Navigating in Tuscany and Liguira---2011

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May 28th, 2011, 09:47 AM
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Navigating in Tuscany and Liguira---2011

NAVIGATING IN TUSCANY & LIGURIA--2011
A TRIP REPORT

It was our 27th trip to Europe---spanning 1958 to 2011---and our 17th to Italy.
Consistent with our last two trips, it was designed to let us visit our favorite destinations from previous trips and to experience them in more depth. Mission accomplished!

In 2009 we spent 3 weeks celebrating our 50th anniversary in Venice, the Dolomites, and Lago Como. Last year we spent 2 weeks on the Amalfi Coast.
As with this year, we chose to rent apartments in the primary locations. It just makes good sense and helps to control the cost.

OVERVIEW:
We flew nonstop from CLT to FCO both directions. The flights were uneventful except for my bad back in cattle car class. It is a pure torture test for me.

We met our travel mates at FCO and got our car from Autoeurope. Judy and Paul are old friends from High School---she was actually my first girl friend in the 8th grade. Paul is a retired surgeon who has driven sports cars all of his life and loves to run through the gears. Of course, he wanted to drive. You may guess who was the designated navigator. They were also our valued travel partners in 2009 in the Dolomites and on Lago Como.

We picked up our Ford Kuga at FCO and drove 90 minutes north to Orbetello on the Argentario promontory for our first nite. The car was a new Ford SUV that reminds me of our Honda CRV with more power. It was a perfect choice.
Our hotel in Orbetello was from my Karen Brown book and is a good option for anyone wanting a first or last night hotel within 2 hours of FCO.
http://www.sanbiagiorelais.com/ We had dinner that night in the resort village of Porto Ercole on the marina---seafood of course.


Our total itinerary:

Orbetello---1 night

Lerici [ near Cinque Terre]---3 nights

Montepulciano[Tuscany]—6 nights

Hilton Garden Inn---FCO—last night




THE LIGURIAN COAST:

We drove up the coast the next morning and decided to stop in Pisa. Can you believe only Susan had ever seen the famed tower— maybe it was time. We spent about 2 hours enjoying the Piazza dei Miracoli in perfect weather.

After lunch we diverted our route into Carrara and up to the village of Colonnata to see the marble quarries. Judy had read about the local food treat, lardo, and was determined to try some. My advice is to forget it.

We arrived in Lerici at about 16:00 and made our way to the Hotel Florida.
Our first choice was fully booked with a wedding party and this was our 2nd option. It was very adequate but not wonderful. The rooms were a bit small, but the views were quite good and the breakfast better than average. I had hoped to be closer to the marina in Lerici—it turned out to be a :15 walk. It does have parking right next door. http://www.hotelflorida.it/en/default.aspx

The next morning we had glorious sunshine and decided to take the ferry to the CT. We caught the first boat of the day at 0930 and stopped first in Portovenere across the Gulf of La Spezia from Lerici—one of our all-time favorite destinations. We then proceeded the full length of the CT coast to the largest of the 5 villages, Monterosso al Mare. We meandered our way back the entire day including lunch in Vernazza and a long stop in magical Portovenere –which was the host for a wedding at the awesome San Pietro church. It was a special day I will not soon forget. See the photo gallery:
http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/show...y.php?cat=4553

The next day was Sunday and the forecast was for rain. So, we decided to drive an hour north to Portofino. As we approached the town we were stopped by a policeman who informed us that “ Portofino is completa” It did not surprise me on a Sunday in May. We turned around and decided to drive the coast via Santa Margherita & Chiavari for a Sunday dinner in Sestri Levante. We found a nice place next to the Yacht Club and were not disappointed. http://www.sanmarco1957.it/ Back to Lerici by 17:00.




Next, 6 wonderful days in Tuscany !









MONTEPULCIANO AND SOUTH TUSCANY:

We drove to Tuscany with lunch in Siena---Paul had never seen it and we all count it among our favorite Italy destinations. There is nothing quite like lunch and people watching in the Campo. We arrived in Montepulciano at 17:00 and found our apartments in the south end of town. Be sure you have good driving directions, which we did thanks to the thoughtful owner, Giacomo Stuart. We had both of his apartments that are side by side in one building. This may be one of the best values in all of Tuscany. The views are terrific and Giacomo is a big help. Both apartments also have internet stations. http://www.politian.com

We spent six nights in Montepulciano---a definitive Tuscan hill town of about 12,000 people. Two of our days were spent exploring the town itself--read your guide book for highlights.. We found the town to be most enjoyable. Be sure to catch the orange local bus service to get an overall look and feel for the town. It runs every :30 and stops at about a dozen places in town, including the corner of Piazza Grande—the heart of town. It is definitely a real “hill town” that will test your legs. Some of the highlights for us included:

• Wine tasting---all over town, but especially in Piazza Grande.
• The wine bar at Locanda San Francesco
• Memorable meals at Osteria Acquacheta, Café Poliziano[lunch twice], and Ristorante Al Quattro Venti

The most enjoyable part of the trip for me were the 3 days trips we had planned from our base location in Montepulciano. If you only had 3 days to spend in south Tuscany, and love rural landscapes, small medieval villages, and good Tuscan food, then here are 3 great days for you to consider:

• Montepulciano in the AM, lunch at the wonderful Osteria La Porta in Monticchiello http://www.osterialaporta.it/monticchiello.en.php, and then a tour of La Foce gardens at 15:00 [only on Wednesdays]
Call ahead to book space on her lovely terrace. Be there by 12:30

• Begin in Pienza in the AM, and then drive north via Santa Anna in Camprena[English Patient site] to the charming village of Castelmuzio and here for lunch: http://www.locandadicasalmustia.it/ We discovered Castelmuzio thanks to Isabella Moricciani who was kind enough to show us her spectacular new rental place in the village: http://www.casamoricciani.com/ [ also has 2 smaller apartments].
Not cheap, but this is the nicest place I have seen in rural Tuscany, and well located for exploring much of south Tuscany. End your day with a visit to the Abbey at Oliveto Maggiore after 15:00. Take your camera to capture some spectacular Tuscan landscapes.



• Start the day in Bagno Vignoni, then to the Abbey at Sant Antimo, and then take the white road from there to the tiny village of San Angelo in Colle for lunch here http://www.trattoriailpozzo.com/
My veal dish with porcini was among the best I can recall. End the day in the wine city of Montalcino---a long but great day in Tuscany.

These 3 days will give you the best of rural scenery in off-the-path Tuscany and some great food as well—minus the tour bus crowds.

Our last day in Italy was a Sunday and we decided to drive to lovely Orvieto. We were there before 10:00 and drove straight into the city and parked behind the fabulous Duomo—very easy. The girls explored the ceramic shops of Orvieto, we toured the Duomo once again, all before lunch. We then drove to our hotel near FCO—less than 2 hours from Orvieto. It was the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. It is a bit of a maze to find it, but not hard if you follow the arrow signs on your right as you approach the airport. After check-in, Paul and I returned the car and caught the Hilton shuttle back to the hotel. It is only 5 minutes from the terminals but you need to know where you are going. The hotel was OK for an airport hotel but not cheap at 220E.

SUMMARY:
The weather was spectacular, the company was enjoyable, and the logistics were all favorable. All in all, one of our better Italy trips.

But, I think we have done it now. We are not getting any younger, the flights are getting longer, and we still have some priority destinations to explore in the USA. Over the last 3 years we have been so fortunate to have spent a total of 7 weeks revisiting our favorite destinations in Italy. I am often asked about my favorite Italy destinations and I do not hesitate to reply with my top five:
• The Lakes
• The Tuscan hill towns
• Venice
• The Amalfi coast
• The Ligurian coast

How lucky we are to have spent time once again in each these locations in the past 3 years. And, to have done it in good health with the love of my life.
How lucky can you get?
bobthenavigator is online now  
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May 28th, 2011, 10:09 AM
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Thanks, Bob, for again sharing your adventures. Indeed, you're a lucky man.
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May 28th, 2011, 11:12 AM
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hi Bob - thanks for sharing your trip with us.

I still can't get over the fact that we were in Orbetello at the same time; i am really hooked on the area and am already plotting to get back there asap. if he's lucky, i may let DH come with me!
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May 28th, 2011, 03:10 PM
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Another simple thank you.
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May 29th, 2011, 01:00 AM
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Thanks Bob, we will be in Italy late September spending time in CT and then a week in an apartment in Montepulciano. I have taken note of your drives in Tuscany. I am really looking forward to it.
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May 29th, 2011, 10:50 AM
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Prego!
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May 29th, 2011, 10:52 AM
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Hi Bob,

Thanks for your beautiful report from Southern Tuscany and for your visit in our wine bar! I tried to send you an e-mail, but it seems that there are some problems between our servers (I received several time my e-mail back).
Hope to see you again in Montepulciano,
Ciao!
Cinzia
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May 30th, 2011, 04:45 AM
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Bob, My husband and I are off to Venice, Tuscany, and CT in 24 days. Seeing your photos made me wish we were leaving tomorrow. I was very touched by your heartfelt words --- being so lucky to travel in good health with the love of your life. My hat is off to you. Thank you.
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May 30th, 2011, 04:50 AM
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Bob,
Thank you for your wonderful details and itineraries. They are priceless and we are so lucky you shared them with us.

Wishing you and your wife happy travels here in the USA.
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May 31st, 2011, 07:32 AM
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You are so welcome, bfac.
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May 31st, 2011, 08:35 AM
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Welcome back Bob - I've been waiting to hear about your trip.

We already have our reservations at the Osteria Aquacheta, and will now add a trip to the wine bar at Locanda San Francesco since we'll have a day in Montepulciano. Glad we can walk back to the hotel that night instead of driving!

We hope to meet you Cinzia!
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May 31st, 2011, 08:51 AM
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Excellent reporting, as usual. Nice pix too. Nothing like enjoying good weather in a great part of the world, huh?

Can't wait to hear the stories first-hand from your better half this weekend!
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May 31st, 2011, 10:03 AM
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Bob....perhaps you (or anyone else on the board) could help me out of a quandry on some locations we plan to visit for the first time.
A) After a stay in Rome, on the way to Montepulciano to stay over, if you have to give up stopping in Orvieto or Assisi, which one would it be?
B) Montepulciano,....we plan to stay there two nights and see Pienza too....then move on to spend two nights in Volterra and then see San Gimignano and Siena. We like smaller towns to be the base. Are we bitting off too much?
C) We had planned to stay in Lucca, near Pisa, for two nights....we hear it is lovely....and then visit the Cinques Terre area from there. Is this logistically dumb?
D) We are also considering whether to stay in Vernazza instead to take in Cinques Terre.....obviously logistically the latter is better but is there a drawback?
E) How does one get from the 5 or so towns from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore....walk, cable car...we can't tell what the black line on the Michelin map connecting the towns means?

Thanks for any help! Tom
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May 31st, 2011, 10:39 AM
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A. On the way to Montepulciano, I would stop at Orvieto. I think Assisi is a larger town and Orvieto, being located at the tippy top of a big tufa formation, is an excellent "stop and see" town. (It's also a good place to stay, but there are only so many nights in a vacation )

B. Sounds like an ok plan.

C-D Doesn't sound dumb at all. I think you can train to CT from Lucca, and you can travel between the towns by either foot path, train or ferry. Usually people do a combination of hiking it and taking the train. We will stay in Riomaggiore this fall, because we wanted to stay there (and we are staying somewhere with parking so we can leave our car while we enjoy the hikes and ferries.) So that is another option, but then you may miss out on Lucca. See what your options are for hotels/guest houses/etc as that may tip you one direction or the other.
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May 31st, 2011, 10:44 AM
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Thanks Bob. You have provided us with tips on places to stay that have been our favorites. I know "if Bob recommends it, we will love it". We have been to Italy 4 times and it is hard to travel anywhere else. We loved Norway, England, Paris, but Italy has our hearts. We want to visit Australia (talk about a long flight!), but again, are having a hard time making that break from Italy. I thought about making a post asking "convince me to go to Australia and not Italy".

We, like you, are starting to explore more of the USA. Age does make you rethink your next destination

Thanks for making our Italy trips so memorable!
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May 31st, 2011, 10:47 AM
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Enjoyed the report and pictures, brought back great memories of our trip there. We also stayed at the Hotel Florida and really enjoyed the location and staff, who were extremely helpful. When we stayed there, a group from Ireland was there to celebrate a wedding in Portovenere. We took the boat over the day of the wedding, it was fun to watch the women in their high heels navigate the stone streets, what a magical place to get married.

Winesipper, we did a day trip to Lucca from Lerici, it was easy (we drove) and not far.
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May 31st, 2011, 12:47 PM
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Tom, Let me see if I can help.
Assisi is further off of your path---I would choose Orvieto.
Perhaps even get my car there. I hate to drive in Rome.

I would see Siena on my way to Volterra.

With a car, I would stay in Portovenere to see the CT---BY FERRY BOAT---hop on/off format--- Vernazza is too crowded and hard to access. I think I would see Pisa OR Lucca for 3 hours as I drive to the coast.

See my pics above.
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May 31st, 2011, 01:57 PM
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Bob and Uhoh....your thinking has changed my plans...thanks! Do you have a suggestion for where to stay in Portovenere should we do the Ferry idea, or Riomaggiore should we choose to have a place to park and stay (then do the walking tour etc)?

Bob, you travel log was wonderful and most helpful!! Tom
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May 31st, 2011, 02:58 PM
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Portovenere is more charming than any of the 5 villages IMHO. The only downside is if the water is rough and the ferry does not run---then you drive to Riomaggiore that day and use the trains. In Portovenere, look at Albergo Paradiso, Hotel Belvedere, and Grand hotel Portovenere.
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May 31st, 2011, 06:32 PM
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Always enjoy reading your TR. We are staying in the same apt. in Praiano because of your recomendation. Looking forward to it. I always wished you would have written a TR of that trip. Met you in Savannah. Wish the very best to both of you!
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