Living Lavishlee

Exploring Europe Together: 3 Weeks of Adventure and Romance

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“I don’t care what we do, I just want to spend time with you.” I read this quote many years ago and promised myself that this is the vibe I want in my marriage. Having two daughters and numerous travels later, spending time with my husband Kenton is still one of my favorite things to do. So you can imagine how glorious it was that we got to spend quality time in Europe for three weeks. Of course, we missed our girls immensely. But traveling without them models a healthy relationship that encourages a balanced lifestyle.

Read on, and I’ll take you with me from Italy to France on our fabulous European vacation. I’ll share our vacation’s highlights and provide tips for your next European adventure.

First off…

Venice, Italy

Our three-week journey started in rainy Venice. We landed and were really surprised by the cold weather—it was about 50°C! Honestly, there was a little bit of worry because we mostly packed summer clothes, but thankfully, we also brought a couple of jackets.

From the airport, we rode a taxi to a pier boat and then a water taxi to our hotel, The St. Regis Venice. Considered one of the most spacious and luxurious accommodations in the Veneto Region, the St. Regis Venice was a dream. We stayed in their Deluxe Room, which included a plush king-size bed, a marbled bathroom, and Murano glass mirrors that reflect the ever-changing natural light.

Once you step out of the hotel, you’ll see alleyways upon alleyways. You go to one alley, turn right, turn left, get lost (which actually happened to us multiple times!), and voila—you’ll end up in a town square-like place with tons of cafes, restaurants, and designer stores. The place was busy with tourists, even in the pouring rain. You’ll quickly learn how to navigate with colorful open umbrellas. The delicious smell coming from the restaurants and the bright lights from the stores really elevated the experience. We’re like kids in a candy store—everything is dazzling and magical.

We had lunch at Bar Ristorante Piazza Ducale, which specializes in traditional Venetian dishes, homemade pasta, and pizza. Kenton had steak and fries, and I had pasta with burrata. The food was amazing. My pasta was a simple dish but so flavorful. After lunch, we walked around leather goods stores and gift shops and returned to the hotel for a quick rest.

One of the best tourist attractions in Venice is undoubtedly riding the Venetian gondola, which is a traditional flat-bottomed boat. We rode a Venetian gondola on our first afternoon in Venice. The queue was long—as expected—and it was still drizzling, but we didn’t care. And so did the other tourists. If you’re going to Venice, riding a gondola is a must. It’s a quintessential experience. We had a great time riding the gondola; our gondolier was a skilled rower, and the view around the canal was just stunning. Italian architecture is top-notch. The experience was so good we even opted to do our own little photoshoot during the gondola ride. I had my personal photographer (aka my supportive husband).

We ended our first day in Venice with a delightful dinner at Trattoria Ai Leoncini. The seafood (squid and scallops) was fresh and tasty. My penne pasta was heavenly, and Kenton had sizzling steak with grilled veggies on the side. We returned to the hotel so late and passed through all the alleyways safe and sound.

We stayed in Venice for two more days. The next day, we had breakfast at the hotel before I had my gondola shoot with my personal photographer (aka my supportive husband). We went to the Zecca of Venice, a 16th-century building. It was originally where the mint of the republic was housed or where the coins for currency were made. Now, it’s the Marciana Library. The High Renaissance architecture was truly stunning. We then visited the Saint Mark’s Basilica, which was equally exquisite. A downside was that both places were crowded with tourists, so getting a good picture can be tricky.

In terms of food that day, we experienced highs and lows. We absolutely had a wonderful time at Ristorante Noemi for lunch, where we ordered lobster pasta and pizza. Truly, authentic Italian pizza is a level on its own. For dessert, we had ice cream at Gelato Fantasy Venezia. The queue at the gelato place was also crazy, but we eventually had ours, which was a combination of cheesecake and yogurt in a cone. Yum!

For dinner, we dined at Oro, a creative high-end restaurant in Hotel Cipriani. We dressed up and rode a gondola again to the restaurant. Let’s just say the “creative” part didn’t match our taste. The dishes were great to look at, but we wished we had just had pizza or pasta again. I mean, the dessert was ice cream with oysters and blue cheese. That was definitely an acquired taste.

For Day 3, we headed back to the airport for our next destination.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

We took an almost three-hour ride from Naples Airport to our next hotel, Palazzo Avino. The drive isn’t usually that long, but there was an accident along the way, so our driver had to detour several times. We booked the Ocean View Suite, a classical room with a superb outside view. When you look out the window, it’s all lush green. Again, we opted for the plush and soft king-size bed, a spacious walk-in shower, and a mini living room.

We were only on the Amalfi Coast for two days, so after freshening up, we headed out. Outside the hotel, we were greeted by more alleyways. Thank goodness we didn’t get lost this around. The stunning architecture will take your breath away anywhere you go in Italy. The other thing that can do that is great food. We dined at Trattoria Cumpa Cosimo—a highly recommended place. It’s a rustic eatery that serves platters of pasta. We ordered an assortment of seafood and plates of red sauce pasta. For dessert, they gave us a tub of tiramisu for free.

If riding a gondola in Venice is quintessential, riding a boat on the Amalfi Coast is also typical. It was truly a spectacular experience, even with my motion sickness (it was still raining in the morning, so the waves were out in full force, and the ride was bumpy). But the journey was one for the books. The views of the dramatic cliffs and the enchanting seaside villages were something you need to experience in real life. The vibrant Mediterranean colors and the crystal-clear waters add to the charm. The best way to describe it is picturesque.

After the boat ride, we walked around the coast and shopped at souvenir shops for shirts and dolls for our girls. We concluded our Amalfi Coast adventure with pizza, pasta, and potatoes at Da Nonno Alfonso restaurant.

Rome, Italy

After experiencing the stunning waters of the Amalfi Coast, we got to witness the striking architecture of Rome. We stayed at The St. Regis Rome and booked the Classic King Room. This one is great for couples with his-and-hers sinks, black-and-white finishes, a rainfall shower, and accent wall paintings. But more than gorgeous rooms, St. Regis Rome is also famous for having one of the oldest operating elevators in the world. How cool is that, right? It was built in the 1890s and riding it was one of our trip’s highlights.

Another highlight was wining and dining at the Lumen Garden midmorning. The hotel’s garden is only open for private events, so experiencing its urban oasis aesthetics was great. After eating, we headed out to walk around. It was still raining, but we just had to get a gelato—so we did! We eventually got to the Colosseum, one of Rome’s most popular tourist spots. Despite the rain, the crowd was heavy, so we didn’t get many photos, but the ancient amphitheater was a sight to behold.

The next day, we had breakfast at Lumen and decided to take the Green Bus Tour to visit as many tourist spots as possible. We stopped at the Palazzo Venezia, which was beautiful with its mix of medieval and Renaissance architecture styles. We then made a wish in the crowded Trevi Fountain. The intricacy of the sculptures and flowing waters was truly captivating. Then, we had another gelato stop!

We had a quick pasta overload for lunch. Then, we proceeded to visit Ponte Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica. After sightseeing, we had a fun snack time at McDonald’s Rome. Kenton gave his approval, especially with the McDonald’s slice of cheesecake.

The next day, we went to the Spanish Steps, a grand staircase of over a hundred steps and terraces featuring Baroque designs. Walking up the steps was a great workout for all the carbs we ate the other day. We also seriously damaged our credit cards while shopping since the area was packed with designer stores every which way.

Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection Cruise from Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy to Marseille, France

Another highlight of our European trip was the Ritz Carlton Yacht Cruise. I shared our wonderful experience on the yacht here. The experience was so luxurious and unforgettable that it deserved a post on its own. We maximized our time on the luxury yacht for the first two days and tried to experience everything (there was a lot!).

On the third day, we boarded the Portofino Yacht Marina, strolled around the city, and shopped at unique souvenir shops. We had lunch at a waterfront restaurant and enjoyed our plates of pasta and seafood (my husband thoroughly enjoyed the squid and the baby octopus).  We reached France the next day and started our French tour in Monaco. If luxury is a word, it’s Monaco. Everything looks and feels lavish, from casually parked sportscars to old, vintage cars zooming in and out of the city to the opulent Prince’s Palace, Casino. We hopped on a tour bus to make the most of our day in Monaco.

For Day 5, we explored Saint-Tropez. We stayed at the Chateau de la Messardière for the night. Kenton simply described our room as one of the most beautiful accommodations we had stayed in. It was definitely high on the list for me as well. It was just stunning, spacious, and inviting. Our hotel room was a vacation within a vacation. The view of the hills, the Mediterranean sea, and the vineyard was picture-perfect.  We could’ve stayed inside the hotel and been as satisfied—that’s how great it was. But of course, we didn’t just stay there. We cozied up to the laid-back elegance of Nikki Beach Club.

Paris, France

For the last leg of our three-week European tour, we rode a train, business-class style. The comfort and convenience of our preferred seating arrangement allowed us to have a good rest in transit. We then checked in at Prince de Galles, which has the most stunning Parisian hallways peppered with black-and-white portraits. We booked the Mosaic Suite, a one-bedroom suite with a sizable living room, master and guest bathrooms, and overlooking windows with a pocket view of the veranda. We had pasta and crepe for the rest of Day 1 and walked around the Eiffel Tower.

The next day was slated for a photoshoot (me as the model and hubby as the photographer) at the Place Vendome. After the fun morning with my pink tulle dress, we went to Fnac to get the girls some French books. And to keep up with the running theme of this trip, we got lost again. But all was well as we hopped on the Big Bus Paris (tour bus) and roamed around the Petit Palais, the Louvre Museum, and the Champs-Elysees Avenue. We capped the day with a fancy dinner at the Girafe Paris, overlooking the iconic Eiffel Tower.

On our last day, we had a sumptuous breakfast at Le Meurice, one of Paris’s most prestigious hotels. Both the view and the food were exceptional. We then visited Notre Dame, and the cathedral was truly a masterpiece even with the restoration. To end our European adventure, we had a memorable lunch at Le Jules Verne, a Michelin-starred restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. It was a deliciously amazing way to end an unforgettable trip.

Here are pro tips to make your next vacation fun and memorable:

  1. Regardless of where you’re going, check the weather on your travel dates. There are tons of weather apps that you can use to get an idea of what clothes to bring. Even if it’s summer or you’re going to a tropical island, it won’t hurt to pack a jacket, cardigan, or shawl to prepare for unexpected weather.
  2. Splurge on your room. Others would say to get a basic hotel room because you’re just going to stay there to sleep anyway—don’t listen. If you have the budget for it (and make the budget for it), stay in a deluxe room or any above-basic room. It’s another part of your vacation that you should enjoy. Who wouldn’t want to rest in a nice room with a comfortable bed, a spacious bathroom, and a nice outside view after walking throughout the day? A deluxe room will let you rest comfortably so you have energy the next day.
  3. Go, take the picture! It doesn’t matter if others are staring at you, or if you have to bring an extra outfit, or if you have to set up a tripod by yourself. For others, traveling is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t let others’ judgy looks dampen your spirit. If you want to change your outfit for your shoot, do so. Be extra. Many years from now, those photos will bring back all the joy and fun you had on your vacation.
  4. Check restaurant reviews. While being spontaneous during vacation is perfectly fine, reading restaurant recommendations and reviews can prevent a bad experience. Check the menu; most are accessible online. If you see something you know you won’t like or don’t match your palate, consider it more before booking a table. Sometimes, choosing a “safe choice” is better than suffering “for the experience.”

 

Book Your Next Adventure Now

Even though it rained for half of our trip, we truly enjoyed our almost month-long vacation. We’ve experienced Europe together and found a new appreciation for each other. I encourage couples to go on vacation and discover new things together. Kenton and I make it a point to do couple vacations now and again to nurture our relationship. In hindsight, we also do this for our children. We want them to grow up knowing—and seeing—that their parents love spending time together. A strong marriage benefits all and vacationing together is one thing that can foster a lasting relationship.

Contact me to explore more about traveling, parenting, and Living Lavishlee.