Five Yoga Retreats You Should Visit in Tuscany

Friday, December 19, 2014

Five Yoga Retreats You Should Visit in Tuscany


Posted by Dympna Docherty (19 December 2014)

If you are looking to get away this spring or summer, you may be looking for some well-needed rest and respite. You can recharge the batteries in a number of ways, but a healthy retreat into nature can do the world of good. You don’t even need to be a guru to attend a meditation retreat; many courses are aimed at amateurs and absolute beginners. If you’re looking to align your chakras in the middle of the beautiful Tuscan countryside, we’ve come up with five ideas to get you started below:
Yoga retreats in Tuscany
Located thirty minutes outside of Pisa, Villa Benvenuti offers meditation and yoga retreats in a beautiful restored villa, dated to the 17th century. You can take your pick of fresh fruits and vegetables, all grown in the grounds, which are used to cook delicious, fresh meals. They also offer massages and other treatments.

The ‘Eat, Pray, Move’ collective are putting on courses in summer, 2014. The premise is simple, yet powerful. You eat amazing Italian food in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. You ‘pray’ whilst taking part in extended meditation sessions and you move through yoga poses. These courses have a very high return rate, as many visitors choose to come back, time and again!

Situated on an idyllic olive farm and vineyard just outside of Sienna, Ebbio Yoga Farm offers its visitors a unique opportunity to retreat and discover themselves. In addition to daily yoga and guided meditation sessions, there is also the option of visiting the local market and castle. The cuisine and relaxed setting has generated excellent reviews from previous visitors.

Melanie Willshire is putting on a fantastic intensive course near Lucca. Set in a tranquil area of outstanding natural beauty, surrounded by rolling Tuscan hills, this retreat is designed to accommodate couples, even if only one half are attending the course.

Pete Guinosso’s Italy Yoga Retreat is billed as not being “your standard yoga retreat”. It has a relaxed atmosphere with coffee in the morning and laughs throughout the day. Vinyasa yoga sessions are completed in the morning, followed by relaxation sessions and an evening of excellent food, enjoyed under the stars.

We can offer you some fantastic Tuscan villa rentals once you have come away from your yoga retreat, feeling all a-glow, or as a base for day trips and one off sessions. If you are interested in any of our villas, please do call us on 0121 286 7782, or alternatively you can e-mail Dympna at dympna@to-tuscany.com.
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Riecine Vineyard at Gaiole in Chianti

Friday, December 12, 2014

Riecine Vineyard at Gaiole in Chianti

 
Posted by Sean Caulfield (12 December 2014)

For most visitors to Tuscany (and residents like me) the excellent quality of the local wine is one of the main attractions. Is there anything finer than sitting out on a warm Tuscan evening sipping away at a nice Chianti or Vin Santo? Luckily for me, I have a direct line to the good stuff, thanks to my friendship with Sean O’Callaghan, head wine producer at Chianti’s Riecine vineyard.

Located near Gaiole in Chianti, Riecine has been going in its current incarnation for over 40 years, with Sean having been there for the last 23. However, there is evidence of wine production in the area since at least 1112AD, meaning this part of Chianti is steeped in the heritage of wine-making.

The vineyard specialises in Chianti Classico and Sangiovese, both styles of wine with a strong connection to the area. Chianti is protected name, meaning it can only be produced with grapes grown in the Chianti region and following certain guidelines. I paid a visit in early October this year, to see just what makes Riecine wines so special.


According to Sean, when he first started at Riecine back in 1991, things were very different at the vineyard. Back then, the emphasis amongst local farmers used to be on quantity over quality, a throwback to their days as tenant farmers, when they had to give half of everything they produced to their landlord. Sean changed all that, focusing on quality and allowing only the very best grapes into the wine he produces while also switching the vineyard to be totally organic. The result was a massive improvement in the quality of Riecine wine and a growing reputation around the world.

This focus on quality and organic production sets Sean apart, almost as much as being an Englishman producing wine in Chianti! However, there is one other way in which his methods differ from the competition – Sean still juices his grapes the old-fashioned way – by crushing them with his (and any willing helpers’) feet. Given that this is such an iconic part of the image most people have of Italian wine-making, seeing it in action at Riecine is really wonderful and well worth the trip.


The grapes are first brought in from the vineyard, separated from the stalks by a machine and collected in vats ready for pressing. Sean, his staff and any volunteers then climb, barefoot, into the vats and gently press the grapes underfoot, releasing the juice in a much less violent fashion than with modern, mechanical methods. Sean insists that this level of care is vital to making really great wine and it’s also a really great experience for visitors to the winery who are always very welcome to join in and lend a foot!

Sean explains that he left the harvest until mid-October this year, so he could pick his grapes at the exact right level of ripeness. However, when he first started at the vineyard it used to be a real struggle to get the grapes to ripen by this time of the year. Climate change has resulted in the grapes maturing far earlier in the year and to a higher “sugary standard”. This is currently allowing for the production of superior wine, although long-term climate change could be just as damaging to the vineyards of Chianti as to the rest of the world.

This year hasn’t been ideal for wine-making apparently, with a lot of humidity throughout the summer in the Chianti region, making grapes susceptible to mould growth. However, his years of experience have allowed Sean to manage his grapes well and produce another harvest of the excellent quality people have come to expect from Riecine.

The vineyard and farm cover around 35 hectares and include olive groves and oak woodland, offering a perfect example of the typical Tuscan countryside ripe for exploration. The site has recently been bought by a Russian investor, who has put money into updating the vineyard, with special attention to the cantina where the wine itself is made, adding new equipment and new storage rooms. The building work has just been finished and the results are very impressive.


Once you’ve explored the farm, you can sit on the terrace and try some of Riecine’s finest produce while basking in the beautiful Tuscan scenery. Sean has a wine tasting facility there, so you can try all the different wines he has to offer and, of course, buy a bottle or two to take home.

Although around the harvest is the perfect time to visit the Riecine vineyard at Gaiole in Chianti, the vineyard is open to visitors all year round. You don’t have to make an appointment and can just turn up, but it’s probably best to ring beforehand, especially if you want to catch the harvest and have a go at the grape stamping! For more details, head to the Riecine website.

If you’re looking for things to do during your trip to Tuscany, take a look at our free online guidebook to the local area. And if you need somewhere to stay, we have hundreds of villas in Chianti, including dozens in Gaiole in Chianti perfect for anyone planning a trip to Riecine!
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Villaggio della Birra Siena

Friday, December 5, 2014

Villaggio della Birra Siena

 
Posted by Sean Caulfield (5th December 2014)

If I offered to take you to a beer festival in Tuscany, you’d probably think I’d got the wrong country. If I then took you half an hour south-east from Siena and led you up two kilometres of gravel track to a little farm in the middle of nowhere, you’d probably think I’d got lost. But that is where, every year for the last nine years, brewers from all over Italy (and the world) have come together to celebrate some of Italy and the rest of the world’s very best beer.

Yes, you heard me right, beer. It’s probably not the first thing that springs to mind when you think about Italy, but over the last couple of decades the country’s microbrewing community has grown faster than yeast in a fermentation vat. And, as with all things food and drink related, these Italian brewmasters take their beer very seriously. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also want to have some fun, while sharing their passion with as many people as possible. And that’s exactly what the Festival of Small Breweries a.k.a. Villaggio della Birra Siena (Village of the Beer) is all about.

In spite of attracting brewers from all over the world, the festival is still something of a local secret. I’d been told that beer enthusiasts of all nationalities were very welcome, however, which is why I heroically volunteered to head down there and check it out. Well, someone had to.

The farm where the festival takes place is tucked away in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, just outside the small town of Buonconvento. Parking is in a nearby field and once I got out of my car and headed towards the main farm buildings, it was immediately apparent that something pretty exciting was going on. The main action took place in a large barn, but spilled outside where there were numerous tables under large umbrellas. There festival-goers sat enjoying a selection of the beers on offer, relaxing in the fantastic Italian weather and listening to music from local bands performing on a stage set-up nearby.

 
It was Friday night (the festival went on until Sunday) but there were already hundreds of people there. By the time the festival was done, I’m told several thousand more had made their way around that glorified shed, sampling the expertly brewed wonders it contained. Making my way through the buzzing crowd outside, I entered the barn to find it packed with beer enthusiasts waiting to be served from the rows of pumps set up on the bars lining the walls, or else queuing for something to eat at one of the food stalls serving mouth-watering local fare.

The festival works on a token system with drinks being either one or two tokens, depending on what they are. With some of the finest beers from Italy, Belgium, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Germany and the USA on offer, I was confident I’d get through more than a few tokens by the end of the night. That said, Villaggio della Birra is very much an event for connoisseurs, not those looking for an excuse to get trollied, so bear that in mind.

The crowd was mostly young (late teens and early twenties) although there were a good few beer-lovers like me who were slightly older. They were also mainly local, although, again, there was a good mix of internationals too, so I didn’t feel out of place. The festival is held in partnership with the Belgian Embassy in Rome, so there was a strong contingent of Belgian beers on offer. Like everything else there though, it’s all microbrewery stuff, so not a Stella Artois or Hoegaarden in sight. It was also nice to see Moor Brewing Company flying the flag for the UK, but it’s the Italian beers I was really there for, so that’s where my tokens mainly went.

The beer was uniformly excellent, with a good variety of different styles on show. Pale ales such as IPA English and Saison seemed popular with the Italians brewers, as were blond ales and porters. There was a tendency towards the more unusual as well, with one microbrewery, Loverbeer, specialising in sour ales, which have a really distinctive flavour and are mostly on the stronger side, hovering around the 8% ABV mark. Pilsners, spiced ales and bocks (German-style strong lager) also made an appearance, nicely showcasing the range of these Italian brewers’ talents. I was particularly pleased to see Tuscany’s own Birrificio L'olmaia there with some very respectable offerings.

To help soak up all that alcohol, there was a great selection of local food on sale. I couldn’t resist the porchetta (boned, rolled and spit-roasted pig) which is an Italian classic and there was also wild boar stew and, of course, a whole load of excellent local cheeses. You might call this the Italian answer to fast food, and what a clever answer it was.


Although I could only stay for the Friday night, it’s well worth visiting for the whole weekend if you can. There’s free camping, a fantastic, welcoming atmosphere and so many different beers to try, that having several days to spread them out over would be ideal. The festival is well attended by home-brewing groups, beer associations and clubs, so for the true beer aficionado you’ll never be short of someone knowledgeable to chat to. There was also a demonstration of homebrewing from the Carboneria Reggiana Homebrewers’ Association on the Sunday – ideal for anyone looking to try their hand at making beer at home.

For those with children, the festival starts at noon on the Saturday and 10am on the Sunday, meaning you could easily just pop up for the day and let the kids enjoy the music and the great Italian food while you sample just a few of the different beers.

Villaggio della Birra is a growing event not many tourists know about yet but based on my experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Brewing in Italy is definitely on the rise, so if you want to find out more about this growing trend, while finding a great way to spend an evening or a weekend, this festival is well worth checking out.
The 2014 Festival of Small Breweries took place on the 5th, 6th and 7th of September, so expect next years’ festival to take place at around the same time. And if you fancy making the trip over and need somewhere to stay, why not try one of our great local villas in Siena?
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Castello di Ama

Friday, November 28, 2014

Castello di Ama

 

Posted by Ruth Albracht (28 November 2014)
 
Once a year the entire team of To Tuscany gather together in Tuscany. We stay in some beautiful holiday villas at the charminghamlet of Casanuova di Ama and beside the many meetings indoors we are treated with special dinners and outings.

The employees of To Tuscany have their homes at Great Britain, Germany, USA, Australia, France, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands. This is a friendly and warm group of people who all have the same passion: Tuscany!

This year we went to visit the beautiful winery of Castello di Ama. After a short walk through the vineyards with the last sun of the day setting everything in an enchanting light we arrived at the beautifully restored winery. Ama, the hamlet only four hundred meters away from Castello di Ama has been there for five hundred years and fine wines where made by some important families back then, which had residence in the midst of the Chianti. Castello di Ama has been fabulously restored in 1960 to revive the old days and they started to produce the famous Chianti Classico, one of the world’s most prestigious wines. The family of Lorenza Sebasti and Marco Pallanti leads Castello di Ama today. Marco Pallanti is a gifted winemaker. They have had great successes over the past 25 years and built a thriving business. Castello di Ama has received multiple awards for their outstanding wines. 

 

The charming hostess gave us a tour over the estate. We learned about wine making and at the same time we could admire the amazing modern art at the estate. Think of Michelangelo Pistoletto, Anish Kapoor and Louise Bourgeois. It is such a special feature that modern art made by famous artists is integrated in the company. We were so surprised. While our hostess explained about the different fermentation progresses, how long wine barrels were used and why it‘s necessary to roll them over – every three months all the wine is removed from the barrels to be returned in ‘fresh’ rolled barrels- we took in the various art installations.

It was very interesting to learn more about winemaking and how the particular modern art, especially made for Castello di Ama was established.


The Indian artist Anish Kapoor transformed the charming chapel at the estate by installing a red sphere that represents the warming glow of a communal fire in the middle of the chapel. The old floor was removed and a new concrete floor could be made with a hole one and a half meters deep in the middle. That is where the light installation was put to create a red shimmering pulsing light. When entering the small chapel we were utterly surprised, it looked like a glowing boll of hot lava on the floor that you could easily touch. Magic!

The work ‘Topiary’ of Louise Bourgeois is mind blowing. Situated at the bottom of a narrow cave that had a timeless medieval atmosphere you see a fountain made of Carrera marble resembling an adolescent girl and a at the same time beautiful flower. The walls around this sunning peace of art are pitch black and this makes it difficult to orientate. The magical work looks like a fragment of a forgotten myth.

The warm welcome, the interesting stories and the great atmosphere wants us to undertake another wonderful visit to Castello di Ama. The combination of the ancient traditional Tuscany and modern art is phenomenal.

It is definitely worthwhile to combine wine tasting with a tour of the estate and enjoy the extraordinary modern art in an enchanting landscape. Four wines are tasted during the tasting, the Al Poggio IGT, Il Chiuso IGT, Castello di Ama Chianti Classico, a selection of Vigneto, and their extra virgin olive oil DOP Chianti Classico. The tasting takes about 2.5 hours.

If you would like to have more information about prices and bookings please contact Castello di Ama. www.castellodiama.com
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Lights, Camera, Action...

Friday, November 21, 2014


LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION.....

Written by Dympna Docherty on 21 November 2014

Is usually something that Hollywood actors/actresses hear, but during the To Tuscany recent company annualconference we had a film crew following us around with the aim of producing a video for each of our websites – German, French, Dutch, Polish, USA/Canada and the UK/Ireland/Rest of the World. To Tuscany have been leading the way with our online videos of our villas using drone technology to capture birds-eye views so we wanted to do something personal where each agent can 'speak' to you directly and where you can meet the owner of To Tuscany even if its only on film.
Some were nervous about the videos, some were having hair lacquered down by their wives, some were thinking through what to say and some of us were wishing we had more notice so we could lose the 10lbs the camera apparently adds!

Our first filming schedule was during our visit to the Castello di Ama winery and art gallery. This is located just a short walk from the hamlet of Casanuova di Ama where we were based in a variety of accommodation: Annamaria villa, Villa Gallo Nero and the Le Volte & Il Forno properties. The contemporary art installations at the winery have been produced by a variety of internationally aclaimed artists such as Anish Kapoor, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Louise Bourgeois and Cristina Iglasias and Castello di Ama are very proud of this collaboration.


The 'real' filming was for our individual interviews and once they were underway we found our nerves disappeared as we were after all only saying to the camera what we tell hundreds of our lovely guests as part of our job. Talking about Tuscany and villas in Tuscany comes easily to us, we have all spent so much time visiting the area that we can talk with confidence on the subject.

We were lucky that the weather provided blue skies and sunshine during our time with the film crew – we know it isnt always sunny in Tuscany, but we like to show you this delightful region looking its best! - the warm sunshine even provided for some opportunities to relax whilst waiting for our camera calls.
Our group visit to the local town of Radda in Chianti caused a few heads to turn, its not often that a film crew shows up and the fact that some of us were wearing the To Tuscany jackets and t-shirts that had been provided specially for the filming meant we were on the end of some quizzical looks from the locals. One of the locals who is more used to a film crew than us is Luciano who runs the famous Porciatti delicatessen in Radda – he made a number of appearances as a chef on one of Italys cookery shows. His bustling shop made a great backdrop for some filming of local products and typical daily life.

On the subject of chefs, Andrea from thePasta e Fagioli private chef service served up a meal of distinction for all 20+ of us – the porcetta (roasted pork) was so delicious that a vegetarian amongst us couldnt resist and even went back for seconds, thats how good it was!

We can highly recommend the video company Mediabrightom, Annelies and Ben Simon made us feel relaxed and comfortable while filming.
http://www.mediabrighton.com/
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