I elected to welcome my 3rd decade by doing what I do best, eating pasta and drinking wine. Ryanair offers a direct flight from Fes to Pisa for a steal so a long weekend in Italy made perfect sense. Full Disclosure: The Ryanair experience is similar to cattle being herded into a small cramped compartment, but it’s cheap.
Due to a combination of circumstances, we nearly missed the train to Fes. After leaving work later than planned, I hurried home – scraping the side mirror of my car along the way whilst backing into the parking garage. Some friends offered us a ride to the station, but as all of us are new to Rabat, no one knew where the station was located so we set off to find a taxi. Securing a taxi in Rabat during rush hour is no easy fete, but we managed to flag one down. Two minutes into the ride, the taxi pulled over to take on another passenger. Morocco has two types of taxis: Petit and Grand. Petit taxis (painted blue in Rabat) take a maximum of 3 passengers and are supposed to be private. The grand taxis (white older era Mercedes in Rabat) take as many passengers that can squeeze in and often stop along the way to pick up additional fares. We had taken a petit taxi so the stop was unexpected and we had less than 10 minutes to spare before the train departed. Did I mention we didn’t have tickets yet?
Sprinting through the station like crazy tourists with no shame, we jumped aboard literally as the train started its initial roll. Moments like that make me love Morocco – the freedom to still catch the train despite the fact that it was pulling away. Sweaty from running with bags in the humidity, we promptly sat down in the first compartment with two open seats (we still didn’t have tickets). In Morocco, train tickets cost about 25% more on the train than they do if purchased in advance at a ticket stand so it’s preferable to pay in advance. When the tariff collector came around, he tried upselling us seats in first class multiple times, telling us the car was much cleaner. I had already made friends and was chatting up my seat neighbor who was from Kenitra (a beachtown located north of Rabat) so 2nd class suited me just fine. The train ride took roughly 2.5 hours from Rabat to Fes and cost 90 MAD ($10.50).
The problem with flying out of Fes is that the airport is about 25 minutes from the train station and is located outside of city limits which means that the petit taxis aren’t allowed to take passengers there. Finding reliable and affordable transportation can be a challenge. A taxi to the airport in Fes generally costs around 300 MAD (roughly $36) for tourists or those who look like tourists (i.e. me).
Total Transportation Costs for a Morocco – Italy itinerary:
Rabat to Fes train fare: $10.50
Fes train station to airport: $36
Fes to Pisa via Ryanair RT: $60
Grand Total = $106.50
After arriving in Italy, we spent one night by the sea in Viareggio and then rented a car and uaed Montepulciano as a base for exploring Tuscany. I am by no means a “Tuscany Expert”, but I do enjoy a long meal shared with friends over a bottle (or two) of wine, and Tuscany is an ideal gastronomic adventure for this type of fare. Within a few days we covered San Gimigiano (so touristy it felt like Disneyland), Pitigliano, Cortona, then on to Castiglione del Lago, and finally Regello in search of a castle I spotted on Pinterest. We ate and drank our way through the region – sometimes at proper sit-down restaurants, but other times with just a slice of pizza and a glass of Prosseco.
What I Adored:
Cortona – In particular, Relais Il Falconiere – a life changing, yes I said life changing, cooking class. We made risotto stuffed squash blossoms, bacon fat wrapped veal, pici (a Tuscan specialty pasta), and red wine poached pears – then finished the evening with a group dinner eating everything we had crafted.
Saturnia Hot Springs – we watched as bus after bus of tourists stopped here, let their patrons off for a look and then sadly hauled them back on the bus without enjoying the hot springs. En route to the hot springs, Pitigliano is not to be missed. We stopped in a wine shop, procured a bottle of Sangiovese, some charcuterie, cheese, and a loaf of bread and stopped along the highway for a pseudo picnic.
What I Wouldn’t do Twice:
Regello – In particular the Castello di Sammezzano. We drove 2+ hours in the rain in search of this delightful place I fell in love with at first sight on Pinterest. It’s not open to the public and there is not a real road to access the castle by. After driving aimlessly around the woods near Regello trying to access the castle we could see from the road, a woman hiking in the downpour (apparently just out for an afternoon stroll, no big deal) gave us directions for how to hike to the entrance. Trespassing and peeking into the windows by crouching on slippery brick hardly did the place justice.
San Gimigiano – After taking a recommendation from an adorable retired couple whom we met while stopping for a glass of wine in Viareggio, we decided to stop in San Gimigiano. The town is truly beautiful from a distance (see main post photo), but has been transformed into a tourist haven complete with extra clean cobble stone pathways and large clean public bathrooms with automated payment booths to collect the 1 euro fee. After wandering around, we noticed that the typical laundry lines and local children running around were completely absent leading us to believe that few locals actually live in San Gimigiano.