Tuscan Hill Towns
Our journey continues through the breathtaking region of Chianti Classico, with stops at the area’s most famous wineries and food artisans. We’ll tour and taste at one of the best wineries, meet a master butcher/philosopher and stop at a local pecorino cheese maker. We’ll stroll through beautiful Italian formal gardens and discuss the Italian concept of dominating nature. If you love hand-painted ceramics, we’ll add a stop at one of the best ceramic studios.
Or, if fabulous gold jewelry tempts you, we may visit a famous European jewelry designer who painstakingly makes his patented 18k gold treasures by hand. And lest we forget, there will certainly be time for exploring a medieval fortress village with incredible panoramic views! Possible towns to visit: Greve, Montefioralle, Panzano in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Monteriggioni, Impruneta, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Certaldo, and many more!
Lucca, Pisa and the surrounding area
Ah, Lucca: a dream city filled with saints, romance, far-sighted ruling women, and playful architecture. A day in Lucca is spent capturing the essence of this happy place by walking or renting bikes to amble around its fully intact Renaissance walls, study the remnants of the city’s silk empire in its Romanesque facades, and taste some local dishes that can’t be found anywhere else. We may also visit the area’s most exquisite formal gardens, once owned by Napoleon’s sister, Elisa. These gardens are a magical succession of different “garden rooms,” such as the lemon trees, the theater, the grotto, the swan pool, the waterfall, etc. An afternoon spent here is the perfect accompaniment to a morning in Lucca.
More day trips around Lucca:
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
This may be combined with a half day in Lucca. The tower is once again open and can be climbed (reservations are required). You will be astounded at the amount of souvenirs on sale below the tower, but don’t let this distract you from the beautiful church and acoustically perfect baptistry,
Villas and Gardens in the Lucchese Countryside
The countryside around Lucca specializes in beautiful gardens. Each villa has its own approach to the layout of gardens, grottoes, outdoor theaters, parterre fountains and exotic flora. Spend a day immersed in this idyllic world; it is a great way to get ideas if you are planning a garden of your own.
The mountainous regions above Lucca
Explore the Garfagnana and Lunigiana region’s mountains, grottoes, crafts and delicious food by using Lucca as your base for a 2- to 4-day adventure. The Garfagnana and Lunigiana areas have breathtaking green mountains and darling towns. These “undiscovered” places are great for those who want to see a part of Italy that is more “off the beaten path.” There are plenty of local crafts, great restaurants and interesting places to keep us busy!
Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni
In these noble towns of soaring towers we’ll relive hair-raising sagas and pompous pageantry while walking on narrow back streets and tasting great local food (you really must try the wild boar sausage and the almond “ricciarelli” cookies). In Siena we’ll learn about medieval banking dynasties, the horse race known as “il Palio,” and the tales and triumphs of St. Catherine. San Gimignano, famous for its many towers, still holds a fascination for it incredible vistas and fresco paintings. Monteriggioni, a picturesque medieval fortress built in 1204 by the Sienese as a lookout post against the Florence, makes a great stop on the way to Siena.
Pietrasanta’s marble carvers and quarries
This unforgettable day will forever change how you look at white marble. We’ll start with a breathtaking drive up into the marble quarries of Carrara and see the techniques for extracting marble from the mountain. Then we’ll move on to the workshops below in Pietrasanta where artisans have been carving for generations. We’ll meet some of these talented people and learn about their work. Lunch in a home style trattoria where you’ll rub elbows with locals who crowd in for the delicious fare.
Pienza, Montepulciano and Southeastern Tuscany
Pienza is a quaint medieval village with a central renaissance face-lift. Pope Pius II ordered the renovations, hoping to elevate his birthplace to become a model of renaissance urban planning. The picturesque central piazza remains unchanged as one of the best examples of its era. You’ll ponder its innovativeness as you sample local cheeses in one of the many cheese shops. Montalcino and Montepulciano are well noted for their world—famous wines—Brunello of Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Days in this region can be filled with wonderful wine, pecorino cheese, historic palaces, ancient churches, and beautiful villages.
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 many high-end shops. 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!