Lights, Camera, Action...

Friday, November 21, 2014


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.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Panzano in Chianti Wine Festival

Posted by Sean Caulfield on 14 November 2014

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Italy isn’t short on wine festivals. The Tuscany region certainly has its fair share and Vino al Vino (Wine to Wine) held in Panzano in Chianti is one of the stand out examples. It focuses on local producers, with a more intimate feel compared to many of its competitors, making this the perfect choice for real wine-lovers with the drink itself very much the star of the show.

Vino al Vino is organised by a group of 20 local wineries and has been going strong for years. It has managed to stay relatively small, however, offering a great alternative to the bigger wine festivals (which, don’t get me wrong, are fantastic in their own way).  Located between the larger towns of Greve and Castellina, Panzano is a classic small Tuscan village that makes a lovely setting, in no small part thanks to the beautiful surrounding scenery. Located on the breast of a hill, Panzano in Chianti has amazing views to the surrounding countryside, which is made up of a patchwork of vineyards and olive groves. This is quintessential rural Italy.

The festival takes places in the main piazza at the heart of Panzano, where the wineries set up in wooden stalls around the central square. To one side of the square is the welcome point where you buy a glass for 15 Euros and then taste as much wine as you like at no extra cost! The 15 Euro for the glass is your contribution to the cost of the festival, which makes it a fantastic deal if you turn up on the Thursday or Friday as you can keep going in every day tasting the wine in exchange for that one-off payment. Even if you can only make it for a few hours though, the number of different wines you can taste and the experience you get means it’s still a great deal. And, of course, you get the glass to keep as a souvenir!

Right by the entrance to the square is a small bar where the various wines for tasting are served. The ideal way to enjoy the festival is to grab a glassful of something that takes your fancy, then head over to the stall of the winery that produced it so you can find out all about what went into the wine you’re sampling. Every vineyard from the surrounding area has their own section displaying their produce so it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the wine-making process and each producer’s own particular philosophy and methods of production. Whether you’re a seasoned wine aficionado or a more casual drinker, Vino al Vino is your chance to try a wide range of different styles of wine and work out which one suits you best. 

Once you’ve found that perfect tipple, you’ll no doubt want a bottle or maybe even a case or two to take away and drink at your leisure. Fortunately the festival organisers have thought of that and there’s a helpful buying and ordering station right beside the welcome point. This is staffed by a really helpful lady who speaks multiple languages and who has wines from all the different vineyards stacked up behind her. You can either buy a bottle right then and there, or place a larger order and have it delivered, giving you something to remember the festival by for a long time to come!

A firmly as the festival is focused on wine, it wouldn’t be a real Italian event if there wasn’t some great food on offer too. Panzano in Chianti just happens to be the home of Dario Cecchini, a world-famous butcher and chef. He runs Antica Macelleria Cecchini (Cecchini’s Old Butcher’s Shop) a family business that has been going for over 250 years. A really colourful character, Dario has three restaurants in Panzano, each serving a different range of meat based dishes (and a few non-meat treats for vegetarians). The village also boasts an excellent baker, proving that wine isn’t the only local produce worth shouting about.
The local restaurants really contribute to the festival buzz, bursting out from their usual premises to line the streets with their tables. Waiters cross back and forth serving people on both sides of the road as they sit eating great food, soaking up the sun and basking in the wonderful atmosphere. So, if nothing else, Panzano is a great place to go for lunch on the festival weekend, even if you’re not a wine drinker! There’s also live jazz music in the early evening on Saturday and Sunday and loads of local artists there displaying their work, making for a well-rounded Italian experience.

Of course, for those there for the wine, the restaurants and baker (who offers a range of snacks over the weekend) are really handy as you do need something to eat when you’re trying all those different wines. Otherwise you’d just end up falling over, or forgetting which wine it was you liked so much!

The Panzano in Chianti Wine Festival is a really great little festival for those who want a true taste of Tuscan culture in a fantastic location. It’s the perfect opportunity to develop your wine knowledge with loads to learn and absorb. We often hear back from people who visit once and then end up searching out wines from the Panzano region all over the world. Fortunately this is relatively easy as wines from the region are available in the UK, USA and throughout Europe, making a taste for Panzano wines one worth acquiring.

Vino al Vino takes place each year on the 3rd week of September, just before the harvest begins. It runs for four days from Thursday through to Sunday, meaning you can pop down for just one day or make a long weekend of it. And, if nothing else, the beautiful calm atmosphere in the middle of the Chianti on a sunny day is something to behold!

To find out more about Panzano, take a look at our guide to the local area and if you need somewhere to stay while you visit the festival, take a look at our villas in nearby Florence, Panzano in Chianti and the surrounding area. For more information and advice, please feel free to send us an email or call us on 0121 286 7782.

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Via Francigena walk

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Via Francigena walk

A warm, sunny autumn day in Tuscany was the perfect time to undertake the Via Francigena walk. We travelled the twenty minute car journey from the Chianti to meet our tour guide at the local car park in Abbadia d'Isola.  Ingo our guide was waiting for us as we arrived. We jumped into the minibus provided and were driven to our starting point at Castello della Chiocchiola.

Ingo had been thoughtful and had provided all of us with a chilled bottle of water. Donning his rucksack (which I presume was full of useful tools and emergency equipment) we set off down a dusty track towards the woods.

The weather was wonderfully warm and I looked forward to the journey ahead. Ingo then proceeded  to tell us about the pilgrimage and some of its history. And here is some of what I learned.

The Via Francigena route starts in Canterbury in the U.K (which I live about 20 miles away from back home) and continues through France, Switzerland and down through Italy and all the way to Rome.   

Although I have said that the pilgrimage started in Canterbury, this is not 100% accurate. Starting points varied along the route depending on where you came from, you would not be expected to start from Canterbury if you lived in France.

The Arch Bishop, Sigeric the Serious had made and documented the pilgrimage himself in 990 and became the self appointed authority on the subject and therefore the unofficial starting point became Canterbury in Kent.

The route has not changed that much since medieval times, but due to modernisation and the building of new roads etc, slight detours have had to be made. However, this said there is an abundance of untouched Tuscan scenery and woodland paths which have changed very little  overtime.

The trail took us through a mixture of forests, open plains and along winding white roads. A good pair of walking boots is recommended as the paths are full of loose gravel and stones which I slipped on several times. If your planning on cycling this route, I recommend protective clothing and a certain amount of experience in the sport.

After nearly two hours of walking we came out to an opening in the woods which looked across the valley and towards the majestic walled town of Monteriggioni. Ingo informed us that this medieval town had been the site of a siege and a battle between the Florentines and the Sienese. It was also world famous for being featured in the video game “Assassins Creed”. However on my return to the UK I was informed and corrected by my teenage son, that actually it featured in Assassins Creed 2!

We  made our way across to  Monteriggioni and entered the town through one of the original fortified gates. Monteriggioni is a charming little town with a small selection of bars and gift shops. We sat in the main plaza enjoying the atmosphere of a bygone age while sipping our cool beverages. As we sat and talked we were introduced to Andrea the owner of the tour company (, who had come to greet us.

After a much needed rest and a quick tour of the old town it was time to leave this picturesque place  and all its history.  The walk back took approximately an hour as we took a shorter route than by which we had came. Along the way we sampled some reddish berries that grew in hedgerows along the track, we really were following the spirit of the pilgrims now.

We eventually arrived back at the minibus as the sun slowly set over Tuscany. Ingo kindly drove us back to our car and after a lot of handshaking and laughing we said our farewells and headed back to our Villa for a much needed glass of  the finest Chianti Classico.

I learned a great deal of interesting facts surrounding the Via Francigena, which I have deliberately omitted from this account. If you wish to know what I know, you will just have to take the journey yourself (maybe not from Canterbury).  Say Hi to Ingo for me!

Paul Perry
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L'Eroica vintage bike race in Chianti

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

L'Eroica vintage bike race in Chianti

Posted by Sean Caulfield on Wednesday, 29 October 2014

For the last six years I, along with many other cycling enthusiasts from around the world, have made the yearly pilgrimage to Gaiole in Chianti for L’Eroica vintage bike ride. Held on the first Sunday in October, L’Eroica is like a step back in time to before the modern age of tarmacked roads, hi vis jackets and hybrid bikes with fancy suspension.

The rule here is that only bikes made before 1987 that fit a specific set of criteria are allowed to compete. The event has been running since 1997 and has really exploded in popularity over the last few years, drawing in cyclists from across the globe. This year saw nearly 5000 cyclists register to take part and national coverage in some of Italy’s biggest newspapers, including Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport. Decked out in my vintage cycling finest, I headed down to Gaiole with my local cycling club and my trusty Bianchi ready for a bike ride like no other.

As soon as you arrive in Gaiole you know something special is going on. The day before the big ride, the little Tuscan town is taken over by stands full of vintages bike parts, clothes and memorabilia, as well as people offering repairs and tune-ups. For owners of these classic bikes, it’s an invaluable opportunity to source parts and access specialists you might otherwise struggle to find.

This being Italy, there are also, of course, a whole host of people selling a range of delicious local food. From pizza wagons and chefs cooking up a wide range of fresh meat dishes right in front of you, to the local restaurants that bulge out onto the terraces, anyone looking to fuel up before getting on their bike is spoiled for choice. One stand out was a pop-up restaurant, set up by local volunteers, that I’m told served hungry cycling fans with somewhere in the region of 1200 sausages and 600 t-bone steaks!

The atmosphere is incredible, with thousands of riders taking part and even more spectators, many of them dressed in vintage clothing, all packed into a little town that Forbes magazine once ranked number one on its list of Europe’s most idyllic places to live. One of the great things about L’Eroica is that it’s not a race so people take a lot of time to enjoy the scenery, food and comradery on offer. While the cycling is still hard work, it’s an event that firmly puts fun first and has a really friendly, inclusive feel to it.

On the day of the ride, participants can pick from one of four different courses, the shortest of which is 38km and the longest (the full run) a robust 209km! In between there are 75km and 135km courses which are great for people like me who are keen cyclists but not quite at the pro athlete level! The rides take place along some of the old gravel tracks which were the original roads linking the various towns of the Chianti region together. These roads follow very direct routes, resulting in some pretty steep hills in places, which means anyone choosing to complete the full run needs legs of steel and the stamina of an Olympian.

I stick to the 135km track, which I’ve ridden for the past six years now, and offers a good mix of challenging cycling and beautiful countryside while leaving plenty of time to stop off along the way at various points. There were around sixty of us from my local club this year, although we split up into smaller groups going round, making for a really fun ride where everyone felt comfortable cycling at their own level.

L’Eroica is intended to recall the classic bike races of the past, so even though it’s not a race each rider is issued with a card, which they carry in their pocket and can get stamped and signed at each of the designated stop-off point on the way around, recording the time they passed through. This is how they used to manage races back in the days before computers and electronic check-points!

There’s more to the check points than just getting your card stamped, however. Each stop has people serving a variety of foodstuffs, ranging from salami, small sandwiches, boiled eggs and sweet biscuits to classic Tuscan dishes. My favourite is the ribollita, a traditional Tuscan bread soup cooked in a cast iron pot on a tripod over an open fire.  Of course, you have to be careful not to eat too much, or it’s not so easy getting up the hills afterwards! They also serve Vin Santo, the popular Tuscan dessert wine, but again, it’s best not to over-indulge unless you want to be wobbling all over the road to the next check point!

The countryside you pass through is as amazing and beautiful as you would expect. The various courses takes you from open, arable areas to more closed-in vineyards and olive groves and it’s a really wonderful way to experience the stunning Tuscan landscape. The colours of the vintage woollen shirts we all wear made an amazing contrast against the beautiful scenery offering loads of opportunities for keen photographers. It’s almost impossible not to stop every so often and soak it all in. Especially when you get to watch a whole range of weird and wonderful bikes going past, not least the brave soul who took on one of the tracks on a penny farthing!

All of the routes end where they begin, in Gaiole. There’s a real festival air around the central square where all of the courses finish. Every rider has to make their way through the middle of the square which is lined by spectators cheering and applauding as they cross the finish line and collect the congratulatory bottle of wine every participant gets for finishing. No matter which course you tackle or how long it takes you to get round, for that one moment every rider gets to feel like a champion.

The party atmosphere carries on until nightfall with plenty of wine and beer being drunk. By that point most riders, me included, are so tired it’s all you can manage to stumble off to bed. The next day is clear up day, where the village is returned to normal and it’s all over for another year. With L’Eroica growing in size and recognition each year, there’s no question that L’Eroica 2015 will be just as spectacular as this year’s event and I certainly intend to be back! Maybe next time I’ll even tackle the full run…or maybe not.

Tuscany has a long and proud association with cycling, not least for being the birthplace of the legendary Gino Bartali who won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d’Italia three times in the 30s and 40s. The region’s beautiful countryside and mix of challenging hilly terrain and flatter, more accessible routes makes Tuscany a favourite destination for cyclists of all abilities. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Tuscany provides the setting for this growing event.

We have a number of villas available in Gaiole in Chianti and the surrounding area, perfect for anyone intending to take part in L’Eroica either as a cyclist or spectator. We can also help you register for the event if you need some assistance. Alternatively, the L’Eroica course is open to cyclists all year round and is well signed, plus we can arrange guided tours on request.

To find out about other great events in Tuscany that you can get involved in, check out our sports and activities page. For more information about the luxury Tuscan villas we offer or how we can help you have the perfect Tuscan break, call us on +44 121 286 7782 or send us an email.

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A Day Trip to Stunning Siena

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Day Trip to Stunning Siena

Siena is a wonderful city settled in the heart of Tuscany. World renowned for its biannual Palio (a fast-paced horse race), Siena is steeped in history and makes the perfect location for a day trip or two if staying in a villa nearby. Somewhat quieter than neighbouring Florence, a day in Siena can be a relaxing excursion for any Tuscan holidaymaker.
If staying in one of our Tuscany villas, and are thinking about visiting the walled city of Siena, then why not take a look at some of our favourite places in the city to help you plan your trip.

Watch Passers-by and Tourists Stroll in the Piazza del Campo
Siena’s Piazza del Campo is a-buzz with action during the famously quick 90 second Palios, but once the excitement dies down and the horse racing is over, the piazza becomes the perfect space to sit back, relax, and watch the world go by.
The sloped piazza is incredibly popular with tourists and students during the warm summer days and evenings, with popular bars, cafes, and restaurants surrounding the edge. For beautiful view of the Palazzo Publico and Torre del Mangia, and to catch a glimpse of everyday Sienese life, take a seat at one of the outside tables of the many cafes, or perch near the top of the shell-shaped piazza. Those who aren’t afraid of heights may even want to take a trip up the Torre del Mangia for panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Siena Cathedral
The stunning Duomo is a must see for visitors to Siena, even if it is simply to admire the bold stripes of the exterior. Those who step inside, will see that the striping continues and that it is a hub of wonderful artworks from the likes of Donatello, Michelangelo and a pulpit designed by Giovanni Pisano. Take a look inside the Piccolomini Library to view some amazing frescoes by Pinturicchio that depict the life of Pope Pius II, and a dramatically vibrant painted ceiling.  

Learn about the Contrade
A large part of Sienese culture revolves around the ancient rivalry between the 17 Contrada, which visitors to the city can learn about by visiting the Museum of Contrada. The museum holds artefacts from each Contrada, including flags, Palio outfits, and trophies.
The ancient rivalry that revolves around the Palios has become relaxed over the years, but those in Siena in the lead up to, or just after the Palios (2nd July and 16th August) can expect to see flag displays, parades, and marches as Contrades build hype or celebrate their wins.  

If you’re planning a trip to Italy, then why not take a look at our selection of Tuscan villas, and see if there is one that suits your needs. For more information about the services that we offer, or a particular villa, then why not get in touch with a member of our team by visiting our contact us page.

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