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Trip Report Navigating in Tuscany and Liguira---2011

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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.

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. 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


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.

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:

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. Back to Lerici by 17:00.

Next, 6 wonderful days in 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.

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, 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: We discovered Castelmuzio thanks to Isabella Moricciani who was kind enough to show us her spectacular new rental place in the village: [ 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
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.

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?

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