Summer in Tuscany: a travel story by Ed
Planning for our visit to Tuscany began in May 2013. Through the fine efforts of Ellen at Doorways LTD., we booked a wonderful villa in Riccio, minutes from Cortona. To our delight, Villa Grazia Genestri far exceeded our expectations upon arrival in June 2014.
Villa owners Maria Grazia and husband Massimo were just delightful and always available with helpful hints on restaurants, supermarkets, places to visit (and not to visit !), joined us with a bottle of wine the first night and provided us with complimentary tickets to an interesting exhibit of Etruscan artifacts in Cortona. The villa comfortably sleeps 6 in three bedrooms, all with adjoining bathrooms. Sitting rooms, kitchens, dining rooms provided plenty of space for our party of 5 adults. In addition, there were several lovely outdoor areas, gardens and a fabulous swimming pool.
Our week in Tuscany began with lunch at Bar Riccio, minutes from the villa,( also providing takeout meals on several occasions) and a visit to Castiglione and Lake Trasimeno. Although many staples were provided at the villa, we made a shopping trip to the Super A&O in Camucia. What an interesting experience. Speaking a little Italian was an enormous help.
Day two found us traveling the incredible back roads of Tuscany to Siena. Driving in Tuscany is just fantastic, but a GPS is highly recommended. Booking of advance tickets in Siena for the Duomo and Museum proved to be time well spent, and I strongly suggest doing this everywhere possible (tickitaly.com is one good option). In the larger cities, Florence, Rome, it is really essential to book ahead and avoid the longer and longer lines. This visit included people watching in the Piazza del Campo, a visit to the Piccolomini Library in the Duomo, and the Duomo Museum. We had missed these on previous trips and both were extraordinary. The rooftop of the museum offers a fantastic view of the Duomo and entire city of Siena, including the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. We found a public parking lot near the church of San Francesco with multiple escalators to the center, and very reasonably priced. It was just a 10 minute walk to the Campo.
After lunch and of course a little shopping, we journeyed to San Gimignano, with a brief stop in the fabulous walled city of Monteriggioni. This was our first visit to San Gimignano and it did not disappoint, although it was very crowded. We did not see the San Gimiginao 1300 exhibit, which I have heard is exceptional. The towers and countryside of San Gimigiano are exceptional ! Dinner that night in Ossaia, (next to Riccio), at the Hostaria LaTufa, overlooking the Cortona countryside at sunset. Perfect setting ! And the food and wine were delicious. (Why is the house wine always so good?!)
Planning for the trip was greatly enhanced after finding Elena and Tuscany Chic. Sometimes searching on the net is actually helpful. Tuscany’s Most Beautiful Hilltop Villages, Parts 1 and 2, were most informative, and delightful to read. I had never heard of the Village of Pitigliano and was fascinated reading Elena’s description. Even more interested after reading more on the net. We planned a day to explore!
Day three was another sunny and bright day and another wonderful drive through southern Tuscany to Pitigliano. We were very fortunate to find Elisabetta Peri online and had booked a morning tour months ahead. A native of Pitigliano, Elisabetta is delightful and an outstanding tour guide. Upon arrival in Pitigliano, Elisabetta instructed us to park just outside of the old town. The view of Pitigliano from this area was just spectacular! Although a relatively small Hill Town, it has a long, fascinating history including being called Little Jerusalem, from the number of Jew that relocated here. We toured the Ghetto and all of the abandoned Jewish quarters and the New Synagogue. Best of all, no other tourists in the city! Anyone planning a visit to Pitigliano would be well advised to contact Elissabetta. She was just wonderful. After a relaxing lunch at Restaurante La Rocca, in the Piazza della Repubblica. We enjoyed a brief stop In Sorano, another beautiful hill town a short drive from Pitigliano .At 2:00 in the afternoon, no tourists !. Delightful to just wander the streets. A frantic day two !
Tuesday was the most ambitious day of the trip with a visit to Florence. As Elena (and everyone else) advised, we left the car at the station and took the train from Cortona. We hired another excellent guide, Freya Middleton who is an expert in Renaissance Florence. After touring the Piazza Republica area, we enjoyed a tour of the restored Davidzant Pallazo. Very different from the major Palazzo’s in Florence and well worth the visit. Freys then took us to the paper studio of Antico Laboratorio Artigianale, paper studio of Alberto Cozzi, whose family has made exquisite Florentine paper for hundreds of years. The demonstration of the paper making process was fascinating. Our tour continued to the Piazza de Signoria and finishing at the Duomo. After an afternoon of sightseeing and of course shopping, we met cousins who live in Florence for a reunion dinner. A very long but satisfying day.
Knowing how exhausting the trip to Florence would be, we planned a slower day on Wednesday. First stop, Pienza. One of my very favorite villages in Tuscany. Another gorgeous morning for a drive through Tuscany and the Val d’ Orcia. In addition to the beauty of the town and the spectacular views, shopping was a major highlight. More beautiful driving to Montalcino. With the town to ourselves, we had a delightful lunch in the Piazza del Popolo, at Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana. In addition to wonderful food, I did stock up on several bottles of Brunello. Although a stop at the gardens at LaFoce was planned, we chose to return to the villa for an afternoon of swimming and lounging at the pool.
Our next stop, Umbria. Parking in Assisi at the Porta Nuova Gate proved to be a great idea, as you can cross all of Assisi on the way to the Basicica of St Francis. The crypt of St Francis, the lower and upper churches are just a marvel, along with the spectacular Giotto frescos. More walking, more shopping and we are on our way to Spello. What a quaint town with some very sophicated stores. By accident, we stopped at a lovely outdoor café, Enoteca Properzio. What a treat! One of our best meals of the week. In addition, they have an outstanding selection of wine and host tastings. Unfortunately, we would not be able to come back for dinner.
Our last stop, Bevagna. We visited here before and highly recommend Ristorante Redibis. In addition to a wonderful meal, the restaurant is located in the remains of the Roman Amphitheater. Unbelievable atmosphere. And no trip to Bavagna would be complete without a stop at Tasselli. The best Cashmere shop in Umbria. For dinner, Our hosts at the villa recommended Trattoria LaGrotta in Cortona, and it more than lived up to their reputation. And the truffles…
Our last day in Tuscany ! Although unseasonably warm, it was a glorious week of sunny, blue skies. Today We drove to Gubbio. After exploring the Roman Amphitheatre ruins, we explored the town. Thankfully, there are elevators to assist with the climb! Interesting town; beautiful Duomo and the Piazza Grande and Palazzo dei Consoli very impressive. We then ventured to Cortona to the MAEC – Museo dell’Academia Etrusca e della Citta di Cortona for the Etruscian Enchantment exhibit, from the Secrets of Holkham Hall to the Wonders of the British Museum. Excellent exhibit that closes in September and well worth the time.
Our hosts at the villa had recommended a farewell dinner at their favorite restaurant in Cortona, La Bucaccia, and had made a reservation the previous week. Very fortunate as anyone coming to the restaurant without a reservation was turned away. We would agree that this is one of the finest, if not top, restaurant in Cortona. The Michelin menu at 29 euro was a five course gourmet dinner. A fitting end to a week in Tuscany.
After farewells with our friends at Villa Grazia, we were off for a morning visit to Orvieto, one of the most impressive Hill Towns. The details of the Duomo façade never fails to amaze me. After a visit to the Duomo and lunch at an outdoor café, we were off to Rome for three days.
Although the major cities are fantastic, (and we have been lucky to visit many times), it is the area outside that provided the most rewarding experience. Nothing quite like driving the two lane roads of Tuscany, and approaching Pienza, or any of the Hill Towns.
My personal thanks Elena for the invaluable information in Tuscany Chic, and time spent answering emails prior to the trip. You bring a new dimension to a visit to Tuscany. I hope your readers enjoy Tuscany as much as we do and can make use of all the information you provide. Will look forward to continued reading in Tuscany Chic. Wonderful knowing you!
Ed from the USA