In 2011, I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime, Mediterranean cruise with my family. One of the destinations, was the lavish principality of Monaco. From Cannes, France, we took an excursion on a lovely bus trip along the French Riviera, known as Côte d’Azur. The scenery was spectacular, and we enjoyed sight-seeing the opulent homes, and the magnificent views of the ocean. We drove on the streets, where the Monaco Grand Prix, (Grand Prix de Monaco, in French) is held every year. We arrived in Monaco right before lunchtime. We ate delicious pizza at a small restaurant tucked in the alleys. Afterwards, we shopped for souvenirs, and took a walking tour of “The rock” (aka Monaco-Ville where the royal palace is). We enjoyed the splendid vistas of the harbor, and the surrounding areas. We were pressed for time, but wanted to visit the grandiose and extravagant area of Monte Carlo, located on a prominent cliff. We took a “gamble” and caught another bus to visit Monte Carlo. Once we arrived, we were mesmerized by the glamour, and wealth of the area. Colorful Ferraris and luxurious cars swarmed the streets. We toured the Monte Carlo Casino, known as Casino de Monte Carlo. (You can either visit the lobby for a quick glimpse, or pay a fee to visit inside). A picture ID was required to visit the casino. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, and had to leave our cameras at the front entrance. Outside, We were free to take beautiful pictures of expensive cars, lavish gardens, and luxurious stores. Monte Carlo is where the palatial Hotel de Paris is located. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to experience the glitzy nightlife, but at least we got a taste of this magical place. We got back to our tour bus in a nick of time, and had a fabulous experience.
Prince Rainier III of Monaco was married to American actress Grace Kelly and was the longest ruling European monarch at the time of his death in 2005.
My paternal great grandparents were originally from Teora, a small town in the province of Avellino, in the Campania region of southern Italy. My great-grandpa, Anselmo Martino owned a lovely property with a small vineyard on it. He employed many people from the town, they harvested the grapes in a festival atmosphere, singing and dancing. He was also a shoemaker. It’s no wonder, I have such passion for shoes and wine. The property has been sold since then to the Caprio family. My dad had always wanted to visit Italy and begged me on several occasions to go along with him, but I wasn’t ready to take this long transatlantic flight from Miami. Then, In 2007, I realized my parents were getting older and it was time to take this adventurous trip to Bella Italia. I knew, once I committed to going, there was no turning back. I mentioned to them about planning a family trip to Italy, and they were ecstatic about it. We were 7 of us, hubby and me, our boys, 16 and 19 then, my brother, my mom and dad. We were all ready to embark on this amazing travel adventure. Since it was our very first time visiting, I thought it would be a great idea to take a tour and have them plan everything. We enlisted in Perillo Tours, and were very pleased with the entire experience. In February, we booked a multi-city Italian trip for an escapade of a lifetime in June 2007. The anticipation was building during that time span and, we used every moment to plan for a perfect family vacation. As time got closer, we made sure all the travel arrangements were in place, did our last-minute shopping, made sure we packed walking shoes for the cobblestone streets, summer clothes, outfits for the evenings and lots of toiletries. I will never forget that day, on June 3rd, 2007, my parents and my brother met us at the house and we took a limo to the airport. We were chanting on the way and extremely excited about what was about to come. We landed in Rome early morning, got picked up at the airport, then dropped off to our hotel. The Grand Hotel Beverly Hills is located right outside of the city center near the famous Villa Borghese and the elegant area of Via Veneto.
Photo courtesy, Grand Hotel Beverly Hills
One of my favorite cities in the world is Rome because of my fascination with its ancient architectures, magnificent artwork and rich history. I also love it for its breathtaking sightseeing, scrumptious cuisine and delicious wines. The next day, we visited the Vatican and were amazed by its opulence and lavish gold accented decor. Afterwards, we took a tour of St. Peter’s Cathedral, and were astonished by its grandeur and splendid beauty. We bought some souvenirs and grabbed some lunch at Piazza Navona.
It is not a trip to Italy unless you visit the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) “A traditional legend holds if visitors toss a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. ” We tossed some coins into one of the most beautiful Italian masterpiece fountain in the world in the hopes to return someday. Hubby and I have been back twice since then, and my parents and the family once more. Magically, it works!
Mom & Dad at the Trevi Fountain
The highlight of the trip was definitely the tour of the breathtaking Colosseum. It was a surreal experience that gave me the chills, and felt like I was living a part of history. It was a magical moment that I will cherish forever. We then took pictures with the gladiators and bought souvenirs to keep these memories alive. It was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.
We ate dinner at a nice Italian restaurant called Al Grappolo. It was a fun evening with an abundance of delicious food, elegant wine and some good laughs. It is fair to say, I was the loudest and very giggly because I walked into the lady’s room and there was a man in there. I was already feeling tipsy, I went back to the table and had everyone in the restaurant in stitches. The next day, we visited the Spanish Steps, (Piazza di Spagna) a major landmark that attracts millions of people each year. It is located near the old city centre and consist of 138 steps. At the base of the Spanish Steps, there is a beautiful fountain and some quaint shops.
Facing the Steps is Via Dei Condotti, a very glitzy street filled with luxurious brand named stores such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and so much more. Dad offered me a Gucci bag as a special gift for accompanying him on the trip, it was very hard to resist. First, we stopped at a coffee shop, named Caffe Greco, beautifully decorated but on the pricey side. A cannoli set us back 8 euros but it was worth the splurge. We were rushing as mom and I could not wait to get to the Gucci store.
Of course, no afternoon would be completed without a refreshing gelato or granita, shaved ice with flavored syrup, topped with whipped cream.
One night, we went to a Gala Party at the extravagant Palazzo Brancaccio, had an amazing dinner and drank delicious wines to our heart’s content. We were serenaded by an amazing orchestra and danced the night away. It was a magical evening of fun celebrations with the family and new-found friends we met on the tour.
Arriving at the bay of Naples was another special moment that I will always cherish. The bus made a stop so we could shoot some family pictures overlooking the magnificent view. We were having the time of our lives.
On that trip, we also visited Pompeii, Sorrento, (ate dinner at the beautiful restaurant La Tonnarella,) Capri, Florence, Venice and Milan. That will be another blog all together. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to take this once in a lifetime vacation with my amazing family. Please note, back then, I was not big on taking food pictures and the camera was barely adequate to take decent photos. The pictures featured here are from 2 separate trips. Thank you all for coming along with me on this amazing travel adventure. There are a lot more details to this trip but it would take me too long to describe.
Update: 3/26/2017 – I am saddened to announce you, that I lost my beloved dad on July 15th, 2016 but he remains in our hearts forever. On the other hand, I am happy to let you know that I am currently planning another trip to Bella Italia soon. Destinations: Roma, Toscana, Napoli, Positano! A presto! Ciao a tutti!
Gina Martino Zarcadoolas aka Foodiewinelover
My Food, Wine & Travel Lifestyles
Culinary Aficionado, WSET-Level 2 Wine Connoisseur
World Traveler – Lover of Global Food Cultures & Traditions
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....