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, 2015. 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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Panzano-in-Chianti-Wine-Festival

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 (biketourandrea@gmail.com), 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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Five Great Holiday Reads Set in Beautiful Italy

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Five Great Holiday Reads Set in Beautiful Italy
Image source: mygoodbookshelf.wordpress.com
It can be inspiring to read a novel or story set in the country in which you are holidaying, so we’ve picked a selection of our favourite novels set in Italy! Pick one, or a couple, and relax in the warm Tuscan climate with one of these good books.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
A story that begins with despair and ends in hope, Eat, Pray, Love tells of Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal journey after the breakdown of her marriage. Although only the first section (Eat) is set in Italy, it is still a worthy holiday read. Feel inspired by Elizabeth’s journey through heartbreak and food in the Italian third of her autobiography, religious in the Indian section, and fall in love with the tales of her time in Bali, Indonesia.
Reading this book will make you eager to find your own adventure in Tuscany and Italy, and may even see you jetting off elsewhere in the near future.

A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
A classic romance tale depicting the inner struggles of a young Edwardian woman, A Room With A View takes readers to early 20th century Florence. Protagonist Lucy Honeychurch takes a trip to Italy with her older cousin Charlotte and it is there that she meets George Emerson when his father offers to swap rooms so that the women have a view of the Arno River. Facing a changing society, Lucy is has to choose between true love and an appropriate marriage of convenience.
Relaxing with this book by your Tuscan villa’s pool will have you excited to get exploring the spectacular streets of Florence.

The Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato
In this historic novel, we are taken back in time to Tuscany’s golden age. Set in 18th century Renaissance Siena, the story revolves around the internationally famous Sienese Palio and the rivalries of the city’s Contrades. Pia Tolomei, a Siena native, falls in love with a Palio rider from a rival Contrade but is being forced into an arranged marriage.
This tale will show you the intricate culture of the Tuscan city of Siena, whose history is still very much alive in its biannual Palio.

 I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis
This novel is a fictional depiction of the life of the lady in the world’s most famous painting. Visit 15th century Florence and view the impact that the murder of Giuliano de’ Medici has on the city in this riveting tale. The story then moves forward a decade, and we see an unhappy city and heroine Lisa di Antonio Gherardini coping with love and loss.

Inspired by the life of the mystic woman in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, this story set against the backdrop of a troubled Florence highlights the artistic flourishes and strength of the Tuscan city.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
In this 1950s psychological thriller we meet Tom Ripley, a young man struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Given the chance to travel to Italy, Ripley and readers become embroiled in a story of murders and stolen identities. Partially set in Mongibello and Sanremo, the story unfolds against a beautiful backdrop as we read about the lives of the wealthy.
As part of a series collectively known as the Ripliad, readers will no doubt look forward to reading the four subsequent novels.

We hope that this selection of novels set in Italy have got you inspired for what book to take with you as your holiday read!
If you are interested in Tuscany villa rental for your Italian holiday, then please check out our website, or get in touch via our contact us page.
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Boardless Games You Don't Need to Pack

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Boardless Games You Don't Need to Pack

At some point on holiday you’re going to want a night in and what better way to get everyone together and having fun than with a game? Obviously you’re not going to want to sacrifice your new sarong to find space for monopoly, so we’ve put together a list of great games you can play without a board. They’re great to play in your Tuscany villa and you can even play some of them in the queue to the Uffizi!

Four Fourths of a Ghost
This is a spelling game where each player has to add a letter to the word. Player 1 picks a letter, for example ‘L’ and then the next player adds any letter which could spell a word, such as ‘O’. Player 3 must then add another letter being careful not to complete a word. If player 3 adds another ‘O’ they will have lost the game by spelling ‘LOO’, so they must find another letter, such as ‘N’ passing the buck to player 4.
Players can try and bluff it by saying a letter where they can’t think of a word that it could lead to. However if they are challenged and can’t think of a word then they lose and become one fourth a ghost. If the player is challenged and can produce a word then it is the challenger who becomes one fourth a ghost. For instance if Player 4 said ‘D’ and was challenged and they said ‘LONDON’ the challenger loses, but if they say ‘LONDIFUL’ the player loses. The ultimate loser is the person who becomes four fourths a ghost first.

How’s Yours?
With this game a player is selected to be the questioner and leaves the room or covers their ears whilst the others decide on an object or thing that they all have, for example a car or a telephone number. Then the questioner returns and can only ask individuals the question “How’s yours?” to which people must answer with a detail that doesn’t give a lot away, but also isn’t so vague that the game can’t progress. The questioner must overcome their growing frustration and work out what the object is! Then a new questioner is nominated and the game continues.

When I went on my holidays…
This is a memory game where players take it in turns to add an item to a list that must be recalled before adding your item to the list. For example, player 1 could say “When I went on my holidays I brought with me some flip flops” then player 2 could say “When I went on my holidays I brought with me some flip flops and a game of Tetris” and player 3 “When I went on my holidays I brought with me some flip flops, a game of Tetris and my sense of dignity!”…And so on. If you make a mistake you’re out and the winner is the last one standing.

Fortunately Unfortunately
This storytelling game is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Each player takes it in turns to add a sentence to the story, alternating with either fortunately or unfortunately to start the sentence. For example:
Once upon a time there was a frog sitting peacefully on a water lily.
Unfortunately his feet were stuck to the leaf and he couldn’t jump off.
Fortunately a wave came along and the frog realised he’s a rather talented surfer.
Unfortunately the leaf split in two and he discovered he wasn’t quite as good at water skiing…

Wink Murder
Gather everyone together in a circle and decide who is going to be the investigator. Get them to leave the room and nominate somebody as the murderer. Bring the investigator back in and the game can begin. The murderer must wink at people to signal their death. The person being winked at must then die in as dramatic a fashion as possible for extra fun! The investigator then has three chances to guess who the murderer is.

Hope you have fun playing all these brilliant games! Have a look through our Tuscany villas and find yourself the perfect place to get all your loved ones together and start the hilarity!
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How to Take Holiday Photos that will Impress

Friday, September 19, 2014


How to Take Holiday Photos that will Impress

Have you recently purchased a new camera, ready for your holiday in the beautiful Italian countryside? You might be looking to take some decent, high-quality photos, but you’re still uncertain about some of the camera’s settings. We’ve come up with some tangible, sensible advice to help you shoot some truly spectacular holiday snaps.
Some of the following ideas may seem fairly obvious, but these are some very real issues that most amateur photographers should be looking to avoid:

Firstly: What are you shooting?
Your photographs should be interesting, relevant and aesthetically pleasing. You want to capture a beautiful scene so that you can keep it forever. Unfortunately however, there are some scenes that just should not be captured. The secret behind good photography therefore, is knowing when to shoot and when to just admire the view.

Portrait Frames
The secret to a good portrait is the positioning. Imagine there are 9 squares in a photograph, like in this well-positioned image below:


To start off with a classical portrait style, your subject should be centred on the middle square. This can take practice in aiming and framing your shot correctly, but once you have this clear in your mind, your portraits will suddenly stand out and look more professional.
Have your model look away from the camera to smile before turning back in time for the ‘click’. This method can lead to the most natural shots, reducing the risk of an overly exaggerated pose.

Lighting
Always try and keep the sun’s position in mind when taking a photo. Try and keep the sun behind you when taking a quality photo, as your camera will overcompensate for its brightness. This will lead to darker photos with less detail.
The best landscape shots are taken at dawn and just before dusk. This time of day produces the optimum lighting in which to take a good photo. A good sunset photo should be taken when the camera is steady, meaning that you either need to purchase a tripod, or position your camera on a steady wall.

Select and Edit your Slide-Show in more than One Sitting
The importance of selecting the right photos to show others cannot be overstated. Your friends may be polite and not say anything whilst sitting through an interminable display of your recent holiday snaps, but someone needs to tell you: No photo-show should last any longer than seven minutes.
If you have two images that are even slightly similar, select the best one and delete the other. Place more importance on photos of people and interesting, quirky images than pictures of buildings.
Always remember that a photo should tell a story. If you need to explain the story behind the photo a little, that can be interesting. If you have to explain why the photo is even there in the first place, you should probably remove it.

Contact Us
We hope that you enjoy taking excellent shots of your holiday in your Tuscan villa rental. If you have any questions about any of the local history in your villa’s area, please don’t hesitate to ask us. You can call us on 0121 286 7782 or e-mail us here.
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