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!
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!
"Palazzo Catalani in Soriano nel Cimino"
That's a mouthful, but It's where we stayed in April 2023.
I had never heard of Soriano nel Cimino, (about 60 miles from Rome) until we started planning a trip to Cinque Terre. Soriano was nowhere near the 5 seaside villages. However, we suddenly felt certain we should complicate our plans and start our travels with a stay in Soriano's, Palazzo Catalani.
Why? Photos of the hotel were enough to lure me, but the photos of the medieval town convinced me.
I loved the idea of staying in an isolated village... with a castle on a hill and very few tourists!
The website told me the palazzo was a 17th century noble residence. For $100 or less, we could stay in a pink palace! But the website was hard to navigate. The few photos looked magical, but there was little explanation. Reviews can't always be trusted, but I only found raving reviews and enthused descriptions. I trusted my gut and fell in love with the palazzo and the village.
I actually called on the phone and booked 5 nights at the Catalani! I wanted to be sure I could reserve a room, with a view of the castle. The photo above shows the lovely pastel palazzo, to the left of the steeple. It was taken from Orsini Castle and you can see our windows on the right, below our balcony.
Getting to the Hotel
It was a mini adventure getting to the hotel. The train took us from Rome to Orte. A taxi, arranged by the hotel, picked us up at the station. Our cab reached Soriano in less than 30 minutes, but it could only make it to the street, pictured below.
(click on images below to enlarge)
Stefano from the hotel, met us at the cab and took our bags. We followed him up the passage to the right and zigged and zagged over the slippery cobblestone, until we reached the door with the Italian flag! Whew!
Once inside Don and I were welcomed by Sara, at the hotel desk. I'd communicated a number of times with Sara on the phone and with emails.
Soon we were off, following Stefano and our bags, through the lovely lounge/bar area. We headed up a flight of stairs and through another lounge.
This one had beautifully decorated walls and ceiling, plus comfy seating. There was even a table full of games.
Room 14 Solarium
There were more twists, turns and steps, before we reached our apartment/room. The sign on the door looked comically modern-ancient.
When we stepped inside we were also met with modern-ancient, in the best way. The beamed ceiling high above Don's head, was a reminder of the building's age. (1600's!) Don's back issues were pleased with the comfy modern couch and equally comfy chairs at the table.
The table for 4, made me wish we had others to help us enjoy our stay! The TV wasn't needed, but there was a fridge in the cabinet and we made good use. The view from the table was stunning. We had the same view from the bathroom!
Having great window light, was such a plus. Having a bathtub with a view of Orsini Castle, was the absolute best!
Just outside the bathroom we had a mini kitchenette, with sink, dishes, a stove top and microwave... then there was this crazy set of stairs.
I knew I had requested Room 14 with a balcony and castle view, but I'd totally forgotten it was a 2-story room!
My photos don't come close to sharing how odd and tricky it was, to make a trip upstairs, carrying bags. When I reached the second floor, there was a nice sitting room and 3 other doorways, (with more steps) opening to another bathroom, a bedroom and the balcony!
There were a few more steps to reach the balcony. What a spectacular view of Soriano's tile rooftops and the castle Orsini Castle. I don't has been "guarding" the town since 1277. It also was used as a prison for about a century. Until 1989.
The balcony was huge and the patio chairs and loungers were comfortable!
There was lots to look out at besides the obvious castle, but my eyes kept returning.
The castle has been "guarding" Soriano since 1277. Over the years, it played the part of a fortress, a palace and it even housed a prison for over a century, up until 1989. Pope Nicolas III, died in the castle. Lots to think about.
Don was less excited about the charming beams on the second floor.
He had to duck to get into the upper bathroom, which also had a slanted ceiling. He tested the height of the beams above the chairs.
I found the attic bedroom charming and cozy. The room had no window, so the skylight was a plus. The tricky bed space and the winding stairs, made me realize that it would be wise to head up to bed, when alert. NOT in a sleepy or drunken state!
I was delighted to see the green grass on the lawn below.
The April temps were chilly (for us Texans) but the sitting areas looked so inviting.
The yard below our room was lovely in the morning light. Behind me, you can see our 2 windows on the upper right. Balcony above.
Some of the trees and vines were still bare from winter. But it was nice to see spring, just coming to life. Plus we had better views of the rooftops and winding alleys and yards below.
The "New" Building
Just across from the Palazzo's entrance, was another building with more grounds to explore. This building was a new addition to the Palazzo Catalani "Resort". But the lovely structure wasn't new. It was historic as well.
Inside the stone building, there were more guest rooms and a fitness room and spa area, which we didn't use. We did however enjoy the garden area above.
There was more seating, to take in the view. Some very curious seating.
The view of the two buildings was lovely. We know the Catalani family lived in the pink building, long ago. Who were their neighbors across the way?
One day, we headed up the path with sandwiches and had lunch in the upper garden area.
Yet another view of Castello Orsini!
Dining at the Palazzo
Luckily I had read good reviews about the hotel's restaurant, Locando Catalani. We arrived on Easter weekend, so many restaurants in town were closed.
The restaurant was in the lower part of the building, with patio tables as well. If only it had been warmer.
Bright and Modern
The first evening, we were able to find pizza in town, but I peeked in at the restaurant. I was surprised at how modern and somewhat casual the restaurant appeared.
Older photos on the internet showed tablecloths and darker walls. I'm unsure when the most recent renovations took place.
Complimentary breakfast was served each morning in the restaurant. On our first morning, I made sure to enjoy lots of my favorite food group... bread.
That morning happened to be Easter and my 66th birthday, so I ate as much bread as I wanted! First time ever that my birthday and Easter have been on the same day!
Sounds on Easter Morning
I loved the sounds on our first morning. I woke to pigeons cooing and church bells ringing. A little later, I heard squeals and giggles through the window. Some Italian children had taken over the yard, while the parents lingered over a meal.
Most of the day was spent exploring Soriano. I visited 2 churches before and after Easter masses. Don and I spent a couple hours as the only "tourists" wandering inside Orsini Castle.
By about 7, it was time to remember my ancient age, as we looked over the medieval village. Don and I headed to the balcony with a bottle and glasses.
I wore a retro, paisley dress in honor of my less ancient self. It reminded me of a dress I might have worn in 1969, over a half-century ago! That was the year, (the only other time) I had a birthday in Italy. I turned 12.
Party Game - Blog Tangent
For some added birthday fun, I rolled a set of dice. I told Don if I rolled my age (6 & 6) I would win my wish, to bring our whole family to Italy! Rats! I rolled 5 and 5. So I decided to see how many rolls until I got my birthday sixes. The number of rolls it took, would be my lucky number for the year!
It took me 55 rolls (funny... after my 5 & 5) to get double sixes. 5 is actually my favorite number, so clearly #55 was meant to be my lucky number, as I began this new age. I quickly made a plan. My Lucky 55 Plan: To celebrate/enjoy the company of 55 friends, (new and old) in my year of being 66. Make sense? Probably not!
At 7:30 we were off to dinner. The hotel was serving a 5-course (plus wine) Easter dinner, which meant I could just enjoy without decisions. I had hoped for white tablecloths and dimmer lighting, but there were flowers and chocolate eggs and an odd chick, on the table.
There were a few choices we needed to make, but I think the waiter figured out that we were having a hard time translating the Italian. He ended up just bringing us way more than 5 courses.
We each sampled 2 appetizers and 2 pastas, rich and filling. My beef dish had bottomless beef and artichokes. There were so many foods,
I can't remember all that we ate. Eventually we figured out that lamb and rabbit were in some of the dishes... on Easter! Yikes.
All was fun and tasty, but we were nearly miserable with feasting by the time the lights suddenly went off. The soft music halted and a recording of "Happy Birthday" suddenly filled the intimate space. The waiter carried my dessert with a candle and our amused, fellow diners clapped. A sweet and funny surprise! It was about 10 when we finished our cappuccinos. What a memorable Easter & Birthday Celebration!
Over our 5-day visit, we spent the days and evenings exploring Soriano and some nearby areas. It was always a treat coming back to relax in the Palazzo. We made good use of the common areas.
We enjoyed the lounge nearest our room, with a glass of wine one evening.
Another evening we met a couple from England in the downstairs bar/ lounge. We hit it off in a matter of minutes. On the last evening, we went out to dinner together.
I tried to explain to Pete and Diane about my Lucky 55 Plan, from when I rolled the dice on my birthday. They became the first of 55 mini friend celebrations, during my year of being 66!
Tragic Stories from WWII
We were able to learn more Palazzo history from Pete and Diane, since they were repeat guests and knew locals. The darkest bit of history involved WWII, when Nazis occupied Soriano and took over Palazzo Catalani. Evidently they damaged some of the frescoes by adding their own artwork to the walls. Our new friends were also able to tell us why everyday, we heard air raid sirens in the town. The sirens were a reminder to locals, to never forget June 5, 1944.
Gian Paolo, was a staff member who shared more of the sad history... because we asked. He told us about the tragic event in 1944, that has never been forgotten, On June 5, Allied bombers attacked Soriano, killing 188 civilians. Gian Paolo was younger than us, but clearly the war had affected his family and him. He was from nearby Virtebo and his grandmother told stories of fleeing to Yugoslavia, with Gian Paolo's 2-year old father. It was sobering to realize the there were many older folks living in town today, who actually experienced the terrifying day in Soriano.
This view from Palazzo Chigi-Alani, shows no hints of the town's sad past. At least to me. I hope those who do remember, can still enjoy the beauty of the village.
If I had lived here 90 years, how would I feel about this view today? By the end of our 5-day stay, I know I had grown to love the town and to appreciate the history.
Palazzo Catalani would have been a wonderful place to stay, even if we'd never left the grounds. But it was the connection of the historic building to the town, that added such value to our visit. Below are just a handful of places we came upon, as we wandered on foot.
(click to enlarge photos below)
The town felt isolated, but never claustrophobic. I never got tired of wandering and discovering new walkways or churches or stair steps to climb!
With a 5-day stay, we allowed ourselves just a day to explore outside of Soriano. The hotel helped us arrange a driver to visit 2 special places, not far from Soriano. Staying at the Palazzo made it possible to revisit these wonderful places, that I never expected to see again!
Park of the Monsters
First we visited Park of the Monsters, near Bomarzo. I have dream-like memories of this monster-filled park, from my family's visit in 1969. We had the mysterious park to ourselves!
Climbing on the creatures, (sculpted in the 16th century) is no longer allowed. But the visit was just a crazy-magical as I remembered. (I should have worn red socks again!)
St. Patrick's Well in Orvieto
Almost as eerie and unusual, was our visit to Orvieto's old well, from 1527. I have fond memories of this childhood adventure as well, except for the part when I cut my arm on a nail. No cuts this time and I didn't count the 249 steps again. I did when I was 11.
You can't tell in the photos but there are 2 spiral staircases, one going down and one coming up. The separate sets, kept the water-carrying donkeys apart!
I've rambled for days. But I clearly am in love with Palazzo Catalani and Soriano nel Cimino.
Our stay was above and beyond what I had hoped for. The hotel and town felt friendly, quiet, safe and charming. It was also reasonably priced at less than 100 dollars a night. I am so glad we had more than one Notable Night. What a treat to stay in a nobleman's resident, with my noble travel buddy!
Would I return? Si per favore!
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!