Inspirational Italy: Films set in Tuscany

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inspirational Italy: Films set in Tuscany

Posted by Sonia (27/03/2015)

With so many films taking snapshots of Tuscan culture and countryside, those about to embark on their own Tuscan adventure may want to get inspired about where to go and what to do by watching some cinematic treats. We’ve compiled a selection of three of the best and most popular movies that were filmed in Tuscany.

La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) directed by Roberto Benigni
Benigni’s modern classic takes a look at the beauty of life despite the terrors that surround us. Despite addressing the persecution of Jewish people during the Second World War, the film manages to focus on life’s sweetest moments, like childhood and falling in love. Follow Guido Orefice strive to hide the true horrors of life in a concentration camp from his son Giosué and hope to be reunited with his wife Dora.

The first half of the film is set in beautiful Arezzo, which is where Guido and Dora live, and the film offers some brilliant shots of everyday life that include the piazzas and architecture of the city. Whilst it is not advised that you attempt to re-enact the bicycle rides, you may want to ask Maria to throw down the keys just off the Piazza Grande, or simply take some brilliant photos.

Quantum of Solace directed by Marc Forster
The opening scene of this James Bond film shows 007 driving across Italy on his way to Siena. After a dramatic car chase through an Italian quarry, Bond arrives in Siena, and instantly begins a high-speed chase through the city most popular event, the Palio, and then ascends to the city’s rooftops. Whilst the scene is fast paced, it captures some stunning shots of the city making it a great opening to an entertaining action film.

If you’re heading to Siena, scrambling amongst the city’s rooftops isn’t advised, but we do recommend getting an excellent view of the city by heading up the Torre del Mangia.

New Moon directed by Chris Weitz
Fans of Stephanie Meyer’s teen fantasy series will know the importance of Italy to the plot of the vampire romance saga. Although set in Volterra, which is an actual Tuscan town that you can visit during your stay, Montepulciano was used during filming. The Italian scenes saw Bella race to save Edward from exposing himself as a vampire and thus ending his life at the hands of the Volturi (a vampire coven). In the dramatic scene, viewers get to see some great views of the hilled town.

Even if you’re not a fan of vampires, Montepulciano is really worth visiting for its beautiful architecture. Take a walking tour around the town, and pop into a local café or restaurant to taste the city’s world-renowned local wine.

If you’ve yet to book your accommodation for your Italian silver-screen adventure, then why not take a look at the great selection of Tuscany villas we offer.
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7 Wonders of Tuscany: World Heritage Sites

Thursday, March 19, 2015

7 Wonders of Tuscany: World Heritage Sites

Posted by Virginie (20/03/2015)
Tuscany is home to seven unmissable Unesco World Heritage Sites that represent the region’s rich art, culture and history. Anyone visiting Tuscany should visit at least one of these sites – or why not try to see all seven?

The Historical Centre of Siena
Siena has preserved its medieval character wonderfully, making the whole city a great place to visit. Its historic centre was chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1995 as it is an exceptional surviving example of the gothic buildings and design that characterised the development of Italy’s, and Europe’s, art and architecture.

The centre encompasses several famous buildings, notably the Piazza Del Campo. This square is home to the twice yearly Palio horse race, a dangerous and fast-paced medieval tradition that draws crowds from all over Europe and beyond. The race is only part of the occasion, however – the lead up is always full of the food, wine and pageantry that makes the day so popular.

Piazza Del Duomo, Pisa (The Square of the Cathedral of Pisa)
This grassy, walled square has four 11th-14th century monuments to see – the cathedral, baptistery, cemetery, and the main attraction which is, of course, the ‘Leaning Tower’. The foundations began to sink into the unstable subsoil soon after construction began. The tower took almost 200 years and three phases to build as it kept being interrupted by wars and political unrest.

The square is owned by the Catholic Church, and is considered a sacred place, as well as being a draw for all appreciators of medieval art and architecture. Its historical importance to Italy’s monumental art heritage lead to it becoming a UNESCO site in 1987.

Florence was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1982 due to its rich artistic and cultural history. Its beautiful buildings are home to literally thousands of priceless Renaissance treasures, including works by Michelangelo, Botticelli and Da Vinci. Cathedrals, palaces and museums can all be found within walking distance of each other, making Florence the ideal place to visit for anyone looking to learn some history and soak up the culture. It’s impossible to see the whole of Florence in one day, so many people choose to rent villas in Florence or nearby so they can take their time looking around each treasure.

Two gardens and twelve villas spread across Tuscany make up this ‘site’, which was only recognised very recently in 2013. They are not only a tribute to the Medici family in recognition of their patronage and contribution to artistic and cultural progress in Italy, but a fine example of their innovation when it came to building luxury homes. They weren’t like the farmhouses of the rich Florentines, nor were they militarily strong – these luxury Tuscan villas were built in harmony with the natural landscape and designed for comfort and beauty.

The Historical Centre of Pienza 
In 1459, Pope Pius II decided to encourage and finance the re-design of Pienza, the place of his birth. The result is essentially the first complete example of a planned ‘ideal town’, and this place of honour in the history of town planning earned the centre of Pienza its UNESCO title in 1996. Surrounding the central square – the ‘Piazzo Pio II’ – are a range of gorgeous historical buildings, including a Borgia palace and a cathedral. The beauty and luxury of the Renaissance is recognisable in every structure, and there are plenty of fine examples of art and architecture to see and explore.

This region of Tuscany is a wonderful example of a historically agricultural landscape that has been carefully cultivated to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing in accordance with Renaissance ideals. Located to the south-east of Siena, it was repeatedly painted and celebrated by Renaissance artists of the ‘Siennese School’ making it an artistically important landscape too. The gently rolling hills are largely undeveloped and still dotted with large farmhouses and small villages, giving modern day artists and photographers the chance to capture the same scenes as the great Renaissance artists before them.

The Historical Centre of San Gimignano 
San Gimignano has great historical importance because it has surviving examples of Middle Ages urban structures of all kinds – public squares, small houses, palaces and fountains are all represented within a small area. Over 70 imposing ‘tower houses’ were built by the ruling families to symbolise their dominance and power. Although only 14 are still standing today, it’s easy when you see them to get a feel for the feudal politics of the Middle Ages, which is why this site was deemed important enough in 1990 to be designated as a world heritage site.

San Gimignano is also home to unmissable examples of fine art, such as the frescoes of St Sebastian and St Augustine painted by Benozzo Gozzoli in the 15th century.

Few places can boast as many World Heritage sites as Tuscany can. So if you’re looking for a holiday that will give you plenty to see and explore, have a look at our Tuscan villa rentals and choose the perfect base for your cultural explorations.
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Have the Perfect Easter Break in Tuscany

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Have the Perfect Easter Break in Tuscany

Posted by Dympna Docherty (13/03/2015)

Tuscany has a number of colourful traditions based around Easter, making it the perfect place to visit during the holiday. In Italy celebrations traditionally last for five days – from the Thursday before Easter Sunday through to the following Monday, so it’s well worth timing your trip to take in the whole period. Here are some of the highlights we recommend.

Holy Thursday
Traditionally on the Thursday before Easter Sunday Italian churches elaborately decorate their altars with floral displays to pay homage to Jesus for the whole period of his death and rebirth. Visitors are welcome to tour the churches making this an excellent time to view Tuscany’s many historic religious buildings.
Churches particularly worth a visit include Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence which is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, also in Florence, which contains artwork by Botticelli and Duccio amongst many others.

Good Friday
Many Italians take to the streets on Good Friday, dressed in historic costumes and forming processions to carry statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary through the towns and cities where they live. This local tradition is certainly worth observing, however one of the real highlights of the whole Easter period in Tuscany is the annual play of the Passion which is performed in the town of Grassina, just outside Florence.
The play involves hundreds of the town’s people recreating various stories from the Bible’s New Testament ending with a re-enactment of Jesus’ crucifixion. Grassina’s residents create costumes, paint backdrops and record music for the play making this an important focal point for their community. The play begins with a procession of people dressed as ancient Galileans and Romans making their way through the streets of Grassina while scenes from Christ’s life are acted out on a nearby hill.
This powerful local ritual has been happening on and off for over 300 years so is a wonderful event to be part of for the religious and non-religious alike.

Easter Saturday
This is usually a quieter day that Italians spend getting ready for Easter. Many people spend the day cooking the traditional Easter dishes of their region, which in Tuscany means roasting a whole leg of lamb. Tuscans will generally chose seasonal side dishes which represent the coming of spring, such as fava beans (broad beans) and artichokes.
In the late evening most Italian churches hold long, elaborate evening masses which end at midnight with the ringing of all the church bells to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

Easter Sunday
In a tradition dating back almost 400 years, the people of Florence mark Easter Sunday with the Scoppio del Carro which means the “explosion of the cart”. The ceremony involves an elaborate wagon, loaded with fireworks, being hauled through the city from the Porta al Prato to the Piazza del Duomo by white oxen festooned with garlands of flowers and spring herbs. The wagon, which is three stories high and has been in use for hundreds of years, is accompanied by a huge crowd of soldiers, musicians and locals in old Florentine fancy dress.
The wagon stops outside the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore where a dove-shaped rocked is fired from the cathedral into the cart, igniting the fireworks on board. Traditionally, a big explosion is believed to signify a lucky year and good harvest ahead.

Easter Monday
In Italy the day after Easter Sunday is known as Pasquetta, which means ‘little Easter’, and is a national holiday that celebrates Jesus after his resurrection. Italians traditionally spend the day with their families where going for a picnic is a popular option. However, Pasquetta is also a day when many markets spring up all over the country selling a wide range of things including food, clothing and various homemade goods.

Sienna holds a large market specialising in food, leather goods, ceramics, toys and books while the ancient city of Lucca hosts a massive antiques market. For those looking for something a little smaller, Greve in Chianti has its own more modest antiques fair and the Fiesole market overlooking Florence offers local food, wine and crafts.

If you’re planning a holiday to Tuscany during Easter, we offer a wide variety of villas in Florence, Siena and throughout the region. To find out more, simply search our available villas or call us on (+44) 121 286 7782.

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Top 5 Family Activities in Tuscany

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Top 5 Family Activities in Tuscany

Poster by Dympna (06/03/2015)

Medieval towns, fine foods and wine-tasting are among the many pleasures to experience on a Tuscan holiday, but if you’re taking your children with you then you’ll want to mix in some family-friendly activities. We’ve rounded up five ideas that you will love just as much as your children to keep everyone happy.

Chocolate Factory
The Perugina Casa Del Cioccolato  is a famous chocolate factory in Perugia. Organise a visit to see where some of the tastiest Italian treats are made, including the famous love token the ‘Baci’, which is Italian for ‘kisses’. You can have a full tour of the factory, and guzzle a few free tasters before you leave. It’s also a perfect opportunity to pick up a few treats to enjoy back at your villa, or take home with you – if you can resist them long enough!

Water Parks
Tuscany has a few waterparks that you can choose from, depending in which region you’re staying in. Livorno and Grosseto both have large aqua parks called ‘Acqua Village’ nearby that are open June-September, or there are smaller choices depending on which region you visit. If your children are dedicated water lovers, you could look into Tuscan villa rentals that include a private or shared pool so they can keep the fun going while you relax.

Pistoia Zoo (Giardino Zoologico di Pistoia)
From big cats to little lizards, there’s a lot to see and learn about the 600 animals that live at Pistoia Zoo. You can get up close and personal with some of the friendlier critters in the organised interactive exhibits which, along with the adventure play areas and face painting, will all add up to an exhausting day out for your little ones.

Ice Cream
If you have a sweet tooth, you really can’t visit Tuscany without trying the delicious ice cream on offer. Have a go at making your own ice cream with one of the various shops and factories around Tuscany - we recommend Antica Delizia. If you don’t fancy having a go yourself, at the very least you can all have a taste.

Palazzo Veccio Family Museum
Book a guided tour of this museum in Florence to experience what life was like for the Medici family in a fun, interactive way that your children will love. Along with learning a lot about Italian Renaissance history, you will get to play dress-up (yes, adults too!) hear stories and engage in craft activities. There are attractions for every age, so everyone will find something that they’ll enjoy.

At the end of every adventurous day, you’ll need a relaxing space that feels like home to go to. Consider renting one of our Tuscan villas as the base for your perfect family holiday.
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