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Trip Report Our Happy Return to Sunny Tuscany (plus a small bite of Bologna, too!)

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We’ve just returned from a wonderful 10-day trip to Tuscany and have many details and photos to share, which we will try to do as expeditiously as possible.

A bit of background…

Those who are familiar with us here in Fodorville probably know that ms_go and I are in our late 40s, we’re middle-of-the-road travelers (mostly 3-star accommodation), we like to mix up our destinations and tend to balance between Europe and Asia these days, and usually travel with our daughter. She is off at college now, and we wanted a trip that was a little more relaxed, more romantic, a little more geared to our interests (read: wine, photos, wandering) and not constrained by the academic year.

We drew our inspiration from two previous vacation trips:

Our first European trip together almost exactly 20 years ago. We skimmed Tuscany, but only just, on a crazy, unplanned dash through Northern Italy laden with rookie mistakes and weather that could best be characterized as “fairly awful.” That had been my only experience in Tuscany, so we felt I was long overdue for a return.

Link: http://onelittleworld.com/northern_italy_1.html

The second trip was ms_go’s trip with her extended family a little over three years ago—in fact, we patterned our itinerary in large part after the first week of that trip, recognizing that we could benefit from some of the lessons learned to simplify our planning and logistics.

Link: http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/pizza-margherita-per-favore-three-generations-visit-tuscany-rome-and-venice-by-ms-go-and-daughter.cfm

Our itinerary
We decided up front to organize our trip around a one-week rental (which is typically a Saturday to Saturday arrangement), and then we added a day or two on each end.

With an interest in keeping things simple, we flew in and out of Florence (via Frankfurt) and restricted our activities in a fairly small radius. That, of course, represents just a portion of Tuscany—and even then, we left with a list of things that we could have done in the area had we had more time.

Ultimately, our itinerary looked like this:
*One night/two days in Lucca (with half-day side trip to Pisa)

* Seven days/nights in a rental house near Montaione, which is about 45 minutes southwest of Florence. From there, we visited:
• Certaldo Alto
• San Gimignano
• Volterra
• Chianti (including Greve, Radda and Castellina)
• San Miniato
• Vinci
• Bologna (by train via Florence)
• Siena

* Two days/nights in Florence

We rented a car upon arrival in Florence and dropped it at the airport prior to spending our last two nights in the city.

Top 10 experiences (in no particular order)

1. Enjoying the wine and food, everywhere we went. We give a particular nod to dinner on our first night in Lucca—usually we aren’t too picky (and often not lucky) as we’re settling in the first day of a trip, but this meal definitely set the tone (and the bar) for the rest of the trip.

2. Having the town of Montaione as our base for seeing this area of Tuscany. It is not on the traditional tourist trail, but it has its charms, one of just about everything you’d need (and several good restaurants, actually), and a (in our humble opinion) great location for exploring an area that stretches from Florence to Volterra to Siena to Pisa if you have a car. As a side note, our little yellow rental house was a perfect home base—close to town but with an “out in the country” feel.

3. Attending the Boccaccesca, an annual food and wine festival that takes place in Certaldo Alto the first two weekends in October. This is a delightful small hill town in its own right, and neither of us had visited there before. Being able to sample food and wine products from around the area was a real plus, and the crowd (although we wouldn’t call the earlier part of the day, when we were there, “crowded”) was largely Italians from the area.

4. Sitting on the bricks in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, in the sun, watching the world go by and little children chasing the pigeons—which is exactly what ms_go’s youngest nephew did there three years ago.

5. Climbing towers with great vistas—including the Torre Grossa in San Gimignano (beware the ladder on the last leg), Torre del Mangia in Siena, Torre delle Ore in Lucca (the easiest one), the medieval tower at the Museo Leonardiano in Vinci (great views!), Giotto’s Campanile in Florence (all 414 steps), and the Panorama del Facciatone in Siena (not really a tower, but the narrow, corkscrew stairwell handling traffic in both directions made it perhaps the diciest climb of all). And, oh yeah, ms_go is terrified of heights and even more terrified of falling down steep, narrow staircases.

6. Being virtually the only tourists wandering around in San Miniato on the day we were there. Or at least, the only ones we saw!

7. Taking scenic drives on epic roads—in Chianti, to and from Volterra and San Gimignano—with the terrain that changes quickly from dusky, plowed-under fields to vineyards to olive groves to fragrant, green pine forests. There’s always something interesting around every corner. And it was especially fun in a Mercedes sedan!

8. The weather, in general. We have been in this area in October, and we knew we were taking some chances. As it happened, the only rain we encountered was a few splatters on the windshield on the drive from Florence to Lucca just after we landed. Otherwise, it was sunny, not too warm (highs from upper 50s to around 70), and aside from a couple of very windy days, perfectly comfortable—although it was maybe a little cool to sit outside at our rental house in the evenings (and on the few warmer evenings, the mosquitoes were taking advantage of the opportunities). We rarely used our jackets.

9. Soaking in the splendor of the exterior of the magnificent Duomo in Florence and interior of the Cathedral of Siena. No matter how many times you’ve already seen them (more than once for both of us), they always inspire.

10. Sitting on the steps of Piazzale Michelangelo, near sunset, listening to street music and gazing over Florence in its golden glow.

Honorable mention—our day trip to Bologna, which provided a little different dimension to this trip and definitely piqued our interest as a base for a potential future vacation in Emilia-Romagna. More on that later.

Two more notes before we get started:
a) This report is organized primarily by destination and points of interest, rather than moment-by-moment, diary-style reportage.
b) As with all of our trip reports, both the text and photos are a collaborative effort. We work as a team.

Much more to come...

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