Travel

The Best of Italy in 2 Weeks

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After watching Eat Pray Love years ago, I could completely relate to it and it became my favourite film of all time and still is today. I dreamt of going to all the places she visited, travelling alone, being super sassy and not ever needing a man. In reality, I met Dec very soon after this, so instead I took it upon myself to mither him daily about us visiting Italy. Of course, I got my way in the end (the food won him over I think).

This blog post goes back a couple of years to 2015 but we thought it would be a good trip to start on, as we both completely fell in love with the country! It’s the place we plan to get married and hope that one day we grow very, very old there…awww.

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Milan & Lake Como – 3 nights

Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa & Tuscany – 4 nights

Rome – 3 nights

Naples, Capri & Sorrento – 3 nights

Day 1 to 3 – Milan

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Transport

After flying in to Bergamo, we had pre-booked a coach from outside the airport directly into the city centre through Terravision, for €5 each. The journey is about an hour. For pretty much the rest of our time in Milan centre, we walked – usually the best way to see everywhere anyway! It is a big city but it’s definitely all within walking distance if you stay central. We did use the underground to get to the San Siro stadium though, which was simple enough – all tickets can be bought on machines that translate to English.

Lake Como is really accessible from Milan via public transport, too! Not very expensive and we saw all the main towns around it in one day 🙂 

Accommodation

We stayed at the Ibis Milano Centro, mainly to keep costs down where we could but also because it was in such a great location – just over a mile away from the Duomo di Milano. We paid £186 for 3 nights including the £20 city tax. When we arrived at the hotel it was what you’d expect from an Ibis – pretty basic, but sometimes you don’t need anything more than a clean room/bathroom and a comfy bed and this was definitely the case for our stay in Milan.

Sight-Seeing

We chose some of the main sights before we went, and a few places that can be done in a morning are Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Duomo di Milano & Teattro alla Scala. We came from the North-West of the city, so walked past Teattro alla Scala, on towards Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and walked through here and out the other side onto the square where the Duomo is. The Galleria is full of posh shops if you’re into shopping, then the Duomo is definitely worth a visit. We queued up for tickets for the Duomo and it was worth it to be fair; the inside is impressive and so are the views from the roof. Make sure you’re caked in sun cream if the sun is bouncing – we were melting on the roof!

We visited the San Siro stadium and did the tour there, too; we got on the underground right by the Duomo, getting off at the Piazza Axum underground station (The M1 line now leads straight to the San Siro station, about a 10 min walk from the stadium). The M1 line wasn’t open when we were there, so we had a mile walk through a fairly shady-looking area. The stadium isn’t all that from the outside, but getting in and onto the pitch-side was pretty impressive!

A tip to see Teattro alla Scala is to look at what’s on there before getting to Milan, and buy tickets for whatever is on! We saw that there was a ballet performance on, called ‘Excelsior’ on the Saturday night and bought tickets for about £80. The inside of the theatre is amazing. Another tip is to NOT exchange your tickets when they offer you something else. We had balcony tickets but they offered us ‘better’ seats when collecting them. They were ground floor and quite close, but not as good as the balcony ones we would have had. Nice one, Dec…

 One of our busiest and also our best days in Italy was our day trip to Como that we arranged ourselves! This was so easy and something everyone should do when in Milan, 100%.

Como Day Trip Journey

It gave us enough time in each town to see whatever we wanted to see. Varenna had all the shops and café’s on the waterfront, Bellagio had the cobbled streets and shops you see all over Instagram and Como had the bars! Don’t forget to walk a bit further in land at any of these. People always give the advice to ‘get lost’ in a place, but I think Bellagio was a perfect place for that; there were shops and café’s on every narrow street corner that you would want to visit.

The whole trip worked perfectly and we loved being able to see Lake Como and its best bits! Still not as nice as Lake Garda though, FYI….

Food

Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone – This was a courtyard restaurant we found before going to Milan and we went here on our first evening. It was a special place, with the most amazing local buratta cheese (this breaks my heart as I’m now Vegan). The food really was amazing, however it wasn’t really ‘us’, we felt slightly awkward (standard) when we weren’t allowed to pour our own wine. I remember trying to pour myself another glass and the waiter coming over and taking the bottle off me then pouring me a glass himself. I mean sometimes you just want a REALLY large glass right??? If you like fine dining and want something a bit special whilst in Milan this is your place.

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Pave – On our first morning, to prep for a busy day of sightseeing, we had some breakfast at Pave, round the corner from the hotel, which is an espresso bar. The café was a diamond in the rough in all senses of the word! There was nothing around it that looked decent at all. It was a good find by us and would recommend it for a quick morning stop. We opted for chocolatey pastries and a brew 🙂

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Caffe Varenna – This was a nice surprise we came across when walking round Varenna on the lakeside. The little towns on the lakes are full of places like this one, but I loved the cute outside furniture and ivy on the building. We got some breakfast and took in the beautiful view across the water.  

(Eggs and bacon for me and a HUGE bacon barm for Dec)

Ristorante da Pietro – This was another unplanned restaurant visit in Como. It may have been a bit expensive because it was facing the Como Cathedral, but it was perfect for people watching and obviously the view of the Cathedral. We chilled, had a bit of food and lots of wine, just before we had to get on the train back to Milan.

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Ristorante Da CeccoAfter a long day seeing Como, we stumbled across this place after walking past Dry and seeing how busy it was. Da Cecco is a quaint, local restaurant, ran by an Italian family. It was a cosy place but had a big menu and served massive steins of beer! Staff were friendly and the food was yum 🙂

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Drink

We spent most of our first night after the meal in Nottingham Forest Cocktail Bar; a tiny Hawaiian/Pirate themed place. They had so many drinks options, all as weird as each other, all with a little story about them and most of them in crazy glasses – Definitely more up our street. We loved it that much we went back again on our last night in Milan. The place is really small and we even saw people queuing outside, waiting for a table. Luckily we got seats. We would definitely recommend this place if you’re in the city. Very difficult to explain how weird and cool the place was, so just look at the pics!

Another couple of places we would recommend are La Vineria on Via Casale and also Dry, on Via Solferino.

La Vineria is little wine bar on the side of a main road, with loads of outdoor seating and cheap wine! This was one we walked past everyday but was closed on the Sunday when we went to go 😦 

Dry is a pizza place that does some good cocktails too! The place was heaving on a Saturday night, so try and get there early ish if you want a seat. There are plenty of other bars and restaurants on that street (Via Solferino), if not. You won’t miss Dry, as it’s the bar with dry ice pouring from the top of the windows!

Days 4 to 7 – Florence & Tuscany

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Transport

So our first train journey was the longest of our journeys, taking 1 hour 40 mins from Milano Centrale to Firenze SMN. Tickets were about £60 for 2 of us, which we bought at Milano station. Just a reminder… make sure you validate your tickets before getting on the train!!! There is a fine if you don’t. You can validate them at any of the yellow boxes knocking about by the platforms. The train journey gives you a bit of time to plan the next city 🙂

*We checked an inter-rail pass for Italy and doing it this way worked out cheaper (Just 3 train journeys)*

Once in Florence, we used the buses to get to our accommodation, which was around a 30 minute bus ride directly from outside the SMN train station and was a lot more accessible than we thought.  Our stop was the last stop, so we had no problems finding the stop. Plus, just use Google maps if you’re struggling. Buses ran up until just after midnight, so it wasn’t a problem at all, apart from when you fall asleep on it – drunk.

Once in the city centre, your legs are enough to get you round!

Accommodation

We stayed at La Martellina B&B, in Girone, owned by a polite Italian guy with a big cuddly dog. We paid £232 for 4 nights and the house was set right on the River Arno with a huge garden.

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We loved our time here and the little room we had looking out onto the River Arno, it was so chilled. We’re returning to Florence next year but have decided to stay more central to the city.

Sight Seeing

There is a lot to see in Florence but it’s the most amazing city to explore, with little piazzas around every corner and beaut buildings everywhere you look. There are lots of museums, churches and shops you may want to see, but this is what we set out to see. Again, although the city is one of the best to explore on your own, with all the narrow streets and tall buildings, the highlights of the city can be done in a day, with plenty time for wine!

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The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Piazza del Duomo is still something Dec buzzes over. You can see glimpses of the Duomo when you travel into the city, through the narrow streets, but it’s only when you get onto the square when you realise how huge it is, so take your photos and venture in there if you want to buy tickets! The Baptistrey of St John is also on the square but had a load of scaffolding around it when we were there. It’s a good first place to visit as it’s fairly close to the train station and most buses pass the streets around it.

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From here I would recommend heading towards Piazza della Signoria, another square that has the statue of David amongst other statues, all surrounding the town hall of Florence There’s a lot of history behind this square so explore at your leisure 🙂

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After here, it makes sense to carry on your walk towards the river and walk over Ponte Vecchio. It’s an interesting bridge with a lot of jewellers along it and some nice views down the river. I personally preferred Ponte Santa Trinita – the next bridge along. Here you get the view of Ponte Vecchio and it’s much quieter, with just as nice of a view of the river!

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One of our favourite memories of Italy was our day spent around Tuscany. We booked this through Walkabout Florence, who are #1 on Trip Advisor out of around 350 for Tours in Florence. We got to see Siena, San Gimignano, a Tuscan vineyard, where we had a 3 course meal with wine tasting and ended the day in Pisa. We completely fell in love with Tuscany and the rolling hills; so much so we are visiting next July to view some wedding venues!

Somewhere we missed out (shameful!) is Piazzale Michelangelo; this is a piazza on the south side of the river, a mile away from Ponte Vecchio, with panoramic views of the city. Get yourself here for some amazing photos!

Food

Panino del Chianti – One of the many panini places in Florence! This one is just on the South side of Ponte Vecchio. One of the best in the city and only €4 for a Panini. Cheap glasses of wine too.

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Mercato Centrale – The indoor market that sells all local produce. Go upstairs to the first floor to find all sorts of food vendors (and a bar). Perfect for a day trip and lunch.

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Ino Firenze – Another panini shop hidden away down a back street. Loads of options for a quick, cheap Italian sandwich 🙂 Another of the best in the city. Prices around €5-10 per panini.

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Ciro and Sons – A place Dec won’t remember at all because he was too drunk off white wine! This is a pizzeria place with a fairly grand vibe on the inside, with chandeliers, leather seating etc. They have a huge copper pizza oven that customers can see on their way in.  Highly rated on Trip Advisor, just off a little piazza and has outdoor seating too. Most pizzas under €10.

** A tip if you’re on a budget – most bars in Italy offer an aperitivo in the evenings. This is where bars put on a bit of a spread of food; sometimes small snacks like olives or nuts, but most of the time its pasta, bruschetta, cheeses etc. They let you get involved when you’ve bought a drink there. It’s supposed to be only for snacking and finger food, but if you aren’t greedy pigs then you could have it for a meal**

Drink

Il Borro Tuscan Bistro – We spent our first evening here. This a bar right next to the River Arno, with a great view of Ponte Vecchio. There are a few seats outside, overlooking the bridge. It isn’t a cheap place but the apperitivo was good quality and so is the wine!

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La Terrazza Lounge Bar – Our best find! We found this when planning the holiday. It’s a bar on the rooftop of the Continentale Hotel, which is literally the building next to Ponte Vecchio on the North side. Go in the hotel, find the lift, get to the 3rd floor, find the other lift and go to the top floor. Expensive drinks but all worth it for the view.

College – We came across this place when waiting around for the bar below to open. It’s a student bar quite far out the centre but it was so cheap. Literally like €1.50 a beer and about €2.50 for a glass of prosecco. We sat in the little bit outside, people watched and ate cheese. TAKE ME BACK!

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Enoteca Alla Sosta Dei Papi – This was a small wine bar which was the cause of Dec’s death on this night! The place is a wine shop but you can sit down for some drinks too. We were quite early, so it was just us 2 and the owner. Later on, he put some chairs outside in the sun and the place got busier. There were hundreds of wines to choose from but we went with what usually works, and asked for the house wine. He had 3 steel vats of house wine, which costed €2 per litre Enough said. 

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Days 8 to 10 – Rome

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Transport

This was another hassle-free journey between cities! The train was 1.5 hours from Florence SMN, arriving at Roma Termini, costing £60 for both of us. We then got the underground from the train station 6 stops over to Colosseo, a 5 minute walk to our accommodation (thank god – it was so humid). All the undergrounds are so easy to use in Italy; all machines have an option for English, so don’t worry about using them.

Accommodation

The best of our accommodation on the whole trip – 3 nights in N ° 9 Colosseo View Suites for £350. An Air Bnb find with the most amazing view and location, as you can see. With the weather being so hot and humid, it was always easy for us to nip back here for a shower or a blast of air con.

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Sight Seeing

With us staying so central, we were close enough to walk to most of the places we wanted to see. From sight-to-sight, we saw:

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II – Don’t do any stupid poses for photos as the police and security guards do not allow it.

Pantheon – 10 mins walk from the Monumento. Free entry also.

Piazza Navona – 5 min walk from the Pantheon. Get here early, before all the stalls are set up and tourists get there if you can.

Campo de Fiori – Only another 5 mins from Piazza Navona. This is a good place for some fresh fruit and a look around the busy market stalls.

Trevi Fountain – A mile away from Campo de Fiori, but you have to go here to throw the coin over your shoulder! Unfortunately, it was under maintenance whilst we visited, so it was even more cramped. I still got my good luck coin throw in, though! CHEESY.

Spanish Steps – Around a 10 min walk from the Trevi Fountain. Something you apparently have to do whilst in Rome! Not much to do but people watch and get offered selfie sticks.

Villa Celimontana – A really quiet park that wasn’t far from our apartment. It was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle.

Colosseum – We kept an eye on the queues first thing the next morning from our window, then walked across and joined them. There are tour guides who walk up and down the queue, asking if you want to join them at the front. We weren’t sure if it was a scam, but we gambled and got in a lot quicker and followed an English-speaking tour guide round. There’s very little shade in the Colosseum so bear that in mind!

Vatican – We walked 3 miles to get here on a Sunday, not realising until we arrived that our mate, the Pope would be making an appearance! *Note – The tours and stuff are shut on a Sunday.*

 

Food

Osteria Angelino dal 1899 – We came here on early evening on our first night as it was just round the corner from the Colosseum and our apartment. It was really quiet but we loved it. The food was great and we would recommend coming here if you’re in the area. Good old, authentic Italian food.

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Enoteca Barberini – This was a place we chose after searching the back streets of Rome for somewhere that wasn’t a tourist trap! (Bloody tourists, going over to Europe, eating in restaurants). The food was really good as well and the place is a bit livelier at night, with live Jazz and stuff, from what we saw. It’s probably mid-range, price-wise.  

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Angelino ai Fori dal 1947 – Being drawn in from the ivory covering the outside seating area and all the fans, we ended up eating in a bit of a tourist trap. The outside seating was nice, but it was overpriced. Our fault for choosing the restaurant opposite the Roman Forum entrance! More restaurant-research needed next time haha!

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Takeaway Pizza from Pizza Forum – With our apartment view being better than most restaurants, we got a pizza to take back to our room and eat there after some drinks. The pizzeria was just round the corner from the Colosseum and was a typical Italian pizza, so we loved it 🙂

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Drinks

Shamrock – Dec finding his inner British, found this Irish bar just round the corner from our apartment to watch the football in. He went on his own whilst I got ready and I met him there later on for a drink. Apparently the best part of the trip for him…

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Pronto Gourmet Takeaway – We found this completely by luck; it was a tiny square with a fountain (‘Fountain of the Catechumens on Piazza della Madonna dei Monti’ we later found out). Everyone was chilling around the fountain with drinks and food from the place on the corner, which was Pronto. I’m sure there are loads of little squares like this, but it felt very Italian.  

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Naples – Days 11 to 14

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Travel

The train from Rome to Naples is only 1 hour 20 mins and again, around £30pp for 2nd class.  The underground metro is attached to the train station but we only needed to travel 2 stops to the Municipio station, taking about 10 minutes.

 To visit Capri, you have to get the ferry from Molo Beverello, which is an industrial-looking port, just next to Castel Nuovo.

Accommodation

We spent the final 3 nights of our Italian adventure in Hotel Napolit’amo Medina, which cost us just £130. It wasn’t anything special, but again, the location was perfect and within walking distance of the centre and the ferry port.

Sightseeing

Capri – In 50 years, when we are old and grey, this day will be one we both remember; I am certain of that. With Capri being so close to Naples, we organised a private boat tour of the island through Capri Relax Boats. There isn’t THAT much to see in Naples, so it was another of my great ideas… We got the ferry in the morning from the Movo Beverello port, just a 10 min walk from our hotel, across to Capri. The ferry runs every half hour from 8am and cost us €20pp return, taking around 1.5 hours.

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The ‘office’ of Capri Relax Boats was a tiny little hole in the wall, a short walk away from where we got off the ferry. We had a private boat for just us 2, and we were taken around the island and shown the sights for 4 hours, stopping off to swim in the Green Grotto, checking out the houses and yachts, along with the Fraglioni ‘Tunnel of Love’ (The rock arch from the D&G Light Blue advert). We also stopped off to see the Blue Grotto, which is a must when you’re visiting Capri. It was a perfect day and one we won’t forget any time soon.

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*Note – There is a separate entrance fee of ‘€14pp’ for the Blue Grotto. It’s basically a tip for the gondola sailor and they absolutely fleeced a couple in front of us, not giving them change from like €40 or something. I think we gave them €30 and left it at that.*  

Sorrento, Positano & Amalfi Coast – After a few exchanged emails with Giuseppe, we booked a driver through Sorrento Coast Drivers and arranged a tour of Sorrento, Positano & the Amalfi Coast for our final full day in Italy. This was an 8 hour tour that cost €300 altogether. All these tours and drivers are quite expensive but we thought it was a good way to see the area in a day. Unfortunately, I was up all of the night with food poisoning. We had to stop the car after 5 mins so I could throw up on the side of the road. We hadn’t even left Naples! I have never felt so bad! I managed to get to Positano in the car, but we had to turn around after quickly seeing the area, with more hard shoulder visits for more throwing up. CLASSY.

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Food

Pizzeria Nennella – A ridiculous find. Somewhere we found on Trip Advisor when researching the area but we didn’t expect this. It was down one of the narrow streets of Napoli, fairly uphill. The staff spoke as much English as we did Italian, but we managed to order a large margherita, a 750ml beer and a 2L bottle of water for €9. An absolute bargain and the second best pizza we’ve ever had.

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Panorama Ristorante Capri – The views from here were worth every step of the uphill hike in the 30+ degree heat! Definitely recommend this place to take in the view, but if you’re anything like Dec I suggest getting here via some form of transport.

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L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – The famous Eat Pray Love pizzeria! The best pizza we have ever had. The service was strange, but I think it was because they were just so busy. One large margherita and 2 drinks for around €10. Another bargain.

Drink

Happening Cocktail Bar – Why this place doesn’t have more reviews on Trip Advisor, I don’t know. It’s a small bar where a lot of locals come for a drink every night, but the barman serving the cocktails was a legend. There’s no menu, so let him know your favourite cocktails or just tell him what spirit you like – he will do the rest! We spent both our nights here, sat at the bar with all sorts of concoctions.

 

We made such amazing memories here that we will carry with us forever! I can’t wait to re-visit this beautiful country next year which will be our 3rd holiday there! It just has everything for me. Italy, you have my heart ♥

Our next blog will be on our trip to Bali in 3 weeks time and we CANNOT wait!!

Love

Char & Dec

x

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Best of Italy in 2 Weeks

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Our Engagement Story

On Thursday 22nd June, I woke Charlene up at 4:30am and asked her to go across to the bathroom, where I had put the Polaroid picture below up against the mirror during the night without her knowing. We love travelling to new places more than anything and the quote ‘Never Stop Wandering’ fitted perfectly.

 

The evening before, when Char had gone to bed, I told her I was going to do a new bit of chalkboard art for our giant chalkboard in the kitchen and it was a bit of a surprise for her. Her Thursday plan was just going to be a consisting of the gym, a doctor’s visit for some travel vaccinations for our Bali trip later in the year, and then back to work. Little did she know that I had arranged with her work (big up her boss) to have a couple of days annual leave without her knowing, as well as rearranging her vaccination appointment!

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I did my best to make the Swiss flag stand out on the black chalkboard haha! The red didn’t really show through as well as I planned… But I laid out the tickets, our passports, some Swiss Francs and our new GoPro we hadn’t really used yet. Safe to say her mind was blown! Something Charlene has said to me every time we drive past Manchester Airport is ‘shall we just go and get on a plane?’ or her idea of waking up one day and being told she was going somewhere new rather than work is something she mentioned years ago to potentially be her best day ever. I obviously took note!

Switzerland is another place that has been on our list of countries to visit for a good few years, after seeing all the amazing views and lakes plastered over all the travel accounts we follow on Instagram, but with buying a house last year and travelling around Belgium in January, visiting Prague in April, then Bali and Lisbon later in 2017, we had put Switzerland on the back burner for another time. Possibly even for one of our 30th birthday presents (in 5 years). So, waking Charlene up first thing to tell her that her Dad is taking us to the airport in 3 hours certainly had her jumping up and down with excitement (literally).  Surprise trip? Tick. Country she has banged on about all year? Tick.

We landed and drove to our accommodation, which I had also kept a surprise. Another of our favourite things is just being outside; we love glamping, camping, walking etc. Luckily I found Forellensee in Zweisimmen, a small fishing lake with 3 glamping pods, a bar and restaurant.

 

This location was perfect – just a 20 minute drive from where I planned on proposing! We enjoyed a few drinks that evening, allowing the whole surprise thing set in for Charlene. I was just buzzing that the surprise element had gone to plan so far.

The morning after, we stocked up on some supplies for the day and filled my backpack. Thankfully, the ring was disguised as a pair of socks at the bottom of the backpack. Out of sight. I had planned for us to visit 3 lakes in the 4 days we were there: Seebergsee, Oeschinensee and Arnensee. I told Char about the second and third, but kept Seebergsee another secret. This was my favourite one and where I wanted to propose. I came across this lake when I was swiping around Google Maps during my lunch hour at work, searching for new places to visit.

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It was a tough drive up to the lake, but we got there in the end, after getting over the fear of the car toppling over and down the mountain. The lake was an hour hike away from where we parked and the most scenic walk we’ve ever done. Yes, I am brushing my teeth in the photo.

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Getting to the top was literally like a screensaver.

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Wild flowers and a secluded lake. Two more of her favourite things in the world.

I got a bit nervous as we got down by the lake and started making a fuss of where we were going to sit. I wanted it a little elevated so we had a nice view of the lake. Something else Charlene is passionate about is photographs; she loves capturing it all. Perfect for our memories. I asked her to stand in front of me, facing the lake, so I could get a good picture on the GoPro. This bought me some time to get the ring out the socks! As she turned round, I was on my knee with the ring box open.

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I designed the ring myself, with the help of Wilbrahams of Chorlton. This is a moonstone ring set in 18ct yellow gold. I chose this style to match Charlene’s style, which is bohemian, and the yellow gold to give it a vintage feel. I thought the stone looked perfect in the setting and I like the meaning of a moonstone gemstone: Passionate love that will fly you to the moon.

I was lucky enough to get a lot of amazing footage on the GoPro whilst out there. Have a look on the link below 🙂

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNbPxIeUXO0

 

Charlene & Dec