I hope everyone is having a great summer. It's been nice up here in Idaho and I am getting ready to head back for my be-weekly visit to Phoenix - I cannot wait to be back in those 110º + temps!!!
This month's blog is dedicated to our upcoming Italy 2009 trip to Tuscany and Umbria. This will be our 8th tour and I am really looking forward to our first Fall excursion through this absolutely magical place. Over the years we have had some great trips and each year we fine tune things and the trip gets better each year. This is a great way for first time travelers whether to Europe or Italy to really experience the lifestyle, culture and country settings that you would never see on a canned tour. First of all I limit the travelers from between 8 - 12 people, you have your own car, and you stay in beautiful country homes overlooking the Tuscan/Umbrian countryside while enjoying local vintage wines and cusine.
Our trip begins on Wednesday, September 30th whereby we will depart Phoenix and fly to Florence, Italy. We land in Florence on Thursday morning, October 1st, whereby we will check into the Hotel Brunelleschi (http://www.hotelbrunelleschi.it/) for two nights in the heart of Firenze. This hotel is fantastic and is just a few steps from the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, and the Ponte Vecchio. After settling in Thursday morning and getting past the jet lag we are free to tour all that this Renaissance gem has to offer. The David at the Academia, The Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Santa Croce Basillica where Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, are all entombed just to name a few. Friday evening we travel up the hills above Florence to dine at the Villa San Michele (http://www.villasanmichele.com/web/ovil/villa_san_michele.jsp). The former monastery, whose facade was designed by Michelangelo overlooks the entire Arno River valley and all of Florence. This dinner is always one of the high points of the trip.
Saturday, October 3rd we grab our cars at the Florence airport and we make our way south of Florence on the Autostrada to the Umbrian countryside and our country houses in the Niccone River Valley. These homes are a real treat and although our guests get a bit spoiled staying in the 4 star hotel in Florence, the quiet, solitude, fresh air, and country tempo make this a real experience for first time travelers to the country. These homes are rustic, and very authentic. Three homes make up this retreat sitting high above the valley floor overlooking castles, farms, and wooded hills on 155 acres. The grounds feature a stunning negative edge pool and beautiful gardens and terraces for relaxing and enjoying a quiet respite from the busy agenda we tackle each day. Our in house chef Melchiorre has a wonderful dinner cooking when we arrive and it is a great way to transition from the hustle and bustle of Florence to the tranquility and hospitality of the country.
Sunday, October 4th we drive to the Villa di Piazanno (http://www.villadipiazzano.com/) for brunch on the terrace. This is one of my favorite places to visit. When we came 10 years ago they had just opened after purchasing the estate and it has been remarkable to see the changes over the last decade. The operators are very friendly and always accommodating to my groups. Their food is fantastic and the scenery here is most memorable. We then venture on to the historic town of Arezzo, Italy and the monthly antique fair and marketplace. We wrap the day with dinner in Cortona, Italy - site of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. .
Monday, October 5th we start the day with a trip to Cama Deruta for the pottery factory tour, lunch in Deruta, Italy and then we make our way to Assisi, home of St. Francis to tour the church and town wrapping with a fabulous dinner in Assisi.
Tuesday, October 6th is the Wine Tour with my good friend Pino. He always puts on a great tour for us and gets us into some amazing cellars. This is an all day excursion and we meet him early in the morning whereby he rents a van/bus for us so its sipping wine and napping as we wind our way through some of the most picturesque countryside you could ever imagine. During the day we stop in Pienza, Italy for a great lunch followed by a trip to a fabulous olive oil and cheese shop to pick up our wedges of pecorino cheese. Montalcino, Montepulciano, are all stops on this fabulous day. We finish the day with a seven course, family style meal at Mimmi's. This is always voted best meal of the trip in terms of taste!
Wednesday, October 7th starts with a trip to the Farmer's Market in Umbertide, Italy. This is a great market that moves from town to town in the region during the week. We stock up on supplies and farm fresh ingredients for our cooking class and dinner later that evening. During the day we head to Lacole' for our search of architectural antiques and doors. The tour at Lacole' is broken up with a great lunch in one of the small country houses near Citta di Castello, Italy. We make our way back to the country houses in the afternoon to be greeted by Melchiorre and our in-house cooking class. From home made pasta, to salads to main courses cooked over the open flame of the Living Room fireplace this is always a wonderful and relaxing evening.
Thursday, October 8th will be our trip to Siena, Italy. This is probably my favorite town. This rival of Florence sits atop a beautiful hill and has a unique atmosphere all its own. The duomo is amazing and always a definite stop but as with every trip after a busy day of walking and shopping the winding streets we all finally convene at the beautiful Piazza del Campo, the town square. The square is famous for hosting the Palio horse race each year. This is a wonderful space to just sit with a glass of wine, a little antipasto or a gelato (which by the way is amazing in Italy) and just watch life go by. It's always hard to pick yourself up and leave this space - no cars and you get a sense of what life may have been like here hundreds of years ago.
Friday, October 9th, we will say goodbye to the country houses and make our drive to Roma. Last trip we stopped in Orvieto, Italy and that was a good move. The town and Duomo are amazing. Have a little lunch do a little shopping and site seeing then it is on to Rome. We drop the cars off at the Rome airport and then transfer to the Hotel Forum (http://www.hotelforumrome.com/) which yes, is right next to the forum with fabulous views of the ruins. This is a great small boutique hotel with a nice bar and lounge and close proximity to all the action Rome has to offer. We generally grab a late dinner and find our way to the Piazza Navona or the Campo de' Fiori. Both great people watching spaces for the late night crowd.
Saturday, October 10th, is a free day in Rome. We start the day with breakfast on the Hotel Forum rooftop restaurant overlooking all of Rome. What a great way to start the day. Fresh Italian coffee a little croissant and off we go. The Vatican, Colliseum, Pantheon, shopping, food, etc.....it's all good. We generally have a nightcap on the hotel rooftop bar and get ready for the long journey back to Phoenix on Sunday, October 11th.
So that's the trip - its a great trip full of many memories. If any of you past travelers read this blog I encourage you to post some comments for those that are considering the trip this year. We basically have 2 spots left so I encourage you to contact us as soon as possible for information. We plan to close the trip and book our flights on July 31st so time is running out. This is a great way to travel whereby you really have nothing to do but purchase your spot and have your passports ready. It will be a fantastic time of year to see this wonderful place. CALL NOW 602-604-2001 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Please join me!