Trip Report Part 1: Tuscany with Family

Old Aug 21st, 2004, 09:07 PM
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Trip Report Part 1: Tuscany with Family

We?ve returned from a three-week trip (a week south of Siena, a week in Monterosso, and a week in London). I will divide this report into three sections to try not to bore people who are interested in a specific area. My husband and our two boys (ages 4 and 7), my mom and sister did the trip and my other sister and her 11-year-old daughter met us for the Italian parts. We?re all pretty experienced travelers and have traveled together before. Hope this first week isn?t too long?

Flight and Rental Car
The six of us flew Continental from Washington National to Newark and then Newark to Milan Malpensa. There was nothing special about the flight. We had to purchase alcohol and the food was typical but our kids? meals came. The movie choices (especially children?s programming) were limited; we did have individual tv screens. It is clear the airlines are cutting back, I don?t think they came around with water or juice during the night at all. But we were on time and didn?t have any unexpected situations. We always talk up that we?re going to sleep on the plane and change the kids into pajamas. They have a time when we remove the headphones and sleep. I also cover them with a blanket when we get on to catch any spills and of course I bring extra clothes for them, some new little surprises, and snacks.

Malpensa was empty and our luggage came immediately. We rented a van from Thrifty (through Europe by Car) and it was all ready. My husband, the driver, opted for the extra CDW. Thrifty required CDW so we could not use insurance through our credit card, which we normally do in Europe. It seems that he would be covered if he hit another car but not if he hit anything else. Experience suggests that he?s more likely to bang a mirror on a pole or hit a wall backing up. Turns out the extra CDW was a good idea.

Friday: We chose to spend the first day and night near Malpensa on Lake Maggiore. We knew the Hotel Conca Azzurra in Ranco from other trips to the area and deciding to take the first day slowly was a really good idea. We couldn?t check in until 2:00 so we stopped in Angera, a town right on the Lake and let the older boy play at the nice lakeside playground, the younger one had fallen asleep in the car and we were able to move him to his stroller. We believe in letting them nap the first few days when they want and we?ve never had an issue with jet lag. We ventured into a bar for morning coffee and my sister?s Italian lessons paid off, she did a great job ordering tea, espresso, pastries, and juice for the boys.

We walked to the Rocca di Angera. It was a nice walk up from the town and we would have loved to go inside but it was lunchtime. After sandwiches next to the lake up the coast in Ispra we ventured to the Conca Azzurra. We spent all afternoon by the pool and the boys ran back and forth from the playground to the pool. By early evening they were ready to go inside, have a snack and go to bed. We should have bought some food for them to eat; the hotel was very nice and found some bread, cheese fruit. Later we had a lovely dinner in the hotel?s beautiful dining room overlooking the lake.

Saturday: After a great breakfast we loaded up and started our long drive to Il Boschetto, a lovely house in the hamlet of Volta Alte, just south of Siena. The drive went quick and once through Bologna, the autostrada is picturesque, snaking through tunnels and over valleys. We stopped on the outskirts of Siena to go to the grocery and we were pleasantly surprised to find incredibly inexpensive wine, all of it very drinkable, at the local Pennymarket. Our house has a big garden and a great kitchen / dining room with a large county table. All the windows are screened so we were able to get some welcoming breezes too. It was nice to unpack, cook dinner and walk near our new home. We were happy to discover a butcher shop and a store just down the road in Volte Basse. We walked to the store almost every morning and became friendly with the lady who ran it. She gave the kids treats and always helped us find what we needed.

Sunday: We drove into Siena for the morning, parking in the San Francisco lot. While we had no trouble finding the lot, you have to walk a short distance up the street to enter the escalators. We enjoyed the Campo and visited the antiques market in the Piazzo del Mercato. After a nice lunch at La Finestra we walked to the Duomo and poked into the pottery shops. We enjoyed discovering the contraldo. We all picked our favorite and this made our exploration really fun.

We investigated the area around our villa during the afternoon. Highlights were walking over the Pia Bridge, visiting the Etruscan necropolis, and the hill town of Torre, all near Rosia. We put a small dent in the van in Torre, luckily we have the extra CDW! We dined outside at a small restaurant in Sovicelle and then visited the nice playground in Rosia.

Monday: We met my sister and niece this morning. She stayed at Spannocchia, a medieval agricultural complex that now hosts an organic farm, cultural activities, and offers rooms and houses to rent. It is run by a private foundation and we were quite impressed with the setting and the staff. They also gave great recommendations for restaurants during the week.

We lunched in Chiusdino and then explored this town, the birthplace of St. Galgano. There are a couple of nice churches and the reliquary containing his head was a curiosity. The kids enjoyed the playground at the entrance to the town, and the great views from this park.

After lunch we drove to the impressive ruins of the monastery of St. Galgano. It was only a short walk to Montesiepi hermitage where his sword is thrust into a stone and some envious man?s wizened arms are preserved. We had tea at the bar by the monastery and then back to Spannocchia for their dinner.

Tuesday: We drove to Volterra. We parked easily in the lot below the archaeological park and had a wonderful picnic near the playground in the park. After lunch and a gelato, some of us went to the Etruscan museum, while others visited the sites, shops and the Etruscan Forum at a corner of the archaeological park. We also poked into the many alabaster and tourist shops. We met at the Roman theater and were disappointed you aren?t able to get very close to the impressive ruins. The Roman baths are especially difficult to view from the walkway. The kids discovered another playground by the theater, so they were happy.

Wednesday: We went back to St. Galgano and enjoyed lunch in the restaurant near the monastery. After lunch we took the easy walk to Monticiano. The kids really enjoyed this walk and we talked at length about what monks would carry to town years ago. In Monticiano we found the playground and then had ice cream and tea.

We explored Spannocchia in the late afternoon, and then ate their special dinner showcasing their meat and produce. It was a spectacular dinner and very fun for all of us.

Thursday: We drove to the Chianti region, exploring Castellina in the morning. The kids loved the soldiers? walk while my mom enjoyed the shops. For lunch we?d made reservations at the restaurant in Lamole. We?d read great reviews of the food and the view and it surpassed our expectations. The staff was super nice to the kids, pausing to play with their Legos and bringing water and bread quickly. Our lunch was superb, probably the best of the trip. There is a pretty church in the village, and a playground just across from the restaurant.

After lunch, one sister took the kids and my mom to go swim and my husband and other sister and I went into Greve. We heard lots of English while poking in the shops. We had read about walking up to Montefioralle and after a short section on a pedestrian path, we ended up walking on the road. Montefioralle is a sweet little village. It was siesta but one of the restaurants agreed to sell us beers so we sat on the side of the road and soaked up the beautiful view.

On our way back to Il Boschetto we stopped in Siena at the Enoteca Italiana in the Fortezza Medicea. We had read good things about this Enoteca, but we were not impressed. It was surprising since we were kid-free, but we?re also not wine connoisseurs. We met up and had a great dinner at a restaurant in Orgia. We were on the terrace and you could see the lights of Siena in the distance. We had cinghale and great pastas.

Friday: My husband and I took the kids today. The others went back to Castellina and Monteriggioni. We welcomed the newborn piglets born at Spannocchia and then headed south, stopping in Frosini at a small playground and explored their two churches. We bought a picnic at the bar by the St. Galgano monastery and walked to the Merse River where we waded in the water. We found a deeper spot to swim and I think this simple afternoon was one of the highlights of our trip.

That night we had dinner at a small Enoteca near Il Boschetto. We shared pizzas and had a wonderful pear and Gorgonzola one.

Hard to believe our first week was over!
sprin2 is offline  
Old Aug 21st, 2004, 10:48 PM
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Thank you for a great report! You've definitely given me some day trip ideas in Tuscany.

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Old Aug 22nd, 2004, 06:03 AM
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Hi sprin,

Thanks for sharing
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Old Aug 22nd, 2004, 07:24 AM
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what a wonderful report-takes me back.....waiting for more! Helaine
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Old Aug 22nd, 2004, 08:09 AM
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Very nice trip---grazie !
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Old Aug 22nd, 2004, 08:21 AM
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great report
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Old Aug 22nd, 2004, 09:04 AM
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Lovely report! Is it easy to find that San Francisco parking lot in Siena? Is there a map somewhere that shows this sort of thing? Thanks!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2004, 09:29 AM
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ttt
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Old Aug 24th, 2004, 06:20 PM
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Oops, the name of the church is San Francesco. The church and the lot are shown on most maps of Siena. It is located on the Via Baldassarre Peruzzi, look at about 2:00 on the map. There is a page on Slow Travel that talks about parking in Siena and that is helpful.
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Old Aug 24th, 2004, 06:43 PM
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Sprin2, very nice report so far. Definitely takes me back. My husband and I stayed at one of the Spannocchia Casettas with my parents in 2001 and visited many of the places you mention. I'm headed to London in a couple weeks now with a toddler in tow, so I look forward to your future installments.
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Old Aug 24th, 2004, 08:04 PM
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Glad to hear the reports on Spannocchia - I'm headed there for a two-week retreat in October. It sounds like a fascinating place. Sprin2 - was it easy to get around Siena? Can you do the whole town on foot - in a day? YOu certainly got a lot into the first week. Tell us more!!
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Old Aug 24th, 2004, 09:06 PM
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Thanks, sprin2, I did wonder about that San Francisco name! I appreciate the information.
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Old Aug 25th, 2004, 09:41 AM
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I've posted our second week in the Cinque Terre, the title is Trip Report Part 2: CT with Family.

We enjoyed visiting Spannocchia, and my sister and niece enjoyed staying there and said the breakfast coffee was very good.

We were able to see Siena in a day and it is a beautiful place to walk, although somewhat hilly. I could go back and spend more time, because of kids we did not do any museums or all the shops, but to me that is the trade-off to the fun kids bring to travel. We also subscibe to the philosophy that we will return so we try not to worry about seeing everything.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2004, 10:37 AM
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Hi, I have looked for Il Boschetto at Volta Alte and can not find it on my search. It sounds very nice- would you be able tell me how I look it up ?
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 08:31 AM
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This should be a link to Il Boschetto's website. We rented it through Tuscan Enterprises. For some reason they never mention the hamlet it is in.

We found it quiet, spacious and super convenient for Siena. No pool, but that kept the price down.

http://www.tuscanenterprise.com.au/w.../boschetto.htm
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 10:03 AM
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Thanks, I found it under Tuscan Enterprises as you suggested. You mentioned you walked to a nearby market . Are there other things to walk to ? Is there a bus stop nearby into Siena ? And you also mentioned Monticiano ? This is a walled village, in fact there is an apartment built into the wall. Would you recommend staying in Monticiano from what you saw ?
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 10:14 AM
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Sprin2,

Thanks for the great trip report. The thing I like best about it is your focus on making sure your kids had a great time and the way your family shared responsibility for them. This is my idea of what family is all about!
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 10:55 AM
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There is a bus to Siena about a half mile from Il Boschetto on the S73, the main road. There were beautiful walks in the countryside, but as for destinations we found the small market, the butcher, an enoteca (about another mile away). My mom does not like rural areas and she thought this was too remote, even with the neighbors, the market and Siena not very far. That is why we stayed in Monterosso the next week.

Are you sure the apartment is in Monticiano and not Montalcino? I would stay in either but Monticiano is pretty far from Siena, but has beautiful walks and countryside and few Americans.

Thanks, Mary Fran, for your kind words. We have really loved traveling with our extended family and we have had some wonderful trips with teenaged cousins, toddlers and seniors.
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Old Sep 4th, 2004, 12:04 PM
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I agree with Mary Fran, your planning reflects careful thought to your childrens enjoyment of the trip.
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