Hidden away in the south of Tuscany in the area of Maremma are the Terme di Sartunia, or the Sartunia thermal baths. The area hosts a world renown 5 star exclusive hotel and spa (rooms in the off season start at €150), but the most incredible part of this area are the natural Cascate del Mulino. These are a beautiful series of waterfalls coming from the ancient dormant volcano Monte Amiata, and contain elements of sulfur, carbon, sulphate, bicarbonate, and alkaline. With supposed healing properties for people with issues in high blood pressure, digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular, muscular, and joint pains, the cascate are not just a place for the sick. Anyone can bathe in the free thermal baths and enjoy the natural waters that rock out at just under 99.5°F (37.5°C) year round.
Legend has it the cascate are located at the exact point where Jupiter's thunderbolt fell against the ground during a battle with Saturn, which is from whom the town of Sartunia gets it's name from. People have been splashing in these baths for thousands of years. There are records of use and inhabitation even before the time of the Etruscans and the Roman conquest in 280 BC.
How to Get There:
Rent a Car:
My recommended method on getting to the thermal springs is to rent a car and drive yourself down to Sartunia. From Florence it's about a 3 hour drive, and the last hour is all through through the winding mountainous hills of Tuscany and it is absolutely gorgeous. Definitely rent a car if you plan on going for a day trip, as it will be quicker (and probably cheaper). There are several car rental agencies in Florence (most on Borgo Ognissanti), and we ended up renting a Smart Car Cabriolet from Knowleggi City Rentals, as they let us pay in cash and with debit card, and were very helpful after we had some severe issues with Hertz. I do NOT recommend going to Hertz, with whom we had originally booked with online in advance, and then led to problems. They ended up not accepting my credit card, and wouldn't let me use my debit card, which already being stressful enough after not having this written down for us to know, we were forced to cancel our reservation, and lost money even though the issue was their fault. They were immensely unhelpful and rude, and we will not being going back to that company.
Another option is to take the train from Florence to Albinia, then take bus 10/0 to Manciano, which only leaves once a day at 1:40. From there you can take the bus to Sartunia (Line 17/P-R 4 times a day). Using this method of transportation will take you a significantly bit longer, and will almost be just as expensive, as the first train ride is around 3 hours and will cost €20-€30. If you don't have a driver's license or are terrified of driving in Italy, this is the way for you.
What to Know:
For the natural hot springs there are a few things you should be aware of before you go!
- Bring a robe and flip-flops!! These are probably the most important things you should remember, as the robe will keep you warm when you're hopping in and out of the springs, and the flip flips will save your feet when you're walking from your car on down to the springs.
- Just come in your swimsuit, or change behind your car. Everyone else does.
- BRING A WATERPROOF BAG! Especially if it's raining, the whole area turns into a mud pit. There are a few cave-like structures to put your things in, but these fill up fast. Since it is a natural hot spring there aren't lockers (or even benches) to put your things on. Less is more!
- Pack a few extra towels to put on the floor of your trunk and on your car seats.
- Pack a dry set of clothes (especially if you are visiting when it's cold) to change into so you don't have to ride back in a damp swimsuit that smells like sulfur. (You might want to also pack an extra grocery bag to put the wet clothes in!)
- Think of the pools like different filtering levels, the ones at the top are more rushing, and the ones at the bottom are more stagnant. From time to time, the ones at the bottom have a few little read worms that are harmless, but can kind of freak you out if you are unfamiliar that they are totally normal and only live in hot springs and if any remain on you when you get out will die out of the water
- Don't wear makeup!!! Seriously, my makeup usually stays on in water pretty well and I was full raccoon status by the time I got out. My face makeup stayed on- but eye makeup was a definite no-go.
- If you're going during high season parking can be a real problem, so be prepared for the struggle!
Hosting two fashion capitals of the world, it's no surprise that fashion is taken pretty seriously in Italy. The prestige of cities like Milan and Rome comes with designers such as Gucci (founded in Florence), Armani, Versace, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, just to name a few. With all of these historic designers it can seem a little daunting and you may feel pressured to renew your entire wardrobe before your upcoming trip, but this is not necessary! With a few new additions to your wardrobe, and some smart packing, you can go to Italy looking like a fashionista without breaking the bank.
This list is mainly geared towards Italy, but the general rules apply for places other places in Europe too like France, Spain, Portugal, etc!
Vamp Up Your Wardrobe By Adding Some Scarfage
As I said in my post about things you definitely want to take with you when you're traveling- a scarf is a necessity- for guys and gals! A scarf can take any outfit from drab to fab! This tip isn't just for winter either. Italians wear scarves year round, so if you're traveling during the summer, pack a light summery scarf!
Ditch the Shorts
Granted, living in Italy and loving my shorts from an upbringing in Florida, I don't always follow this rule, but I try to stick to it as much as possible! For whatever reason, Italians don't really wear shorts- so opt for jeans or a skirt if it's a top you really want to wear!
Though not a necessity, packing neutral colors will make your life a whole lot easier. While men in Italy can be a little more flamboyant (cue popped collars on polos and too much cologne), the women are typically a little more reserved. Wearing black or earth tones will go a long way on this trip. Not only will you blend in more and draw less attention to yourself through avoiding bright colors, but if everything in your suitcase belongs to the same color family, you can mix and match clothes with a lot more ease. This allows you to have more outfit options on your vacation!
Add sweaters/scarves to any of the outfits below and you have complete unique looking outfits! Any nude or black shoes would match as well! 😗
Less isn't Always More!
This is conclusive to both packing and your style of dress! Though you should pack light to save yourself excess baggage fees and back pains, I understand the struggle of overpacking. Where more is more? How much clothing you have on. Italy has always been heavily influenced by the presence of the Vatican, and it shows in the dress if it's citizens. Modesty goes a long way in this country. Don't think boring and severe, think elegant, classy.
Add Some Bling!
Pack some jewelry along with you to dress up any simple outfit and look fabulous with simple ease.
Don't Be a Bum.
You're not dressing to go to class, or heading to the gym. You're in a country where beauty is appreciated and valued. Look nice, and have fun while doing so!
Wear Comfortable Shoes (That Aren't Expensive)
I cry every time I think of how many pairs of shoes have been claimed by the cobbled streets of Florence. Don't bring any shoes you won't mind leaving behind, because I can go through about 2 pairs of shoes a month. (Literally- when I went to Venice the first time I walked 20 miles in 1 day!)
Make sure they are comfortable, and if you want to wear heels to go out, make 'em chunky and drunk-you-proof! I've seen Italian women wearing stilettos mid-August in the middle of the day, baby on hip. I hope to one day reach that level of grace, poise, self control, and sheer skill- but it is a long way off! Until then #FlatsLife.
I absolutely love living in this country, but let me just say it is NOT for everyone. Sure, anyone with a brain, and a relative understanding of European culture, and a knack for travel can come visit, even for an extended stay maybe, but it takes a certain type of person to truly have the gall (and the patience of a saint) to live in Italy. It can prove a very difficult thing for Americans to adapt to- I see it every semester with the study abroad students in Florence. It's a situation where you either love it, or you hate it. Even when you do love it every second, there are times where you just want to throw Italy off the face of the planet for something or another stupid thing the country has gone and done again (this is where the patience of a saint comes in). So do you have the aptitude and willingness to live in this amazing country? Check out my list below to be prepared before you make the move! (The photos are to encourage you that all of this mental preparation is SO worth it😍)
Everything (YES EVERYTHING) Is Tiny
And I say this as a 5'3" (160cm) female weighing in at 105 lbs (47 kilos)- everything is tiny. The number of times I hit my head in my second apartment while washing dishes because the cabinets were so low you couldn't lean over the sink is appalling- even more appalling is I never learned to just not hit my head. Bathrooms are small, doors are small, the portions (are usually perfect, which is small for Americans), the restaurants are small, the people are small, the sidewalks are unbearably small in cohabitation with the tiny winding streets, and the churches are HUGE...I think that's something to to with the Vatican....but that's a whole other story.
Italy is not made for big people, so if you're tall, be prepared for ALOT of ducking.
The Visa Process is a Load of Codswallop
If you are a student or an EU citizen, consider yourself #BLESSED. A number of hoops is required to jump through to get a visa on your own is painful, agonizing, and downright ludicrous. I probably will spend about 5 days - meaning 120 hours- doing Visa BS annually. For me- my love of Italy and my life here makes it worth it in the end- but it is time-consuming. Not to mention dealing with the entire process that nobody will ever fully explain- EVER, in English or Italian, makes it that much more lovely.
I love you Italy, but I do not love your Visa process. Sorry. Sincerely, a disgruntled expat.
You Should Never Be Rude
This goes as a general life fact, but when you first move here, especially if you aren't particularly well versed in the language or culture, try and shy away from being rude. You should do so in general, but ya know if you want to be rude be rude in the country's native language. Apart from being a hooman bean other hooman beans want to be around, Italians will be rude right back at you. Sometimes they will be rude just because they KNOW you are an American (see how they know here), and though they shouldn't be since tourism is a main source of revenue here- it's how it goes. And when Italians are rude it can sting, and you will get cry like a little baby because you are a soft American who hasn't been toughened by the European scorn. Not really, but just being polite makes things easier for everyone. Once you know some Italian and someone says something rude, you can yell back a few choice words- until then it's time to play nice. 💁🏼
You Have to Make Time to Enjoy the City
If you're a study abroad student, it may seem like you have forever to enjoy the city you are living in, but those 3/4 months will fly by faster than expected. Make time to go and climb the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore), walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, hike the trail in Fiesole, and see the artwork in the Uffizi. I know people who have lived in Florence for 15 years and have just within this past month climbed the bell tower to the Duomo. (If you're reading this you know who you are...) Don't leave it all for the last minute (or 2 weeks) you're in town- because you won't enjoy it as you would have if you spread it out.
Water, Heat/AC, Electricity are Expensive and IMPOSSIBLE
Okay, well forget about the whole AC concept if you're here in the summer because if your apartment has it, consider yourself highfalutin- and it's probably not even that spectacular. Here in the winter? You can't turn on the heat until after November 1st usually.
As for water- pressure is usually less than desired, and it's pretty harsh on the hair. The good news is in most of Italy tap water is drinkable!
Electricity is a completely different beast. If you have ever lived in an old house, what I'm about to say won't come as a surprise. Don't run more than one appliance at a time. In my ex-boyfriend's apartment, we couldn't run the dishwasher at the same time as the toaster, but the microwave is OK. Only 1 AC can be on when the stove is on, but no other appliance or the breaker will flip. In my current apartment as soon as I hear one of my roommates turn on the blow dryer I run to turn off my space heater, otherwise we are all wandering around in the dark for 5 minutes while someone goes to find their phone to light the way to the breaker. It's a bit like a game, though exhausting and a little terrifying when the lights go out and you're in the shower.
Italians tend to be very energy-conscious and turn off lights when they leave rooms and don't have appliances running unless it's necessary. This also means no laundry dryers, so get ready to air dry all your dirty (not really I mean your clean) laundry!
While I'm on the subject of homes- you might want to invest in a white noise maker or a good app on your phone or computer or earplugs! The walls in Italy are old and thin, which means you can hear everything in your flatmate's room and on the street below.
It's Grazie, not Grazie
It's all in the pronunciation, and if you can get this one right, you're already doing better than half of the Americans I hear on the street. Check out this brief guide to crucial phrases in Italian, and start off your stay on the right track. 😘 Prego.
The Grocery Stores are a Blessing within a Curse
While I love how everything in the grocery stores here is cheaper and fresher than in America (seriously, this is amazing)- the trip itself is a curse from the DEVIL HIMSELF. Jokes aside, you're going to want a plan of attack, because this is no relaxing stroll through Publix- this is full on war! Most of the grocery stores (Conad City) are one long zigzagging path through the building that flows in a single direction leading to the check out counter. Know what you want and need before you go! Lines are usually painfully long at rush hour, but the 'Nad will have everything you need.
Pro Tip: When buying fruits and veggies make sure to check the number, take them to the scale and weigh them and get a sticker to put on your bag. Otherwise, you are going to cause all sorts of hassle at the checkout lane.
Patience is a Great Virtue to Have
As mentioned before, you have to have a lot of patience to live in Italy- or you will certainly be angry all the time. Come to terms with the fact that everything takes forever. Literally everything. Then if something happens in a reasonable time, be surprised. Otherwise, it's gonna be a lot of anxious waiting for you, because regardless of what you do- you WILL have to wait.
If I've made you grumpy about living here, maybe read about why it's so great too!
Climb the Duomo & the Bell Tower.
Do aperitivo, and love every amazing second of it.
Eat an entire pizza to yourself (bonus points when it's from Gusta Pizza!)
Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo.
Visit the Boboli Gardens.
See the inside of the Santa Croce (Dante’s Tomb!).
Hike up to Fiesole.
Visit the Academia and see the David.
Take a photo on the triangle sides of the Ponte Trinita looking at the Ponte Vecchio.
Eat as much gelato as possible.
Walk across the Ponte Vecchio.
Have dinner in Santo Spirito.
Take a cooking class.
Check out the artwork in the Uffizzi.
Marvel at all the sculptures and statues in Piazza della Signoria.
Eat Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Eat as many panini as possible.
Visit Dante's house.
Deal with the Florence post office.
Have a full four course meal with antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti, and dolce paired with several bottles of wine, the first being prosecco. Then end the evening with a café and grappa or limoncello.
Meet the locals. Like the actual Florentines, not just people who live here.
Tour the Palazzo Vecchio.
Visit San Miniato al Monte.
Struggle through not having a split check, and accepting that it will all work out by the end of your stay here.
Visit Giardino Bardini, another beautiful area on the oltrarno.
Rub the nose of the Porcellino.
Go to the pool in Cascine Park. (Hint they also do food truck rallies here throughout the year and they're AMAZING)
Figure out what your favorite pasta is through lots of sampling (aka eating pasta every other night).
Stop worrying about the time- everyone is going to be late anyway.
See the tomb of Galileo
Ride the carousel in Piazza Repubblica.
Check out the latest exhibition going on at Palazzo Strozzi (right now it's Ai Wei Wei)
Watch a movie at the Odeon.
Have a capuccino at News Café.
Get really lost in the spiderwebbing streets.
Wear out at least 1 pair of shoes.
Soak it all in!
What is Eurochocolate?
The most delicious festival in all of Europe was started in 1994 with the idea of imitating Oktoberfest- but this time with chocolate! This amazing festival was started by Eugenia Guarducci. Set in the rich village of Perugia, capital of Umbria, the town transforms into an open-air international chocolate extravaganza during October.
Why YOU Should Go to Eurochocolate
Because of the CHOCOLATE!!! Even I- a more of a sugary-sour candy kind of girl-still had an amazing time and ate so much deliciousness at Eurochocolate. I don't even eat chocolate ice-cream, chocolate cake, or chocolate milkshakes (pretty much anything chocolate flavored), but still managed to come home with a loot of chocolate (that I am still working on) for free!
To get the most out of your day purchase a Choco- Card, which generally only cost about €6-€7. This allows you access to 5 or 6 different tastings when you present your card. Different tasting tents can include Ciobar hot chocolate, a Lindt Truffle, chocolate tea, and more! Each year the Choco-Card also gives you a free gadget, this year in 2016 it was a selfie stick since the theme of the festival is all about sharing chocolate socially, using the hashtag #ConChi? (with who?). In previous years the themes have included "City of Chocolate", "Chokolate Revolution", and "MustaChoc".
Regardless of the festival (though it makes the trip to Perugia so much more yummy), Perugia is a beautiful place to visit. Quaint side streets along with beautiful doors and romantic archways on the antique buildings are set atop a hill will a stunning panoramic of the surrounding region.
The city was named after famous painter Pietro Vannucci, nicknamed Perugino. He was the teacher of famous renaissance painter Raphael, who produced several of his paintings
Another interesting fact? The town name may sound familiar to you, as it is where Amanda Knox studied and live during her time abroad.
What to Expect
During the festival, every main street in the historic center of Perugia is lined with tents selling chocolates, giving out free samples of chocolate, selling chocolate goods, and more-usually to do with chocolate. Don't forget to check out the Choco Kebab stand! The streets teem with hundreds of people trying to get their free chocolate with their Choco-Card. Not only are there chocolate vendors, but men and women selling jewelry, fried corn-on-the-cob, roasted chestnuts, scarves, head wraps and more.
Though Eurochocolate is the largest chocolate festival in Europe, there is minimal foreign tourism. Most of the people visiting the festival are students or Italians. Basic knowledge of Italian will help when communicating with vendors and while dining in restaraunts, as most of the locals don't speak English on a regular basis.
How to get there
During the chocolate festival Perugia experiences a lot more traffic than it is accustomed to. Plan ahead and book train tickets, and if you are staying the night, hostels/ Air BnBs in advance as well, especially during a weekend.
Booking a train you need to go to Perugia Centrale, the main train station which is below the town. At the station you then need to purchase a €1 get on a bus to take you to Piazza Italia (the last bus stop), and then get on the tram (another ticket) which will take you to just below the town center, where it is a short walk to where all of your chocolate dreams will come true.
Want to travel to Eurochocolate stress free? There are several companies out of Florence and Rome that can take you to Eurochocolate and deal with all of the booking and transportation for you.
Blue and alluring, with over 50,000 tourists visiting a day, the city on water is loved, and detested, by many. Though everyone's views on Venice differ, there is no denying the city has a magnetizing appeal. Walking into a real-life fairy tale this city, regardless of negative views, casts a certain enchantment upon those who visit it. Here are my 6 reasons to love Venice!
There's a photo op around every corner
For the photographer, or even those with just the latest iPhone, taking amazing photos in Venice is a breeze. Every canal, every boat, every doorway, beg to be photographed. Whip out your camera and share your best photos in Venice for lots of "likes" in Instagram!
The fresh seafood is to die for.
A Venetian specialty is putting squid ink in, or on, pretty much anything. Avoid tourist traps and head to an authentic restaurant and order cuttlefish, or a seafood pasta, and pig out on some of the best seafood in Italy.
Spritz, Spritz, Spritz
I'm not sure what it is, but the spritz in Venice is unlike anywhere else. Aperol or campari, this refreshing drink is great with aperitivo, lunch, or just a mid-day pick me up after all the walking in Venice. Maybe because prosecco is produce in the Veneto region of Italy (the same region Venice is in), but this is a must-have while in this sweet town.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
This is truly a tucked away gem of Venice. Owned by the Contarini family, it is said that the spiral staircase was built for the wife of Pietro Contarini, who was homesick for the town of Pisa. Hidden town a small street this "little" palace is well worth stopping by.
The Gondola Rides
Cliché, but so worth every penny. Romantic, fun, and a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, bring a bottle of prosecco and enjoy a 30 minute gondola ride through the ever enchanting canals of the city.
With many different demonstrations and showcases to pick from, seeing glass made in Venice is a distinctly unique experience. Buying some earrings or a bracelet can be a little pricey, but makes for a great souvenier or gift! Or splurge and buy a beautiful chandelier costing upwards of 6,000....
Check out my other post about Venice, the Menace!