the front would have given us a view of Via XX Septembre. The popular street is lined with majestic buildings, shops and colonnades.
Hefty Chandelier & Mirror!
The immense chandelier and gold framed mirror, took the focus, in this photo. The mirror made the chandelier look twice as sparkly and dramatic.
Both were pretty and elegant, but I found myself briefly cringing at the thought of either, falling in the night. I was a little touchy, since our humongous bathroom mirror at home, crashed to the floor the night before we flew to Italy.
Aunt Mary Antiques
The formal antique furniture made me feel right at home... like in my Great Aunt Mary's house. Aunt Mary had beautiful things and although her house was not actually comfortable as I recall, I grew to respect her taste and I now own a few of her lovely things.
The bedside tables definitely reminded me of Aunt Mary. The dresser was pretty, as well as useful. We made use of the tea kettle and cups.
After settling in, it was time to enjoy the hotel. We changed out of our damp travel clothes before heading down the stairs.
Of course I had to pose, with the stairs and the skylight.
There was more stained glass to enjoy. I look like I planned my dress color to coordinate with the glass!
While walking from the top to the bottom, I once again pondered the idea of sliding down the banister. There was no cushioned carpet at the end...just a few more marble steps. So not a good idea.
Time to Relax
Don and I decided to stay in and enjoy the hotel for our first evening. There were a couple of sitting areas.
We could have played chess or chatted on a couch between potted palms. I love palms in old hotels!
The little bar near the bottom of the staircase, looked more inviting. Our bartender Ivan, was delighted to make Don a Smoked Negroni.
It was entertaining to watch. My martini wasn't nearly as complicated, but it seemed like the perfect drink for our hotel.
We found some deep, comfy chairs and Ivan brought out a tray of goodies.
Some Genovese style foods evidently. And potato chips. Italians seem to serve chips a lot.
I was glad the atmosphere felt relaxed. I asked Ivan to take our photo and he was quite pleasant and didn't roll his eyes at the "American Tourists". I think we were actually the only Americans.
At 8, we headed for our reservations on the second floor. The evening was damp and chilly, but no need to grab jackets. For those who came from outside, there was a cloak room. I haven't checked a coat in a million years.
We were welcomed graciously and taken through the frescoed dining room, to a little alcove, off to the right.
We might have enjoyed the bigger room for some people watching, but I loved our little room with windows.
View of Via XX Septembre
Our little room was basically a bay window, hanging over the street. Behind Don, we could see the neon hotel sign and Via XX Septembre, below.
The well known via was much quieter at 8 pm.
In a photo I took later, you can see the bay's 4 illuminated windows. above the arches on the right. That's where we were seated.
I loved keeping an eye out on the street below.
I could look over my left shoulder and see across the street.
Dinner with a view! The next morning I walked down those endless colonnades!
Jenny was our lovely server. She read my mind and asked if I'd like butter with my bread, Oh I do love some butter and lots of Italian restaurants don't serve it.
After we ordered wine, the manager, (I assume) brought over a "gift from the chef". It was some kind of soft cheese with edible flowers! A Ligurian specialty, I believe.
Don and I aren't often able to finish endless courses of food. We skipped the Anitpasta and went straight for the "Primi Piatti", which was still considered first course.
,I devoured my "le mezzanine di magro in salsa di noci..." which was pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs, along with walnut sauce. And I can't believe I've forgotten the name of Don's special fish of the day.. The portions and flavors of both were perfect! We didn't leave a bite.
I believe that is the name of this room, outside of the dining room. Once a reading room, I believe. We passed through, carrying our unfinished wine back to our room.
We paused to admire the original marble floors and chandelier.
I found a donkey in a painting. If there is a donkey anywhere, I demand a photo.
We took advantage of the empty room and had some fun with an enormous wall mirror.
We sort of created an "Infinity Photo", We clearly should have spent more time on that project.
Don headed up to the room and I dashed down the red stairway, to step outside. I always attempt one night photo of every hotel where we stay.
Somehow at night, it's always easier to stop and sigh and wonder and dream, about a hotel's past and all the people who have visited. Unfortunately, this lovely hotel had a dark period, back during WWII. Germans actually occupied the hotel and made it their headquarters. Supposedly they built a secret tunnel to the port. I found no photos of that time period.
We slept well and woke hungry. We should have made reservations for the Giotto's daily breakfast. I heard it was not to be missed. But it was totally booked, so we skipped.
But we made coffee in the room and unpacked some pastries we had bought earlier.
Arches and Walkways
There was so much to see, just within a couple blocks.
This picture from across the street, shows the colonnades, with their decorated columns and grand arches.
The "sidewalks" beneath the covered walkways, weren't exactly shabby. Actually one looked a bit worn, but that just added to the charm.
Besides the nearby colonnades, there were other interesting walkways to explore. In the heart of the medieval city, there is quite a maze of carruggi, (narrow alleys) and they are just mind boggling. We used GPS, but we still got lost, as we wound up and down, in and out.
The carruggis are lined by high outer walls of the old homes. In Medieval times, the complicated passages made it difficult for invading armies.
What We Found
Our walking and wandering took us to so many wonderful places. The first of these photos, (click to enlarge) shows the fountain, in the middle of Ferarri Piazza. It was just a short walk, down our street. It looked different in the early morning.
We visited palaces and churches. We discovered hilltops views and cozy cafes. I honestly didn't expect to find so many wonderful surprises, within walking distance.
On the second morning we rushed to pack and get to the train station. However, when we stepped outside, we found the streets were barricaded, for the Focaccia Festival!
The hotel offered to watch our bags as we dashed out to enjoy a quick peek of the 352 meter long, set up, The longest focaccia in the world! They were just getting ready to hand out samples! 16,000 samples we were told.
Off We Go
Sadly, we didn't have time to enjoy the focaccia. But at least we got to see the endless table winding around the corner. Then it was time to get going!
We had help from a very gracious doorman, who carried our bags to the next block, where he could hail us a cab!
I thought we were coming for a magnificent staircase! It was even more impressive than I imagined.That will be my main memory!
But the location and the comfort are also notable. The hotel was situated on a great street, and wandering was a huge plus. The Bristol Palace turned out to be so much grander and yet comfier than I expected. I thought it was going to be a "been there, done that" hotel, but I would happily stay again!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!