Three Travel Tips for Americans and Brits Traveling Abroad

Monday, December 31, 2012

When Americans and UK citizens travel to a country in mainland Europe they're prepared to deal with the language barrier, but some aren't ready to deal with experiencing a different culture.  When you're going on vacation in a foreign country, you may be a little surprised by just how different everything is.   Whether you're heading off to a few villas in Tuscany with your friends or traveling to hotel room in Stockholm, experiencing a little bit of a culture shock is normal. Don't let the surprise of culture shock ruin your vacation.  Here are a few tips that can help you feel at ease when you make your trip.

Lessen the Language Barrier

English is a very popular language to learn abroad, but you should still expect to experience a language barrier when you travel.  If you have a lot of extra money to spend you could hire a translator, or you can spend a few dollars and make your smartphone your translator.  There are many apps available that translate languages, and some of them are even free.  You'll be able to easily look up important words and phrases, and maybe even make a new friend with your new language skills.

Find a Tour Guide

You could choose to explore the country where you're vacationing on your own, but an experienced tour guide could help show your more than you would ever find on your own.  There is no shortage of tour guides in Europe, especially if you're planning to visit a big city.  The hotel or rental you're staying at may even be able to recommend tour guides to use.

Learn About Holidays

Holidays are important and unique to different cultures.  Stores, banks, and government offices close for holidays in mainland Europe just like institutions in your country.  If you unknowingly plan your vacation when a national holiday is being observed, you'll be disappointed when you arrive and see that everything is closed.  Take time to learn about your vacation country's holidays before you plan your trip.  You could choose to plan your getaway for another week, or you can learn about it and get ready to join in on the celebration.

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An Action-Packed Guide to an Active Tuscan Holiday

Friday, December 21, 2012

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An Action-Packed Guide to an Active Tuscan Holiday

When most people finally manage to get away on holiday they want to do nothing more than laze around by the pool, enjoy the sights and catch a few rays of sunshine. This makes Tuscany the perfect location with its plentiful scenic landscapes and picturesque towns and villages that are the personification of a relaxed existence. 

This however is not everybody’s idea of the perfect holiday and just because you’ve rented a beautiful Tuscan villa, it doesn’t mean you have to spend all of your vacation within its compounds. Tuscany is also brimming with plenty of activities to provide an all-action experience that you won’t forget in a hurry. All over this region you will find exciting opportunities to keep you busy but here are a few good places to start.

Horse riding – Throughout Tuscany there are plenty of chances to enjoy the fantastic scenery and enchanting medieval villages from a different perspective. Horse riding is available for people of all competencies from beginner to full blown equine expert and is a great way to see the sights, even if you have children. Some of the best trekking routes and experiences, offering a real Tuscan adventure, can be found in MonteroniHYPERLINK "" HYPERLINK ""d'Arbia, Sorano and Buonconvento.

Mugello Circuit Race Track – Motor racing has always been a big part of Italian sporting culture, even more so as Valentino Rossi has been at the forefront of this sport since 1996. For lovers of racing, or sport in general, there is no better place to watch an exciting race than at the stadium itself, live.

Head down to the Mugello circuit if there’s a race happening and enjoy the passionate atmosphere as the locals cheer on their favourites. It is situated to the north of Florence in the town of Scarperia and is well worth a visit. You are even allowed to walk the track after the race, should you want to get even closer to the action.
Cycling – Another good way of getting around Tuscany is on two wheels. There are an abundance of rural trails and tracks to follow as well as city centre stands from which you can hire your bike. It is perfect if you only have a few days as it offers the best way to see a lot of different areas in a short amount of time, whilst also keeping fit in the process. There is a great tour in Fiesole, just outside Florence, where an experienced guide will give you a wonderfully nature inspired view of Tuscany and detailed historical information regarding the local area.

Bravio delle BottiThis is an event that takes place in Montepulciano  on the last Sunday in August every year and is definitely worth checking out if you have booked your Tuscan villa for around this time. Hundreds of onlookers line the streets as teams of 2 people from each of the town’s Contrada (clans) race to push massive 80kg barrels up a hill to the Piazza Grande. The race is 1800 metres long and is done in honour of the patron saint John the Beheaded. This event will definitely show you a different side of Tuscany and really does have to be seen to be believed.
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A Guide to Chianti for Wine Lovers

Thursday, December 13, 2012

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Chianti Per Gli Amanti Del Vino:  A Guide to Chianti for Wine Lovers

Chianti is one of the most famous regions of Tuscany and is sure to be top of any wine fanatic’s list of destinations when visiting Italy. The borders of Chianti are not specifically defined but generally it lies between the regions of Florence and Siena and stretches as far as the Valdarno to the east and the Val d’Elsa to the west.  Every year thousands of tourists flock to Chianti - whether they are wine lovers or not - and with so much beauty and adventure packed into a small area, it won’t just be the wine that knocks you back. The history of wine making in Chianti can be traced back to before Roman times. Historians know that the Etruscans not only cultivated their own vines but created wines that were well received throughout the region. So whether you’re crazy about Chianti Classico or you like to rage about Rufina, how do you make sure that you don’t miss out on anything?

Plan your route
If you are going to get the most out your holiday, you will need to travel around. Using a Tuscan villa as your base is a great idea as you will be closer to most of the vine yards that provide the beautiful backdrop to this region. Hiring a car is a great way to cover as much ground as possible but if you are planning on really taking advantage of the delicious wines on offer then you may have to alternate the driving duties. Alternatively, you could let somebody else do the driving and take buses between the towns and villages. Do some research before you get out there though. Some of the wine tours may need to be booked in advance and it’s also best to check when certain vineyards will be open to the public.

So…where to start?
There are so many vineyards in Chianti that it is impossible to see them all. You will have the chance to experience a true taste of Tuscany through products from vineyards that are small, big, old and new so you will need to earmark a few before you set out. The town of Greve offers the perfect place to start as it is known as the gateway of Chianti. Here you will find various wineries that will allow you to sample their products as well as plenty of wine bars and shops that let you do the same. One highlight of these has to be Le Cantine which has hundreds of different wines to whet your whistle. On the outskirts of Greve are two other places that are definitely worth a look. The Castello di Vicchiomaggio is home to over 100 hectares of grape vines and offers custom made tours of the grounds. Similarly, the Castello di Verrazzano will give you the chance to experience a variety of different tasting tours of their cellars. If by now you have had your fill of Chianti Classico then why not head to the Val de Sieve for a sample of Chianti’s wonderful Rufina. This valley will even give you a helping hand on your journey of discovery by highlighting its many vineyards with signs that read ‘Strade Del Vino di Toscana’.

An overflowing glass
In truth, Chianti offers far too much for the wine lover to see and do in one trip alone. This region will leave you wanting more and there will always be something to bring you back. The examples above are just the tip of the grape vine and therefore to really appreciate this beautiful area you may have to make Chianti an annual retreat. So why not rebook your Tuscan villa for next year and refill your glass again and again?
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How to Explore Tuscany without Spending a Cent

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2012 photocompetition entry - by Isabelle Preclin

Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson once said “The Best Things in Life are Free” and I wouldn’t be surprised if a trip to Tuscany was used as their inspiration. We are all feeling the pinch at the moment but far be it for us to let that mean we have to go without a holiday, and why should it? However, having used most of the money you’ve saved up to physically get your family to the beautiful region of Tuscany and find the perfect Tuscan villa for you all to stay in, wouldn’t it be nice if you could enjoy what it has to offer without dipping into your pockets too often. Well you can! Here are just a few ways to get the most from your Tuscan adventure for niente, as the Italians would say.


Florence is a great place for the tourist on a budget because of its natural beauty, so why not start by exploring some of the beautiful scenery and architecture that’s on offer. Right in the city centre is one of the most famous piazzas in Florence, the Piazza della Signoria. Here you will find a replica of Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David, amongst other sculptures, in a free open-air exhibit. There is also an attractive fountain to see. Conversely, if you like your attractions to be less serene then why not visit the local market. Located by walking through the Piazza dell Mercato and only open in the mornings, the San Lorenzo market is the perfect place to experience a true taste of Tuscany.


The city of Siena is among the most magical and intriguing in Europe and holds lots to be discovered. For a real adventure, why not explore the 17 different districts and try to spot each of their Contrada. A district’s Contrada is their unique clan that forms part of the foundation for promoting of the city’s community led, relaxed way of life and are characterised by a particular set of symbols, colours and flags. The symbols are a caterpillar, dragon, eagle, forest, giraffe, goose, owl, panther, porcupine, ram, shell, snail, tortoise, tower, unicorn, wave and wolf. Why not make a check list and tick them off as you spot them. If you are lucky enough to be in Siena on either the 2 July or 16 August then make your way to the Piazza del Campo for a must see event. Il Palio is one of Italy’s most exciting festivals and involves representatives from the 17 Contrada partaking in a breath taking horse race around the square. The best spots can go for up to three hundred euros but it’s completely free to join the locals on the ground. A word of warning however, the large crowds means this is probably not one for small children.


I’m sure everybody is aware of the most famous attraction in Pisa, the eponymous Leaning Tower, but there’s a lot more to see whilst you are in this amazing city. A great place to start is the Duomo di Pisa, the main cathedral in the city. Situated opposite the tower, it is free to enter between the months of November and February so why not take advantage of this and enjoy the magnificent decorated ceilings and intricate stained glass windows. Alternatively, if you are visiting outside these months, you can always join in with Sunday morning mass in order to view its stunning interior. Another place to put on your list should be the Giardino Scotto Park. There are often outdoor concerts and movie showings held here, helping to create the perfect atmosphere for a lovely romantic evening. There are also mini trampolines scattered throughout the park to keep children of all ages interested while you take a well-earned break. Another good way to stay refreshed during your time in Pisa is to keep hydrated by using the various drinking fountains around the city. It can get expensive to keep buying bottles of water so keep hold of your bottle and save the environment and your euros by topping up for free. The most popular of these drinking fountains can be found in the Piazza del Duomo.
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Choosing the Right Villa Rental for Your Tuscan Vacation

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When people talk about their ideal area to visit in Italy, so many people mention how they'd love to vacation in Tuscany one day.  Tuscan villa rentals can be rented by anybody, and people who have been dreaming of visiting the region for years can finally make their dreams a reality.  Tuscan villa rentals are different, and finding the right one for you is crucial for enjoying your vacation.  If you want to choose the best rental for your vacation, follow the following tips.

Think About Your Travel Companions

If you want to get the right villa rental for your vacation, take time to think about who you're renting the villa for.  Are you taking a romantic vacation with your special someone, or are you looking for a Tuscan villa rental that can house your whole family?  Are you going to be traveling with teenagers and young adults, or will you have young children on your Tuscan getaway.  If you're planning a romantic getaway you may want to find a rental that has a fire place or hot tub, or you may want a villa with a lot of space if you'll be vacationing with your family.

Think About Your Ideal Vacation Activities

If you take time to think about what you'd like to do on your vacation, you'll be able to pick a villa rental that you'll be happy with.  If you want to visit Tuscany to see the architecture and art, you may want to stay in a rental that's close to Florence.  If you'd like to spend your Tuscany vacation sampling the local food and drink you may want a rental that's close to a winery or local restaurants. 

If Possible, Read Property Reviews

A well written description and some nice pictures can only tell you so much about a rental property.  Online reviews can help you learn a lot about a place, and if you're going to be renting a villa you should seek out the opinions of others who have stayed there.  Check reviews to see if people were happy with their rentals, or if they felt a little disappointed.

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iLove Tuscany: iPhone Apps for Tuscany Travel

Do you want to know which restaurants in your area have the highest user ratings?  There's an app for that.  Are you curious about which hotels offer the best deals on week long stays, or which Tuscany villas are available for renting?  There's an app for that.  Do you want you want to find information than can help make your Tuscan vacation fantastic? There's an app for that.  In the age of smartphones anything is possible, and if you want to have the best Tuscany get away possible grab your charger and start downloading these helpful apps.


The Tuscany+ app really brings the term "augmented reality" to life.  If you snap a picture of an interesting museum, restaurant, or hotel Tuscany+ can give you information on the location.  Along with the specific location information it can also let you know about nearby attractions you may be interested in visiting. 

Tower of Pisa Inclinometer

If you're a math or science geek you'll love the Tower of Pisa Inclinometer app.  The app is designed to measure the angle or slope of anything you're looking at through the iPhone camera; and since Pisa is Italy's most famous angled tower the app can measure just how far the tower is actually leaning from your perspective.

Italia! Guide to Tuscany

The people of Italia! Magazine made this app, and its affiliation with the publication helps you find out information on some of the best restaurants in Tuscany.  You'll learn about what they think the best food is in the city, which wineries are top-notch, and it'll even give you information on some popular local recipes.
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