Exploring Italy’s Hidden Gems and Historical Classics
From the uncharted island of Sardinia to private access to the Sistine Chapel, Italy is excited to finally welcome tourists back.
The boot-shaped country of Italy holds a very special place in my heart since my college study abroad program in Florence. So, once I heard it was open to visitors again, I knew I had to get back to Rome to experience this magical city as it was coming back to life. However, this trip, I decided to challenge myself to choose a location I had never seen but always wanted to explore, so Sardinia was added to my itinerary.
The trip started with a five-night stay on the island Sardinia. Just off the west coast of Italy, floating in the Tyrrhenian Sea lies a luxurious archipelago filled with opportunity. If you yearn for the chance to travel to the Almalfi Coast, Sardinia’s Emerald Coast tops all expectations. When you think of an island, what comes to mind is flat beaches – but Sardinia is a different world. It is filled with mountains, olive oil farms, wineries and their own special language that combines the beauty of the two romance languages, Italian and Spanish.
One of our first stops on the trip was a wine tasting at the gorgeous Capichera Vineyards. This winery blends the Sardinian story into each barrel they create over the last 40 years. Just one sip of the wine will transport you to a slower way of life that promotes the finer things while you hear the crashing of waves along the Emerald Coast.
But, no wine tasting is complete without the perfect meal. Some of the island’s specialty plates included slow-roasted pork, porchetta, Sardinian cheeses, and lots of seafood. Sardinia is also known for its unique cork oak trees that are stripped down to make various items by cork artisans – one of the most popular are cork trays to serve meals on.
Sardinia is rich in history and you can see it in the archeological ruins and in the people that live there. One of the notable ancient pieces is the Nuraghe which was developed in the Nuragic Age (between 1900 and 730 B.C.). These wind-blown granite cost lines, creating Seychelles, only form in a few places in the world.
Admiral Travel booked a catamaran excursion to the National Park of Maddalena – a collection of seven isles known as the “seven sisters.” Each island is rocky and connected by a shallow seafloor that allows you to island-hop without all the hassle. The surrounding seas are a great place to charter a boat for the day to swim, snorkel, paddleboard or just continue topping that glass of wine with friends. Pro tip: charter a boat and travel the island by the sea!
One of the most memorable dinners we had was at Al Pescatore, QuattroPassi in Porto Cervo, a Conde Nast Traveler recommendation. No matter where you are in Italy, you will never go wrong with ordering a pasta dish. Some of my favorite dishes from the trip include Spaghetti alla Nerano (a fancy version of zucchini pasta) or Pasta Pescatore. To get a better feel of what it is like as a local, we rented a car & drove across the northern part of the island to quaint city of Alghero. English is not as common in smaller towns, so we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the Sardinian lifestyle. We stayed at the Aperitif in Villa Mosca and were spoiled with more amazing dishes. If some of your favorite food styles are Spanish and Italian, Sardinia has curated the perfect menu for you.
One aspect that makes Sardinia so special is the fact that not many Americans have explored this enchanting island. Even the dirt makes the island special. The granite dirt promotes livestock and farming, creating the best ingredients for every meal. Also, within the middle of the island is a cluster of villages that make up one of the first identified Blue Zones – a community of centurion, home of individuals that can live up to 120 years old! How does this happen, you may ask? The way of life in Sardinia promotes longevity. Here are a few lifestyle tips we can take from Sardinians.
Put family, friends and elders first
Take walks often
Indulge in that glass (or two) of wine
Focus meals around plant-based food and accent with meats
If you plan to add Sardinia to your bucket list – which I recommend – my tip would be to spend at least a week on the island. From traveling to the mountain tops to the surrounding water and beaches to spending time with the local farmers and families, Sardinia has it all. And, if a week is not possible, the doctor recommends a happy and healthy lifetime on the island of Sardinia.
After we waved our goodbyes to Sardinia, we flew to the eternal city of Rome for three nights. We booked early access to the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel and, due to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, I only had to share the views with 16 other people! I can remember my previous journeys to the Vatican where I was smushed body-to-body, without a moment to breathe and take in its beauty. The “new way” to travel proved beneficial and intimate. Then, took a Vespa tour of the city, which is my new favorite way to hop from one stop to another. Nothing quite beats the sound of city streets, wind in your hair and much-needed gelato pit stops in Rome.
The Colosseum and Trevi Fountain were stops along the way because, When in Rome! Another notable site was Castelli Romani, which is where the Pope spends his summers. There, we had a wine tasting paired with local meats, cheese and bread (OK now my mouth is watering typing this). If you are in Rome, this is a destination that you must make time for. Trust me, I would not steer you wrong.
If I was asked the question, “If you could only sell one destination for the rest of your career, what would it be?,” my immediate answer would be Italy. It’s a destination that truly has it all from various types of landscape to rich history that will transport you back in time to food that is to die for. There is always something new to see & do, even if it is a repeat destination in your passport. There is never a plate of pasta or a glass of wine that I didn’t like. I mean, it’s Italy – how could you NOT love it?!
Now, in regards to traveling to Italy in a post-pandemic world, rules have obviously changed but nothing that causes extreme hurdles. Italy was one of the first countries to get hit badly with the spread of COVID-19 and, subsequently, travel was extremely limited. Today, Italy not only is welcoming back travelers but is longing for them. As the rules are constantly changing and I do not have the most updated government regulations, I will tell you how my experience went.
Before traveling to Italy, you must fill out and provide a self-declaration form. There was no need to self-isolate upon arriving if I presented proof that I was either 1. Fully vaccinated with my “white card” bearing the CDC logo, or 2. Provided a negative PCR or rapid test within 48 hours of departure. When walking outside in Italy, masks were not worn but were highly recommended for when you were indoors. The precautions you must take in order to get there might seem daunting, but I would swirl a Q-tip in my nose any day to visit Italy. My advice, embrace rather than challenge this “new way” of traveling. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but once those extra steps are taken, you are finally able to enjoy the world’s wonders!