Three Easy Day-trips from Florence

by Jessica Infantino Trumble

If you’re staying in Florence, chances are you won’t run out of things to do.  But if you want to make Florence your home base and venture out to see the surrounding area, here are three easy day-trip ideas.

Probably one of the most popular side-trips from Florence, Siena is a medieval city built upon three hills that converge at its main square, Il Campo.  Twice a year in July and August, the square fills with thousands of spectators for the Palio horse races, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century.

Regardless of what time of year you visit, there is no shortage of things to see, from the city’s Duomo to the Pinacoteca filled with medieval art.  A must-see is Palazzo Pubblico, the city hall at the focal point of Il Campo, which houses the fresco-adorned civic museum.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also climb the 330-foot city tower for a stunning view of Siena’s signature brown rooftops.

While many travelers may be content with taking up a seat at a café on Il Campo, others may enjoy exploring the city’s maze of hilly streets.  Keep an eye out for the colorful flags that correspond with each of the 17 contrade or neighborhoods of Siena and their equally as colorful mascots, like a goose, unicorn and other medieval creatures.

How to get there: The easiest and fastest way to get to Siena is by bus.  The SITA bus station is just west of Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station on Via Santa Caterina da Siena. Buses run twice an hour and you can buy tickets at the station.  Try to catch one of the buses labeled corse rapide (they’re faster, a little over an hour versus nearly 2 hours), and get off at the Piazza Gramsci stop along Via Tozzi in Siena.  When you’re ready to go back to Florence, there’s an underground stairwell across the street from the bus hub, in front of the NH Excelsior Hotel, where you can buy tickets.  Go to to view bus timetables.

Pisa and Lucca
This is an easy two-for-one day-trip from Florence, especially for travelers who want to make a quick stop in Pisa to check the Leaning Tower off their bucket list.

Pisa – photo by Natalie Armijo

If you decide to climb the tower, reservations are required so be sure to book your time slot in advance.  If not, you can still see the tower from the outside, along with the Duomo, Baptistery and other sights on the Field of Miracles.  Walk down the Borgo Stretto, the most elegant and expensive shopping street in Pisa (and the location where Galileo was born), or escape the crowds of tourists with a quiet walk along the Arno River.

Nearby Lucca is a well-preserved medieval city, most famous for its ramparts.  Atop the wall, which is paved and landscaped, you can rent a bike or walk the 3-mile loop for a scenic overview of the city.  Within the walls, Lucca is also a great place to wander since there is very little traffic.  Like other Tuscan towns, Lucca was once dotted with defensive towers, and the last of which remains is the Guinigi Tower near the city’s center.  Climb to the top, where several oak trees grow, for an incredible view of the city.  Similarly, the Torre delle Ore clock tower also offer great views, or you can pass your time shopping and strolling along Via Fillungo.

How to get there: Trains run several times an hour from Florence to both Pisa (about an hour away) and Lucca (about an hour and a half), so you can start with either one of these cities.  Check out the schedules at  The best way to get between Pisa and Lucca is an easy 30-minute bus ride that connects the two cities, with convenient stops at the Field of Miracles in Pisa and Piazzale Verdi in the western part of Lucca.  Then just hop back on the train when you’re ready to return to Florence.

Cinque Terre
Look one direction and see hills dotted with colorful buildings and vineyards, and the other direction to see the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean.  This day-trip requires a little more planning than the others, but the extra effort is well worth it.  Each of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre boast their own unique charm – be prepared for sensory overload!

Walk the Via dell’Amore that connects Riomaggiore and Manarola, eat a delicious lunch of fresh seafood or pesto pasta in Corniglia, kick back with gelato from Gelateria Il Porticciolo along the water’s edge in Vernazza or take a dip in the Mediterranean in Monterosso al Mare.

While there are many companies that offer organized day-trips to Cinque Terre where you’re guaranteed to see all five villages, you may also want to consider packing an overnight bag and stay for an evening in one of the towns before heading back to Florence.  You can read more about my recent trip to Cinque Terre here.

How to get there: If you want to forego an organized tour, take the train from Florence to La Spezia, which takes about 2 hours, usually with a train change in Pisa.  From La Spezia Centrale, pick up another train to the southernmost town, Riomaggiore.  The five towns are only a few minutes apart by local train, and you can buy individual tickets at the stations.  Just be sure to check the timetables so you don’t miss the last train back to Florence.  If you decide to hike between the towns, you just need to pay the Cinque Terre National Park entrance fee of 5 euros.  More information can be found at

Sea, Sun & Sunsets – a guide to Lisbon’s beaches

By Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho

If you are visiting in the summer, or even spring or autumn, you may be tempted to have a city-and-beach holiday – Lisbon coast beaches are blessed with fine golden sand swept clean by Atlantic tides even if a little colder than the Mediterranean!


The easiest and most picturesque way to get to the beaches near the Portuguese capital, is to get a train from Cais do Sodré Station in the city centre to Cascais on the west coast (26 kms away). This stretch of riverside ending where the river Tagus means the ocean is also known as the LINHA DE CASCAIS – the convenient starting point of Cais do Sodré is also linked by Metro, a number of bus routes and it’s only five minutes’ walk from the Praça do Comércio. Trains run daily, depart on a regular basis and take no more than ½ hour to reach their final destination, but there are quite a few rather charming beaches worth stopping at along the way, including:

Praia de Carcavelos

A very popular beach, CARCAVELOS has a huge fortification called Forte de São Julião da Barra to the east side of beach, used to protect the Tagus’ entrance from enemy ships once upon a time. As well as being  swim friendly,  it features several beginner surf schools, beach soccer and several surfer style bars and hangouts, making it especially popular with teens and twenty-something’s.  Carcavelos beach is located approximately 600 meters south of the train station.

Estoril Praia do Tamariz

PRAIA DO TAMARIZ is situated at ESTORIL just before you get to Cascais along the “paredão” – a scenic pedestrian walkway that runs along the seaside and is lined with cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as featuring public benches and exercise stations, showers and public wc’s. Walkers exercise along this seaside walkway at all times of the year and it is also illuminated at night, so a day at the beach day can easily stretch into an evening out. The beach here is very cosmopolitan and popular with tourists and locals alike in the summer, overlooked by palatial homes and high-end hotels as well as being located near the Casino do Estoril – the Linha de Cascais was colonised by Europe’s exiled royalty during the first half of the 20th Century and elegant Estoril, became one of the world’s chicest addresses during the inter-war years!

Estoril Sea Rock Pool

There is also an ancient and still used, tidal rock and sea water swimming pool at Estoril.

At the end of the rail line is CASCAIS, an old fishing village turned into holiday resort with an international marina well worth exploring by foot (or bicycle or Segway as per previous post). Tucked between the main square and the Atlantic Ocean, the tiny PRAIA DO PESCADOR or RIBEIRA is not considered good for swimming as it is still actively used by fishermen. But continue walking through the central square heading southeast through Cascais and you will pass PRAIA DA RAINHA, a minuscule pocket of sand sitting between rocky cliffs and multi-million dollar mansions. Then walking on a little further east,  you will come to PRAIA DA CONCEIÇÃO – this  much wider strip of golden sand is the most popular of Cascais beaches and where the “paredão” walkway also starts. The beach has good facilities including some beach wear shops and restaurants, making it the perfect place to spend a day lying in the sun, eating, and people watching.

All of the above mentioned can also be reached by driving along the “Marginal” road that links Lisbon to Cascais but if you have hired a car, you can avoid these smaller and therefore more crowded Linha de Cascais beaches, and go a little further out of the city:

Praia do Guincho Sunset

At times somewhat windswept but nevertheless stunning, GUINCHO (between Cascais   and Sintra) also has strong waves, making it perfect for surfing sports but not so great for swimming. Windsurfing, kite surfing and surfing types will love it however, and the sunsets from this wild coast are spectacular! There are few friendly beach bars serving food and beverages.

Praia do Guincho – getting there

GETTING THERE: Guincho is located 5 km away from Cascais station by bus.  Alternatively drive there from Lisbon along the A5 motorway, exiting at Cascais, following directions to Birre and then Guincho. After passing the village of Areia and a campsite on your left, you will see the coast in front of you. Turn left onto the coast road and park near Muxacho hotel and restaurant; or turn right and continue uphill for another 500 metres or so, turning left onto a dirt road signed posted Praia do Abano, which will take you to the Praia do Guincho car park and the main access to the more sheltered area of Guincho and a great beach restaurant.  Car parks in this area are charged.

Praia da Adraga

Considered among the most beautiful beaches in Europe, PRAIA DA ADRAGA, close to Sintra and 15kms north of Guincho is truly a nature lover’s beach – it is far from the maddening crowd and its secluded behind tall cliffs, with strong breaking waves and very clear blue water!

GETTING THERE: A car is essential and a map desirable! Drive there from Lisbon along the A5 motorway, exiting at Malveira da Serra, then follow the N9 road north passing Aldeia do Juso; and then the N247 passing Azoia, Ulgueira and Almoçagene. The beach is sign posted from here onwards.

COSTA DA CAPARICA immediately south of the river Tagus , is essentially a 30 km long stretch of sand but some patches can get crowded at weekends, with traffic jams to and from Lisbon making access  difficult. My trick is to leave Lisbon before noon (the Portuguese are late risers) and to return after watching the sunset!

Caparica Train

Caparica Fishermen

Although a continuous beach, Caparica is subdivided into different areas, offering something for everyone, from family restaurants and small cafes, to more club like beach bars with live music and summer parties galore hosted late into the night. At the end of the afternoon local fishermen sell the excess fish catch on the beach. Surrounded by dunes, my favourite spots in Caparica are surrounded by dunes and offer a little extra – PRAIA DO CASTELO has a small beach hut and blaring music more popular with the young-at-heart and surfers type; whilst PRAIA DA MORENA is more popular with families, with sun loungers/shade for hire and quite a sophisticated restaurant specializing in fresh fish and a delicious white wine sangria!

GETTING THERE: Buses depart from Lisbon’s Praça de Espanha bus terminal to Caparica town, only a  5-minute walk from the start of this long stretch of beach. In the summer season, a little open-air train connects Caparica to the various beach spots along the coast – ring the bell to stop at the beach of your choice (stops are numbered). If you are driving there yourself, cross the river Tagus on the Ponte 25 Abril and take the first exit to Costa da Caparica. As you approach Caparica town, turn left at the traffic lights and follow the signs to Praias and Fonte da Telha. Keep driving on along this road (similar to an African country with its shambolic urban planning) and you will soon see various beach signs to the right hand side including Praia do Castelo and then Praia da Morena, a bit further along.

Praia do Meco

PRAIA DO MECO, the nudist beach, is located 40 km south of Lisbon, adjacent to the Serra da Arrabida Natural park – it is secluded and one of Lisbon’s cleanest beaches, with high cliffs and lovely bay views.  It became popular in the 1970s as one of the first nudist beaches but this reputation continues today with evermore European nudists flocking to it, but there are also some traditional family beach sections. The beach is located by a traditional fishing village of the same name which is very popular with artists and media personalities, so it offers a good range of restaurants and bars, well worth hanging out at after the beach – plan a whole day way!

GETTING THERE:  A car is essential and a map desirable! Departing from Lisbon cross the river Tagus on the Ponte 25 Abril heading south towards Setubal, but exit the motorway where sign posted Sesimbra. Follow the N378 to Alfarim rather than Sesimbra; and from the village of Alfarim, follow directions to Praia do Meco.

Most beaches offer facilities such as beach bars, some water sports, shade and chairs for hire and a bathing attendant/life guard. Watch out for the flag system indicating bathing conditions:

RED for danger – do not bathe; YELLOW for be very careful; GREEN for safe, BLACK & WHITE for beach unattended.

Keep in mind too that all beaches in Portugal, however remote, get crowded in July & August!

Guide to Getting Around Lisbon


Before you leave Lisbon airport, request a LISBOA CARD at the ASK ME LISBOA (Turismo de Lisboa) booth in the arrivals hall – it will entitle you to free rides on public transport (buses, trams and metro), as well as offer discounted rates for a wide range of museums and attractions.  Further details:

Alternatively, you will be able to obtain a 7 COLINAS, VIVA VIAGEM or a LISBOA VIVA CARD at newsagents/metro stations, a top-up system that gives you the option of choosing from a single ticket, a day pass or a larger credit amount (Zapping) that gets used as required. Using one of these travel cards is cheaper than paying for individual tickets, although you initially also have to pay for the card too, which is then valid for 1 year. When using suburban trains, your tickets are charged onto a similar card but as you cannot have more than one type of ticket on a card, you will need at least two separate cards, one for zapping (regular bus, tram and metro use), the other for suburban travel. Further details:


Lisbon airport is approximately 20 minutes away from the city centre and our recommendation is to simply take a TAXI. Taxis are much cheaper in Lisbon than other European cities and there are always plenty of taxis waiting at the airport. But our advice is to not take the ones outside the arrivals area, as they might have been waiting for clients a long time and could try to charge you more to make up for it. Instead, go to the departures area of the airport, where there are also taxis just outside the building. Luggage and night or weekend journeys carry a small surcharge, but the journey into the city centre will cost you around €15. Do not pay more than it shows on the meter!

Several CARRISTUR AEROBUS services travel between the airport and Lisbon city centre and main transport hubs such as the Oriente train station, Praça do Comercio or Cais do Sodré (all of these areas also have metro stations). The €3.50 ticket can be purchased on board and used for 24 hours on other buses; children 4-10 years old travel free.

The AEROBUS LINE 1 route connects Lisbon Airport to the city centre, stopping at Entrecampos, Campo Pequeno, Avenida da Republica, Sadalnha, Picoas, Fontes Pereira de Melo, Marquês de Pombal, Avenida da Liberdade, Restauradores, Rossio, Praça do Comercio and Cais do Sodré. Departures from the airport run between 07:00-23:00 and departures from Cais do Sodré run between 07:45-22:30 (every 20 minutes during the day/every 30 minutes after 21:00).

The AEROBUS LINE 2 service runs between Lisbon Airport and the Oriente train station at Parque das Nações, on the east of the city. Departures from the airport run between 08:50 -21:50 and departures from Oriente run between 07:00-22:00 (every 30 minutes).

The AEROBUS LINE 3 route connects Lisbon Airport to the metro station/bus terminal (buses to the whole country) of Sete Rios stopping at Entrecampos, Sete Rios, Praça de Espanha and Avenida José Malhoa. Departures from the airport run between 07:40 -22:10 and departures from Avenida José Malhoa run between 08:15-21:15 (every 30 minutes).


The local CARRIS BUS SERVICES also provides commuter buses between the airport and downtown such as #44, #45 and #83. As for exploring Lisbon generally, here are some useful bus routes:

#727 – Passes by Marquês de Pombal Square and goes all the way to Belem, via Estrela and Lapa.

#37 – From Figueira Square to Saint George’s Castle via Alfama, if you don’t want to climb up to the castle. But walk back down to the centre, stopping at the viewpoints along the way.

#44 & #745 – From the airport via Saldanha, Avenida da Liberdade, to downtown.


Lisbon’s metro system is modern, efficient and the quickest way to travel around the capital. It runs from 06:30 – 01:00, and many of its stations are decorated with contemporary art, making it a tourist attraction in itself. There are four lines, conveniently colour coded: blue, yellow, green and red. The green line connects the tourist areas around Baixa and Cais do Sodré (also the train station to Cascais). The red line ends at Oriente/Parque da Nações (Expo Park) and is due soon to be extended to the airport. The older yellow and blue lines follow Lisbon’s grand avenues. While metro announcements are made only in Portuguese, signs and ticketing machines are generally bilingual in Portuguese and English. Further details:

TRAMS #28 AND #25

Lisbon is a hilly city and cobblestone streets abound, thus “electricos” (trams) and “ascensores” (funiculars) help to get people around, especially up and down hills!  They are an indisputable pictorial part of the city, and you can see ancient streetcars as well as modern ones, making the city so visually interesting.

But it is the vintage yellow ELECTRICO 28 that offers the most interesting route crossing the city centre, going through some of the oldest quarters and many tourist attractions. Starting in front of the Cemitério dos Prazeres (Pleasure Cemetery) and passing between the Jardim and the Basilica da Estrela (romantic gardens and one of the city’s oldest churches), you will go downhill on the Calçada da Estrela past the parliament building of São Bento, toward the Praça do Camões and Bairro Alto (an area of trendy shops and great night life). Then it’s downhill again through the Chiado and Baixa shopping districts – worth a stop to admire the city’s majestic riverside square of Praça do Comercio. When you start going uphill, you will pass the Igreja de Santo António  (church of Lisbon’s patron saint) and the Sé (Lisbon’s main cathedral) on the way to the Castelo de São Jorge (another recommended stop). After strolling around this 16th century castle, we suggest relaxing with a beverage at a local café and admiring the views at Miradouro das Portas do Sol, a panoramic viewpoint. A bit farther up and just behind the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, the Feira da Ladra is an open air flea market that runs from early morning till midafternoon on Tuesdays and Saturdays, making for great browsing – don’t be shy to join the locals and haggle for a bargain! Back on the tram you will go past Graça (another quaint old residential area of Lisbon) and then start going downhill again to Martin Moniz, the last stop near the Rossio square. This service runs every 7 minutes (although it often runs late due to route obstructions like badly parked cars), early till approximately 22:00 daily.

Another charming route is provided by the ELECTRICO 25, which runs between the Cemitério dos Prazeres, via de Jardim/Basilica da Estrela to  Rua da Alfândega in the Cais do Sodré district, past numerous embassies in the Estrela/Lapa district, an area which is otherwise off the tourist track.  This service runs approximately every 10 minutes, day hours and weekdays only.


Lisbon has three working “ascensores” (funiculars) and one street elevator which allows its citizens and visitors to move to and from the hilly districts more easily. All are operated by Carris, the city of Lisbon’s main transport network. The 3 funiculars date back to the 1800s and were originally operated by a water counter-weight system, but are now electrified. Sadly, many of these cars get regularly defaced by graffiti.

The ASCENSOR DA BICA is the only stepped street funicular in the city, climbing the Rua da Bica for 245 metres from the Rua de São Paulo to Largo de Calharis, thus connecting the Santos and  Bairro Alto quarters. Its average gradient is 20% but is much steeper at the lower end. From Rua de São Paulo, the funicular is concealed by a building but this is clearly lettered ‘Ascensor da Bica’. It runs between 07:00-21:00 daily except Sundays and national holidays, when the opening time is 09:00. Tram #28 runs past the top end and tram #25 passes the bottom end of the Bica route.

The ASCENSOR DA GLORIA has an average gradient of 18% and its operating hours are approximately 07:00-00:55 daily. This is the busiest funicular in Lisbon as it is also the most accessible for visitors, since it lies next door to the main tourist information office in the Palácio Foz, on the west side of the Avenida da Liberdade, connecting the Restauradores (square) with the Bairro Alto district. Excellent views of the city and castle are to be had from the gardens which lie immediately to the right of the top of the route (São Pedro de Alcantara).

The ASCENSOR DA LAVRA runs from Rua da Anunciada on the eastern side of the Avenida da Liberdade (opposite side of the avenue to the Gloria Funicular) at a 25% gradient for 180 metres to Rua Câmara Pestana. The service operates the same hours as the Bica facility (see above).

Although planned for local residents to connect between the lower streets of the Baixa district (located just off Rua do Ouro) with the higher level at Largo do Carmo (square), the ELEVADOR DE SANTA JUSTA (elevator) also provides a unique view of the city from its top terraced level. This lattice work wrought iron structure was designed by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, an engineer born in Porto to French parents and an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, who returned to Lisbon with grand design ideas. The elevator was inaugurated in 1902 and you can ride on it daily between 07:00-22:00 in the winter, and till 23:00 in the summer. The sightseeing platform is open from 08:30-20:30 daily.


Take to the streets of Lisbon in a talking yellow GO CAR.  This GPS-guided tour takes you to all the best sites and tells stories that bring this unique city to life. It’s a local on wheels and you can go where the tour buses can’t. Best of all, the adventure happens at your own pace (you can stop for photos, take detours, grab a coffee or break for lunch) and you’ll actually be able to park! Further details:


The CAIS DO SODRÉ to CASCAIS RAILWAY LINE (26 km), provides a quick escape from city life to the beaches of Estoril or Cascais to the west, where the River Tagus meets the ocean; with excellent views along the way including the Tagus and the historical sights of Belém. Its convenient starting point at Cais do Sodré, also linked by metro (green line) and a number of bus routes, is only five minutes’ walk from the Praça do Comércio.

Once in Cascais, why not pick up a free bike from BICLAS – BICYCLES OF CASCAIS? There are  3 booths where you can pick one up from, using your passport or ID: one by the train station, one in front of the citadel and another near Casa da Guia along the coastal road. The municipality of Cascais lends bikes free of cost as part of an initiative to get people to use bicycles rather than cars. From the village you can cycle to beautiful Guincho Beach, past Boca do Inferno and Senhora da Guia (on a specially designated cycle path) – this stunning route runs alongside the sea and is ideal for morning or evening bike rides.

Hiring a SEGWAY is another fun way to explore the village of Cascais and enjoy the very scenic coastal road to Senhora da Guia and Guincho beach. They are equipped with a GPS to guide you around local places of interest, including monuments, squares and beaches. Further details:

The beautiful neo-Manueline (a Portuguese architecture art-form) of Rossio Station is located near the Rossio and Restauradores (squares) in central Lisbon and is a must-see sight of the city! It is also the station to use for the ROSSIO TO SINTRA RAILWAIL LINE, taking you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra within 45 minutes. Described by Lord Byron as “this glorious Eden”, the mountain range of Sintra is renowned for its outstanding natural beauty, romantic palaces and castles, and well worth the visit!

Trains to Cascais and Sintra are inexpensive (free if you use a Lisboa Card) and run by Refer. Further details:


As with all public transport in all busy cities, be aware of your surroundings and don’t offer would-be thieves the opportunity to remove items from your belongings, especially when trams, buses or trains are full. And whilst the safety level of travelling on sub-urban trains or the metro is no worse than any other transport system in Lisbon, stick to the central carriages when travelling at night.

Things I love about summer in Lisbon

by Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho

1.  The light

Anyone arriving in Lisbon for the first time is always surprised by the singular crystalline quality of the city’s light.  Similar to Paris, the capital of Portugal has many white buildings, but it also benefits from a silvery light reflecting off the Tagus River just like Venice and its lagoon. Particularly in the summer, and from dawn to dusk, Lisbon has a very special aura.

2.  Sunsets on the riverside

By Ricardo Liberato (Sunset behind Lisbon bridge Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

So with all the shimmers reflecting off the river, it is hardly surprising that I love sunsets by the riverside. There are many places to choose from, starting east of the city at Parque das Nações, to Cais do Sodré in the centre, or anywhere else along the riverside road that links Lisbon to the resort village of Cascais on the west, where the Tagus meets the ocean. The Marginal, as this road is called, passes some quaint and charming beaches along the way, that can also be reached by train from Cais do Sodré.

3.  Wearing flip-flops from May to October

Yes, the weather is that good! I have never quite mastered the art of wearing high heels and walking on the Portuguese “calçada” (cobblestone pavements) as glamorous Portuguese girls do; so a great Brazilian import comes to the rescue – it’s a huge hit in Portugal – “havaianas” (flip flops) come in an array of colours as well as in flat or platform styles, they can be found in shops all over the city and prices start at around €20 a pair, depending of course on the style one chooses.  Then I paint my toenails and I’m good to go!

4.  Free culture on Sundays

The Berardo Collection of Modern Art does not charge for entry and features a world-class collection of modern art. Many other museums in Lisbon are free on Sunday mornings including:

Chiado Museum - Portuguese contemporary art

City Museum - the history of the city

Ancient Art Museum - fascinating Oriental and European art and charming gardens over the river

Coach Museum - the world’s largest collection of royal coaches

The Tile Museum - an ancient art form in a lavish old convent

5.  June is a month-long party

As well as there being a wide choice of free and inexpensive live music concerts through the summer months, June in Lisbon is a month-long party! Throughout the month you’ll be able to participate in the annual “Festas de Lisboa” (Lisbon’s festivities) which involves much eating, drinking and dancing in just about every corner of the city’s historic neighbourhoods. It’s as if Lisbon becomes one big village with the main event being on the eve of the 13th June, Santo Antonio’s day (patron saint of Lisbon).  There is a yearly competition for the best sardine design (the symbol for these celebrations) with the winning entry becoming the official logo and Lisbon is then decorated accordingly.

6.  July Tall Ships 

The Tall Ship Races (promoting sailing for youngsters around the world) gather about 100 Tall Ships and a crew of more than 3,000 youngsters from every corner of the globe. In 1956, Lisbon welcomed the first edition these races and the Tall Ships will be back again in 2012, due to be docked between Santa Apolonia and Terreiro do Paço (Lisbon’s riverside) between 19-22 July for all to view, including the beautiful “Sagres”, a Portuguese tall ship built in 1937.

7.  August is OH so quiet!

Most locals go on vacation in August (many heading south to Algarve), so I do the opposite and stay in the city. And what do I do when I get hot under the collar? I spend a day at the beach or escape from the heat to the refreshing hills of Sintra to explore some its fairytale palaces – beaches and hills are both located within a short drive or train ride (20-30 minutes) from the city centre. Park life being another essential part of summer in the city, I also very much enjoy sitting under a shady tree, reading a book or listening to some music. Even better is an evening picnic with friends (tablecloth, glasses and tea lights included), as parks are open till late.

8.  Great value for money

Where else in Europe can you spend the summer with plenty of sun and nearby beaches, music and culture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Sintra) at your doorstep, plus all the urban attractions of a capital city without spending a fortune and without travelling huge distances?

Eating out in Lisbon is pretty reasonable too: my local “tasca” (cheap eating place) in the neighbourhood of Estrela serves lunch for just €6.50 (main course, drink and coffee) and it’s not the only one! A local delicacy in the summertime, and one of my favourite cheap and cheerful snacks as I come off the beach, is a nice cold “imperial” (draft beer) or two, with some “caracois” (snails) for approximately €15 shared between two.

But there are also world-class restaurants and Michelin-starred eateries to choose from, yet still at a fraction of the prices you pay in London, Paris or New York! You do the maths and work it out for yourself…

Orvieto – the perfect day trip from Rome

About an hour north of Rome by train, Orvieto is one of the first major towns once you leave the region of Lazio and enter the region of Umbria.  It’s a small, flat hill town, perched up on volcanic rock, with a history that dates back to the Etruscans.  Once you arrive by train, exit the station, cross the street, and take the funicular up into the town for €1.30.  From there, you can walk up Corso Cavour to the center in about 10 minutes, or the same funicular ticket entitles you to jump on the bus parked right out front that goes up to the Duomo.

One of the main and famous attractions for tourists is the Duomo – Orvieto’s cathedral. Compared to other small towns in Italy that are hot on the tourist trail, Orvieto, thankfully,  has not met the fate of souvenir shops taking the place of all the things that make a town liveable for its residents such as food markets, pharmacies, or even just a place to get your shoes repaired or your clothes tailored.  Orvieto has all of these things and more, so it’s a real treat to walk through the town and feel its vibrancy. Although just an hour from Rome, the architecture is different, with many of the buildings constructed out of tufo, a type of volcanic rock.  The food is different, with the local specialties being wild boar (cinghiale), truffles (tartufi), an eggless pasta called umbrichelli, and the local white wine, Orvieto Classico.

Up on this rock, it feels like an island where you can walk without a map and never really get lost. A very pedestrian town within the center, you can cross it on foot in about 20 minutes.  Just a few meters down and surrounding Orvieto is a path that goes around the entire town – a very nice nature walk with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside and an Etruscan necropolis to explore along the way. For those who stay the night, the evening is always full of people and activity during the local evening stroll (the passeggiata) through the main streets of town, corso Cavour and via del Duomo.  In the warmer months, there are often antique sellers and street performers on the main streets and near the Duomo.  The winter highlight is the Umbria Jazz Festival with live music everywhere.  At Piazza del Popolo every Thursday and Saturday morning there’s an outdoor market (mostly fruit and vegetables, but also some inexpensive household goods and clothes) with the local farmers taking up one side of the wall selling their fresh, organic produce.

Recommended restaurants:

There is no shortage of great restaurants in Orvieto and in high season it is imperative to book ahead.  A few of our favorites are Trattoria del Moro-Aronne, via San Leonardo, 7,  Phone:  +39 0763342763. Rolanda and her son Cristian offer amazing, freshly prepared Umbrian specialties in their cozy restaurant, which is always packed.

Valentina is a one woman show — the delightful chef, hostess and proprietress of the bright and modern Il Saltapicchio located at Piazza XXIX Marzo, 8, a bit off the tourist path and well worth the extra 5-minute walk to get there. Phone: +39 3396672909.  Valentina uses local and organic ingredients to create interesting and always delicious variations on traditional recipes.

Franco, the congenial owner of Trattoria della Grotta at via Luca Signorelli, 5, Phone:  +39 0763341642, takes pride in what he serves and wants to make sure you enjoy your meal. 

With Signora Giovanna in the kitchen and the friendly and professional Carla Enrica and Giampiero in the front rooms, it’s understandable why Trattoria La Palomba is always packed with both locals and foreigners.  Located at via Cipriano Menente, 16,  Phone: +39 0763 343395.

Trattoria del Orso, via della Misericordia, 18-20,  Phone: +39 0763 341642. Owners Ciro and Gabriele make a delicious pasta dish with mushroom and truffles that even one of our daughters — a notorious picky eater — enjoys.

We have a soft spot for Duca di Orvieto, via della Pace, 5,  Phone: +39 0763 344663.  It was the first restaurant we ever ate at in Orvieto many years ago and we continued to go there for Sunday lunches often over the years.  The owner, Adler Bonavera, has an impeccable memory and even if several years would go between visits, she would always remember us.  She also makes some of the best damn mulled wine we ever tasted and a bean cake — yes, a bean cake — that is absolutely delicious.

Wine bars:

VinCaffe at via Filippeschi, 39 is a wine bar that serves simple but delicious lunches and a great glass of wine. Also recommended for an evening drink and nibbles that make a meal is the excellent Champagneria at piazza Marconi, 2, just behind the Duomo.  They open at 6:30pm.

Coffee Bars:
Via G. Michelangeli – cute bar in town on the oh so quiet and quaint Michelangeli streetno outdoor seating
Scarponi, Piazza del Popolo, 7 one of the older bars & pasticcerie in Orvieto – outdoor seating
Palace Bar,
Piazza del Popolo, 24 – outdoor seating
Barrique, Corso Cavour 111outdoor seating and a great place to people watch as it is on the main street
Pasticceria Adriano, via della Pace, 26 - a bit hidden away in a not very touristed part of town, this tiny, yet elegant little bar serves good pastries and good coffee.  Unfortunately, just not very comfortable to sit for a long period.
Montanucci, Corso Cavour, 21/23  Most well known coffee bar in town since it is on the main drag, has large selection of pastries in the morning and a good, but pricey tavola calda at lunch which has salad selections.  No outdoor seating in front – outdoor seating in back garden


Pasqualetti is the main ice cream vendor in town and very good.  They have two locations – via del Duomo, 10 and Piazza del Duomo, 14

Other sweet treats.

Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – artisan chocolate makers who also make their own gelato in the summer months and very delicious hot chocolate in the winter months.

Roundup of things to see and do in Orvieto:

  • The Duomo – €3 entrance fee.
  • Underground Orvieto tour – tickets bought at ticket office next to Tourist Information located in front of the Duomo, tour departs every day at 11, 12:15, 16:00 and 17:15.
  • Torre del Moro – €2.60 entrance fee, you can take an elevator to the 2nd floor, but then have to walk the rest of the way quite a few steps up — so not recommended for people with heart conditions.  Great panoramic views of the entire town and countryside.  Be careful of your ears though as the clock sounds every quarter past the hour.
  • Pozzo della Cava vs. Pozzo di San Patrizio. These are two underground well systems that are heavily advertised throughout Orvieto,but Pozzo di San Patrizio is much more interesting from a historic and architectural perspective.  Located right next to the funicular station.
  • There are quite a few churches in Orvieto and while the Duomo gets prime billing and is indeed quite perspective – personally I have a preference for humblers churches such as San Giovenale – the oldest church in Orvieto built in 1004 and recently reopened after a major restoration. It’s open daily, but closed from 12-4pm.
  • Museo dell Opera del Duomo – Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Piazza San Giovenale – This place is definitely off the beaten path in Orvieto and it’s a definite must-see.  In a building next to the church San Giovenale, it’s only one large room, but it holds these slightly large than life statues of the Apostles and two huge brass bells with intricate details that used to be housed in the Duomo before they removed sometime in the 19th century.
  • Walk around the rock. Anello della Rupe (literally means “ring of the rock”) – there is a gorgeous walking trail that runs along the volcanic rock on which the town is built on.  It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to circumnavigate the entire town on this trail, but you can do a shorter walk.  There are 5 entrances to get onto the trail so if you get tired you can get off it at various spots.  Just a few meters down from the town and you are in nature.  There’s an Etruscan necropolis, a little church built into the rock and just a pleasant walk – some steep hills so a bit of a workout too.  I usually enter on the Palazzo Crispo entrance and walk clockwise and exit at the Porta Vivaria entrance.  There are gorgeous views of the countryside from this section of the path (including views of the 12th century Abbey of San Severo now a very nice hotel called La Badia)  Near the Porta Vivaria exit is where you’ll find the necropolis.
  • Evening passeggiata — cozy up to a coffee bar with seating outside and enjoy a glass of wine or prosecco and people-watch before taking the evening stroll with all the residents of Orvieto who go up and down the two main drags, corso Cavour and via del Duomo, starting at around 6 or 7 in the evening.
  • Outdoor market at Piazza del Popolo on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
  • Theatre performance at Teatro Mancinelli on corso Cavour.  It’s a gorgeous little theatre built in the 1800s.  You can stop by the theatre and see what’s taking place while you’re there — they have posters outside with upcoming performances.

Accommodation recommendations:

B&B Ripa Medici: vicolo Ripa Medici, 14. Tel: +39 3287469620. Two lovely rooms with gorgeous views over the Umbrian countryside.  The very friendly and welcoming owner, Sabrina Pasqualoni, comes in the morning to make homemade breakfast for you.  She also has a small apartment with self-catering facilities on the ground floor.

B&B Sant’ Angelo 42:  via Sant’ Angelo 42. +39 3487757136.  Owner Giulia Donato’s lovely and modern little B&B is in the center of town.

Alla Scalette del Duomo (private apartment)
via dei Gualtieri, 34 Tel: +39 0763375009. Cell: +39 3381853570. Email: Owned by the warm and hospitable Signora Franca who cleans and maintains the apartment herself, it’s a basic, affordable option for families or larger groups wanting a self-catering apartment right in the middle of town.

Shopping suggestions:

Federico Badia - leather goods – this young Roman cobbler moved to Orvieto and is continuing an artisan tradition that unfortunately is disappearing in Italy, but he’s made a success of it with his energy, enthusiasm and love for his craft.  Here you’ll find handmade and custom made shoes, handbags, wallets, belts, etc.

Orogami - original, unique and beautiful handmade jewelry by master jewelers Massimo and Tiziana – the nicest and friendliest couple who will happily answer any questions you might have about the items in their shop.  They have a range of pieces from simple and affordable to more intricate and expensive pieces.  They can also work on custom designs.

L’Orvietan- via del Duomo – don’t know the number, but it’s on the right side as you are going towards the Duomo – this shop has all kinds of beautifully made and well-sourced products all made in Orvieto.  The owner of the shop, Lamberto (if you see bald-headed man with a great smile and kind eyes behind the counter, that’s him) is an artisan papermaker who also has a paper workshop near the Crogiolo – via dei Magoni, 7 -  beautiful handwoven scarves, hats, linens, etc.  You’ll find the owner Maria Gagliano usually working on the loom in her shop.
Ceramicarte – via dell Duomo, 42 – unusual handmade, artisan ceramics by Nadia (there is usually her dog Briciola outside).
Mastropaolo – Piazza dell Duomo, 36 – artistic handmade ceramics – both Ceramicarte above and Mastropaolo are a few of the authentically Orvietan artisans.  Many of the look-alike places on via dell Duomo are not handmade and are shipped in from southern Italy.
Ceramiche Orvietane Difusari Giorgio – Corso Cavour, 431 – traditional artisan Umbrian ceramics

Dai Fratelli Batalocco – via del Duomo, 11 – you can pick up a small bottle of truffle oil or truffle scented olive oil here – a nice gift for foodie friends.  There are a variety of cheeses here as well which you can ask for “sottovuoto” which means vacuum packed.

Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – a chocolate shop with artisan handmade chocolates and cookies and in the winter – their excellent hot chocolate and in the summer, their gelato.

La Loggia – Corso Cavour, 129 – wine shop

Enoteca al Duomo – Corso Cavour 51 near Torre del Moro  – wine shop owned by friends of ours

by Steven Brenner