Five years ago, newly engaged, with a newly incorporated business and a shiny new Italian passport in hand, we packed up six suitcases and boarded a one-way flight to Spain. Through a combination of adventurous spirit and complete naivete, we landed in Valencia, a city we’d visited once before, for less than a week. Three and a half years later (clearly haven forgotten how hard the first year in a new country was), we moved again, to our now home in Lucca, Italy.
The Second Wave & A New Lockdown
It’s officially December and 2020 is almost over. After nearly six months of relative normalcy, Italy returned to various states of lockdown a month ago. The strict quarantine measures of March and April precluded extremely low COVID numbers throughout the course of the summer, allowing us to travel across four different regions, meeting with partners and visiting hotels in preparation for our Italian Origins small group trip next fall. In September, we flew to the Greek Isles and spent a week hiking and swimming all over the tiny island of Symi and discovering the thickly layered history of Rhodes. It was an amazing trip and we’re thankful that Italy, and Europe’s, serious response to the pandemic in those early months allowed us the opportunity to travel a bit this year.
But here we are again. A second wave has swept over Europe and Italy has once again responded with significant measures. We started as a Zona Gialla (yellow zone) in early November - the lowest in severity of Italy’s three-tier zone system - but became a Zona Arancia (orange zone) within a week, and then a Zona Rossa (red zone) just a few days later.
Mark Twain once described Florence as a “city of dreams.” We’re standing on the rooftop terrace of Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni 1, a medieval tower and boutique hotel dating back to the year 1200, and are completely on board with his assessment. Layers of red terracotta tiled roofs give way to ancient palaces, marble porticos, and the incredible Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. We’re completely aware that many people dream of seeing this view once in a lifetime and are filled with equal parts gratitude and awe at the beauty of the Tuscan capital. It’s these moments that remind us why we started Cohica - to share a slice of this magic with travelers - and over the next 48 hours, we’re on the hunt for the perfect Florentine hotel, rooftop restaurant and city guide for the first night of our Italian Origins small group trip.
Summer in Lucca came right on time. As if a switch were flipped, the solstice happened and one day later the sun showed up in full force, blasting down 87-degree days one after another. It’s beautiful in this part of Italy at this time of year, while the greenery, wildflowers, and other remnants of spring are still on display and the summer nights seem to last forever. Italy has successfully (so far, at least) emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and la bella vita once again surrounds us. Masks are commonplace (mandatory when in close proximity to other people), Italians are the least touchy they’ll probably ever be, and there is enough hand sanitizer to give every one of the world’s germaphobes a lifetime supply, but life is otherwise pretty normal. The country as a whole followed a long, closely monitored quarantine with a quite uniform reopening strategy and the numbers continue to look good. There are currently less than 14,000 total cases in Italy, with only 69 considered critical, and fewer than 200 new cases per day.
The hills and mountains surrounding the valley have suddenly turned a brighter and deeper shade of green. The sky has also shifted, from muted greys with subtle blue hues, to a spectacular baby blue scattered with pillows of bright white clouds. The green fields are now strewn with the reds and yellows of wildflowers that have shot up from the fertile ground below. Spring came with a force in Lucca, our home of just six months, and after two months in quarantine we’re reminded of the multitude of reasons we chose to settle down in this little city in the northwest corner of Tuscany.
It was early February. We were sitting in a bar in Hoi An, Vietnam, sipping a bloody mary, watching the superbowl without a care in the world, other than the 49ers defense. It was mid-way through our five week trip through Southeast Asia, where we were meeting activity partners and visiting boutique hotels to include in our Custom and Designed Trips. We were gearing up for a very busy 2020 - travel felt accessible and adventure was calling.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on three years living in Spain. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that we landed in Valencia, excited and eager to give this expat thing a try, only to have our life flipped upside-down for the six months following. But in other ways, when we think back to all the experiences we’ve had in Valencia and across the Iberian Peninsula, we’re reminded of how well we’ve come to know this amazing country that we call home.
Many people visit Spain and hightail it straight to Barcelona or Madrid. While both are great destinations, Spain has so much more to offer than its two largest cities. Choose to visit smaller towns to experience everyday Spanish life, medium sized cities for incredible architecture and mind-blowing food, or if you’re really itching for a big city experience, do something different and visit Valencia instead. Here are our top 7 spots beyond boring Barcelona (yeah, we said it)...
At the beginning of each year, we sit down together and start planning our travels for the next 12 months. It's become somewhat of a ritual for us - discussing our trips from the previous year, dreaming up vacations for the year to come, and deciding how exactly we'll make these adventures happen.
Our European road trip continues! We're driving from Lake Como, through Barolo, to a tiny town called Mombasiglio in Italy's Piedmont Region. It's the prefect peaceful retreat to take a travel time out, drink a healthy amount of wine and discuss the alleged "Road of Love."
Next up, Provence, France and back to our home country of Spain. If you haven't subscribed to our YouTube Channel for updates on all our latest videos, now's the time (just click "subscribe")!
On the second episode of our new Vlog, we drive north to Strasbourg, France in the Alsace Region along the German border. Known for its quaint architecture, beautiful countryside, cobbled streets and canals, it was well worth the (very long) drive:
A travel design agency.
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