Twilight lingered, casting long shadows from the olive groves and fruit trees.
We followed the pathway up to the terrace, illuminated by candlelight and the gentle clatter of cutlery.
Seated at a dinner table set for two, I glanced at my husband of just two days and felt a surreal sense of joy; we had begun our Italian honeymoon, a trip we’d planned for months and had dreamed about for far longer.
Our trip began in Puglia, the sun-soaked heel of the proverbial Italian boot. We relished the opportunity to stay at a boutique hotel situated on a working farm, whose owner was also our server at dinner that evening.
Her name was Anna, and her grandmother had once run the masseria. She brought to us freshly baked bread and effervescent white wine famous to the region. In fact, it had been made right on the property just a few hundred feet away from our room. She asked how we were enjoying our stay and we both agreed it had been an absolute dream.
“Just wait until you try the lasagna,” Anna added. “I don’t hire chefs for my kitchen – I hire mamas,” she paused before continuing, “it’s the Italian mamas who really know how to cook. They aren’t afraid to use lots and lots of olive oil.”
It was this authentic Italian lifestyle that motivated us to choose our honeymoon in Italy. Perhaps in other countries, you could come to realize the local cuisine is a bit overrated. Never in Italy. As it turns out, the lasagna we tasted that evening during our buffet-style dinner was, well, life-changing. We were the first in line for seconds, because who in their right mind would ever want to offend an Italian mama?
With the masseria as our home base, we explored some of the surrounding towns in the region, such as Martina Franca, with its winding cobble walkways, and the postcard-picturesque Polignano a Mare. The latter destination brought us our first authentic Italian pizza. Wood-fired to perfection and topped with the freshest ingredients, these Margherita pizzas were served to us on a patio overlooking the lively coast below.
Puglia was just the start of our two-week adventure in Italy. Next on the list was Sardinia, the small tear-drop shaped island on Italy’s sapphire-blue Mediterranean coast. Devin and I had both agreed that experiencing the beach was an absolute must. Little did we know just how picturesque the beaches of Sardinia would be.
Hiking through Gennargentu National Park, we skirted the line between cliffside and the sea, the blueness of the Tyrrhenian Sea stopping us in our tracks. The park is paradise for hikers and sunbathers alike, and we took the first opportunity we could to descend downwards to the pebbly beach. Wading into this dreamy water nearly brought tears to my eyes, hardly believing we were actually here. So many of our experiences in Italy had this dream-like quality, and it was all I could do to drink them in. Fortunately, we took plenty of photographs -- and selfies -- so that we would have evidence of our experience.
Dining in Sardinia meant spectacular meals and portions that were all too generous. To celebrate our final day in the town of Cagliari, we opted for a home-cooked meal at the local inn. To our surprise, delight, and intimidation, the large bowl of gnocchi was just the first of many, many courses we would enjoy that evening. Complete with wine served from a terracotta jug and limoncello digestifs, the meal was the perfect way to end our stay in Sardinia.
Our third and final destination was the iconic Lake Como. It was impossible to imagine anything topping our experience in Puglia or Sardinia, but Devin and I agree that Lake Como was somehow the crown jewel of our honeymoon.
Located on the banks of the lake, Relais Villa Vittoria was the vision of northern Italian romance. This 13-room mansion-turned-hotel featured a stunning terrace, reception space, and infinity pool. Not to mention the fragrance of jasmine blooming outside and hydrangeas that perfectly framed the view of the water from our bedroom window.
Each night, a local chef prepared an impressive gourmet menu of fresh pastas, salads, entrees, and desserts. Gazing out over the water, watching ferries pass, and feeling wonderfully satiated from our two-hour dinners, we were perfectly content. This proved to be the perfect time to unpack the memories from our wedding weekend and also plan the next day’s adventures.
One afternoon while walking along the narrow road in the small town of Laglio, we discovered a family-run bottega specializing in cheeses and meats. We enjoyed a plate of fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and a variety of cured meats. The aperol spritzes proved to be the perfect beverage to wash it all down as we enjoyed views of the water and watched Vespas buzz by.
During our last full day in Lake Como, Devin convinced me to wake up early. He had an idea: we’d take some self-timed photos in the infinity pool before anyone else in our hotel had woken up. Despite the chilly water and the challenge of taking an underwater selfie, these photos are some of my favorite from the trip. They capture the spontaneity of our travels while also freezing a moment in time for us as a newly married couple.
After we dried off and filled up on breakfast, we drove our rental car to the Swiss border where we enjoyed a harrowing gondola ride and stunning hike through the Alps.
Our time in Italy was winding to a close. We reluctantly packed our bags and headed to Rome where we’d depart the next day. We made the most of our 24 hours by walking nearly 10 miles, eating gelato, taking photographs, avoiding motorcyclists, eating pasta one last time, visiting the Colosseum, and watching the sun set over the ancient cityscape.
Traveler’s Joy made it possible for us to trek across Italy for the honeymoon we didn’t dare dream possible. Mostly, though, it gave us a profound appreciation for the friends and family who helped bring our travel itinerary to life. $5,000 in our honeymoon fund meant we didn’t need to pinch pennies on our first trip as husband and wife. In addition to the sights, sounds, and tastes of journeying through a new country, our trip was characterized by those moments of gratitude when we thought of the friend or family member who had gifted each experience.
It’s often said that travel is one of the few things you can buy that will make you richer. While new linens and kitchen appliances are always appreciated, nothing beats the memories of having experienced our version of a perfect honeymoon. If ever there’s a place where you can feel even more in love with the love of your life, it’s Italy.