5 days in Tuscany

Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 08:22 PM
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5 days in Tuscany

My Mom and I will be going to Italy in March. I have everything pretty well mapped out and reservations made in Rome, Venice and Florence. However, I am really having trouble figuring out where to stay while in the Tuscany area (minus Florence since we are spending a couple of nights there). We will be renting a car in Rome or Orvieto for the 5 days and nights that we are exploring Tuscany. We would like to stay in towns that are smallish and charming, but that have nice dinner restaurants and spots for gelato (a little nightlife). The towns that appeal to us are Montalcino, Cortona, Lucca, Pienza, Montepulciano, San Quirico d' Oricia, Voltera, Portovenere, Orvieto and the Cinque Terra (not in order of preference, but my Mom really wants to check out Cortona). Are there two towns that would be good base points to stay in which would allow us to see more of the Tuscan towns we are interested in?
I would be so grateful for any suggestions. I have already read many good pieces of advice on this site which have helped me plan our trip, but I just can't figure out where to stay during this part. Also, is there a book or website that gives the driving time between towns? I think that might help me with these decisions.
Thank you so much in advance.
Carol
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Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 09:17 PM
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Hi Carol:

While Cortona is a nice town and certainly deserves a 1/3 to a 1/2 day trip (for those of us who are Under the Tuscan Sun junkies), I would not make it my base while in Tuscany, since it is about a 3/4 hour drive from all of the following: Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano, and San Quirico d'Orchia, and it would be a shame to squeesh all of those gorgeous towns into a day trip. I would, perhaps, stay two (2) nights in Lucca, visit Volterra on the way to Southern Tuscany, i.e., Pienza/Montepulciano/San Quirico region, stay three (3) nights around Pienza, and visit Cortona on one of the morning trips out.

Anna
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Old Nov 23rd, 2005, 05:51 PM
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We stayed for a week in Montepulciano last May and enjoyed it very much. It is very charming and has wonderful restaurants. From Montepulciano we did easy day trips to Montalcino, Sant'Antimo, Corona and Pienza. We also spent a marvellous day at the beach in Castiglione della Pescaia near Grosse.
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 08:47 AM
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I "third" the suggestion to stay in the Montepulciano, Pienza, San Quirico area - the countryside doesn't get any prettier than it is there. I'm not a big fan of Cortona - the surrounding area is not that scenic & the town is only OK compared to other towns in the region.

Stu Dudley
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Old Nov 25th, 2005, 01:20 PM
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Thanks for all of your input. Your advice is really helpful. We would like to rent a car in Rome on Sunday and drive to Civita and Orvieto. Do you think that everything will be closed up in those towns on a Sunday? We would like to stay one night in Orvieto, if it makes sense. Then we would like to stay in San Quirico d' Oricia at the Palazzo del Capitano, Montalcino at the Palazzina Cessira or Hotel Il Giglio, Pienza at The Albergo Rutiliano or Montepulciano at the Villa Cicolina.
I am wondering if it is true that Montepulciano can be more windy and chilly than some of the other surronding hill towns due to its elevation? That wouldn't be a plus in March. I am also wondering if San Quirico has enough restaurants, etc. to support a 3-4 night stay?
Do you think that Lucca is too far away to see on a day trip and do you think it's worth spending the time? I just really liked the idea of renting bikes and riding around the wall there. What do you all think? Thanks again.
Carol
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Old Nov 25th, 2005, 03:24 PM
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>>Civita and Orvieto. Do you think that everything will be closed up in those towns on a Sunday?<<

I've been there on a Sunday, and several of the ceramics & wine shops around the Duomo were open. Most of the places farther back in town were closed, however. If that's the only time you have available to visit Orvieto then I would stop for a while & visit. Remember, shops will be closed Monday morning also, so If you plan to stay overnight, nothing much new will be "visitable" on Monday. There isn't enough stuff in Civita to be closed - so I don't think that would be a problem.

>>I am wondering if it is true that Montepulciano can be more windy and chilly than some of the other surronding hill towns due to its elevation?<<<

Never heard that!!!!! I've walked from Pienza to Montepulciano, and driven it dozens of times. I don't recall going uphill... The town is quite steep - but not enough to make the elevation any higher. I recall looking down on Montepulciano from several vantage points north of it.

>> I am also wondering if San Quirico has enough restaurants, etc. to support a 3-4 night stay?<<

There are three very nice family trattatorias in San Q - plus a pizza place. Pienza is only 15 mins away, as is Montalcino.


>>Do you think that Lucca is too far away to see on a day trip and do you think it's worth spending the time?<<

That's too much driving up & back for a day trip for me. For 5 days, you will have enough to keep you busy without going that far.

Stu Dudley
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 11:24 AM
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Stu, Thank you for answering all of my questions. Also, I wanted to tell you that your travel notes are very helpful and really enjoyable to read.
Based on your earlier reply, do you think that we would be better off just stopping by to visit Civita and Orvieto on Sunday and staying in another town that evening? Are there any hill towns that you think would be better to visit on a Monday? Also, can you give me your opinions on any of the hotels I am considering? Okay, I'm feeling like a pest now, but, I have one more question. If we don't go to Lucca, is there a nice place to rent bike and take a ride in Pienza or any of the nearby towns (on mostly flat land)? Thanks again.
Carol
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 11:49 AM
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Hi CV,

"Also, is there a book or website that gives the driving time between towns?"

The following sites will give you this information:

http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/viamich...MaHomePage.htm

http://www6.mappy.com/?lang=en

Ginny
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 12:21 PM
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>>Stu, Thank you for answering all of my questions. Also, I wanted to tell you that your travel notes are very helpful and really enjoyable to read.<<

Thanks - glad they're helpful

>>Based on your earlier reply, do you think that we would be better off just stopping by to visit Civita and Orvieto on Sunday and staying in another town that evening?<<

Yes

>> Are there any hill towns that you think would be better to visit on a Monday?<<

Most things will be open in Pienza on a Sunday & Monday. Go to Sant Antimo Abbey on Monday, and also take a leisurely drive through the Val d'Orcia - the one I described in my itinerary would be perfect - no need to stop in any of the towns on this pass - except Pienza and Monticchiello (not many stores in town to be open - but the town is a cutie). Visit some of the towns on Tuesday. Beleive me - you won't get tired of driving the same roads from Montalcino to San Q to Pienza to Montalcino and the smaller dirt roads north & south of there. The scenery looks different with varing sun exposures.

>Also, can you give me your opinions on any of the hotels I am considering?<<

We stay with our friends while we are there, but before they purchased an apt in San Quirico, we stayed twice at La Saracina between Pienza & Montepulciano. It's probably our favorite hotel in Europe. Many moons ago we stayed at Il Giglio, and thought the place was nice & it had some great views over the countryside. My choice would be the Palazzo del Capitano. We've walked the grounds a few times and the owners showed us one of the suites and some of the other rooms. Our friends who live there say the place is underpriced, in their opinion. There is a nice garden area with chaise lounges where you can lie down & "snooze" if you need to. The garden sits above the streets in town, and affords a nice view of the roofs. If you read my notes about San Q, I like staying there because it feels like more of a non-tourist town than some of the others.

>>Okay, I'm feeling like a pest now, but, I have one more question. If we don't go to Lucca, is there a nice place to rent bike and take a ride in Pienza or any of the nearby towns (on mostly flat land)? Thanks again.<<

I'll shoot an e-mail to our friends who are there right now, and ask them. They have mountain bikes and have probably ridden on every road in the Val d'Orcia.

Stu Dudley

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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 01:13 PM
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I just want to point out that although the shops were open in Pienza on Monday, other things weren't. The Palazzo Piccolomini (Pope’s house—Pius II, who designed the town), Church of San Fransesco (the only thing left of the ancient hamlet of Corsignano) and the Borgia Palace which houses the Diocesan Museum were all closed on Monday. If you just want to shop and eat (not a bad thing!), Monday is OK, but if you want to visit these places, pick another day.
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 02:31 PM
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Hi C,

I am one of the fans of Orvieto. We stayed there for 3 nights a few years ago and did day trips from there, one of which was an afternoon to Civita. (We had already spent 4 nights in Chianti doing day trips.)

I think you would be very happy staying one night in Orvieto. There is easily a full day's worth of sights there, plus a 1/2 day a Civita.

Buon viaggio!
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 02:49 PM
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I strongly suggest taking the train to Orvieto and picking up a car there. My sister did that on a recent trip to Italy, and said it was so easy, much quicker then having to spend time getting to the car rental in Rome, and they were thankful to not have to drive in Rome.
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 08:27 PM
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Okay, based on all of your wonderful input I think that I may be coming up with a plan. But I still have a few questions

I'm thinking of the following:
On Sunday take the train to Orvieto and rent a car. But are car rental offices open there on Sunday??? If not, we will rent in Rome and drive.

We can spend the day on Sunday in Orvieto and Civita. Would it make sense to head to Cortona for the night so my Mom can visit that town? She really wants to spend a little time there. Does anyone know if most things are closed there on Mondays? Or should we save that for a different day? How are Sienna and San Gimignano on Sundays and Mondays? Would it be wise to visit those towns during Sunday and Monday and save Civita and Orvieto for another day? We could take the train from Rome to Sienna or San Gimignano. We have 5 days to drive around.

I am going to reserve a room at The Palazza del Capitano in San Quirico as our base while we are in Tuscany.

Stu, thanks for checking with your friends regarding a nice place for a bike ride.

Thanks so much to all of you for helping me out and sharing your Italy travel wisdom! I really do appreciate the time you have spent helping me.
Carol
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 09:19 PM
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Hi Carol,
I just returned from a wonderful 2 week trip to Italy a few weeks ago and we spent 5 days in Tuscany on our honeymoon. I would suggest reading Rick Steves' guidebook to Italy since he has excellent recommendations on how to get around Tuscany and the rest of Italy. If you intend on staying in Cortona, I would highly recommend the lovely Relais Villa Baldelli hotel and you will need a car to get there. http://www.villabaldelli.it/html/contatti_eng.htm
It is just below the hilltown of Cortona in a small town called San Pietro and had a view of the town from my hotel window. We did not have time to see nor stay in Orvieto which was highly recommended but did spend a half day to visit Civita di Bagnoregio which was worth the view. Tuscany was beautiful. We rented a car from Avis in Florence and dropped it off in Rome. If I had to do it over, we would not drive to Rome because the roads were so confusing and would drop off the car in Orvietto as Rick Steves' suggested and take the train to Rome instead. It took us 3 hours to drive from Florence to Cortona at night in unexpected dense foggy weather around Cortona. From Cortona to Rome, it took us approx. 2 hours using the major highways for the most part. We used Cortona as a base but I agree that it is not as convenient to other towns in Tuscany since it is about 1 hour drive to Civita; 1 hour to Assisi; 45 mins. to Montepulciano.
Good luck to you and I hope this helps you out with your mom.

Arlyn
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Old Nov 27th, 2005, 05:46 AM
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I know you're enjoying the planning process for your Tuscan adventure. I agree with StuDudley's recommendations - we found the Pienza, Montapulciano, Montalcino, San Quirico area the most beautiful in all of Tuscany. While San Gimignano was fantastic (we spnet 3 nights there), it was further away from the aforementioned area. I also agree with StuDudlys opinion of Cortona - it was good for about a 1/2 day and was not a particularly beautiful drive getting there. We've rented a car from both Orvieto and Chiusi. Chiusi is much more convenient; however, I'm not sure either has facilities open on Sunday. (I'd call the 800 number for Autoeurope for that question). Per StuDudley's recommendation, we've stayed at La Saracina which was ideally located between Pienza & Montapulciano. We could drive to either scenic village within 5 minutes. The owner was particularly helpful with recommending & reserving our restaurant/dinner plans based on what we were in the mood for & our budget. They also helped each day with our travel plans - mapping out where to go, hours, etc. Hope this helps...
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Old Nov 27th, 2005, 06:10 AM
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Just to set the record straight, Montepulciano is the highest town in southern Tuscany with a listed altitude of 650 meters (2160 feet).

I don't know if that makes it colder or windier, but it's still one of my favorites. We just got back from a week right near Montepulciano, and I think it's a wonderful base for the entire area.
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Old Nov 27th, 2005, 06:28 AM
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No one mentioned wonderful Siena as a base for traveling around Tuscany. Possibly that is because it is more of a "city", and not small and quaint as you mentioned. It IS quaint, however,and extremely interesting, good restaurants. Then you could make day trips to other towns easily.
Pienza is great and easy to walk around, Montalcino gorgeous and hilly., San Giminagno touristy but very intereting, Cortona VERY hilly but again very interesting and charming.
Sounds like you and your Mom are both very fit and can easily do many stone steps, steep hills etc. The Entire area is SO BEAUTIFUL and CHARMING!
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Old Nov 27th, 2005, 06:29 AM
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Here is our friend's reply about the bikes

Is there a place to rent bikes?

** There is an excellent bike rental shop outside of Pienza on the way to Montepulciano. It's in the commercial area where the artisian iron maker's shop is. The name is Cicioposse. Address: via 20 maggio, 27. Phone: 0578-74.99.83
Alternatively, the tourist office in San Quirico does have bike rentals also just not a large selection.


and can you recommend a few bike routes over somewhat flat terrain???


** No. The only somewhat flat terrain is Val d'Orcia (the valley) but to get there from anywhere on a bike you must go down hill and then return uphill. You can of course, drive to the valley.

ciao, Georgia

Stu Dudley
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Old Nov 27th, 2005, 07:25 AM
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Georgia,

Both the Orvieto and Chiusi offices are closed on Sundays. Office hours are given on the Autoeurope website.

I visited Cortona for a 1/2 day and like it. I found my drive to get there from Montacino scenic, but then I took all the small roads. Even so, it's hard to beat the area of Tuscany around Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino.

Out of all the hilltowns I've visited, I thought Cortona and Todi were the steepest.

Buon viaggio!
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Old Nov 27th, 2005, 08:26 AM
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>>>Out of all the hilltowns I've visited, I thought Cortona and Todi were the steepest.<<

I think Montepulciano is just as steep!!

BTW - the OP is Carol. Georgia is our friend who has an apt. in San Quirico.

>>We can spend the day on Sunday in Orvieto and Civita. Would it make sense to head to Cortona for the night so my Mom can visit that town? She really wants to spend a little time there. Does anyone know if most things are closed there on Mondays? Or should we save that for a different day?<<

We were in Cortona on a Monday in late March last year. Most stores were closed in the AM - especially the ones my wife wanted to visit. The fabric store she rememberd from a prior visit had ugly aluminum shutters pulled over their pretty storefront. Stores may open in the afternoon - but the afternoon starts at 3:00. I would save Cortona for a non-Sunday & Monday.

>>How are Sienna and San Gimignano on Sundays and Mondays? Would it be wise to visit those towns during Sunday and Monday and save Civita and Orvieto for another day? We could take the train from Rome to Sienna or San Gimignano. We have 5 days to drive around.<<

Siena only has 1 "N".

You seem to want to center your enjoyment of Tuscany around hitting the charming villages as a main objective. I can't express this enough - the countryside is fantastic/breathtaking/beautiful/unmatched/relaxing/photogenic/ etc/etc/etc. In the months we've spent exploring that region, we've spent more time in the countryside than in the towns - and we are "big time" town fans.

Most stores will be closed in Siena on Monday. Most stores will be open in San G on Monday.

Here is what I would do.

Visit Civita & Orvieto on Sunday. Stay in San Q and enjoy the evening wandering through town with the locals, visit the gardens, and have a coffee at the Bar Centrale.

Monday, take the drive through the Val d'Orcia, that's described in the itinerary I've sent you. Visit Pienza and pick up picnic provisiton there and also rent a headset from the tourist office & take the self guided walking tour of town. Continue on my driving itinerary and try to get to the beautiful Sant Antimo Abbey in time to listen to the Gregorian chants (see my itinerary for times). Have a picnic lunch on the lawn outside the abbey and admire the cypress trees "dancing" up the hill in the background. Continue with my driving itinerary, stopping in the cute town of Monticchiello for a walk around this small vilage. End the day back at the Bar Centrale or a snooze in the garden at the hotel in San Q.

Tuesday - visit Montepulciano in the AM and Cortona in the afternoon - or vice versa.

Wednesday visit Siena. This might not take all day, so visit a few if the villages and the pretty countryside north just north of Pienza (Trequanda, Montisi, Murio etc - see my itinerary)

Thurs Visit San Gimignano early in the AM and then Volterra.

Thurs - visit Montalcino and perhaps take a bike ride or walk in the Val d'Orcia - try to walk to that little church just east of San Q.

Stu Dudley

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