The Taste of Tuscany – What to Try

Friday, October 26, 2012

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Those spending holidays in villas in Tuscany are spoiled for choice when it comes to culinary delights, with the region’s best restaurants, cafés and markets all an easy drive away. Favourite Italian dishes like pizza will be available wherever you go, and you can expect excellent quality; one of the joys of travelling in Tuscany, however, is the chance to sample its regional specialties. For anyone wishing to try Tuscan cuisine in the place that does it best – read on!

The principles of Tuscan cuisine hark back to the region’s agrarian past, when a meal needed to strike a perfect balance between simplicity, good nutrition and wonderful flavours. So when venturing out from their villas in Tuscany to seek out a great dinner, travellers should look out for places serving local dishes and using local products – which of course make the best ingredients for traditional Tuscan recipes. Vegetables and fruit from the surrounding hills, mushrooms from the mountain forests, fresh-baked bread, and local pork or game are the mainstays of Tuscan cooking. Look out for the regional favourite, ribollita (a hearty vegetable soup with bread), and pappardelle with boar or rabbit.

When it comes to dessert, every city seems to have its own treats in store. The version of tiramisu popular in Florence, zucotto, is a ‘must-try’, while in Siena look out for panforte – a rich cake made with fruit, nuts, honey and spices. Other favourites are almond biscuits – ricciarelli – and spiced biscuits – cavallucci – as well as the cakes associated with different seasons and festivals, such as schiacciata fiorentina, a cake shaped like Florence’s lily symbol, which is eaten at winter Carnival.

It’s not just meals out that can be enjoyed with a local touch – while staying in villas in Tuscany, add regional flair to your market-bought lunches with Tuscan olives, local bread, pecorino, as well as the cured meats enjoyed by Tuscans, such as finocchiona, which is made with fennel seeds. Buonissimo!
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Getting The Best Out Of Pisa

Friday, October 19, 2012

Photo by David Mallinson - his entry into our annual photocompetition

Travel lovers around the world dream of it: exploring the fabulous cities and rolling hills of Tuscany. Villas are, for many, the perfect launching pad for their adventures – go at your own pace, comfortable in the knowledge that there’s a cosy retreat waiting for you at the end of the day. And when it comes to visiting famous cities like Pisa, you’ll be a step ahead of the package tours, able to venture beyond the most popular sights and spend as long as you like investigating the rest of the city. So where to start?

For those who want to beat the crowds on their travels in Tuscany, villas near Pisa are well-placed to let you head into town while other travellers are still at their hotel breakfasts. Getting there early means that you can enjoy the Piazza del Miracoli – or Square of Miracles, home to the city’s most iconic sights – in relative peace. Located north of the historic centre of town, this is where you’ll see the Leaning Tower – or Torre Pendente – as well as the Duomo and the Baptistry. The Tower is what draws flocks of visitors to the square daily. Its long construction started in the twelfth century, and it began to tilt shortly afterwards – and was not completely stabilised until 2008. Today, it’s safe to climb to the top for wonderful views of the city. Also worth seeing are the Duomo, a wonderful showcase of Romanesque cathedral design, the Baptistry, and the Museo del Opera del Duomo. The latter is a museum featuring a fascinating collection of artworks.

Next, why not leave the Piazza dei Miracoli behind to see what else Pisa – a history- and culture-rich town with a vibrant student population – has to offer? The best of the city’s life can be seen along the Arno promenade, which is Pisa in miniature: Renaissance palaces next to contemporary shops and restaurants, all in a highly photogenic setting. This is a great place to linger into the evening, watching the river and enjoying some of the city’s finest meals.

Before you leave, stop by the Piazza delle Vettovaglie for a bustling local market. In Tuscany, villas are great for enjoying a lazy lunch on the veranda – and this is the perfect place to stock up on Italian lunch essentials!
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Lesser-Known Churches of Tuscany

Friday, October 12, 2012

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Renowned for its stunning countryside and glorious Renaissance cities, Tuscany seems to have endless highlights – including its fabulous churches. Many of them are famous beyond Italy’s borders, for good reason, but the lesser-known ones can be just as worth seeking out. In Tuscany, villas are a great way to seek out interesting sights at your leisure, so why not set off to explore some of these off-the-beaten-track churches?

Florence’s San Miniato a Monte: Florence is practically bursting with beautiful churches, many of them Renaissance era, but to focus only on those would be to miss out on the city’s remaining examples of Romantic churches. Established in 1028, the San Miniato a Monte Basilica is a stellar example of this pre-Renaissance architectural style. Look out for its impressive marble front, its graceful interior and intricate mosaics.

Basilica of San Piero a Grado: During your time in Tuscany, villas offer the ultimate flexibility, letting you head out to see the countryside just as easily as they let you spend the day in town – meaning that the region’s loveliest churches are all just an easy drive away. If you happen to be near Pisa, make a point of stopping at San Piero a Grado, to see its Basilica, built in the eleventh century over the ruins of a fourth century Christian temple. You’ll be in good company: Saint Peter is also believed to have stopped there on his travels. Works left by local artists throughout the ages can be found inside, along with ancient Islamic pottery, while outside the stone exterior beautiful countryside extends to the horizon – you’ll be glad you made the journey.

San Lorenzo Abbey: For the ultimate sense of tranquillity in Tuscany, villas near the gorgeous Lanzo Valley are a good choice – idyllic in themselves, and surrounded by some of the most peaceful and unspoilt landscape you’re likely to see in the region. The area is simply spectacular and dotted with beautiful ancient buildings, including the ruins of an old Benedictine monastery, San Lorenzo Abbey. This was once an influential establishment and even now holds an enchantment all of its own.
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Scenic Tuscany: Essential Sightseeing Activities

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When most people plan a vacation for Tuscany they plan on touring as many museums and eating as much food as possible, but there is more to the region than just art and food.  Tuscany is one of the most beautiful regions in all of Italy.  Many people reserve Tuscany villa rentals in scenic areas so they can spend their vacation enjoying the beautiful views from their windows.  If you're visiting Tuscany any time soon you need to make sure that you spend time soaking in the beautiful weather and scenery.

Bike Tours

If you really want to see Tuscany's breathtaking landscape don't take a regular bus tour, sign up for one of the many bike tours offered in the region and get ready to be amazed.  Biking tours give tourists the unique opportunity to have a truly immersive sightseeing experience.  You can ride past the beautiful rolling hills in Val d'Orcia while feeling the Tuscan sunshine and wind on your face.  You can bike near the Tuscan Archipelago near the Tyrrhenian Sea and taste the salt in the air as you pass by.   The tour guides plan the most scenic routes possible and can take you to relatively unknown but beautiful places.  Some even plan for scheduled wine and oil tasting stops so you get to taste, see, smell, and feel all of Tuscany during your tour. 

Cinque Terre

There are many different kinds of walking tours in the region.  Some walking tours are more like spread out food and wine tasting events and others take you through the many different local museums.  If you take one walking tour during your vacation make sure it's one of the Cinque Terre walking tours, it'll make leaving your Tuscany villa rental worth it.  Cinque Terre is infamous craggy and rugged costal region of the Italian Riviera.  The surround five villages have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you'll soak in far more scenery by walking around outside instead of viewing it from the window of a bus or van. 
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Tuscany Getaways: Find Your Ideal Vacation Location

Tuscany is a diverse and unique region and virtually has something that can appeal to everybody.  That's why the location of Tuscan villa rentals is important for vacationers; people could easily a city or town that has a little microcosm of everything they want to see during their getaway.  There are many different regions to choose from, but these particular ones could appeal to some very refined tastes. 

For the Nautical Historian: Versilia

If you're a nautical history buff you should look for Tuscan villa rentals in the Versilia region.  Versilia is located in the north-western province of Lucca and takes its name from the nearby Versilia River.  Versilia is one of the most popular areas of the Italian Riviera, and as a result the area has an array of resorts and clubs that cater to local celebrities.  While you're in the Versilia region you should also visit Viareggio, the second largest city in the Lucca Province.  The city was founded around the first half of the 16th century and is known for its bustling fishing and ship building industry.  If you visit the city around the time they hold their world famous carnival you'll be in for a treat.  The Carnival of Viareggio has been a yearly tradition since 1873 and is one of the most popular carnivals in all of Europe.

For the Romantic at Heart: Cortona

Cortona is a city that has seen a lot of changes in its day.  It originally started as an Umbrian city, but gradually came under control by the Etruscans, Romans, Goths, and then finally Italian nobles.   Despite its long history the region recently became popular thanks to the bestselling memoir Under the Tuscan Sun.  The author's true life story of purchasing a villa in Cortona and learning about life and love has struck a chord with many people, and Cortona is truly the perfect setting for a romantic novel.   The Renaissance architecture gives the area a unique romantic atmosphere, and the humble villas and rolling landscapes would be perfect for any couple that's in need of a passionate getaway. 

For the Architecture Enthusiast: San Gimignano

San Gimignano's unofficial name is "the city of the beautiful towers", and after you visit the region you'll see why it earned its name.  San Gimignano became a town in the 10th century and at one point in time the small medieval town had 72 towers.  Your Tuscan villa rental may be beautiful, but it may not be able to compete with the Romanesque and Gothic architecture that makes up the village.  The walls that protected the city from invaders centuries ago are still standing, and since the town has so much historical architecture it's been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
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Arts And Crafts In Florence

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Local and foreign visitors renting Tuscany villas around the Florence area in May will have the opportunity to attend a festival where master arts and craftsmen (and women) exhibit and teach their trade to all those interested.

The 2012 edition of Artigianato e Palazzo (the name of the festival in question) is its 18th, and will be taking place at the Corsini Gardens, a privately owned jewel in the heart of Florence. Offering great value for the modest entry price of eight euros, this event is sure to warrant a venture away from comfortable Tuscany villas for anyone who is interested in arts and crafts.

This year’s Artigianato e Palazzo celebrates the 400th anniversary of Famaceutica Officina Profumo di Santa Maria Novella, nowadays a well-known perfume company. As such, this year’s showcase will centre around this historic company, the director and co-owner of which will be present for a conference.

However, the main point of interest for most visitors will be the arts and crafts demonstrations, in which more than 80 artisans will demonstrate their skills, bringing the public closer to the secrets of their trades and possibly enabling the more adept to replicate the wares once they have returned to their Tuscany villas at the end of the weekend.

According to the organisers of this festival, the objective of Artigianato e Palazzo is to bring the public closer to the wealth of these ancient crafts. Some say that teaching these handicraft skills is more difficult than learning them, because much of the art cannot be explained in words but "stolen" with the eyes.” This theory from the organisers goes a way to revealing the philosophy behind the event.
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