Include select family and friends as you create memories to last a lifetime. From this home base, you can explore seductive parts of the magnificent countryside.
If you’re looking for vineyards as far as the eye can see, one-of-a-kind culinary stores, gastronomic nirvana, and of course a unique blend of art and architecture, Italy is for you. Home Base
The biggest challenge arriving at Torre di Vignale, a refurbished fort in a suburb of Arezzo, is the road leading to the house. Paved at first, then turning to loose stone and gravel, the driveway gets very steep and windy. Thank goodness for rental cars – gassing your own vehicle Andretti-style up the incline every day would have been too much! But the top of the hill gives way to the circa-14th century military tower, which has been carefully restored and transformed into a grand and comfortable villa. There are indoor-outdoor living areas to congregate; most notably, the outdoor terrace offers glorious 180-degree views of the rolling Tuscan countryside.
Because the initial drive out of Florence was a little vexing, we were all in need of a drink … and that’s the beauty of renting a Tuscan villa. Each evening, the standard modus operandi is to catch up, swap stories about the day’s activities and drink wine – fabulous, diverse and plentiful Italian wine! Possible day trips from this central location are endless: Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Rome, Assisi and more. You can also travel from Tuscany to the Umbria and Emilia Romagna regions with ease.
In the capital of Tuscany, you can get lost in the romance and history for months. From the fashion forward inhabitants, to the historically significant art, it’s easy to awaken your senses to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Most importantly: visit Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, on display at the Galleria Accademia. Purchase tickets online, however, to avoid the crowds and lines. The Duomo, one of the main cathedrals in Florence and a globally-recognized example of Renaissance architecture, can be seen in the city center from many vantage points. The piazza outside is a natural gathering point and a great place to take in the hustle and bustle of the city. Giotto’s Tower is adjacent to the Duomo, and offers magnificent 360-degree views of Florence and the surrounding area. Be sure you’re ready for the 414-step climb.
This small medieval town is perched on a hill in the region of Umbria and is the birthplace of St. Francis. Attending mass at Assisi’s most famous cathedral is magical as you connect to the spirits of the millions who have prayed here since the 1200’s. Although the entire service is in Latin, it is easy to follow the Catholic traditions. St. Francis’s tomb is located in the lower sanctuary and is an after mass must-see. Assisi’s medieval houses and shops offer hours of entertainment. In front of the Cathedral, Via San Rufino takes you to the center of town where Bar Trovellesi offers the perfect Sunday afternoon respite. Enjoy the Lion fountains as you have an Italian coffee. This is also a great time to pick up some ceramics, handmade in Umbria.
One of the true hidden gems of Italy, the Cinque Terre, was mostly unreachable until the 1980’s when a train was installed to connect five cliffside fishing villages. It’s still a challenge to get there; there are only two, small highways allowing access to the narrow, cliff-hugging road that winds along the steep, rocky coast. Because of this limited approach, these villages have been virtually frozen in time. Like sister villages in better- known Amalfi, the buildings are meticulously engineered into the seaside mountains. We arrived in Riomaggiore – the southernmost village of the five – and took the train to the northernmost village,
Monterosso al Mare. From there, visitors hike along the cliffside coastline to get up close and personal with the vines and terraces of this World Heritage Site, sometimes hiking right through grape growers’ backyards. The views of crystal clear water, passing boats, vertical cliffs, small creeks and enchanting beaches makes this one of the most scenic walks in the world.
The Tuscan wine country, with winding roads, terraced hills and cypress-lined roads have some of the most memorable vistas in the world, and Motelpuciano seems to sprout strait out of the landscape to touch the clouds. Distance makes it a surreal spot, almost like a movie set. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it was chosen as a location for “New Moon,” the Twilight saga’s recent Hollywood blockbuster. “You are here” signs indicate where specific scenes were shot. Settling into the arch-covered terrace at Caffe Poliziano and enjoy breathtaking vistas, we enjoy a 2006 Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and the region’s Pici pasta. This wine is made from a lineage of grapes famous since the 15th century. As you explore the village, picturesque arched walkways beckon the past, and lead to product specific shops offering free wine tastings, olive oil and cured meats like Sotterraneo. The meats and breads picked up here are ideal for sharing picnic-style upon our later return to the villa.
Pienza is historically noteworthy because it was rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (1405) of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, a Renaissance humanist who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Construction started about 1459, and he consecrated the Duomo in 1462. Pienza is culturally noteworthy because the entire village smells like cheese! Centered in a dairy wonderland, local farmers and cheese- artisans bring their produce to market, much to the pleasure of locals and tourists alike.
Continuing the quest
to sample the Tuscan region’s best wine, visiting the hill-topped village of Montalcino
is a must. The ancient road to this village was once a principal road between Florence, Rome and France. Wine has been made here for millennia, and records of commercial wine production date back to the 1400 ́s. Olive groves and vineyards surround the area, which can be seen from the top of the village’s town square.
La Fortezza- the14th century defense castle is fairy tale quality. Inside, a fabulous little Vinotec, or wine shop, offers up tastings and tickets to climb the fortress.
MAMA MIA MAKES A PASTA!
As part of the AgriTourism trend, some villa owners offer to cook traditional Italian dinners for visiting groups. There is no better way to experience authentic Tuscan culture than to help roll out mounds
of fresh pasta. Or bask in the setting sunlight while it illuminates burnished gold walls and fresh garden flowers in glass water pitchers, while “mama” serves up bruschetta and house made wine. Served in five parts, true Italian meals offer meat, vegetables and pasta, and often finish with a flat plum or apricot pastry. Villa-style vacationing means the roll from the dinner table to the bed is never far!
By Laurette Veres