Field notes from Italy

Sunil shares his experiences from a recent trip across Italy

Having recently returned from the vineyards and coastlines of Italy, Sunil – one of our New York-based Travel Experts – shares his notes on what it’s like to travel today. Follow his adventure on our Instagram Highlights, and head below to enjoy his field notes in all their fulsome glory.

In a word, it was “unforgettable”.

The airport

Our flight from JFK to Milan was supremely comfortable (the passengers being mostly, it seemed, in-the-know travelers seeking the late summer sun). Even then, the airport staff handled our boarding and Covid documentation with remarkable swiftness. I was pleasantly surprised.

Arriving at Milan nine hours later, we simply flashed our CDC cards and passports to immigration and were welcomed inside. Stepping out into the Italian sun, Piedmont’s wine country beckoned. Wide, open, and clear. I was well aware how easy it was supposed to be to travel to Italy, but to experience it first-hand was something else.

Hotel de Russie in Rome, Italy
Ravello in Italy

The hotels

I was lucky to be staying at some of our favourite Italian hotels – steering away from the cookie-cutter chains, as ever. At Lake Como’s Tremezzo, you can really feel the owner’s love for what they do. And they’ve only opened their properties knowing that they can safely and fittingly deliver a service that meets their ever-high bar.

Sure, there was some additional timing needed for a thorough deep clean of the rooms and spaces (sensibly, they sanitised for 24 – 48 hours between new check-ins). But the spa, pools, and restaurants felt as glamorous as ever, with the added bonus that the very light crowds made it feel like you had everything entirely to yourself.

It’s also great to hear that many hotels are extending their seasons for a longer summer. The weather is still gorgeous through mid-October – I’m tempted to go back again.

The atmosphere

The feeling throughout Italy – from Alba to Amalfi – was one of relief, joy, and rediscovery. Like the US, Italy suffered early in the pandemic – enduring longer and stricter lockdowns. But today, their per capita numbers are much, much lower. As a result, it all felt incredibly normal, with the necessary rules being adhered to (with mask-wearing and social distancing common when indoors). But these minor hindrances absolutely did not upset the sheer joy of the Italian summer. You quickly put them out of mind.

What’s more, there’s still a noticeable lack of tourists – with few of the group and coach tours that you might typically see this time of year. It felt like a very special time to visit, with the cities and countryside feeling like they were entirely ours to enjoy. We’d encounter the occasional in-the-know traveller, but that was all. Unsaturated, un-busy, unfussed.

This won’t last for ever, of course. So, if you want that ‘golden age’ of travel feeling, now is definitely the time to go.

The food and wine

I could speak forever about this most Italian of subjects. We started in Piedmont, famed for its robust Barolos and Barbarescos. What we didn’t realise was the sheer abundance of Michelin-starred gastronomy in the region, with La Ciau del Tornavento being the real highlight of the trip – with its exquisite views out over the Piedmont countryside. Unforgettable.

Tuscany, as ever, delivered in spades, with Medieval hilltop towns like Volterra and San Gimignano having more divine eateries than you can shake a fork at. The bistecca alla Fiorentina lingers with me still.

Moving south, I won’t quickly forget the taste of crisp whites and a particularly stunning frutta di mare on the Amalfi Coast, or the plate of proper cacio e pepe that I’ve been dreaming about throughout lockdown. It didn’t disappoint.

The overall feeling

Being in Italy is a divine and unforgettable experience. The smells, the food, the warm embrace of sparkling waters. I have worked in travel for many years, and I take genuine delight in giving people much-needed time away from their busy working lives. And Italy is the perfect antidote to that.

I could write for hours. But the bottom line is this. Go to Italy. Go now. Eat the cacio e pepe. Drink an Aperol spritz with aperitivoYou won’t regret a thing.