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Help solidifying Tuscan hill towns itinerary

Help solidifying Tuscan hill towns itinerary

Apr 16th, 2013, 09:00 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 20
Help solidifying Tuscan hill towns itinerary


My husband and I will be spending 7 nights in Paris and then will be heading to Tuscany for a week to explore the hill towns and relax for 6 nights (then 2 nights in Rome since we're flying from Rome back to the states). We have never been to either Paris or the hill towns, though we've already been to Florence. This will be the first time we are traveling alone together since having kids 12 years ago (this trip is long overdue!!).

I was wondering if I could get suggestions on how to best spend our 6 nights-in-the-Tuscan-hill-towns leg of the trip. We'd prefer to stay in one area as our home base if it makes sense to do so. I want to do less so that I can enjoy more but am overwhelmed by how many places I want to go to because everything looks and sounds so great in the guide books and from trip reports.

From past suggestions on this forum people have suggested to fly Orly to Pisa (tickets haven't been purchased yet so if there's a better way to go, I'm all ears. Previously we were going to include the Cinque Terre in our trip and then realized it was too much moving around, so maybe that's why Pisa was recommended).

**So my first question is should we still fly into Pisa if Cinque Terre is off the itinerary?
If not, where do you suggest flying into if the goal is to relax and explore good food & wine, the outdoors/pretty buildings/parks/cute shops (and other not-kid-friendly stuff that I've probably left out... though I don't have a burning desire to see more Italian religious art as we've been to Italy before and had our share of museums), having conversations without being interrupted by our kids, etc. Q2bWhere would you stay as well for 5-6 nights?

If we should still fly into Pisa we thought we should at least take a peek at the leaning tower. I guess we'd leave our luggage in the left luggage service that the airport provides. Since I'd love to bicycle around Lucca since we'd already be so close would you stay in Pisa overnight to see more Pisa sights and then head to Lucca or see the leaning tower and then head to Lucca for a night or two? Then is it possible to have a home base for 4 nights since we may have spent 2 in Pisa/Lucca (maybe Sienna?? City and accommodations suggestions welcome!) and easily and in a relaxing way see San Gimignano, the Chianti trail or would you recommend going to Orvieto (I like white wines) or Montepulciano (not sure if I like these wines... need to get a bottle at my local wine shop to see but I heard it's amazing anyway)? Or should we spend our 6 nights differently? Any help is very much appreciated!

Thank you,
lisacohen is offline  
Apr 16th, 2013, 10:35 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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For a budget flight to the area from Paris, you probably won't find a better deal than EasyJet Orly/Pisa (watch for strict luggage weights and carry on rules). The overnight Thello train from Paris to Florence would be an option also.

I'm not a fan of Lucca, but it's only 25 minutes or so by bus or train from Pisa. You can store luggage at the airport or the main train station in Pisa.

You may prefer just to pick up a car in Pisa and head to Volterra and San G (on the way to Siena) instead of Lucca. San G is known for it's white wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

I would split the nights - 3 Siena area and 3 southern Tuscany (Pienza area).
Drop the car at Orvieto and catch the train to Rome.
kybourbon is online now  
Apr 16th, 2013, 10:35 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 916
I'd recommend Siena as a base for exploring the hill towns. We stayed there last summer and rented a car to drive around Tuscany. Like so many of those towns, Siena is nicest when the crowds of tourists have left, so we left town most days and returned to enjoy the beautiful evenings.

I flew into Florence once, and if that is an option for you, I'd recommend that over Pisa. Pisa was kind of a disappointment for us. After you take the obligatory photo where you're supporting the tower, there wasn't much that appealed to us.

We stayed overnight for 2 nights in San Gimignano, and we absolutely loved it. We also stayed in Orvieto. If you click on my name, you should see a link to my trip reports. Maybe they will give you some ideas.

Have fun planning! It will be a wonderful trip.
cybertraveler is offline  
Apr 16th, 2013, 11:45 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,558
When is this trip?

We stayed in Siena last October for almost a week. We hadn't been there in several years and were dismayed at the increased level of traffic that we had to drive through twice a day to explore other towns that were blissfully quiet in contrast. (I can't imagine what it would have been like in high season summer.) During the day, the tourist areas of Siena were packed. As much as Siena has to offer, we were disappointed that the charming medieval town we remembered has almost disappeared in the bustle of a busy, tourist-magnet city.

On the same trip we stayed for a week in Montepulciano and did an over-night in Castellina. We loved Montepulciano and the other southern Tuscany towns and would go back there in a heartbeat. We also liked the Castellina/Radda area and may spend more time there in the future.

I'm also not a big fan of Lucca, but I guess it's one of those places that you don't know how you feel about it until you go there. Ditto San Gimignano for me.

If it were my trip, I'd probably skip Pisa and Lucca just because of the logistics of the day. Unless you take a painfully early flight from Paris, it will be mid-to-late morning before you're off the plane in Pisa. Dealing with luggage, shuttling back and forth to the Field of Miracles (reservations required to climb the Tower), lunch, shuttling back and forth to Lucca... If your trip is in high season summer, it will be crowded everywhere and possibly warm-to-hot.

In contrast, you could pick up the car after you land at Pisa and be in some charming small town by lunch time.

But you can't realistically see most of Tuscany from one base, so you need to decide what you most want to see/do before you can pick a place that's geographically central.

I second the suggestion of dropping the car in Orvieto (where we also spent one night).

FWIW, here are the hotels where we stayed:

Orvieto: http://www.palazzopiccolomini.it/en/

Montepulciano: http://www.locandasanfrancesco.it/bo...l-tuscany.html [only 4 rooms, so book early]

Siena: http://www.palazzoravizza.com/ [convenient parking]

Castellina: http://www.palazzosquarcialupi.com/e...on_tuscany.php
Jean is online now  
Apr 16th, 2013, 12:08 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Great input from Jean---which is typical.
Fly to Pisa--get the car---and spend your first 2 nites in the Volterra/San Gim. area. Then head south for 3 nites---any where in the Val d' Orcia---I like San Quirico as a base location. Drop the car in Orvieto---have fun !
bobthenavigator is offline  
Apr 16th, 2013, 12:25 PM
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We stayed at Palazzo Ravizza, which is right on the edge of town inside the old wall. Thay have their own parking and it's easy to zip in and out of town.

On a previous trip we tried to economize and stayed at a B&B in the middle of the ancient town. That was a big mistake, because as you said the parking situation is a nightmare.

We stayed in San Q a couple of years ago, and I agree that it makes a wonderful base for touring, although there are not many options in town for restaurants at night. Still, it is a beautiful small town.

Agreed that dropping the car in Orvieto is the way to go!
cybertraveler is offline  
Apr 16th, 2013, 12:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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cyber, we also thought getting to and from Palazzo Ravizza was easy, BUT the morning and afternoon rush hour traffic outside the ZTL was really bad. One morning, it took us nearly an hour to go 15 kms. which felt too much like my daily drive to work.

Thanks, bob.
Jean is online now  
Apr 22nd, 2013, 07:29 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 20
Hi everyone,

Thank you for your suggstions.

Jean, our Tuscany portion of the trip is in the beginning of August (hot and lots of tourists).

After looking into car rentals we're leaning against it as it's expensive and there aren't automatics available. So hopefully it'll be doable by trains/buses.

I was trying to book a flight this morning and then again just now but EasyJet's servers are overloaded so I'll try again later.

I'll look into some of those suggestions and read cybertraveler's trip report. Thank you!
lisacohen is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2013, 07:11 AM
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If we aren't going to have a car can you suggest which one or two hill towns you'd use as your base for seeing the area over 6 night/7 days and which hotels would be best?

I also noticed that some of the accommodations looked perfect when we were going to have a car but that now that we will be sans car, some of them would seem really tiresome if we had luggage with us arriving from a bus or train.

lisacohen is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2013, 07:36 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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We've spent months driving around the hill towns and scenic countryside of Tuscany. We normally spend 2 months each year vacationing in Europe - about 80% in France, 15% Italy, & the remainder elsewhere. The Val d'Orcia around Pienza is the prettiest countryside we've seen in Europe - but you REALLY need a car to explore it adequately. Our closest friends owned a apartment in San Quirico for about 8 years and they rented it out when they were not there. They told prospective guests that if the guests were not going to rent a car - don't even bother coming to this region of Tuscany - because you will have a great amount of difficulty & inconvenience getting around without one.

You may be able to get a private driver or a customized tour out of Siena - but I suspect you won't save a lot of money in 6 days vs renting a car. I also suspect the customized tour will take you to the "usual" places where the hoards of tourists go - San G, Pienza, Sant Antimo, etc. You don't want to be in these places mid-day in August.

A manual shift is really not that difficult to learn. We just returned from Italy & had a manual and it was no big deal.

Today I posted info about Tuscany on Fodors

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
Apr 23rd, 2013, 08:28 AM
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Thank you Stu!!

I just had lunch with my husband and he whipped out his phone and found a car rental that was reasonable (AND an automatic!!! Yay!! I had been looking at European companies as suggested by guidebooks but he used good ol' Orbitz and found a car for about $400 for the week with A/C.). So now the whole region opens up to us!

Stu - So you would advise against staying in the touristy places like Siena, etc? I'll read your post as soon as I have a moment as I'm curious as to where you recommend staying for a home base of Tuscan exploration and I'm sure you mention it there.

Thank you so much!! I'm slowly but surely piecing this vacation together, thank to the patient travelers here at this forum. I can't thank all of you enough!

lisacohen is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2013, 08:42 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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I would stay in Siena for 1 night, but base elsewhere. We like San Quirico because it gets fewer tay-trippers than Pienza, Montepulciano, and Montalcino and it is less touristy also. San Quirico has a very nice hotel too (see my post).

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
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