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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