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Honeymoons

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Top Five Honeymoon Itineraries {With Mr & Mrs Smith}

You could settle for a week by the pool. However, for more ambitious newlyweds, truly memorable honeymoons are better spent location-hopping at some of the world’s most exclusive destinations. As the travel club for hotel lovers, Mr & Mrs Smith are experts in all things ‘honeymoon’ – their Smith24 team are available around the clock to help organise your dream trip, from flights, nights and transfers to enticing excursions and lots of little extras along the way.

Here are their top-five honeymoon itineraries promising discreet service and memorable together-time at a string of sumptuous stays – each of them entirely customisable to your taste.

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Top Honeymoon Trends For 2018 {With Mr & Mrs Smith}

When it’s grey and cold outside I can easily get distracted dreaming of long lazy days in warmer climes. The choices for a sunny getaway are endless, and – if the holiday in question is your honeymoon – it deserves extra daydreaming and planning. But,where should you go? And which are the best hotels to visit? The ones worthy of that all-important holiday.

I have an ongoing love affair with beautiful hotels. For me the stay is almost as important as the destination itself – sometimes more so – so it’s essential to seek out the perfect hideaway. Your honeymoon is the one time you can really go to town (and, one hopes, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday), so I personally feel it’s a chance to choose one of those hotels that leaves you speechless. I know I did. Think infinity pools, lush landscapes, exquisite food and decor to die for.

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What Sarah Did… Swooned For The H-moon

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Happy Thursday everyone! I have an apt post for you today seeing as our Jackie is currently bronzing her b-hind on her honeymoon; so jealous right now! We are thinking of (envying) you Mrs Curtis! Whilst I was sat envying Jackie, I counted down the days till I get to bronze my own b-hind whilst guzzling down copious amounts of mojitos and chomping on my bodyweight in pulled pork on the beach – precisely 81 days and counting (wow don’t I sound glamorous – yes I am bordering on wanting our honeymoon more than the wedding ;-)). Then I realised honeymoon’s haven’t really been spoken about much in the ‘real bride/real weddings’ section of the blog, after all the glitz and glam of the wedding is over by that point and that’s what we talk about here in the Rock My Wedd-o-sphere! It’s certainly one of the things I am looking forward to most, so maybe you are too, therefore, let’s talk about it more!

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So how did it all begin? This GREAT excuse for a holiday after you’ve just married the man of your dreams is said to stem back to the 1540’s and we have our very own Brits to thank for it. As with most things, there are various stories about its origin, for example, newlyweds would drink a honey potion every day for the first month after their nuptials. Or mead was drunk at the wedding and for a month after (sufficient quantities for one full cycle of the moon), as both were believed to boost fertility! According to the online etymology dictionary (which by the way, if you didn’t know before – because I didn’t, there I fessed up – etymology means the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history) in the 1540’s it was known as ‘hony moone’; the “indefinite period of tenderness and pleasure experienced by a newly wed couple”. ‘Hony’ was said to reference ‘the new marriage’s sweetness’ and ‘moone’ a reference to how long it would last. It is also said to be the ‘”post-wedding holiday”, with the words honeymooned and honeymooning coming about in the early 1800’s. Another possible origin, closely linked to above is in reference to the ‘waning of love’ as quoted from Richard Huloet’s Abecedarium Anglico Latinum “Honeymoon, is a term proverbially applied to such as to be new married, which will not fall out at the first, but the one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceeding love appearing to assuage, the which time the vulgar people call the honey moon”. Not so nice? Translated into 21st Century language, it was the period when married love was said to be as sweet as honey, which waned in the same time period as a full cycle of the moon. Mmm, a lot to chew on there! Personally I think it was just a great excuse to ‘consummate’ ones marriage, whilst carrying on the ‘party of love’ together with those butterflies in your tummy and de-stressing from the prepping – all at the same time!

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‘Usually’ and I use the term loosely, honeymooning starts straight after the wedding, that’s what has always been the thing to do. We have all seen the movies and heard the tales of the bride and groom jumping into a decorated carriage after their reception, maybe even Cinderella-like at midnight, off to some romantic retreat to ‘get to know each other a little better’ (you know what I’m saying heh heh ;-)) But times ‘they-have-a-changed’ and that’s generally not as practical anymore. With the rat race the way it is these days, lots of people leave their honeymoon to a later date. Whether it is due to tying up loose ends with the reception or venue, spending time with family and friends who have travelled for the celebrations (we fit into this category) work commitments, lack of annual leave or finances (and any other life interfering factor that can denounce fun), sometimes a honeymoon just isn’t practical straight after a wedding anymore, so more and more people choose to do this at a later date. Heck, some people don’t even have a honeymoon and choose to put the dinero toward a house deposit instead (I like your savvy thinking here sisters!) We actually discussed postponing ours, after all, we are flying half way round the world for our wedding, but I don’t mind admitting that I had a diva moment… “Um no, I think not! I would quite like two weeks of uninterrupted bride and groom party time in the sun please!” So off we will be jetting to our favourite destination en route back to New Zealand. While we are on the topic of New Zealand, SO many people come here for their honeymoon and no, before you ask I have not been paid by the tourist board to do a shameless plug, but if you are struggling to decide on a destination I can vouch this place would be a pretty awesome retreat. No matter what you‘re into, NZ really does cater for everyone, infact the more I write, maybe we should of just honeymooned at home?! You could come here and do the whole thing, wedding and honeymoon! Another bonus is just last year the land of the long white cloud had its law changed and same-sex marriage is now legal here – so proud of this little country I call home.
Here is another option, why not save your romantic vacation for your Babymoon… “Say whaaaat?!” I hear you holah? Oh yes, or there is your Minimoon, your Familymoon or your Grandparentmoon… ok I made the last one up, but the first two are actually ‘moons’ that people have these days – whoever moderated the honeymoon trend has made a few buckaroonies eh! I heard about this Babymoon craze not so long ago from a close friend of mine, to say the least I was baffled. But my ol’ 7 months, preggo’d up, buddy said she was off on her Babymoon for their last hurrah as just Mr and Mrs with no plus one! I think it’s a super cute idea actually – and what a last hurrah they had, even got bloody nakey-noodled in the hot tub and all! That’s probably more than I would even do on my H-moon 😉

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If you are still thinking about whether to H-moon or not, will you try something new? Or are you craving the traditional B&B in an undisclosed location? What about a safari or action adventure full of ski diving and bungee jumping? I have also heard of yoga retreats and a weeklong couples detox in a beautiful Thai sanctuary (personally I cannot think of anything worse, our wedding would probably be annulled by the end of the Honeymoon if we did this, no-one needs to combine hangry times with romance, show me the vino!) What about camping, glamping or tramping? A roadtrip, ski trip, cruise or city break maybe? There is the other option of course, screw the locale and get yourself on trip advisor and look for the best hotel room the planet has to offer, you may not want to leave the hotel room after all, eh hem… so pick the place with the best bed! What ever you might like to do, here is some destination-love to lose yourself in this Thursday afternoon…

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Where are you off to/what did you do? What are your plans instead? If you are a destination bride, are you staying on for a week of Mc’fun-in and Mc’lovin’? Tell us your plans and your preparations. Speaking of which, don’t even get me started on honeymoon fashion for poolside chic, nail polish and bikinis… that’s a whole other post!

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Before I sign out for this week, can we please have a big shout and celebratory champagne glass ‘chink chink’ for our RMW Real Bride Miss Stef who is getting married to her sweetheart in two wee days!! Och aye the noo! (If you didn’t know she’s Scottish I haven’t lost my marbles) We are all thinking of you gorgeous and will be sending lots of love your way.

Sarah xxx

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The First 90 Days…

Before you read this, (which probably isn’t what you’re expecting…) I had to just jump in and explain a little bit about what Gemma has written…

I asked Gemma, (who’s Hobart wedding you’ll remember from recent weeks) to write about her honeymoon when she mentioned that instead of having a traditional get-away, she and her husband had decided to do aid work. It’s something I have contemplated and so suitably impressed, I asked more about it. Aside from the volunteering, it was fascinating, although not entirely surprising to hear her take on how it affected their relationship, the lessons they learned and how it made them stronger as a couple.

I hope you enjoy reading about their first 90 days as much as I did and thank you Gemma for sharing it with us. 🙂

It has to be said from the outset that I love a bit of luxury, me. Pretty hotels make me happy. If we book somewhere lovely for a night, I take a photo of the room before we touch anything and ‘mess it all up.’ Had I ever really thought about a honeymoon before I was engaged, I’d probably have envisioned it taking place somewhere a bit plush, a little polished. Maybe a tropical resort, or maybe somewhere swish in a city. I certainly would have imagined running water and electricity! However what we actually did turned out to be truly rewarding and inspiring in a way that a posh room can never be.

The guests at our wedding gave (and very generously too, I might add) us gifts of money. We ummed and ahhed about doing our ‘money tree’ on the day because we both felt a bit uncomfortable asking for cash – but because we have made our life in London and we marrying in Australia, physical gifts weren’t practical at all. It was at some point early in the planning process that R floated the idea that we not spend any money we were given on stuff for a home we didn’t have yet (my list of ‘wants’ included a pale blue kitchenaid, a Rob Ryan print, some Portmerion china and an Alessi kettle to name a few) and that we go off and do aid work somewhere instead. Now for all my daily swooning over the luxe and the lovely, I have always wanted to do some kind of volunteer work overseas, and R felt the same. We’ve always agreed that we are incredibly lucky to have comparatively privileged lives. (sometimes I need reminding of this at the shoe counter in Selfridges, though.) We didn’t want to lose sight of the ‘big picture’, but when you’re planning a wedding and bombarded every day with expectations, inspirations and also stuff, stuff, and more wedding-related stuff, it can happen. I started to be able to justify ridiculous expense in my head for various things, and one morning when I was lying in bed I added up my list of ‘wedding wants’ (as separate from ‘house wants’, above) and realised I would have been ashamed to share it with R, the man I was marrying. Oh dear. I kept that little epiphany to myself and when R suggested we go to an orphanage in Asia to volunteer, I readily agreed.


*See the rest of Gemma’s Wedding here.

So we decided on Burma, much to the gasping of our families. A small country bordered by Laos, China, Thailand and Bangladesh, Burma’s official name is The Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Oh, and it’s run by a tightly controlled military government who spend an average of 80pence per person, per year, on public health. The Burmese economy is one of the least developed of the world, and the government is under UN sanction for various human rights abuses. The more I read about life for the Burmese (no freedom of speech, little access to education, no electricity or fresh water in some villages, political imprisonment, etc etc) the more I wanted to help, and the more I wondered whether we would actually be able to be of any real help – we didn’t want to be do-goody Westerners with bleeding hearts getting in the way, or in the case of Burma, getting the people into serious trouble with the government. It was supremely difficult to organise, too, because very few places in Burma have telephones, and the ones that do exist are only able to call within the country, calling out is forbidden. Despite all this we managed and left the snowy UK winter for Kuala Lumpur, where we had to apply for visas to enter Burma.

We arrived about 5pm on a Saturday, after much hilarity on the plane as I was sitting next to two Burmese ladies who couldn’t speak or read a single word of English and therefore couldn’t fill in their landing cards which were written completely in English. I filled them out for them at their request and after much flipping through of the Burmese phrase book, and to say thank you they gave me an orange and a few hugs and told me they loved me forever. One was also determined to lend me her reading glasses when she saw me pick up my novel.

Our first impressions of Burma were in many ways what we expected it to be but in others totally different. I was amazed at how modern, clean and sleek the airport was, but then we came out of customs and arrivals accompanied by our Burmese host and into an ancient kombi-like bus which I won’t go into detail describing, suffice to say no seatbelts, suspension or even attached seats. It did have big windows though through which we eagerly drank in the sights of the city, which ranged from the sublime (the Shewdagon Pagoda – a giant golden temple that is said to be clad in more gold than is contained in all the bank vaults in England, described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘A golden mystery that upheaved itself on the horizon’) to the ridiculous including a man carrying two basket bags at either side, both bursting at the seams with squawking live chickens. And one was perched on his head.

We had obviously been expecting to see a lot of poverty, but I don’t think anyone living a comfortable Western life can ever imagine what it’s truly like until they go. Just outside our guest house were people living in corrugated iron sheds which looked like they’d been cobbled together with thumbtacks and would fall over under the weight of a fairly puny kick, kids squatting in the dust and playing across overgrown, but live train tracks and many wrinkled locals who opened their mouths to smile at us and displayed rows of blackened, rotted teeth. The people were incredibly friendly, and although we attracted a few stares and giggles (I think for our height more than anything else, we both towered over the Burmese by quite a way, and R bumped his head a few times going into doorways) everyone was forever smiling at us and calling out hello. On the first night we were there, we sat outside our guest house and took stock – We had seen no signs whatsoever of any kind of upheaval or unrest, and felt completely safe, just a little excited and nervous about what was to come.

On the Monday, after some sightseeing on Sunday, we took the ‘Circle Train’ to the Paw Khan settlement which is about 8km away from central Yangon. Despite being such a short distance, the train however took an hour to get there and rattled us round like marbles in jar. We shared the ride with chickens, baskets of bananas and a pakora seller who was frying his wares over a bubbling pot of oil without spilling a drop. Going at that speed meant we saw a lot of the countryside and also because we were running late every. single. day. (no change from my London life there, then!) we could make a sprint for it at the station and swing ourselves up on without any major injury which considering my coordination is no mean feat.

We were both a little apprehensive before our first day but as it turned out we needn’t have been, and we spent our time at the centre playing with the adorable children and helping out with basic tasks. Mainly staffed by women, the Eden is testament to what’s going right in Burma – it’s incredibly efficient, the teachers and carers are all very professional and enthusiastic, the parents and communities of the disabled children are integrated into various programs and basically the only thing lacking is funding. R and I certainly provided a lot of fun and laughter for the kids and the staff, and we were told that the thought that people in the developed world cared enough to visit them was amazing. It was incredibly humbling for us, to see how adroitly the people just got on with what needed to be done to rehabilitate their children so cheerfully and with so few resources. I tend to fall back on clichés when I talk about Burma, but I can’t help it. It was a humbling, life changing, ‘you’ll never know until you go’ experience. It did ‘really make us think’ and ‘re-examine our priorities.’ And we will never forget everyone we met at the centre, including a little boy called Goji who insisted on jumping up into R’s arms every time he clapped eyes on him, even if he was meant to be sitting quietly, Oli, a 10 year old downs syndrome boy who ran to meet us in the mornings, Augustina, a downs girl who shyly cuddled my legs and constantly whispered ‘mingalaba’ to me (it’s hello in Burmese but it’s also a blessing) and dozens of others, all of whom we fell in love with and were very sad to leave. We hope to go back at some stage and visit taking some supplies, like books, toys, writing paper, pencils – the very basics which, to spout another cliché, we take for granted in schools at home.

When our volunteering came to an end, we were both pretty exhausted. It sounds a bit precious, because there are people who do it every day without complaint, but we found the work quite emotionally draining. We didn’t have heaps of time to be ‘tourists’ in Yangon but one Saturday we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda which I mentioned above, and it really was one of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen. We lost count of the Buddha statues dotted around after about number 57. Because we were both born on a Saturday, according to Burmese astrology our lives follow the same cycle of good years and bad years, but obviously staggered by a difference of 6 years because R is older than me. We sat down cross-legged for an hour or so with a spiritual teacher at the Pagoda who explained that R is currently under the influence of a ‘difficult planetary time’ and that his luck will really change for the better when he turns 42. If the last year, especially, has been one of the most rubbish of his life, I confidently expect a lottery win in 2021.

Our guide taught us about the way to Nirvana and the road to spiritual enlightenment, and kept mentioning ‘right thought, right speech and right molarity’. We assumed this was a spoonerism and he meant us to keep a strict eye on our morals, though due to the damage he’d done to his teeth chewing betel nuts it is possible he was talking about dental hygiene and not making the same mistake he had.

The following week we travelled by bus overnight (with more chickens!) from Yangon to Mandalay. We had both romanticised the city in our separate ways – for me, it was after reading ‘The Glass Palace’ by Amitav Ghosh, and imagining the life of the Burmese royalty in the late 1800s. We debated about actually visiting the palace, as although it’s open to the public, it was rebuilt by forced labour in the 90s, and any entry fee money goes directly to the government, however we did go and it was a highlight of the trip for me. We roamed the practically deserted citadel, walked silently through the reception rooms and mirrored walls the palace is named for, and with a bit of (over-active if you ask my husband!) imagination the gorgeous design and gracious bungalows of Queen Supayalat’s quarters came alive for us and I danced on the lawn barefoot and pretended it was ours. Mandalay Hill was another fascinating ‘tourist’ site – it was magnificent, with views from the summit stretching out all over the city. Mandalay Hill is sacred to the Burmese, and used as a prayer site. On the steps up to the top though is wedding town! A lot of Burmese can’t afford new wedding gowns and when they put their day together it’s a combination of scrimping together whatever they can beg or borrow.

If they can’t, for whatever reason, get a photo taken on the day, (lots of people we met later in the trip had only one or two photos of themselves taken in a whole lifetime) there are a few photographers who have ‘offices’ on the way up Mandalay Hill complete with ‘props’ and ‘stages’ and even accessories girls can borrow. As you can see in the photos – the ‘sets’ are gorgeous and I was desperate to climb in and have a play, but we didn’t want to be disrespectful (let’s face it, I’d have broken that tiny chair!) and it was just a wee bit disappointing there wasn’t a real bride there on the day! (I wanted to wait around and see if anyone turned up but R vetoed that suggestion.)

From Mandalay we went to Bagan, (another bus ride, this time with a sack of rice as a seat) and hired pushbikes to ride around all day ‘sunset chasing’, seeing literally hundreds, if not thousands of temples as we explored the surrounding villages. The temples in Bagan seem to sprout up on their own so numerous are they, and they’re as much a part of the countryside as the trees and bushes. The oldest ones were built in the 11th century and you can still see the murals on their walls. Super-frustratingly the camera ran out of battery half way through the day and we hadn’t brought any spares with us so we retraced our steps the next day although, as is always the way, photos never really do justice to what we saw. We spent a few days in Bagan and then bussed again to a mountain region called Kalaw in readiness to do a hike into the country-side and see what a lot of the Burmese told us, was the ‘real Myanmar.’ From Kalaw (where we stayed in a guest house room that reminded me of a painted out stable, complete with large fence bolt on the door) we trekked for 3 days and two nights down to Inle Lake, a walk of about 70km that took in some of the most poverty stricken parts of the country. We walked through villages that were so incredibly poor it was mind blowing, where they speak their own, almost unrecognisable, dialects of Burmese, where the kids make their toys out of sticks and discarded fruit, where there are government built schools that stand empty because no parents can afford to pay a teacher to use the classrooms.

One town we went to had the ‘industry’ of making straw brooms, by hand, under the heat of the midday sun. The people had no electricity, took their water from ground wells and have no real roads in or out of their homes – for a lot of people in the mountains of Burma the only way to move around is to walk. Our guide was a 30 year old Burmese man called Jo, and at one stage I mentioned to him that my father was an engineer. His response was ‘what a lucky man your father is, to have been able to study something so interesting and to have such a venerable job. Your family is truly fortunate’ That comment really stuck in my head – Normally we wouldn’t say a family was ‘fortunate’ unless they’d just won the lottery. During the trek we stayed for a couple of nights in Burmese houses with families, and it was, again, incredibly humbling to see that we’d been given what was the best room in the house , decorated with flowers, and had been given all the family’s blankets while they slept next to the cast iron firepot in the kitchen. We ate by candlelight after watching the sun go down and the temperature dropped sharply, so we snuggled up on the wooden floor and looked out at the stars. In the morning we showered with a watering can and steam came off us – we could see our breath in the air, but by 9 o’clock the burning sun was out again. Once we were nearing the bigger cities again we spent one night in a monastery which was absolutely fascinating. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and it is a requirement that every Burmese man spends at least two periods of his life (between the ages of 8 and 13, and again between 30 and 40, for between a few months to a couple of years) cloistered in a monastery dedicating himself to Buddhism. We were in the same room (a large hall with rattan sleeping mats on the floor) as the ‘mini monks’ boys between 8 and 11. Despite their ceremonial robes and angelic faces, boys are boys anywhere in the world: very cute and very cheeky! Their day at the monastery started with chanting at 4.45 in the morning but that was ok as we’d been in bed not long after the sun went down the night before (again by torch and candle light) and waking up to the giggles and whispers of 70 baby monks who don’t want to get out of bed was really a lot of fun. Plus there’s something soothing about being curled up on a rattan mattress under warm blankets as the sound of meditation washes over you – very relaxing and it was difficult to be outside for breakfast by 6.30!

Not long after this, unfortunately, our visas were up and we had to leave. There was a lot that we did and saw that isn’t in this report, partly because it’s long enough as it is, and partly because it’s not a great idea to be too specific and people and places in Burma due to government censorship and control. At one stage when we were on the bus it was raided by Burmese military police and each person’s luggage was checked for ‘contraband’ like mobile phones, laptops or incendiary literature. At one stage R is pretty sure we were followed by ‘reporters’ which is apparently the norm – the government likes to know what foreigners are doing and where they are going. We tried to do what we could to help but really it was drop in the ocean. Our trip was challenging, tiring, and at times distressing. We were often really quite filthy, occasionally ill from the food or the water, and sometimes overwhelmed at the notion that we have everything while some people have nothing. And yet it was the best thing we’ve ever done. It showed us sides of each other, and ourselves, that we’d not seen – we impressed each other, and we were 100% together, as a unit, the whole time. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise. And at the end of the day, I think that the ‘being a unit’ is what the honeymoon is meant to be all about.

It might not be everybody’s first thought of what a honeymoon is all about, but I couldn’t have put the sentiment better myself. Anything that has such a thought provoking and positive effect on your relationship can’t be a bad thing and how amazing to know that you have helped other people when we all live our lives in such relatively absolute luxury.

I hope this has given you all a thought provoking story for your Sunday and acts as a fitting end to Wifey week.

May all of you yet to experience them, have a happy and fulfilling first 90 days of building your very own family unit.

Yours Truly,

Rebecca
xoxo

PS You are going to L-O-V-E next week as we unveil the new Real bride contenders day by day. Each morning or afternoon we will be posting a selected entry each hour, then opening the voting. We have six categories and posting will continue right up to and including Sunday. Every individual vote counts! (Friends and family may vote too!) Voting will be open until the friday after next, (Friday 1st July.)

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Rock Your Honeymoon: Tuscany, The Where to Go.

Right, so as the rain and dreary weather returns to the UK, today we get to be transported back to the lovely rolling hills and beautiful towns of Tuscany for the second part for Anita’s Tuscan tour.

The photos she took whilst there are just stunning, so without further ado, I’ll hand her over to tell you all about The Where To Go.

I hope you enjoy reading about what we actually did on our honeymoon –and I apologise for the photos, even my trusty GHDs were no match for the heat and humidity of Italy in the summer so I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse my mad/frizzy hair!!

San Gimignano/Volterra

After the hectic few days around our wedding, albeit with our lovely friends and family, we enjoyed spending a couple of relaxing days just wandering around San Gimignano and Volterra (only about 20-30 minutes apart). They are both beautiful little Tuscan hill towns with stunning views over the countryside from the old city walls (some of my favourites of our wedding photos were taken on the city walls of San Gimignano).

In San Gimignano – Palazzo del Popolo is the formal name for the Comune or town hall. It has a tower (Torre Grosso) which you can climb for beautiful views over the town and countryside, and a very interesting museum downstairs with history and artwork relating to medieval Tuscany. Make sure you look at the Sala Dante which is a gorgeous room with absolutely stunning frescoes all over the walls (but I am biased as the Sala Dante is the room we chose to get married in!)

Gelateria di Piazza is a must visit – it’s on Piazza della Cisterna, the main square, and is always heaving with people no matter what time of day! They have over 70 flavours, ice cream heaven!

The Rocca is the old ruined fortress up at the top of the town, part of it is now a lovely garden with fig and olive trees, there’s also a small Wine Museum dedicated to Vernaccia, the white wine produced in and around San Gimignano.

Volterra is famous for its mention in the Twilight books but unfortunately the famous town square with the fountain which Bella runs through doesn’t actually exist!! (I think that scene was actually filmed in a different town nearby). The town is still lovely though with lots of marble and alabaster carvings and a couple of small museums.

Siena

Siena is a beautiful, beautiful city which centres around the semicircular Piazza del Campo –which if it doesn’t make you go ‘wow’ the minute you step into it, there’s something wrong with you!! One of the most famous events in the Sienese calendar is the Palio, a horse race held twice each summer, in which ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen Contrade or city wards. They race 3 times around the Campo at speed!! We weren’t there on the day of the Palio itself but were there a couple of days beforehand so we got to see the horses being presented in the main square and also to see some of the parades which happen to celebrate the Palio, with music, dancing and flag twirling.

The impressive buildings which overlook the Piazza del Campo are the Palazzo Pubblico (containing the very interesting Museo Civico) and the Torre del Mangia, which we climbed and enjoyed some lovely views from the top. Then it was off to the spectacular Duomo (Cathedral). We refreshed ourselves at a fabulous cafe called Nannini’s (cake, coffee, icecream and wine all under one roof, heaven). The best restaurant we found was Osteria Le Logge just off Piazza del Campo, an old converted pharmacy with an amazing Tuscan menu (quails egg risotto was my favourite).

Greve/Vignamaggio

As we drove from Siena towards Greve and Vignamaggio the countryside got more and more picturesque and we kept stopping every few miles for photos!! We finally arrived at Vignamaggio which was even more stunning. There is a main building which has rooms in it and also 3 converted farmhouses with suites –we were staying in one of these.

For most of our 2 days at Vignamaggio we did, well, not a lot! The majority of our time was spent lounging around the pool and enjoying the lovely views! We did go for a couple of walks in the gorgeous countryside and we went into Greve (about 15-20 minutes drive) for an early evening stroll and then dinner (and of course an ice cream!) in the pretty main square.

However by far the highlight of our stay at Vignamaggio was the 5 course gourmet food and wine tasting – and it was only 45 euros each, bargain! Mike and I are big foodies, we love going to restaurants and trying out new cuisines – our birthday presents to each other are usually a meal somewhere special! One of our reasons for choosing Italy as a wedding and honeymoon venue was the food. We didn’t actually realise that Vignamaggio did food and wine tasting evenings, it was just mentioned to us when we checked in and it was brilliant.

The evening started with a wander around the vineyards and then seeing where the wine is matured before sitting down to a fabulous meal with, naturally, each course paired with a matching wine produced there at Vignamaggio. The food was some of the best we have ever eaten and the matching wines superb. However they don’t do tastings every day, so if you end up going to Vignamaggio, I would thoroughly recommend contacting them in advance and finding out when they have one on and trying to coordinate your visit with that.

Similarly, when they aren’t doing a food and wine tasting, they don’t do proper meals (there’s no restaurant, only a bar serving light snacks) and there’s nothing within walking distance, so you’ll need to be organised and either stock up so you can self cater in your room/suite, or go into Greve for dinner.

Florence

Florence really hardly needs recommendations from me –it is so beautiful and spectacular that all you really need to do is wander around and you will find another amazing landmark or gorgeous square. We did all the stuff you have to do in Florence –went to the Duomo (and climbed to the top of the dome in blistering heat – I made Mike buy me a cocktail afterwards to help me recover!), marvelled at the artwork in the Uffizi Gallery and in the Palazzo Vecchio, wandered across the Ponte Vecchio (where I lusted at the jewellery in the tiny shops and Mike made me keep walking!), took a bus out to Fiesole for an afternoon drink and a gaze out to the distant skyline of Florence, went to the Galileo museum (Mike and I are closet science geeks I’m afraid), and, well, just soaked up the atmosphere really.

On the corner of Piazza della Reppublica is a cafe called Caffe Gilli – fantastic coffee and cakes during the day, fantastic cocktails in the evening. The best restaurants we ate at were Lobs, a seafood place just around the corner from our hotel, and a fantastic place called Osteria di Giovanni, where we had an amazing Fiorentina bistecca (basically giant steak!)

I’d also recommend the gelateria on Piazza San Pier Maggiore – every possible flavour of chocolate and mixed with things like pepper, chilli, cinnamon and cumin!

Lucca

Lucca is a very cute, almost pocket-sized little town –or at least that’s how it felt after the glories of Florence and Siena! We were lucky enough to be there during their annual music festival and spent a blissful afternoon sitting outside in the sunshine listening to a really good jazz band (sadly no photos as my camera died that afternoon!)

Apart from that we walked round the city walls, went to the Duomo and climbed the bell tower (are you sensing a theme here?!) We also visited Piazza della Anfiteatro, an old converted theatre, which is gorgeous. We ate amazing grilled ribs at Trattoria da Leo, and drank fabulous cocktails at a little bar on Via Elisa. Mainly we enjoyed the last couple of days of our blissful Tuscan honeymoon.

Wow. I have absolutely loved putting this together, and thank you so much to Anita for taking the time to write this and also put the images together for us.

Have you been to any of the places in question and can you recommend anywhere to visit or things to do? I’m making a list right now for my summer holiday!

Yours Truly,

Rebecca
xoxo

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