- AUTUMN IN TUSCANY -
Everywhere you turn, you fall in love.
Italy is a place that romances all of your senses. For this season’s adventure, we traveled along the Tuscan hills to the Ligurian coast. What makes Italy so special is its exquisite land, attention to taste, electrifying fashion scene, and praises to beauty that comes from within.
Follow my adventure below and discover Siena, Florence, Chianti, Cinque Terre, and a few other gems in between.
First, Tuscany is a province where the most famous places are such as Milan, Florence, and Siena. It is a place that fills your heart, where you can experience the fine ingredients in your food, that will impress you with the color and attractive architecture, and where the wine, gelato and cheese reveal its history. In Italy, you can celebrate life and come up with new ideas. During my time, I found a passionate love for travel and art, and I couldn’t wait to get back to creating!
Second, what you should know when you travel to Italy:
- If you’re taking your own path (no bus tours) - go for the automatic transmission car. Yes, it’s going to be pricier, but definitely safer. Driving in Italy is just like the film, The Italian Job, and if you want to experience the coast to Tuscan hills, then you need to be ready for winding highways and death cliffs along narrow roads.
- Prepare to pay $$$ for tolls, but don't worry - they do take credit cards too!
- Money in Italy is the Euro (€).
- A few key words to help you along the way:
Grazie = Thank you
Prego = You're welcome or Please (you might hear this as you enter, as a welcome)
Arrivederci = Goodbye
Toilette = Restroom
Buongiorno = Good morning
Buona Sera = Good evening
Bellisima = Beautiful
Delizioso = Delicious (I said this at every meal!)
Ciao = Hello or Goodbye
You probably knew these already, but I figured it never hurts to share :).
- Weather (For the places below): The weather is subtropical
- Eating in Italy is a win-win! Not only do you savor every bite, but you don’t feel bogged down. The food there is fresh, light, and worth every bite!
- MONTECANTINI -
Montecatini is a welcoming town with lots of community, and it is home to live music and fashion. We stayed at Hotel San Marco ($60+ / night), which is a historic landmark. We also noticed this town was central to all of the places we visited in Tuscany.
Right next to Parco delle Terme, this hotel was centrally located within Montecatini. It offered free parking, had excellent service and a free breakfast every morning. The staff were exceptionally helpful and extremely welcoming throughout our stay there. There was a large porch outside the lobby, where every night, hotel guests would relax and unwind over a bottle of vino.
Walk the town, people watch in the town square, snap photos, give smiles, go for a run, or bike ride in the park and enjoy the fresh air. This is a quaint town of 20,000 residents, which feels like a home away from home. Friends are brunching, people are sharing cheek to cheek kisses, couples are seen walking hand in hand, and of course, the young and in love can be found kissing on the park benches.
We found this delicious and affordable restaurant called Pizzeria Trattoria Il Vilcolo. We dined their two nights in a row! As for a daily European snack, it’s Gelato all the way! Just pick any spot along the main row, and you’ll be happy.
- FLORENCE -
Florence is the City of Art, and the city that lives filled with Renaissance buildings. In this romantic city, you’ll see hand-holding, people spilling on the streets outside their cafes, and sports fans cheering on their favorite football (soccer) team.
Walking the streets of Florence is fantastico! However, the drive to Florence and inside the town is quite congested. We were not happy drivers – more stressed out, really, but the passengers in the street and the vespas dashing by keep you on your toes.
Grab a pizza (but eat with a fork and knife), a bottle of wine, a side insalata, and finish it all off with what we considered our best of bite: Calzone dolci (a calzone filled with mascarpone / Nutella). We thoroughly enjoyed this dining experience at Oinos.
Make your way to the town square by taking walks down quiet alleyways, where you’ll find remnants of street art or graffiti. People spill out onto the streets cheering, laughing, and having conversations in Italian.
During our time in Florence we went looking for contemporary art and innovative design, which is why we visited the Gucci Museo (€5 admission). Get a glimpse into the life of Guccio Gucci in his contemporary three story cave, surrounded by white walls and floor to ceiling exhibitions of his designs from handbags, scarves, and even Oscar dresses! No photos are allowed, but the images are instilled in your mind forever. You’re literally standing next to dresses worn by by Jessica Chastain, Blake Lively, and the like. The dresses are an incredible being of art. You finish your ‘go at your own’ pace tour by visiting the Gucci store, which has a collective of coffee tables books from art, fashion, food, illustrations, and more.
Here’s what we saw in real life. What we did get to photograph was Gucci’s car!
I walked into a flower shop, where a lovely senora was preparing arrangements. I said to her, "How do you say beautiful?" She replied, "Bellisima." I gave a smile and turned away only to hear, “Mademoiselle?” As I turned around to see her, she was smiling and holding a freshly clipped white rose towards me. Grazie, grazie!
- SIENA -
On our visit to Siena, we drove 45 minutes past the city to the Abbey of San Galgano. This 13-Century Gothic Style roofless monastery was home to Saint Galgano. According to legend, "he led a dissolute life dedicated to pleasure and entertainment until he converted to Christianity. To symbolize his abandonment of his life as a knight, Galgano plunged his sword into a stone."
Surrounded by vineyards and a sunflower garden, this historic masterpiece was a perfect stop for the early morning. (€2 admission)
From there, we grabbed lunch at what I would call one of the most exquisite places on earth and had “the Borgo experience.” It’s called the Relais Borgo San Pietro, a five-star award winning hotel.
The owner / creator said he wanted to create a boutique hotel that was born out of the passion and desire to create and share a unique yet welcoming place where nature meets luxury. The grounds come with tennis courts, a vegetable farm, a painting club, a Treehouse Bar, an infinity pool that overlooks the Tuscan hills, peacocks that roam the grounds, endless rows of flowers, fountains, sculptures, ponds, and (I kid you not) an in-ground trampoline.
We had a light lunch at the Treehouse Bar, which was accompanied by the warmth of the Tuscan sun.
We finished the evening in Siena at Piazza del Campo, the city’s symbolic and physical heart. “It is one of the biggest medieval squares in the world and has an unmistakable peculiar shell-shape.” Alleyways were lined with traditional to luxurious shops, cafes, art galleries, restaurants, and more. Through the Piazza, you are welcomed by the majestic view of the Cathedral of Siena (designed by architect, Giovanni di Agostino), which houses a series of some of the most important monuments of the European artistic panorama.
Our favorite spot of the evening was a little hole in the wall meat and cheese shop called Antica Pizzicheria Chigiana. Order an appertivo (which is perfect for two). No photography allowed inside. It’s standing room only, so you can stand over a quaint table inside or on the barrels on the sidewalk just outside the shop.
- CHIANTI -
The Autumn Harvest begins. Chianti, known for its viticulture (wine culture), stretches between Florence and Siena. This countryside region is decorated with terracotta-roofed towns, hillside vineyards, winding roads, and castles to family owned wineries.
Make your way up to the Barone Ricasoli (medieval castle). Along the winding roads, you are surrounded by foresty hills, horses grazing, and climbing pebble roads. Don’t forget your tripod! The first stones date back to the Middle Ages.
ABOUT THE CASTLE:
“The castle is surrounded by 230 hectares of vineyards, forming part of the farm’s lands, making it the largest in the Chianti Classico area: 1,200 hectares in the communes of Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga – valleys, hills, woods of oak and chestnut trees, 26 hectares of olive groves, all enjoying the beauty and the wide variety of soils and climate in this central Chianti area. The nearby avant-garde cellars are where we undertake the same pursuit of excellence today that drove Bettino Ricasoli to invent the Chianti formula in 1872.”
As a visitor of the Castle (€5 admission), you can make your way to the wine shop at the bottom of the hill. The staff is unbelievably friendly and wonderful! Our gal, Melanie, spoke 4 languages, had a background in art, and studied in Florence. She then discovered art through wine. By the end, I believe I made a new friend in Italy!
Here are other wineries to visit. Best to call ahead and book an appointment for a tour and tasting.
50022 Greve in Chianti
Bargino 50026 San Casciano
Contemporary Art / Winery - Castello Di Ama
Località Ama, 53013 Gaiole In Chianti SI
From our arrival in Milan to our 3 hour drive to Montecatini, we decided to drive the coast. We fell in love with the Ligurian Sea Coast and the chic seaside towns, like Rapalla, Portofino, Santa Margherita, and the towns that make up Cinque Terre.
With its rugged coastal scenery, cosmopolitan wine bars, and intimate beaches, the Italian Riviera is said to be a place for poets and artists.
Enjoy the beautiful terra-cotta-roofed villas with colorful flowers and rows of palm trees. Simply take the SS1 from Genoa (a port city) to Portofino. Be safe as roads are narrow and windy, but there are SOS stops or driveways from homes resting on the cliffs. Stop and walk by foot in the romantic alleyways, which are pathways to the villas along the cliffs.
When in Portofino, go to the highest point at the Castello Brown, which overlooks the harbor. We did not make our way to the castle because we stopped along the cliffs to grab photos of these chic seaside towns.
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST:
We started our trip in Milan, drove along the Ligurian Coast and spent a few days in Northern Italy. On our next to last day, we defied our own fears and decided to drive the cliff-lined narrow dirt roads within the Cinque Terre region, which makes up 5 towns (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore).
My favorite find of the trip! This art wall along the highway. :)