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Trip Report Our (Somewhat) Laid Back Tour of Old Fave Stops in Italy

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I have been remiss in writing trip reports the last few trips. With all the interest in Sicily, though, I thought I would write a few lines about our last May vacation. We did a five week tour including spots in Italy that we wanted to return to. So we did a week in Tuscany, a week on the Amalfi coast (sort of) and 2 weeks in Sicily, bookended with a few days in London and a few days in Rome.

For background, we are in late 50’s, early 60’s and semi-retired. We both do volunteer work and enjoy travelling in our spare time. The focus of our travel for my husband is food, and people. My focus is art, nature, architecture and food. We both enjoy history.

We started with a few days in London, actually the last 3 days of April. It was freezing cold, and drizzling most of the time. I had initially planned our London time at the end of our trip, but changed it so we could meet up with friends in Tuscany. Every time we have been in London, it’s been raining, which doesn’t make me happy. We live where it rains a lot, and I don’t want rain on my vacation.
We did have a good time though. Had a few good meals (fave was the Palomar, with friends), took lots of photos, went to see Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, went on a tour at the British Museum, saw the National Gallery, and walked around the city and familiarized ourselves so that when we return we know what we want to see next visit. Can some-one recommend a time when it is guaranteed not to rain in London?

From London, we met up with our friends and took a BA flight from LHR to Pisa, where we picked up a rental car. Had to do the obligatory photo holding up the tower of Pisa, so drove in and parked our car, (an SUV) with luggage, backed up against a concrete abutment.

I had been resisting seeing the Tower of Pisa for many years, and finally was outvoted and had to see it. And I’m glad we did; it IS iconic, and was much more impressive than I anticipated.

The four of us continued on, driving south to our agriturismo, Podere del Orto, just outside of San Casciano. Friends recommended this place, as they stay for 2 weeks at a time, several times a year. We loved the setting, complete with rose covered pergola, table and chairs for outdoor dining, a chicken, a cat, the perfect little apartment, and kind hosts. No pool, but nice views, air con and everything else we possibly could need including laundry facilities.

We had a week here, which is highly unusual for us. Since we have been to Tuscany a number of times, we were not in need of rushing around to see ‘must-see’ sights. We found this location perfect, close to Florence, close to a little town with groceries and laundry facilities, and close to everywhere we wanted to day trip to.

Sunday morning, our destination was Florence for the day. My husband just wanted to wander the streets without having to visit any churches/museums. So that is what we did, went for lunch at Il Vinaino, near the train station, where my Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce was the best choice of the four of us, enjoyed some wine in Piazza della Signoria, perused the Duomo from the outside, went for dinner at Marione, which was good, and fun.

By that time, it was late, so we took the short drive back to San Casciano.
(Yes, we drove into Florence!)

The drive out to Volterra was very enjoyable. We usually travel in September/October, so the intensely colored green and yellow rolling fields accented by red poppies was a real treat for the eyes on this beautiful early May day. We climbed around the streets and took pictures, and stopped at an Enoteca. Bought a bottle to enjoy later, but enjoyed some wonderful treats of cold meats and cheeses, and other home-made appetizers, all for Euro 5 each.

There is a really good Etruscan museum in Volterra, but we have been there before, so didn’t stop this time.

Dinner in San Casciano, a lot of fun, and good food.

Another day we started out to do some wine touring, and made it as far as the rather stark new building that houses Antinori. After tasting some glorious wines, one of which is one of Wine Spectator top wines of 2016, we decided to stay and have lunch at the restaurant on site.

Siena was calling to us, just a short jaunt down the highway, so off we went to give our friends a whirlwind tour of the town. Unfortunately we got there too late to enter the wonderful Cathedral, but admired it from all angles in the late afternoon sun.

Another highlight of Siena, for us, is the Piazza del Campo, where we sat and enjoyed aperitivi and wine, and imagined ourselves watching the Paleo with all the Sienese.

I had also planned a day tour into Chianti driving the beautiful roads through vineyards and hills to Castellina in Chianti and on to Radda in Chianti.

It has been one of DH’s long held dreams to do a cooking lesson in Tuscany. So I had booked an afternoon lesson at the Fonte de Medici. It’s Antinori’s agriturismo amongst the vineyards, where they have fashioned a beautiful kitchen and classroom area in one of the buildings.

Fortunately for us, we were the only students that afternoon, so we had a chef from the Michelin starred restaurant in Badia di Pasignano all to ourselves. It was a great lot of fun, especially watching DH trying to keep up with the motorized pasta machine! Did you know that a lot of pasta in Italy is made from Canadian wheat? And that North Americans put a lot more garlic in pesto than the Italians do?

After the lesson, we made our way to the restaurant, where we were served purportedly what we had made. (I know I didn’t make those perfectly formed little mezzaluna.)
Dinner was delicious, and the restaurant’s setting in the vineyard is beyond beautiful, and romantic.

The Badia di Passignano is is an ancient monastery dating back to 395, and Antinori stores 2000 barrels of wine in the cellar of the Abbey. It’s quite incredible to do a tour into those old cellars.

Well, after a week of pretty laid back touring around Tuscany, it was time to move on. While my DH enjoyed this slow pace immensely, I found myself a little miffed that I got that close to Florence and never got to see a single artwork!

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