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Rome + Tuscany: Last minute trip - Mar 20th-28th

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Hi, This is for a friend who is planning a very last minute trip to Rome + Tuscany.

First time in Italy, arriving and leaving from Rome

1)Would you advice spending the first 4 days in Tuscany (driving) and the last four in Rome or vice versa?

2) Looking for a central hotel in Rome (moderately priced). Any suggestions?

3) What would be an ideal tour of Tuscany for a first timer (Florence, Siena, Pienza/Montepulciano)?

Any suggestions?

S

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    We are doing something of the same thing first time travelling in Tuscany , so can't help any on #3. And using very budget B&Bs near Termini for #2 ( we have been in the area before, so we know what to expect ).

    I would say go to Rome first ,as friend would be running into Easter weekend in Rome and that's going to be trouble, unless he/she REALLY wants to be caught up in that.

    Rick

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    You are also going to be told that there's not enough time for the Tuscany leg - friend will need 3-4 days in Florence alone. I am not going to say that, because I'm not a huge Florence fan, but it will take 2 days, and you do not want a car there. Friend needs to rethink the itinerary....too many cites, not enough time...

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    I would visit Rome for the history/city fix, and then Pienza/Montepulciano for the small town & beautiful countryside feel. Late March should be beautiful there.

    I would not do Rome & Florence - too much city for me.

    Here is something I wrote for the Pienza/Montepulciano (Val d'Orcia) area:

    Tuscany – Val d’Orcia
    My wife & I first visited the Val d’Orcia (around Pienza) in the late ‘80s when we were doing the typical “once over lightly” tour of Italy. On an old map I used at the time, I had scribbled the comment “pretty” on the road running between San Quirico d’Orcia and Montepulciano. We passed though this area again on several subsequent visits – usually staying 1 or 2 days each time. In September ’94, we stayed 4 days at the 5-room Hotel La Saracina near Pienza, and explored the area a little more (using up a lot of film) and then moved on to the Chianti area for 3 days, San Gimignano for 2, Lucca for 2, etc. In September ’96 we met 3 other couples (old college friends celebrating our 25th anniversaries together) for a 4 day stay in La Saracina. One of the couples liked the area so much that they booked a 3 week stay at La Saracina the next year, and then bought a 2nd home in the town of San Quirico the year after that (after exploring Chianti & Umbria to make sure they were buying in the area they liked the most). In ’99 when we retired early so we could travel more, we stayed in their apartment for 3 weeks - taking day trips to other areas in Tuscany & Umbria, exploring the Val d’Orcia, and enjoying Italian village life in San Quirico. That same year we had spent a considerable amount of time in Provence (7 weeks), and when we arrived in the Val d’Orcia, we both commented that this area was the prettiest countryside we had seen anywhere in Europe. I have various books & posters showing the Val d’Orcia in early spring when everything is green. It looks quite different in these spring pictures than it does in September when we had always been there. In March of ‘04 when the airfares were low and our friends were living in their apartment in San Quirico for 5 months, we visited the Val d’Orcia again. We thought that in September the countryside looked remarkable with the fields freshly plowed, exposing the soil with colors ranging from dark rust to light tan, with the cypress trees dancing up hills or running along the crest of a ridge, farmhouses tucked here & there, medieval villages everywhere, castles, vineyards, olive groves, and virtually no ugly commerce to spoil the scene (like elsewhere in Tuscany). Well, March is even prettier. The winter wheat that is planted almost everywhere is bright green and when it catches the late day sun, it is really spectacular with all the rolling hills, cypresses, farmhouses, etc. Our friends in San Quirico say it’s even more scenic in late May or early June when it’s still green, but the wheat is taller and blows in the wind. Since our 3 week stay in ’99, we have visited Vermont during leaf season, Provence several more times (including poppy, lavender & sunflower seasons), the Dordogne, Alsace, Pays Basque, Scotland, Bavaria, the Cotswolds, and many places in between – but we both feel that the Val d’Orcia is the prettiest open countryside we have seen anywhere. When we were there in March, we took several day trips to other sections of Tuscany, and when we returned “home” we always commented “why do we travel anywhere else in Italy – there’s nothing prettier than where we are staying”. So, for the remainder of our 2 week trip, we didn’t travel anywhere else – we spent all our time finding more nooks & crannies in the Val d’Orcia.

    The following is a 1 day driving itinerary through this area, with stops at various villages and sites. If you have more time to spend in this vicinity, by all means drive down some of the dirt roads and even take some walks.

    The best times of day to see this area are in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. When the shadows are long, the cypress trees & umbrella pines look more pronounced as they “dance up the hill” (my wife’s term). The farmhouses sprinkled throughout the landscape take on a special look in the early morning and at sunset. Budget at least two rolls of film for this area. The Val d’Orcia can get some morning fog. If so, spend the morning in a village & start your drive when the fog lifts.

    In my opinion, the countryside is the “star” in this part of Tuscany. You “must see” Pienza and there are other interesting villages too, but don’t shortchange the drive through the countryside. If you are behind schedule, skip some villages – not the countryside. You might think that this itinerary seems out of order in places & I’m often taking you down roads that you have already driven. Sometimes, I’m considering the position of the sun when you drive on a road, and other times I’m just trying to extend the time to enjoy the countryside.

    You will need the Touring Club Italiano map of Tuscany to follow this route. Also, obtain the Michelin Green Guide to Tuscany. If anyone wants to take walks in this area, get the Carta Turistica e Stradale – Val di Chiana, Val d’Orcia map. They have it at the bookstore in Pienza.

    If you are doing this tour as a day trip from Siena, leave Siena going south on the N2 (marked SS2 also). It’s actually a pretty drive. Just past the second turnoff to Montalcino and past the bridge, look for a beautiful grove of cypress trees to your right. At San Quirico, take the N146 east to Montepulciano. This is an easy drive. If you leave Siena by 7:00 you should get to Montepulcano by 8:30 or earlier.

    Do not visit Montepulciano at this time, unless it is foggy in which case you should wait until the fog lifts before proceeding on this drive. Take the N146 west to Pienza. The sun will be at your back. When you pass the large domed church of San Biagio (on your right/north) just after leaving Montepulciano, look back towards Montepulciano & you will be rewarded with a spectacular site – the Church of San Biagio in the foreground with Montepulciano cascading down the hillside behind it. This is one of the most photographed sites in Tuscany. Before I retired, I had a giant poster of this view in my office – reminding me why I wanted to retire & spend more time traveling. Don’t take a picture just yet – you will be back over this route later in the day and the sun will be in a better position to shine on the church and the perched village behind it.

    Continue on the N146 to Pienza. This road has some wonderful scenery. You should get to Pienza by 9:00.

    As you approach the “old” part of Pienza and the N146 turns right towards San Quirico, make a sharp left turn and you will find some parking spaces. If these parking spots are filled, continue down this road & look for the blue parking (P) to your left. During tourist season, you have to pay to park in this lot. You can also park south of Pienza below the village, but you will have a slight climb uphill to the center of town.

    Explore Pienza by entering through the Porta al Murello, at the west end of Pienza. Just as you enter Pienza, there is a nice pottery/gift shop on your left (in the large square) which has had a significant impact on my wallet. Most stores open at 9:30 & close for a 1 ½ to 3 hr lunch at 1:00 (typical in Italy). You can obtain a self guided 1 hour audio tour of the town (in English) by renting a head set from the tourist office (closed at lunch time, but open on Sunday). If you want to have a picnic lunch at Sant’ Antimo abbey, pick up some lunch provisions while in Pienza. There is a pizza shop just outside of the Porta al Murello (next to the book store/news stand) where you can pick up a slice of pizza. There is a walking path next to the town walls on the south side of Pienza – don’t miss this. It’s a great place to just sit in the sun & admire the views. Plan on spending 1 ½ hrs in Pienza if you take the audio tour or you’re a big shopper, 1 hr if not. It’s one of the few villages in Tuscany that has most of it’s stores open on Sunday, & Monday mornings.

    Leave Pienza on the N146 toward San Quirico. This is another stretch of road with fantastic views – perhaps our favorite. Just 2K from San Quirico, there is a splendid view to the south of a very small church and another building with cypress trees & umbrella pines surrounding these buildings. This site is on the crest of a hill. If you have been in Tuscany for any length of time, you will have seen this view on many postcards & calendars. You will pass this church again later in this drive when the late afternoon sun makes this scene perfect for picture taking. As you approach San Quirico, drive into the parking lot behind the Taverna del Barbarossa restaurant (which is associated with the Casanova hotel). The parking lot is at the south end of the complex. Park the car, get out & you will see another of the most photographed sites in Tuscany. In fact, the very first picture that appears in my ’95 Michelin Green Guide to Tuscany, is a photograph of this scene – a farmhouse sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by cypress trees. A “coffee table” book I have has photographs of this site at different times of the year – it’s quite remarkable. This site is even on the cover of that book. I also have a poster (yes, it was hanging in my office too).

    You should get to San Quirico by 11:00 if you stopped for some picture taking along the way. Don’t visit San Quirico now – do so later in the itinerary if you have time (it’s worth a visit).

    Follow the signs at San Quirico and get on the N2 toward Siena (north). Just after you leave San Quirico on the N2, you will be on a bridge. If you look back, there is a nice view of the village of San Quirico from the bridge. Unfortunately, I have never been brave enough to get out of the car & take a picture from this bridge. Further along the N2 there is a pretty grove of cypress trees on your left (west). This grove can be seen better traveling south, however. On your right, you will see several cypress trees and umbrella pines dotting the ridge of a hill. You might recognize this site from postcards & calendars you have seen. Turn off the N2 & go to Montalcino.

    As you approach Montalcino, you will get some good views of this perched village. The road will turn a few times & will take you to the south entrance of town, which will be marked with a large “Montalcino” painted on a white background on the stone wall of town, and a “centro” sign will be pointing into town . Do not enter through this entrance - instead turn a very sharp left when you see this town sign and follow the road uphill. Very shortly you will see a round-about. Exit to the right off the round-about to find a place to park. There is a rather large car parking lot near the old fortress (Rocca). Note – When you arrive into Montalcino and encounter the round-about, note the sign to Sant’ Antimo Abbey (marked “S. Antimo”), where you will go next on this itinerary (it’s marked on the round-about). The road to this abbey is a very sharp left (almost a full circle around the round-about).

    Visit Montalcino. You should get there by 11:00. Many shops will close by 1:00. You can visit the fortress, but I found it only OK. Budget about 1 hour or less in Montalcino. It has some nice outdoor lunch spots if you want a sit down lunch (I’m pushing the picnic at Sant’ Antimo).

    Follow the signs (and your map) to Sant’ Antimo Abbey. The Abbey is quite lovely, but what I like best about it, is the setting – we’ve used up a lot of film there. It’s located in a valley surrounded by hills, cypress trees dancing up these hills, and a lawn around of the Abbey (where you can picnic). It’s also a good place for a little snooze in the sun. There are Gregorian chants inside the church at various times of the day (posted on the entrance to the church – one chant is at 12:45). See http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/tuscany/sant_antimo.htm for a full chant schedule and a description of Sant Antimo.

    Continue on your drive through the countryside. You should leave Sant’ Antimo about 1:30. Take the road south-east of the abbey, toward Monte Amiata on your Touring Club map. Pass through Monte Amiata, and at Ost. Ansidonia, turn left (north-east) to Castiglione d’ Orcia. This is pretty countryside. Pass through Castiglion & get on the N2 & head north toward San Quirico. You should get to San Quirico about 2:00 or so.

    Continue past San Quirico toward Siena. You will have another chance to see the cypress grove to your left, and the cypresses & umbrella pines running along the ridge to your right. Get off the N2 at Torrenieri. There is a road that runs from Torrenieri to San Quirico, just east of the N2. Find it on the Touring Club map. You want to head south on this road from Torrenieri to the “phantom” village of Bellaria on the map (there really isn’t any village there). When driving through Torrenieri just after leaving the N2, you need to turn right at the first stop sign (in front of a small church) and you will immediately cross a railroad track. As you approach Bellari, look to your right and you will see more umbrella pines & cypress trees dotting the top of a ridge. These are the same trees you saw from the N2 on your drive to Montalcino and to Torrenieri. When you get to Bellaria, turn left (east) to Cosona (it’s marked at the turn). You will be on a dirt road. It is one of our favorite drives in this area. Continue & go slowly on this dirt road. Lots of pretty sites here. This dirt road will kind of dead-end onto another road (see it on your map). Turn right toward Pienza and continue on toward Pienza. When you get to the N146, turn west (right) toward San Quirico. You should get here around 3:00.

    About half way to San Quirico, there is a dirt road that heads south of N146 – find it on the map (it’s the only one on the map between Pienza & San Quirico). There is a sign for this road on the N146 and the turn is marked by a direction sign to the “Agriturismo il Rigo”, and before a “watch for deer” sign. Turn south on this road. We have often driven down this road, parked the car, & started on a hike from here. Continue on this road until it connects with the N2.

    Continue south on the N2, and after about 2K, head east on the paved road (marked yellow on the touring club map) toward Chianciano & Pienza (well marked). This road passes through another “phantom” town called Spedaletto – find it on the map to make sure you turned at the right place off the N2. This road goes trough the heart of the Val d’Orcia and is quite picturesque. Continue on this road toward Chianciano Terme. You will have a nice view of Pienza perched on top of a ridge, off in the distance to the left (north). There is an “interchange” on this road – pay attention & keep heading to Chianciano Terme. Just before La Foce, you will see a lovely double set of cypress trees to the north, dancing (again) up the hill (another much photographed site). Continue on this road, and shortly you will see a parking lot opposite the Restaurant Oasi la Foce. Pull into this lot & you will get another view of this double set of cypress trees. Continue toward Chianciano, and about 1/2K after the parking lot, take the first left (north) on a dirt road toward Montepulciano (well marked). This will be a dirt road and will pass around a lovely castle. When the dirt road becomes a paved road, turn left towards Monticchiello (well marked). As you approach Monticciello, this road becomes particularly scenic.

    Monticchiello is a very cute village – it’s where my father-in-law says he wants to live. Park the car in the lot outside this village near the refreshment stand (do you need any) & wander around. It’s a 30 min wander. There is a nice restaurant in town called La Porta.

    Look at Monticchiello on the Touring Club map. You will see lots of roads radiating from this small village like spokes on a bicycle wheel. All these roads have fantastic views of the countryside – in my opinion, they offer the prettiest drives in the Val d’Orcia. If you have time to spare, by all means drive down all these roads. We’ve done this quite often at various times of the day when the sun casts different shadow patterns on the rolling hills and from the cypress trees. My favorite drive is the one branching out at 8:00 from Monticchiello. It connects to the road heading directly north to Pienza. Turn right towards Pienza on this road & you will get a fantastic view of Pienza. Just a little south of Pienza, there is a dirt road that heads south-west. Take this road and it will connect with the N2/Chianciano road running east/west. From here you can retrace the drive east towards La Foce where you will head to Montepulciano (by-passing the turn to Monticchiello). When this road hits the N146, turn left to Montepulciano.

    If you don’t have extra time available for this side trip, after visiting Monticchiello head back down hill from the parking lot. Immediately after leaving the lot, go straight at the fork (just after the first house on the right) instead of turning right the way you entered the lot. This will lead to Montepulciano on a paved road that shortly becomes a dirt road and later paved again. There is a nice view of Montepulciano from this road. When this road dead-ends at the N146, turn left towards Pienza, or right to Montepulciano if you want to visit this town (one of my favorites).

    Visit Montpulciano, if you like (1 hr visit). Use the Michelin Green Guide to find the sites you want to visit. Hike all the way up to the Piazza Grande. It’s a somewhat steep walk through town, however, but the village is very pretty. You can taste some excellent wine at the Avignonesi estate (you will see it – just opposite the tall column in the middle of the main street, just after you enter town). If you need a snack, find a place where you can get pizza by the slice & have a mushroom (fungi) and truffle (tartufi) pizza (only in Italy!!!).

    Leave Montepulciano towards Pienza on the N146 again. Now you get a better view with the remarkable San Biagio Church in the foreground and Montepulciano in the background (you may have to drive a little west on the N146 to get the view). Hopefully you are at this spot about 5:00 or so. Without any further stops, you are less than 1 ½ hrs from Siena.

    Drive along the N146 toward Pienza & San Quirico again (30 min drive). The sun will be in your face, but now the little church with the cypress trees around it will look quite different, as will other sites you photographed when you drove this route in the morning.

    If time allows, visit San Quirico (it’s 45 mins to Siena from SQ). San Quirico is kind of a poor man’s Pienza – but they like it that way. It’s a town where people really live. In fact, I’ve told friends that San Quirico is the type of town we wish our small towns in the US would be like – kind of a River City, Iowa (Music Man). Everyone knows everyone else, people are out strolling, there are stores where locals shop for their everyday stuff, etc. Families congregate at the Bar Centrale (closed Thurs) in the evening, where the men play cards in one room, the younger children are in the video room, and the older children are outside playing soccer in the town square or just hanging out. If you visit San Quirico, have a coffee latte at the Bar Centrale & “people watch”. SQ is a 30-45 min visit. Some stores may be closed Wednesday afternoon.

    Further reading suggestions:
    War in the Val d’Orcia by Iris Origo
    This is a woman’s diary of happenings in this area during WWII. “Non-political, it is an elegantly simple chronicle of daily life at La Foce, a manor in Tuscan no-man’s land bracketed by foreign invasion and civil war. The Marchesa Origo’s faithful record is one of those rare and precious accounts that give the truth of history with the art of a gifted writer, that bear witness nobly to ignoble times.” The preceding was lifted from the back cover of the book. While we were there in ’02, they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth.

    Dinner Latte de Luna in Pienza. Check to make sure it is open.

    Note on restaurants in this area. Except for La Grotta, Re di Macchia, Osteria del Vecchio Castello, & Pogio Antico, we found that most of the restaurant menus were pretty much the same. Nothing outstanding, but typical Tuscan fare. Don’t expect to find any gourmet treats in this area (except for the above 4). Probably the best thing to do if the weather is nice is to opt for simple outside dining. The following is a list of restaurants we have tried that have outside tables:
    Al Vecchio Forno in San Quirico
    Osteria il Tinaio in San Quirico
    Latte de Luna in Pienza
    13 Gobbi in Montefollonica
    Locanda La Costa in Montefollonico (we did not dine here, but it looked nice)
    All of these restaurants are in the Michelin except Al Forno & Latte de Luna

    Next day

    Yesterday’s route took you through some of the most scenic countryside in the Val d’Orcia. If you want to drive around on your own and explore a little further out, here is a rough geographical description of the area that I think is the most scenic between Siena and Lake Bolsena to the south:
    Find Monte San Savino on the map. Draw a line from there to about ½ inch west of Sinalunga, to about ½ inch east of Montepulciano, to ½ inch east of Chianciano, and then down the A1 to Orvieto. Everything west of this line I have found to be very scenic, and everything east is not so scenic, in my opinion. If you explore the area from Orvieto, to Todi, to Spoleto, and to Trevi, you will find the villages & scenery enjoyable too. Assisi is one of my “must see” towns and so is Perugia, but the area around these cities is not that great (especially around Perugia). As I mentioned earlier, the countryside around Cortona & Arezzo is not scenic (didn’t take the road from Arezzo to Sansepolcro, which is described in my books as nice). As you go from Bibbiena, to Poppi, to Dicomana, the drive is quite pretty. The Strada dei Sette Ponti (Road of 7 bridges) from Pontassieve (just east of Florence) to Vallombrosa, to Reggello, to Castelfranco to Loro (pretty village) is also quite beautiful.

    Visit Montepulciano** in the AM. This is a good town to explore. Pick up a slice of pizza for lunch from one of the many vendors

    Drive through the area north of the N146 in the afternoon & see some of the small perched villages:
    Petroio, Trequanda, Montisi, Castelmuzio. This area is very scenic.

    Visit Monte Olvieto Maggiore Abbey, This is a working Benedectine Abbey. The setting is pretty.
    Open 9:15 – 12:00 & 3:15- 5:45.

    Visit Murio & the Etruscan museum (west of Monte Olvieto Maggiore Abbey on the other side of the N2). You have probably driven past many advertisements for this town & museum – the ads look like a cartoon character with a cowboy hat (locals joke it’s a caricature of George Bush). The “character” is actually an Etruscan statue in this museum. The town of Murio is interesting to visit and the road that leads southeast through Bibbiano is very scenic.

    Radicofani*– south of San Quirico off the N2 to the east. This is a large medieval fortress perched on a hilltop. You can see it from miles around. The view from the top of the tower is fantastic. The drive down the N2 is pretty too.

    Dinner Osteria del Vecchio Castello*. This is a Michelin 1 star, and the restaurant is lovely. It’s in an old stone house next to a church. In March ’04 we had a very nice fixed price 6 course dinner, which was 124E for 2 including a bottle of wine. The restaurant is hard to find, but it is a very lovely drive to get there. It is in the town of la Pieve (actually, the restaurant/church complex is the town) which is south-west of Montalcino. Leaving Montalcino, first follow the signs to Tavernelle, then your map to la Pieve. Allow 45 mins to get there from Pienza. The return is easier – follow the signs to Montalcino. Take some cash with you – when we dined there, their credit card machine was not working (our friends say this happens quite often – usually at the fancier restaurants - hummmm)

    Next day

    Head south from San Quirico on the N2 (marked SS2). This is a pretty drive & you will visit some appealing medieval towns in a hidden corner of Tuscany. Just after the southern most Radicofani exit (see the map) & before the small Pte d. Rigo (marked on the Touring Club Italiano map) head southwest on a small road – it goes through Sforzesca. I think there are signs directing you to Pitigliano & Sorano. Follow this road through S. Valentino to Sorano*. The next three towns you will be visiting are in the Green Michelin guide to Tuscany under “Pitigliano”. The approach to Sorano is very pretty – get the camera ready. Explore Sorano on foot. Not much happening in town, but it’s fun to wander around – several artisan shops. Leave Sorano to the south, drive to Pitigliano*, and get the camera ready again. This is our favorite town of the three. Historic Pitigliano has been beautifully & tastefully maintained. Several lunch spots available in town. Next drive to Sovana* & explore this town (not quite as interesting as the other two). Leave Sovana going west and then take the first road going southwest. This road hits another east/west road that goes back to Pitigliano. I am taking you on this route so you can see the view of Pitigliano from the south. Get the camera ready again as you approach Pitigliano. After the view, head east to Acquapendente. Get there by going through Onano – the N2 south of Acquapendente has some really ugly commerce on it. Take the N2 back to San Quirico/Pienza.

    Dinner Pogio Antico* (recently lost it’s Michelin star) This was one of the best meals we had in Italy on our ’96 & ’99 trips. They have a fabulous 5 course fixed price dinner for about $50. The restaurant is a little hard to find. Allow an hour to get there from your hotel (this will allow you some time to get lost – if you don’t get lost the drive is 30 mins or so). Make sure you leave to find the restaurant in the daylight. As you drive into Montalcino, look for the sign to Poggio Antico on your left – probably on the round-about. You will drive quite a ways out of town, and then down a long dirt road to your right off the paved road.

    Next day

    Spend more time in the Val d’Orcia. You should stay at least 4 days in this area (we’ve spent over 2 months there & we’re still discovering new places).

    Drive to San Quirico from Pienza (if you are staying in Pienza), and when you approach San Quirico, go over a bridge, and the arched town gate is directly in front of you. Immediately turn left in front of the gate (don’t go through the gate - expensive ticket if they catch you). Continue down this road at the east end of San Quirico and park there for a visit (lots of public parking available – free). There is a stairway up to town at the south end (far end) of this car park. There is even something happening on Sundays in San Quirico (many stores close Wednesday afternoon). Have a café latte at the Bar Centrale .

    Return to your car & continue in the same direction you were driving (south). The road will turn to the right around SQ, and there is a stop sign at the south entrance to town (where you entered on foot). Continue straight and head to the small town of Ripa d’Orcia (southwest of San Quirico). This road is quite scenic. Ripa d’Orcia is actually a castle with a rustic B&B (It’s in the Karen Brown guide – our friends stayed there when they were buying their home in SQ). You can’t go into the castle unless you are staying there or having dinner there (rustic dinner too). Turn around & drive to Vignoni. They were restoring the largest building in this town when we were there in March ’04 and it will be apartments. Continue on this road to Bagno Vignoni. This is a bath/spa town with old Roman bath ruins that are quite interesting. There is a spa/hotel in town. You can purchase a day pass for the spa even if you don’t stay at the hotel (our friends have done this many times). I’m not a spa person, but the spa complex looks like a resort hotel you might find in Mexico or Hawaii. The “pool” is fed by a heated water source. It has walkways over the pool as it winds around, and there are lots of lounge chairs where people catch some “rays”. We were there on a Sunday on a cold but sunny day in March and there was lots of activity. The actual town was quite nice too with many/all stores open on Sunday. There are lots of restaurants/ delicatessens with outdoor dining tables for picnics. There is another 90 room “super spa” being built nearby just outside the center of town that is scheduled to open April 1 ‘04, but when we were there on March 28 it looked like it was months away from opening. Our friends said that this hotel first started the planning process in ’80. People in Tuscany like to keep things beautiful and planning is a lot of give & take. The hotel looked very pretty & blended in with the countryside quite well. Great views from the hotel.

    Stu Dudley

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    suetibu,

    How nice of you to be getting this information for your friend!

    We are just about to leave for Rome and Tuscany (and other places) during the same time period. We did the same thing last year at the same time so I can give you some specific recommendations (my numbers are not coordinated with your's):

    1) Easter is April 4th, and so they will not run into any Easter scheduling problems.

    2) I don't think it much matters whether they do Rome first or Tuscany first. It really depends on their specific departure plans. Are they leaving early AM flight on the 28th? If so, they will have to be in Rome on the 27th and so may want to do Tuscany first.

    3) in Rome, I can recommend the Cernaia Suites. You can read about it on Trip Advisor:
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187791-d629885-Reviews-Cernaia_Suite_Bed_and_Breakfast-Rome_Lazio.html

    I've just tried to find my previous Fodor's posting with a review of the Cernaia Suites, but can't locate it for some reason. So I'll attempt to re-create it...location is near Termini Station. This is a 5 room B&B, very much like the reviews. Wonderful location, huge rooms, extremely clean, free wifi, breakfast in your room, fridge in room, windows you can open, and best of all is Renato the owner. He not only greets you upon arrival, but will give you a map and draw walking routes for you depending on what you want to see. Also recommends near-by restaurants (ones you would never have gone to on your own) where we had some great food. Rate is 80-90E a night incl. breakfast.

    http://www.cernaiasuite.com/en/

    The location is also important for car renters. We just walked over to the Termini Station to get our rental car, and then drove back to the Cernaia suites (3-4 mins.) to pick up luggage and head out of town. The reverse can also work if your friends choose to do Tuscany first.

    4) in Tuscany, I can recommend the Agriturismo Savernano (which I also reviewed here on Fodor's and can't find. I must assume there is some temporary glitch with their search utility). Again, reviews on TripAdvisor:
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g194874-d627174-Reviews-Agriturismo_Savernano-Reggello_Tuscany.html

    As I mentioned above, we are leaving for Rome, then Tuscany on March 27th. We chose our itinerary partly so that we could stay at these two places again. We really loved them, and our experience really colored our experience in such a positive way.

    That said....Ag. Savernano is located in Regello which is about a 20 min. train ride south of Florence. This is extremely centrally located for touring Tuscan towns and countryside. At breakfast you often find several people sharing maps and suggestions. Your friends can decide where they want to go as each day presents itself.....the weather may suggest one thing, a local market may suggest another thing. They will easily work that out while there.

    As to my review of Ag. Savernano itself: what a great place this is. Truly a find. The food is outstanding, the wine their own (plus others). Breakfast is wonderful (don't miss the eggs that David does with his own secret prep.). We ate dinner there the first night, and then every night thereafter. No need to go elsewhere. As I recall, they are closed Mondays for dinner, but your friends should confirm. The rooms are huge, clean, and great bathrooms. We can recommend room #5. Overlooks the vineyards. David and his wife have created a real haven here. Including peacocks. Breakfast and dinner is a good time to find out from others where are the good towns to visit (including things like where to park in some of these walled towns), etc. An email to David may take a couple of days for a response. He has an American woman come up to Savernano a few times a week to answer his English emails. Rate is 90E a night incl. breakfast, plus 17E each for dinner (all depending on room + season).

    http://www.agriturismosavernano.com/

    General comment: when we were there last year at the same time, it rained quite a bit. We found that didn't dampen our spirits at all. But this year, I will bring more rain friendly gear, esp. shoes that I don't care about at all!

    I hope this gives you something useful to pass along to your friends!

    Happy Travels,

    LisaG

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    I totally agree with Stu abouit location in Tuscany. Here is a list of places to stay---I would prefer in town locations that time of year. Also, I would start in Tuscany to avoid the last nite in Rome dreaded scenario.

    BOB’S FAVORITE DIGS IN TOSCANA

    A. RURAL LOCATIONS: All have parking and good food options nearby

    1. Relais La Saracina www.lasaracina.it 230 to 300E
    Fabulous country home near Montepulciano—helpful owners

    2. Cretaiole Agriturismo http://www.cretaiole.it/ Good value for families

    3. Terre di Nano www.terredinano.com 100 to 155
    Both rooms and apartments at rural Agriturismo near Monticchiello

    4. Hotel Pescille www.pescille.it Good value at a rustic hotel only 3 km from famed San Gimignano with great views---100 to 130E

    5. Fattoria Tregole www.fattoria-tregole.com 110E to 180E
    Has both B&B and apartment accommodations. Near Castellina in Chianti

    6. Agriturismo apts. near San Quirico— www.poggiolo.info/ About 110E


    B. IN-TOWN LOCATIONS: For walking convenience to shops & ristorantes.

    1. Palazzo del Capitano www.palazzodelcapitano.com 130 to 180E
    Very nice small hotel in center of San Quirico—perfect location to explore.

    2. Vecchia Oliviera www.tuscany.net/oliviera/ 130 to 180E
    Nice 4 star hotel at the gate into lovely Montalcino---has pool.

    3. Palazzina Cesari www.montalcinoitaly.com 80 to 110E
    Lovely small B&B in heart of Montalcino—great value—2 night stay minimum.

    4. Locanda di San Francesco www.locandasanfrancesco.it 180 to 200E
    New boutique B&B in a lovely location in Montepulciano—great reviews !

    5. Palazzo Ravizza www.palazzoravizza.it 130 to 180E
    Very nice & popular hotel in Siena with parking.

    6. Fattoria Vignale http://www.vignale.it/eng/ Four star hotel in Radda in the heart of Chianti. About 230E for double

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    Now that I've read Stu's reply (and am humbled by both his volume and value!), I concur regarding Rome and Florence being too much city. If in Tuscany only 4 days---I recommend that they do the whole Tuscan town thing with one home base. But that's just me. I like to not have to pack/unpack that many times. We did 5 days at Ag. Savernano (the place I mentioned above) and each day went to several hill towns very easily. By this I mean, leave at about 10 AM after breakfast, have a leisurely lunch in some town, go to another town(s) for more walking, and be back by 4 or 5 for naps before dinner. We saw a ton, walked a ton, and never felt in a whirlwind. Included many "pull over to the side of the road" for pics and admiration and appreciation for being so lucky!

    LisaG

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    Thank you all. My friend and I are immensely grateful.. She is printing this out right now..

    I will be back on fodors soon for our own trip - amalfi, rome, siena, lake como and possibly more..

    Mille grazie,

    S

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    Plug and play Tuscany?

    It's really not necessary, and even kind of sad. The val d'Orcia area of Tuscany is one of the easiest and most fun to explore on one's own. Budget accommodations abound on farms.

    This "I'll take your hand and make you walk baby steps" is really no way to travel in Italy. I can't stop saying it, no matter how furious it makes people. Places like the val d'Orcia are already tamed for tourists. You don't need this formulaic, rigid stuff, and you wouldn't even if you were going to le Marche.

    It's fine Stu and Bob offer it. It's fine some people want to travel this way. But it's not expert anything. it's Dumbo's magic feather. And it misses Italy by a mile.

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