trip planning

Friday 5: Italian Honeymoon Destinations* (Round 1)

When we first started looking at honeymoon destinations, Italy was at the top of my list. It’s been awhile since I’ve been there and S has never been. When I landed in Rome for the first time while on a trip with some friends during my senior year in high school, it was the first time that I felt immediately comfortable in a place. I have a special place in my heart for Italy and I wanted to show him how incredible it is. 

Italy, in my opinion, has it all when it comes to honeymoons. Romance. Great food. Great wine. Lots to see and do. Beautiful beaches. History everywhere. Cosmopolitan luxury, if you want it. Rustic countryside, if you want it. I’m not sure about you, but I couldn’t ask for much more. 

Today’s Friday 5 is a look at some of our top contenders for Italian trips. 

1. Le Marche

If you’re looking for a quiet destination that gives you some of the rolling landscapes of Tuscany but also seaside options along the Adriatic, check out Le Marche. Urbino, a Renaissance hilltown, is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site. Monti Sibilli, which serves as a border between Le Marche and Umbria, offers the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini for hiking, walking trails, wildlife and pretty views. We looked into doing a few days in Florence and then heading to Le Marche to get away from the crowds.

Where we did consider staying: La Corte del Gusto near Arcevia (about 1:20 drive from Urbino), a collection of beautifully renovated farmhouse apartments with panoramic views of the Marche countryside.

2. Puglia

Located in the heel of Italy, Puglia (or Apulia) is a coastal region is known for dramatic seaside cliffs overlooking the turquoise waters of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Hot sun and white buildings set against blue sky and sea. Cliffs and caves. Unique architecture (check out the round truly), ancient ruins, and deeply rooted history. Old olive groves and rich rolling farmland make it famous for its food. (video link for email subscribers)

Where I would consider staying: Trullo Isabella near Martina Franca (That bbq! That private pool! That patio!) and I would make it my business to eat at Grotta Palazzese , a cave restaurant overlooking the sea that I've been dreaming about for years. 

3. Venice

There are few places with the allure of Venice. It’s somewhere we often hear so much about that we feel we know it before we ever visit. Uniquely romantic and sometimes mysterious with its rich architecture and meandering canals and passages. Venice is best when you get away from the crowds and allow yourself to get lost. Although it’s extremly touristy in areas, exploring the city beyond St. Marks and the Rialto would be a beautiful honeymoon (or part of a honeymoon). My one tip is to take the water taxi to and from the airport for an exhilerating ride into and out of the city.

Where I would consider staying: For an all-out Venetian luxury experience, I would probably go for the Ca'Sagredo, a 15th-century palace turned hotel on the Grand Canal for a few days. 

By Internt Consulting (originally posted to Flickr as - St. Kassian) [ CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

By Internt Consulting (originally posted to Flickr as - St. Kassian) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Dolomites

A stunning mountain region for a couple who loves alpine villages, rich and hearty food (Speck! Italian apple strudel! Polenta!) and craggy mountain landscapes mixed with lush valleys. Perfect for a week of hiking and exploring in the summer or skiing in the winter. 

Where I would consider staying: Hotel Rosa Alpina, located in San Cassiano in Badia. It has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurant St. Hubertus, and a beautiful spa to treat any achy muscles after a day of hiking. Or the Villa Berghofer in Radein, between Bolzano and Trento. It has incredible mountain views from each of the rooms' balconies (really, go look!) and a cozy Tyrollean style.

5. Lake Como

Take your pick: Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, or go further afield to one of the other small towns. Stunning lakeside views of the green mountains plunging toward the water. Easy access to the surrounding towns for daytrips to sightsee, shop, and eat at myriad restaurants. Besides, if Bellagio and Lake Como is good enough for George Clooney, it’s probably good enough for most of us. 

Where I would consider staying: This pretty attic apartment in Menaggio with a beautiful terrace that looks over the lake.  


That's it for this week! While it started as a list of honeymoon spots, I fully believe that they are also "anytime" spots. I plan to keep updating these lists as I discover new places to go or stay in. I'm also going to branch out to different regions and countries over time.

Do you have any favourite places in Italy or have been to any of the ones I listed so far? Anything you think I missed? Let me know!   

Happy weekend! 

* not just for honeymoons, though!

The Honeymoon Planning Series

image:  Jens Mayer

image: Jens Mayer

A few years ago, I was at a wedding with a married friend and she was telling me about her honeymoon. Like many couples, they did an all-inclusive on an island. It sounded like it was wonderful for them. They were so exhausted from the wedding that all they wanted to do was lay around on a beach and decompress.  She suggested doing somethig similar if I ever got married. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I was perusing a wedding blog a few days ago and stumbled upon one couple’s Italian honeymoon plans. They were planning on traveling to a new city every other day. I felt exhausted just looking at it. I wanted to tell them that they were going to miss out on so much. But they seemed to think the pace was perfect for them and that's all that matters!

Now that we are in the throes of wedding planning, honeymoon planning has become a bit of a haven--even though it has been stressful in its own way at times. We knew that an all-inclusive wasn't our style, as stress-free as it may be. Neither of us want to lay on a beach all day for a week. We also have no interest in cruises or hopping from hotel to hotel (or city to city). So we’re doing it our way.  

I won’t reveal where we are going just yet. Most of our ducks are in a row, but I’d rather keep it a secret for awhile longer. I started to think that a honeymoon series for couples like us might be a good idea, though. 

There’s a lot of pressure for honeymoons to be extra special, or extravagant, or exciting, or quirky, or off-the-beaten-path, etc., etc. It seems more and more like your honeymoon should make other people go “oooooh!” when you tell them about it. As nice as that may be, that’s not the point of honeymoons. A honeymoon is not about the destination as much as it is about the couple. It’s a time to run off, be together, let the whole wedding experience sink in, and celebrate a new adventure together. That should be the most important focus. 

image:  Dave Meier

image: Dave Meier

So that’s where you start. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? How do you like to travel? That’s your compass for this and any trip. Forget the "shoulds" and the "this is what we dids" for now and focus on brainstorming what will make you happy. 

My goal for this series is to be part trip planning advice, part blog of our experiences, and part inspiration. I’ll be back on Friday with a list of places we thought would make great honeymoon destinations. 

Note: I'm of the mind that planning a honeymoons isn't all that different from vacations except, maybe, for some extra romance. So my hope is that anyone planning a vacation will find this series useful, too. 

Friday 10: Haunted Hotels

Happy Halloween!

In honor of today and Monday's post about the spectre of Ivan the Red taunting me at Burg Bernstein, I've compiled a list of 9 other beautiful haunted hotels in Europe, the US and Canada.

Before we go any further, you should know that I didn't pick the creepiest hotels, like Karosta Prison Hotel in Latvia. From the website: "According to the prison's history, there are a lot of people who died in this place and most of them were shot in the head." I like a good scare and I'm a skeptic about the whole ghost thing, but. . . nope, nope nope! Not for me. Not on a bet.

I also skipped some of the most famous hotels, like The Stanley Hotel, which was made famous by The Shining

Instead, I picked places I would genuinely like to visit in areas with rich histories and lots to do. The whole haunted thing is just a bonus. 

Europe

#1 Hotel Burg Burnstein - Burgenland, Austria

There are 10 unique guest rooms in this beautiful Austrian castle that overlooks the lowlands. The castle has a long, storied history extending back to the 800s, changing hands multiple times between the Austrians and Hungarians thanks to its location in prime borderlands. Its most famous inhabitant, however, was László Almásy who was born in the castle and went on to inspire the title character of The English Patient. The castle has been passed down through the generations and the Almásy family continues to welcome guests to stay at the castle and explore Burgenland today. 

Haunts: Red Ivan, who is also known as Raging Wolf and Schlosshansl. According to this website he was a murderous 13th century knight who beat a bishop  to death and haunts the castle "by showing himself beside children's bed [. . .] He has been described with flaming red hair, a skirt at knee length and an evil laugh!" 

Caterina Frescobaldi (aka the White Lady) is the second ghost.  The story goes that she committed adultery so her husband had her buried alive in the 15th century. She appears in white and has an icy touch. People who stay in the Tantalouis or Vinzenz have the best chance of seeing her, apparently. 

#2 CHÂTEAU DE BRISSAC - LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE

Nestled into the Loire Valley, south of Angers, sits Château de Brissac, the tallest castle in France. It dates back to the 11th century, but was completely rebuilt in the 15th century. The first Lord of Brissac bought the castle in 1502 and it has been passed down from generation to generation since then. Today the 13th Count of Brissac opens the castle to tours. A few lucky guests can book nightly stays in one of its opulent rooms. 

Haunts: Legend has it that in the 15th century one of the castles owners, Jacques de Brézé quickly tired of his wife’s adulterous ways and murdered her and her lover. It is said that the lovers still haunt the castle. Moans can be heard in the night and the woman, dressed in green, wanders the halls, earning her the nickname La Dame Verte, or the Green Lady. 

#3 Ackergill Tower - Scottish Highlands

A dramatic 15th century seaside castle in the Scottish Highlands near Wick. Ackergill Tower is set on 3,000 acres and includes a restaurant, private beach and loch for fishing. There are 68 guest rooms and 5 guest cottages available for a unique and quiet country getaway. 

Haunts: The castle was owned by the Keith family in the 15th century. They had a history of feuding with the Gunn family, including murders and revenge murders. So the night before Helen Gunn’s wedding, Dugald Keith kidnapped her and held her in the tower. Helen tried to escape, but she fell to her death. She reportedly wanders the castle, appearing either as a green lady or in a red gown. 

#4 Parador de Jaén - Andalusia, Spain

Perched atop Santa Catalina Hill, Parador de Jaén commands attention and offers spectacular views of Jaén and the Andalusian countryside. The original fortress was built by the Arabs, but after Ferdinand III of Castile conquered it in 1246 the structure was rebuilt. The current iteration dates back to the 18th century and retains its Arab roots. In 1968 it became a Parador, one of the many beautiful and unique heritage building that Spain turned into hotels.

Haunts: Two ghosts are said to haunt this castle. One is of a young woman who supposedly died from heartbreak in Room 22. The second ghost is nicknamed Terrible Legarto, the Terrible Lizard, who died of hunger while imprisoned here. 

via Hotel Burchianti

via Hotel Burchianti

#5 Hotel Burchianti - Florence, Italy

Between Piazza Santa Maria Novella and the Duomo is Hotel Burchianti. It was first opened in 1919 by the Burchianti sisters, who welcomed a number of famous guests, from opera singers to poets, into their boarding house. There are just 11 rooms here, a few of which have beautifully restored frescoes. 

Haunts: For such a small space, there sure are a lot of ghosts roaming around. There are reports of a child skipping in the halls, a knitting woman, and a ghostly maid who continues her cleaning. The Fresco room is singled out as the most haunted room. Benito Mussolini may have stayed there and guests have reported everything from icy breath on their skin to pink-hued apparitions of a man.  

via The Langham Hotel

via The Langham Hotel

#6 The Langham Hotel - London, England

A 5-star hotel located in London’s West End, the Langham Hotel opened its doors in 1865. It has been welcoming high profile guests from royalty to celebrities ever since. You, too, can follow in the footsteps of the likes of Oscar Wilde and sleep in one of their luxurious rooms. Or, if that’s a little too rich for you, perhaps partake in afternoon tea at Palm Court, the “birthplace of Afternoon Tea.” 

Haunts: According to the HuffPo article “Room 333: The Most Haunted Hotel Room in London”, the list of ghosts that haunt Langham is extensive and Room 333 is especially hopping. There’s the ghost the likes to shake the bed. And the doctor who committed murder-suicide on his honeymoon. And, finally, the German prince who jumped to his death. Other ghosts have been seen elsewhere. Napoleon III apparently haunts the basement. A butler with holes in his socks, a footman with a powdered wig, and a man with a horrifying face wound have also been seen in the hallways.

USA

#7 The Battery Carriage House Inn - Charleston, South Carolina

The Battery Carriage House Inn is a bed and breakfast overlooking Charleston Harbor near Fort Sumter and Battery Park. The original house was built in 1843, but it was abandoned during the Civil War. It sustained damaged during the Siege of Charleston, which wreaked havoc on the city itself. After the war, a wealthy Yankee Colonel bought and refurbished it. Today visitors can stay in one of the 11 rooms and enjoy Southern hospitality, breakfast,  afternoon tea, and evening wine receptions. 

Haunts:  The Inn has fully embraced its ghosts and has a whole page dedicated to stories and sightings. Room 3 has had a little girl who died at the Inn tends to hang out on the porch and an apparent congregation of glowing spirits in the bathroom. In Room 10, the Gentleman Ghost tires to woo ladies by crawling into bed with them (how this is gentlemanly, I don’t know). Meanwhile, Room 8 has the most macabre sightings of a headless torso from the Civil War. 

#8 Captain Lindsey House Inn - Rockland, Maine

Built in 1835 as a home for its namesake, Captain George Lindsey, who first turned it into an inn and tavern two years later. Today the inn is appointed in a beautiful and welcoming “new nautical” style. Its located close to the harbor in Rockland’s historic district and makes a good base for exploring the Mid-Coast of Maine or partaking in the city’s annual Maine Lobster Festival. The Inn also partners with Stephen Taber to offer a sailing package

Haunts: A group of ghost "experts" declared that no less than 35 ghosts, including Captain Lindsey himself, haunted the building. 

Canada

#9 Fairmont Banff Springs - Banff, Alberta

An iconic luxury mountain resort within the confines of Banff National Park. The beauty of the stunning Canadian Rockies serve as the backdrop to this hotel’s long history. It all began when William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway decided that a series of luxurious hotels along the railway would entice tourists travel the CPR. Construction began on the Banff Springs Hotel in 1887 and it opened on June 1, 1888. Van Horne’s vision was spot-on because Banff Springs, despite being destroyed by a fire in the 20s and undergoing many expansions and renovations, has remained a much-loved destination.

Haunts: A few spirits, it seems, haunt to halls of Banff Springs. There’s Sam, a bellman who promised to come back and haunt the hotel after he died (which happened in 1976). There’s also a ghost bride who is often seen dancing in the Cascade Ballroom. This year, the resort is even offering its own Heritage Ghost Tour  for guests who want to hear more about the hotel’s history, its spirits, and maybe—just maybe—experience one firsthand.

#10 The Algonquin Resort - St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick

The Algonquin Resort is another luxury Canadian hotel with deep roots. It first opened in 1889 and its award-winning golf course followed in 1894. Today golf and seaside luxury still draw its guests in. The location offers access to beautiful beaches, the Bay of Fundy, whale watching, the town of St. Andrew, and more. 

Haunts: Two women haunt the Algonquin. One is a fastidious former employee who has been known to rearrange tables. The second is a jilted bride who took her own life in Room 473 after being left at the alter. Like Banff Springs, The Algonquin is hosting a Ghost Walk through historic St. Andrews-by-the-Sea this year.


Would you stay at a haunted hotel? Have any good ghost stories from your travels? Let me know!

I hope you have a fun, candy-fueled Halloween and a wonderful weekend!