Few places inspire the imagination quite like Tuscany. Stretching from the west coast to the center of the Italian peninsula, its countryside is characterized by siena-colored hills, sinuous rows of cypress trees, and hill-top villages spiked with campanili and domed cathedrals. Siena, Florence’s longstanding rival to the south, sits majestically on three hill tops and preserves an incomparable mix of architectural and cultural traditions. For a little inspiration before you actually travel there, here is your guide to a perfect week in Tuscany.
Once you arrive at your villa, you will be welcomed with a light buffet laid out by your Local Host composed of regional favorites and delicacies while you settle into your home away from home and start to fall into life in Italy.
No visit to the main piazza would be complete without first stopping off at the local caffe bar for a frothy cappuccino or creamy espresso. Take a seat with the locals outside where you can watch the piazza grow with activity. Church bells will ring, children will be running in the square and everyone will be buying fresh pasta for their big Italian Sunday lunch. After the piazza and your first taste of a truly wonderful coffee, take some time to explore the town’s side streets and meandering alleys. Cascading window boxes full of bright red geraniums and fresh basil will most likely be a common sight.
After lunch, do as all good Italians and take a siesta. In our busy North American lifestyles we have left behind one of the treasures from the Old World – a good old nap! Take it in your quiet bedroom or out by the pool or in the shade of a fig tree – but take it and indulge in this very popular Italian exercise.
After your siesta, and maybe a dip in the pool, get ready to head back into town for what we like to call “face time” or more precisely, la passeggiata. This is the time between 5:00PM and 8:00PM when everyone comes out to stroll the main pedestrian street or mingle in the square to catch up on gossip and socialize (read more about La Siesta and La Passegiata). Have an aperitivo and take in the people. Listen and watch the animation that goes into Italian conversations. Meet your Local Host and head off to her favourite restaurant or trattoria. Your Local Host can introduce you to the restaurant owner and explain the various homemade pastas and local wines. You will have made a new friend and eaten like king.
Explore in the morning and come back to the villa in the afternoon to begin your in-house, hands-on cooking lesson. You will learn some tasty secrets of authentic Tuscan cuisine from an expert cook in your own home. Gather around the kitchen for the lesson and then most importantly, to sample the finished product! We have a handful of wonderful local cooks and a few choice Italian chefs to please every type of request. Come with a pen, a good appetite and a curious mind but Don’t leave Italy without taking a cooking class!
Wine has always been an element of Tuscan life. Over 3,000 years ago, the Etruscans cultivated vines here, made wine and left behind in their tombs delightful murals depicting happy wine-drinkers. Today you will follow in their footsteps on a full day wine tour (read more about the Etruscan Kings). We can arrange for a driver to pick you all up and take you on this daily excursion so that everyone can enjoy the wine tasting and activities without worrying about driving.
After your first winery, head to the second one where lunch will be part of the visit and then stop at one more in the afternoon that might be focused on the sweet, after dinner drink of Vin Santo or Moscato. The fabulous thing about having a Local Host included in your villa experience is that she or he can add some very personal and individual touches to your week. Visiting three wineries in one day is great but what if you also stopped off at the lone abbey to hear the monks singing Gregorian chants or took a detour to visit a private estate with an Italian garden or found a local cashmere shop with outlet prices. Your Local Host can make your wine day one to remember.
Every itinerary will be different for each and every person that travels with HV. Our Local Hosts are experienced in knowing their guests and finding the right mix of events and downtime for each. These are just a few of the vast options open to anyone interested in exploring the riches that make Italy such a dynamic country.
With our 20 years of experience we have developed a very intimate and professional relationship with guides and service providers. We know from experience that the best days to visit Florence are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so why not take this knowledge and grab the train to Firenze! The lovely thing about Florence is that the train station is literally in the center so your private guide can meet you at your train track and you can begin your tour from there. We can arrange tickets to the Uffizi and Accademia museums ahead of time, and your guide will show you the very heart of this exquisite city. Take some time to shop, leave room for lunch and then catch a train back to your area after this fully packed day. Dinner this evening could be an early meal in Florence or you could return to the villa and find the local cook in your kitchen preparing a nice, hearty meal for your return.
If Florence is not on the top of your list, take a day trip to Siena, the perfect medieval time capsule. As a result of enlightened zoning restrictions dating back to 1307, Siena’s palaces and churches are the best preserved in all of Italy. While a sense of tradition is sustained in the wealth of art and architecture, it lives and breathes in the fiercely proud Sienese. On July 2 and August 16, Siena holds its historic horse race called il Palio. The city bursts with pre-Palio activities and open taverns serve special meals in the various contrade throughout the city.
Cortona is another fabulous hill top town offering stunning views of Lake Trasimeno and a number of art treasures from Etruscan artifacts to works by native son Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico. Visit St. Francis’ hermitage called Le Celle just outside the town and enjoy the shops filled with Cortona ceramic and leather goods.
Hot Air Balloon: For those of you who have no problem waking up at the crack of dawn (even when on holiday!) this is the event to do. Most hot air balloon departures are any time between 5:30AM and 6:00AM, but if the day is ideal then the trip is a memory of a lifetime.
Picnic: Discover the different foods of Italy by making a picnic for a midday feast. Shop for bread at the panificio or forno; salami, prosciutto, and mortadella are sold in the salumeria; cheeses, butter, milk, and yogurt are found in the latteria. Fruits and vegetables are in the frutta e verdura and delicious sweets and pastries are sold in the pasticceria. Additional Info: Your Local Host will provide you with more details for the perfect location and necessary ingredients.
Visit a local, organic farm: Take part in a cooking class with organic products from the farm itself. Create your own pizza with the farm’s fresh ingredients to cook in the wood oven. While your pizza dough is rising, take the time to stroll through the farm and see exactly where your ingredients came from.
In a one-week vacation, much of your time is spent out and about taking in the local sights and culture. We suggest that you have at least one day where you can enjoy your villa. The day before departure is ideal and a good way to take in the relaxing atmosphere a villa vacation offers. If pampering is what you like, your Local Host can arrange for in-house masseuses and aestheticians to come to the villa for a day of special indulgence. Budding artists might enjoy a private lesson with a local painter, while foodies can partake in a hands-on pizza-making lesson. This is the day to take it easy and enjoy the villa.
“Not your average picnic – A Burke Stay at Casa Passerini” in Tuscany