For me the best vacations are those that include a little bit of history, culture and art, some adventure and a whole lot of relaxation. Tuscany is the ultimate location that fulfills my lofty set of vacation goals. Lingering through cobblestone streets of medieval hill towns, sipping Brunello in the courtyard of a stone fortress or sleeping in a villa dating back to the 1300's, how could you not fall in love in this enchanting place? While I could easily whip up a list of one hundred 'must see', 'have to stay' or 'gotta try' of Tuscany, I will try to widdle it down to my tippy top ten.
Florence is one of my favorite cities on earth. I must admit I was an art major in college, and am obsessed with the Italian Renaissance so my heart lies in the city of Florence. The art, architecture and culture of the city is unparalleled in my opinion. While you are in the city you must:
Sip a champagne cocktail at Gilli. Lying in the heart of the city in Piazza della Repubblica, you can sit outside and watch the world walk by. Or my favorite, stand inside at the marble bar among the Murano glass lamps, arched frescoed ceilings and take in the view as it was 200 years ago while the cultural elite wined and dined here.
Listen to the chanting monks of San Miniato al Monte. Situated at the highest point of Florence, this Romanesque basilica dates back to 1013. Have a seat in the interior, gaze at the mosaic of the Christ Between the Virgin and St. Minias from 1260, and listen to the haunting Gregorian chants of the Olivetans monks during evening prayer. It is an experience unlike anything you have heard before. Once outside blow through million clicks on your camera taking pics of the best view of the entire city.
Eat like a local. Situated next to The San Lorenzo outdoor market in a 16th century building Marios Trattoria is as authentic as is gets, no English menus here. Have a seat side by side with the locals and enjoy true homestyle Tuscan food. Tagliatelle de carciofi anyone?
Shop for cashmere at Laura Baroni. I once read that while in Florence one must shop for purple leather gloves, gold and cashmere. A list that is not hard to check off with a day of shopping in the city. The best source for Florentine cashmere by far is Laura Baroni. This little shop sits just over the Ponto Vecchio and houses the largest selection of styles and colors of cashmere scarves, wraps and throws in the tiniest of shops. This store is one my happy places, I could find it with my eyes closed at this point!
Drive from Florence through the Tuscan hills. Get just a small taste of driving through congested-medieval-cobblestone-one way-streets by renting a car on the outskirts of town. Just enough to be thrilling not frightening. Then spend the day calmly cruising through the gorgeous and spacious hills of Tuscany. Yes, they are as beautiful as you imagine.
While tooling through the Tuscan hillside you must:
Eat pecorino cheese in Pienza. The tiny town of Pienza is breathtaking all on its own, but its their famous pecorino cheese that really makes it a must see location. Made from the milk of the local pecora, this sheeps milk cheese can be found in every variety you can think of, truffled, chillied, aged or fresh. Order a hundred grams or so of the tastiest looking varieties and pair it with a local table wine and you have a perfect afternoon snack, Italian style!
Live like a local. Staying at an agriturismo is the best way to get a feel for the country life of the Tuscan hills. Agriturismo Terrapille is an ancient farm house just outside of the hill town of Pienza. The farm grows wheat, olives and grape vines. Owned by the Mangiavacci family, it is run by their daughter, the delightful Lucia. While renovating the farmhouse they built an arched window that perfectly frames the view of the entire town of Pienza, amazing! During the day enjoy the breathtaking views of herds of pecora wandering the grassy hillsides or the awe inspiring site of the hill town of Pienza unfolding in front of you. In the evening enjoy a family style Tuscan meal homemade by Lucia and the family.
Taste wines in the tower of the medieval fortress of Montalcino. Enoteca La Fortezza Di Montalcino is one of the most impressive wine shops in Tuscany with the most extensive collection of Brunellos in the region. Taste several amazing wines in the tower or just outside in the courtyard. Somehow all Italian reds taste even better in the shadow of a fortress tower.
Picnic at the base of Montalcino. Pick one of many cheese shops, meat shops, wine shops and piece together a true Italian picnic. Find the grassy spot at the base of Montelcino and enjoy your spoils. P.S. Don't forget the wine opener!
Stay in a 14th century villa. Locanda Dell Amorosa in Sinalunga is one of the most memorable stays of my life. Tucked away in the hills of Tuscany Amorosa dates back to the 1300s. The humble exterior is in large part the same as it was when it was a village in the 14th century. But don't let this fool you, Locanda Dell Amorosa is one of the most charming and beautiful hotels you will find. Sleep in the ancient villa and eat in the beautifully converted former stables. The restaurants delicious cuisine is inspired by seasonal local ingredients.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Guest Stylist - Trisha Schulte
Our lovely guest stylist, Trisha, is a true creative spirit and one of the few people I know that can transform an artistic vision into reality (you should see the DIY parties she has created… absolutely amazing). This girl has got an incredible eye for color and composition (which comes as no surprise considering her background in art history and years spent in retail fashion) and draws inspiration from art, architecture, travel and design. Today, Trisha takes us on a tour through her favorite spots in Tuscany, her go-to vacation destination whenever she’s craving a culture fix. She’s covered all the bases – the food, the shopping, the scenery, and of course the vino. Everything you need for a fabulous Italian holiday.