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Kids of All Ages

Kids from 5 to 85 love to step into history and discover old fortresses, visit cheese makers, find antiques, and explore Etruscan tombs. You will love to hear the real stories—and gossip—of famous Renaissance personages, including the venerable da Vinci himself. If simply contemplating Leonardo’s inventions isn’t hands-on enough for you, why not take a lesson with a master artisan in his studio and make something special to take home.

Arezzo and Cortona

These two towns, made famous by the film “Life is Beautiful” (Arezzo) and Frances Mayes’ “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Cortona), offer even more than their quaint images might suggest. Arezzo is a mecca for antiques and hosts a monthly antique market. It also boasts a 5-star Renaissance fresco, Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross, and  great high-end shopping.

Next we’ll wind our way up to Cortona where you will experience its dominating position over the valley, charming atmosphere and tasty trattorias which make it the perfect foil for Arezzo, its valley neighbor. The Etruscan museum in Cortona is a “must see,” as is the “melone” Etruscan excavation at the foot of Cortona. There are also some incredibly luxurious hotel/restaurants that will make you forget you came to this area for any reason but them!

Colle Val D’ Elsa and Volterra

A morning drive takes us to this charming hill town which surprisingly produces 95% of Italy’s crystal. We’ll see crystal blown by hand and made into delicate wine glasses, vases, and even animal sculptures (Great for kids!). Next, we’ll drive into the incredible landscape of Volterra, where treeless green hills make for spectacular photos. Stop at an organic cheese farm to taste the area’s best sheep’s milk cheese before climbing up into the hill town of Volterra, an ancient Etruscan stronghold now famous for its alabaster. We may see artisans at work, go into a wealthy 19th-Century merchant’s home, and dine in a restaurant where the “primi” will knock your socks off!

Vinci

The tiny town that was Leonardo’s birth place is the location of Museo Leonardiano which is packed with models of the inventions that he designed in his Codex Atlanticus notebooks. Kids of all ages will be fascinated by his flying machine, bicycle, diving gear, parachute, paddle boat, and device to walk on water. Also present are Leonardo’s famous military inventions: the armored tank, machine gun, and helicopter. How history would have been changed if he had an engine to put into them!

Ancient Etruscan Sites

The Etruscan people were the ancestors to modern-day Tuscans and learned their table manners long before the Romans. Their culture began to develop in the 9th Century B.C.E and flourished with walled cities, amazingly delicate gold jewelry, painted ceramics and bronze housewares. They traded heavily with the ancient Greeks and borrowed from their many religious and cultural ideas. These ancient Italians were famed even back then to be passionate about great food and wine, and great lovers too! We’d love to introduce you to some of their fascinating treasure, easily accessible in Florence (at the Archeological Museum), in Fiesole, in Cortona, and by visiting various Etruscan tombs excavated throughout Tuscany. One of the most fascinating and least discovered areas is Pitigliano, a town perched on a “tufo” mountain in southern Tuscany. Walk into beautifully carved Etruscan tombs (some not on tourist maps), learn about the local Jewish history and relax in a natural hot spring waterfall. Stay overnight and you will have time to hike the panoramic Etruscan footpaths called “Vie Cave.” This route makes a perfect stopover on your way to or from Florence or Rome.

Jewish History

Jews have been in Italy since the fall of the second temple in 70 CE. In 1200, their presence in Tuscany was confirmed by a letter written by Pope Innocent III, promising remission of all debts to Jewish moneylenders for anyone taking part in the crusades to the Holy Land. Jews found favor under the Medici rule and met adversity when Medici power declined. Adding some Jewish history to your tours can be done in Florence, home of one of the world’s most magnificent Jewish synagogues, in Siena, where the small but elegant shul dates from about 1750, and in Pitigliano, a starkly panoramic town in southern Tuscany which once had a large Jewish population and still produces kosher wine and Jewish-inspired baked goods.

Discovering the Renaissance

Dante, Cosimo De’ Medici, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Boccaccio, Galileo and many others lived in “our neighborhood.” Follow their sagas on a more personal level, see their homes, and hear the tales of intrigue that surround them. We will walk the routes the Medicis took to and from work, as well as understand the political statements they were trying to make in the artworks they commissioned. Even Shakespeare has some interesting ties to Tuscany—let us tell you all about it! You won’t believe “who slept here.” Would it be gossiping about our neighbors if we told you their stories and showed you their haunts?!

“Our day with Laura couldn’t have been more enchanting. Captivating a modern 12-year-old preteen in history and art can be a challenge. However, Laura kept my daughter and me interested and fascinated on our tour of Florence with her stories of the lives of Dominican monks, the death of martyred saints, the intrigues and politics of the Medici family in Renaissance Florence, and the grace and beauty of the Michelangelo scupltures in the Medici tombs. Laura’s voluminous knowledge of the history of Renaissance Florence was astonishing. As a result of our day with Laura, my daughter was so intrigued with the life of Michelangelo she promptly located a book on the life of the sculptor and has been reading it ever since. Thank you Laura for a wonderful and educational day!”

—MADELINE SCHNAPP, SEPASTAPOL, CALIFORNIA