mountains

Northern Italy, Barcelona & Mallorca

· 4 min read ·

We waved goodbye to Switzerland a few days ago and have embarked on a different sort of travel style — the country hop.

The view from Mattia’s courtyard where we stayed in Vignale
The view from Mattia’s courtyard where we stayed in Vignale

Since we started this trip, we’ve been pretty intentional about taking our time in each country and within each destination. Now we’re changing our tune a bit, as we bounce around to a few new places within a matter of days. When we left Zurich, Switzerland, we headed South to Italy. James’s friend, Mattia, invited us to visit his family’s place in the beautiful countryside town of Vignale Monferrato. Think Tuscany, but less developed and inhabited.

When we were first planning our trip last October, James got in touch with Mattia to see if we could visit him in Italy. We found out that he was actually still living in Lucerne (which meant we would assuredly see him!), but were bummed to find that we wouldn’t be able to be guided around northern Italy on our grand tour. When a series of small percentage moments actually gave us the chance to help Mattia out by helping to drive a second car back to Italy in exchange for a place to stay, we nixed the last-minute plans we had started to make from Genoa - Nice - Montpellier - Barcelona with something considerably more interesting …

Three days in Vignale Monferrato

Quick driving break between Lucerne → Vignale. Mattia & baby Sofia in their (accidental) matching pink.
Quick driving break between Lucerne → Vignale. Mattia & baby Sofia in their (accidental) matching pink.
The first night in Vignale, walking Mattia’s neighborhood and staying in the shade!
The first night in Vignale, walking Mattia’s neighborhood and staying in the shade!

It was there in Vignale that we passed three days, feeling more unplugged and relaxed than ever (Sheila has a future post that dives a bit deeper on this). Mattia was taking care of his family’s Bed & Breakfast, which also happens to be his childhood home. Other than the Bed & Breakfast, there is also a large garden with fruit trees and vegetable plants, many of which are thriving and we were able to enjoy 😛. Mattia and his partner, Ana, just had a baby (just as in ONE week ago) so, although there were chores and guests to tend to, Vignale also seemed like the perfect place to escape and unwind.

Our awesome hosts! Ana & baby Sofia, Mattia & his pup Joker
Our awesome hosts! Ana & baby Sofia, Mattia & his pup Joker

A brief stop in Turin

After we got our fill of fresh zucchini, apricots, and pasta, we were off to the next destination — Scenic Turin! Just kidding. But really. This is where we went to catch our overnight bus to Barcelona. Neither of us had taken an overnight bus before but we chose to do so: 1. For economic reasons 2. For baggage reasons (we knew we could toss our backpacks on the bus without a problem, whereas it’s always a toss up with carry-on and air travel) 3. For the experience! (why not check overnight 11 hour bus ride off the list?!) We’ve been trying to be really intentional about our traveling footprint and, particularly knowing that we were about to fly to Mallorca, taking the bus felt like the right way to Travel Light Experience Heavy.

If you know Mattia, you might recognize him as a superb practitioner of jiu-jitsu — you also now know him as a new father. What you might not have known about him is that he also moonlights as a stunt driver. After we informed him that our train from Asti to Turin left in a mere 30 minutes, and with Google Maps insistent that Asti was at least 40 minutes from Vignale, Mattia casually mentioned it was “approximately” 20 minutes away. How he managed to shave nearly 20 minutes off of the drive could only be described as an experience! We made the train with a minute to spare, and got to Turin no worse for the wear. We should have factored in the extreme heat, though - what might have been a casual walk between the train station and bus terminal turned into a grueling march. 😅

Walking Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

Wandering through the hip streets of Barcelona
Wandering through the hip streets of Barcelona

I’m sorry to report we didn’t take any photos on our overnight FlixBus. I’m happy to report that we both located our passports at the French border and dodged getting tossed by the police (with a few seconds of panic and scrambling as Sheila’s things tend to hide sometimes) AND that we both actually were able to sleep a couple of hours of the ride.

We arrived to Barcelona in walking distance to the hip cafes of the Gothic Quarter and instantly stumbled across this amazing restaurant, Las Artes Sanas! After a long bus ride we were super hungry and treated ourselves to what felt like a luxury breakfast. We highly recommend this spot. The staff was attentive, kind, and allowed us to hang for a while. They had a diversity of dishes and drinks and can also custom make anything so long as they have the ingredients.

Fried egg, pan con tomate, and greens that the waitress insisted we add
Fried egg, pan con tomate, and greens that the waitress insisted we add

We spent the day walking around the Gothic Quarter, and there is still much we didn’t see, but the coastal breeze and shaded streets of Barcelona seemed a welcome relief after roasting in Turin the night before! That evening we went to Sésamo, a gem that Sheila had found while digging through some vegetarian travel blogs. We indulged in a 7 course vegetarian tapas meal, which was not only inexpensive but also exceeded our expectations … in taste and in number, as they definitely served us more than 7 tapas, plus dessert. Not complaining!


And now… Now we are in Mallorca! After making it to the gate in Barcelona as the “LAST CALL” screen flashed, we are grateful to have made it to this special island. We are awaiting the arrival of our friend Hue, who we’ve missed during these few days of separation. The weather is looking HOT and perfect for dips in the sea and James’s long-awaited-first-ever Aperol Spritz (followed by water!). If you’ve ever been to Mallorca, feel free to drop some knowledge in the comments below. 👇

Breakfast this morning at Simple Smart Food Bar: iced coffee and yummy toasts
Breakfast this morning at Simple Smart Food Bar: iced coffee and yummy toasts
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Adventure travel blog by James Simone & Sheila Murray. Travel along with them on their backpacking trip(s) as they actively explore the American West, Europe and beyond:

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