Trip report Tuscany and Bologna

Jun 3rd, 2014, 05:38 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 282
Trip report Tuscany and Bologna

First, I want to say thank you to all the great Fodorites who helped me plan this trip. Except for a few glitches, like loosing my glasses, it went seamlessly. Probably the best trip we have taken. Of course, this was the first trip in a long time without our adult kids.

Here is the report. I typed it up on the 9 hour plan trip home.
Thanks again everyone.
Flew into Rome took the train to the train to Orvieto, then the funicular up to the town center. There is a beautiful park on the left with a great view.
You could take the 10 minute walk to the historical center but we took the mini bus which was easier since we had our luggage. It lets you off right near the Duomo. We stayed at the Hotel Duomo in Orvieto which I highly recommend.. Small but nice room and lovely breakfast.
We found the hotel from a Fodors recommendation. Everything was nearby.
We were blown away by the Duomo and sat quite a few times just looking at the front of it. It was so nice strolling through the streets and alleys of our first Hill town in Italy. If you go, make sure you walk deep into the side streets, away from the hotel. There are places to buy groceries and Panini’s.

We felt very safe. Later that day we took the underground tunnel tour. I highly recommend it. We learned a lot of interesting information and some surprises about the history of these caves. At night, it becomes a very fashionable place where young people sit outside at the wine bars

The next morning, we bought Panini’s and tried to walk to the Etruscan cemetery which is off the road by the top of the funicular. We started walking through the park I mentioned earlier. We couldn't locate the cemetary or it was just to far downhill so we stopped on what appeared to be an abandoned shaded garden, had our lunch and went down to the rental car place. Apparently, the walk took longer than we thought and the dealer had just closed for the weekend. Oh dear, it was Saturday and the sign said it would not open again until Monday. We needed to get to Pienza that evening! Public transportation, not an option.

After trying to enlist help from the nearby shop workers unsuccessfully, we went back up to the hotel where the desk clerk called the car rental. At first they told us to go back down, that she would meet us there, but on a second call to the agency the woman offered to pick us up! What luck! We bought some gelato and waited in the outdoor patio. It did take more than an hour to actually drive off with the car to Pienza. The woman decided to help other travelers once we got to the shop first, then the car had to be cleaned inside and out before it was ours for the week. I was already on Italy time and read my book while we waited.
It only took us an hour to get first to Montepulciano. We had a beer in the historical center, met a great couple from Texas and peeked in on an authentic Italian wedding in the Cathedral in the piazza. The wedding was lovely, with candles lighting the path for the bride, doves waiting to be released and bags of rice tied with ribbon sitting in a basket outside the church.
Next we drove to Pienza. It was the start of a three day flower festival. Flowers lined the main walk ways. Pienza is beautiful, and the views are breath taking. We strolled through the town and found a cute pizza place down an alley with a brick oven. Great pizza in 3 minutes! We also ate in Da falco in Pienza, very good, We met so many friendly people on this trip. At Del falco, we met a group on a walking tour of Tuscany. Wow

We ventured off to our Agritourismo called Fonte Bertusi. We had trouble finding it but I didn't realize it was past Pienza to the north. Once we saw the sign we turned down into the driveway, literally into the sunset.

We arrived at about 8:30p to be greeted by Manuela and Andre anxiously waiting outside for our arrival.
So happy to see us, they gave us a personal tour of our apartment, and told us about breakfast, the pool overlooking the Tuscan hills and the music center. When I saw the apartment, I actually started to cry. It was everything I dreamed of dark beautiful furniture, a private patio, a cute kitchen and bath. The kitchen even had olive oil for cooking.

It seems we had chosen the week of the "first edition" as they put it, of the classical music festival in their new, carefully designed music center, and it was free this year only. We are not typically classical music fans but I have to say several times we were trying to get back in time for the red wine, snacks and one hour music concert. There were cocktails before the show. Here and at the buffet breakfast we met lots of other travelers, shared notes and made suggestions. The performers were all professionals who were staying there and the talent of these pianists; violin and harp players made us great fans. We met an American couple, now living in Pienza. They've been there for 6 years and said they just got tired of leaving.

One night, after touring during the day, we attended the concert and actually made dinner after, lots of garlic, fresh chard and pork and of, course red wine. (acting very Italian eating at 9:30p)

During our stay we drove all over Tuscany, touring Siena, Volterra, San Gimijiano Montelcino. We loved all the hill towns especially Volterra and would of liked to spend more time there. We did do some of the audio tour and had cafe and the town cookie on one of the cute little side streets.
Note: if you mention rick Steve's at the information center, you could get the audio tour two for the price of one.
Another one of our favorite hill towns was Montichiello. Had a great dinner there at La Porta where we met the owners of the town towers ( it is actually their summer house handed down from the husbands family) and a cute couple from Dubai. This couple found the restaurant through the forums too. Highly recommend it. On the right just into the beginning of town, there is a clothing store (called Boutique Madalisa) selling amazing linen, wool and cotton designs, all made locally. The owner is a former opera signer and he is just as passionate about the clothes he sells. I wished I could buy several items but did walk away with a beautiful top.

A highlight of our trip was a cooking lesson at Il Rigo, a nearby Agritourisimo.
They had my husband making ravioli and stuffed quail. The wine pairings were amazing and we ate outside, just as you would of imagined under a grape vine trellis. The couples we met were so friendly, we exchanged emails to try to keep in touch. One showed pictures of their hill town in Germany and the others were Americans thinking of opening a b&b in Italy. On Mother's Day we went to mass at the Duomo in Pienza. ((Santa Maria) I prayed to the Virgin Mary for my mother, and lit a candle. It was very special for me. The rest of the day we toured more local hill towns( cortglione, campigine D'Orcia),climbed some monuments in two of them and felt like an Italian movie star since I was still wearing my dress any my white shawl. Happy Mothers Day to me.

One afternoon we drove to La Foce. This historical estate and gardens had been written about in the NYTimes. It was closed but we were able to visit later in the week. Having the afternoon free, we went to Chianciano where we found a spa with thermal baths for 11 Eros. It was called Le Terme wellness & spa. We had brought our bathing suits just in case. It had seven pools with various kinds of water jets, lockers and showers . Such a relaxing afternoon.

One day we visited San qui rick D'Orcia. Another beautiful hill town on our way to Siena. They were having their weekly fair. We wandered around and bought some gifts for our family in one of the shops. We talked to a Canadian man who lives there, he told us about some of the economic problems and how the healthcare system works there.
Always interesting to talk to locals. We bought some food and drove to Siena.

Maybe it was the time of year we went, early May, but we were able to find free parking in most of the towns and Siena was one of them. We simply parked on the street and walked towards to town wall. Throughout the trip, we used the Fodors Italy guide, the Michelin maps and a MichelinTuscany guide book. Whenever I could go online, I used the rick Steve's website to read about the town we were going to or for additional information on the towns we just left. There was so much to learn that it was nice to review even after we saw the town.

Once inside the walls in Siena, we obtained a town map from a tour guide who was speaking English. We choose to tour the government building in the center square. In sounds boring but it was really very interesting. The furniture, art work and the building itself were very cool. There were English descriptions on the walls, which helped. Next we walked to the other historical stops that were shown on the maps including several cathedrals, a Duomo and parks. This walk took us all over the town. People say it is a great place to spend the night after the tourist go home. Maybe that would of helped. We liked Siena and were glad we saw it but it was not our favorite. We enjoyed the smaller hill towns more.

I have to mention that we never really had enough of viewing the cathedrals, each had it's different history and it was always mind blowing to see the work and level of effort that went into them. Often a very drab looking buildings exterior had painting, sculpture and ceiling designs on the inside that would take your breath away.

While in Pienza, we also visited Montergorini. Note: if you go to the second parking level up the hill there are a few free spots there. Great town also,

On our last full day in Pienza we rested on the hammocks took a walk to another Agrtourismo. We ventured off to the abbey for some afternoon Gregorian chants. We packed a picnic lunch from left overs from the dinner I had made into a basket. Grabbed a table cloth from the kitchen some wine and had a picnic outside the abbey bookstore on a table looking downhill towards the Abbey. I have to mention that throughout the ********trip there were plotted flowers everywhere. Down alleyways in town and at the bookstore as well. Everything seemed to be in bloom. We stopped on the roads several times to take pictures of the fields of poppies and grazing horses surrounded by yellow flowers. Every drive brought new vistas and colorful flowers. Spring does really seem like the right time to visit Tuscany.

Back to the abbey. ancient building lots of history, there were English wall explanations here as well. Worth the visit. On the way out we stopped at a winery that had just been rebuilt. Piccolomino. It was beautiful but somewhere that day I lost my glasses. We back tracked but couldn't find them. Luckily I brought contacts and prescription sunglasses which helped somewhat.

Our last morning we had another great breakfast ,rested in the hammocks a bit finding it really hard to leave. I asked Andre to explain some of his art work in the music building. He explained that his dad, who I had seen around, was the sculpturer and that he focused on photography using many layers of photos. Very cool! We didn't want to leave but we were due in Bologna that evening.

We drove the long way through Arezzo but decided not to stop there. I was looking for the winery other Fodors had mentioned north of Arezzo we did find it but unfortunately it was closed. I did get out of the car to look at the view of the little town outside the winery's main building and could see why it was so special.

The annual car race was going on and we passed several antique sports cars on the road. To participate in the ralley the car had to be built no later than 1957.
We were getting tired so we stopped at one of the coffee shops on the strata.
I felt very Italian having our freshly made cafe' and cookies, standing up enjoying it instead of having it "to go"

We drove the car to the airport in Bologna and took the bus into the train station.
We had a little trouble finding the hotel which was a 20 minute walk up hill. I forgot to read my instructions which mentioned to get off at indepenzia. Before the train station. Oh well
Albergo Centrale was the hotel. Also recommended by fodorites. Great location, good breakfast. A few blocks from piazza Maggiore. This location enabled us to stay late in the piazza and walk to many of the different neighborhoods.

I found a very detailed walking tour on that brought us to all the highlights of Bologna. The Jewish neighborhood, university neighborhood, the towers, the canal, food market.

We settled in and went to dinner a few blocks away. Di Cessna. Not a place I would recommend. On our way back to the hotel we saw a crowd. It was part of the route for the car ralley called Milles Miglia 1000. So cool lots of cars a people gathering on either side, lots of fumes too. They parked their cars in the piazza for the night. My husband got up early the next day To take pictures and videos of the cars leaving.
At first Bologna was a lot to take in having just arrived from Tuscany. But as we walked all over town from the towers to the university neighbor hood, found beautiful porticoes and little piazzas I began to really appreciate the juxtaposition of what appeared to be a crumbling raw city that seemed to have a lot of passion and style. Seeing women and even nuns in flowing dresses and scarfs riding their bikes with flowers tied to the baskets was pretty neat.

We visited the food market and bought some items for a picnic we had in an urban park in the university section one day. The next night there was a political rally in the piazza maggorie. But first a quartet played beautiful music while we sat by the Duomo making it sort of surreal.

The other best day in our trip was italian days factory tour with Alessandro. There is alot written about his tours on Fordors so I'll just say "just do it". His driver picked us up at 7 am for an early morning tour of the pamaigiana regireo factory. Next was the balsamic vinegar tour on a beautiful old estate. The procuttcoi factory was next. We enjoyed his lively explanations at each stop, met some more great people and ate until we were begging to stop. The lunch was at a beautiful agritoursimo overlooking the farmlands of Modena.
We got back to our hotel around 5 pm. Smiling from ear to ear.

Ok so if you can believe it there is more to come. The next day we decided on a train ride to Ravenna. It was an hour away and again, well worth a visit. This town a few miles from the water had a Byzantine influence that (unlike) Istanbul was largely left unspoiled. Our eyes popped out of our heads when we entered the buildings that housed the grand mosaics. Could these really be this well preserved? We bought a multiplace ticket to five stops on our tour. You will want to download a QR reader app because the whole town has wifi and there are QR codes at many of the stops. Not a lot of signs in English so either hire a guide or make sure you bring the guide book.

We decided to grab lunch down a little alleyway. A women was leaving on her bike.
I started talking to her and we had this wonderful conversation. Turns out she owns the restaurant and has lived there all her life. We talked about what life is like year round in Ravenna where she has traveled in the states and how her English is. This is what makes traveling on your own so much fun.

We took the train back to Bologna. Later had dinner in a little place I saw recommended on a blog called Nicola’s which had great pizza and salads. We struck up a conversation with two polish brothers traveling on business.

The last full day there we made sure we hit all the recommended areas and decided very last minute to climb the ancient towers. 958 steps. What was I thinking? It was pretty cool though and the view all the way to saint Luca church on the hill was great. We had a leisurely afternoon. I don't think I remember being this calm. Nothing I had to do, nowhere I had to go. Just hanging around talking about what we had done so far this trip and planning our next one.

The last morning in Bologna, after trying to decide if we should stop in Parma, Modena or tour Milan we decided to go to the art exinhibit in town which was ending in a few days Rembrandt and Vemere. We arrived there at 9am. A short line had already formed. While my husband waited I spotted what would be my last cathedral in Italy. I was again amazed at the beauty, said another quick pray of thanks for this trip and caught up with my husband in anticipation of seeing the "girl with the pearl earring"
We rented the English audio tour. Again the nice girl gave us a two for one. It was well worth it, having these master artist explained. I did love so many of the paintings and so did my husband. The last was the one I was waiting for. I had heard that the author of the book was intrigued by the girl in the painting. Who was she, why did she have those clothes and jewery. When you see the painting in person and have it explained to you, it is amazing and her look is captivating.

That afternoon we trained it to Milan then took the metro to the airport where the hotel shuttle picked us up. It was pouring rain but everything was covered.
We stayed at "First hotel". Highly recommend it. 10 minutes from the airport and you can tell that we where in a more international hotel. Bigger rooms, air conditioning. Free wifi. and a fantastic dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Breakfast was included also and was very nice with lots to choose from.

Flying home from Milan was nonstop on delta. I don't think there was a direct flight from Bologna or even Florence. So we settled in with reading and my knitting.
All toes towns
16 days with travel
14.5 days of touring
Hotel duomo Orvieto
Fontebertusi Pienza
Alberto Centrale bologna
First hotel. Outside of Milan

Best parts lots but if I had to pick. Cooking/dinner at il rigo and Italian days tour around bologna
Best food. La porta

Changes don't lose your glasses
Get off the bus earlier in bologna nearer the hotel
Be aware of the times business close.
stoweflake is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 06:02 AM
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A great idea to write up your notes on a 9-hour flight! It was really fun reading your TR--reliving some places and being able to picture the ones my DH and I missed. Nice TR, stoweflake!
TDudette is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 07:01 AM
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We stayed outside Montepulciano the first week of May, and had the pleasure of visiting many of the places you write about in your lovely report. Pienza, La Porta, La Foce were all highlights of our week. Cannot wait to plan a return trip.
socaltraveler is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 09:02 AM
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Hope to make it to Bologna this fall, so I found your TR very interesting and informative.
tom18 is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 09:14 AM
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Stoweflake - Sorry, but I couldn't find that walking tour of Bologna on the slowtravel link you provided. Could you give us any more detail? Thanks.
tom18 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 11:22 AM
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I think this is it.
stoweflake is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 12:13 PM
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Yes, that was it. Thank you!
tom18 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 12:24 PM
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I was so touched to read how much you took in visiting Bologna and Ravenna. The piazza Maggiore in Bologna still functions in the true Italian meaning of a piazza in Italy: Everybody comes to share the public life of the city, whether it be politics or art or having fun. It all takes place in the same shared space. One of my favorite things about the piazza Maggiore is that this is also where you find the city's 24 hour pharmacy. (It is hidden in the beautiful building under the great clock). It is truly the heart of the city for everybody (even the tourist office in the piazza Maggiore).

It is amazing that even after people have seen many many beautiful sights in Italy, that when they go to Ravenna they are still shocked and thrilled and cannot believe their eyes. One of the most amazing places to visit in all of Europe.

I like Nicola's pizza in Bologna and I like that piazza too. I am glad Bologna seduced you!
sandralist is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 12:36 PM
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By the way, I have previously been made aware of that Slow Travel walking tour, and I just looked at it again to see if it had been corrected or updated, and it has not. I have to say that it leaves out some extraordinary and unique artworks and history sights in Bologna. Just to name one: there is an early work by Michaelangelo in Bologna that is not mentioned at all in this walking tour that claims to direct people to the "main sights" of the city.

Also, the church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna contains an exceptional, world-famous grouping of terracotta sculptures that is not mentioned in this Slow Travel tour. Most art and history lovers would rate the medieval museum of Bologna to be exceptional. The Papal Legate rooms of the Palazzo Comnunale are not mentioned even though they are purely enjoyable and an important space. Music lovers should also look elsewhere to find out more about the city's sights of interest to them. I could go on and on.

The tour is written in a breezy and authoritative style, and everything it mentions is worth seeing. But please go beyond it to other sources and guides. It sounds like it is "everything you need to know" but actually you can end up missing some unique sights
sandralist is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 01:12 PM
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Thank you for sharing your trip!

I usually spend a couple of weeks in May at Fonte Bertusi but had to skip it this year due to my niece's wedding in Virginia. It was nice to read about your experience with the concerts and I can't wait to stay and experience the music, cocktails and food next year.
zoecat is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 05:51 PM
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Ah I would have loved to have met you zoecat, I see your posts all the time.
Sandralist, Luckily we did see the Santa Maria dela vita. I guess we will just have to go back to see the others your have recommended. thanks

Thanks also Socialtraveler and TDudette
stoweflake is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 08:11 PM
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We are planning on spending some time in both Ravenna and Bologna this fall, so I really enjoyed reading about your time in those places. Great tip about the reader thing on the phone, I will make sure to download an app for that before I visit. Thanks for taking the time to post this!
farmgirl04 is offline  
Jun 11th, 2014, 03:32 AM
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farmgirl04 I'm sure you will enjoy your trip.
stoweflake is offline  
Jun 11th, 2014, 06:05 AM
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great stuff, stoweflake! You paint a great picture. I'm especially intrigued by your description of Bologna and Ravenna.
krgystn is offline  
Mar 29th, 2015, 03:57 PM
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stoweflake is offline  
Mar 29th, 2015, 04:09 PM
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Oh one word of caution. About 6 months after we return home we received a statement from the rental car agency telling us they provided our contact information to the police for a charge of $50. Apparently, while driving all over the place one day from Pienza to Siena then Voltaire, we were trying to get back to Fonte Bertucci for a concert and were caught on camera speeding.

Yep we just received the ticket a month ago. Next time we will know more about those hidden cameras.
stoweflake is offline  
Mar 29th, 2015, 04:59 PM
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We're leaving to go our trip on 4/17! Staying at Il Rigo for a couple of nights which I saw mentioned in your review so looking forward to that one. Thanks for the report.
patandhank is offline  
Mar 29th, 2015, 06:39 PM
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Very nice report---I agree about La Porta.
bobthenavigator is offline  

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