By Stacy Williams
What is it about
the Italian lifestyle that is so enticing to us busy Americans? We've all seen the luscious landscapes of the Tuscan countryside
in photos. And we've tasted (and grown accustomed to an extremely Westernized version of) the flavors that comprise the Italian
Recently, I had a chance to enjoy an Italian cottage-style vacation and experience Tuscany in its natural beauty
in a lovely villa on a hill. Waking up to the sunrise over the neighbors' vineyards made me feel like a character in a Frances
Firstly, I recommend visiting Tuscany during
late spring or early summer. Some of my favorite images of Italy in sunny weather feature brightly colored clotheslines blowing
in the wind and cumulous clouds blanketing the hills in whale-like shadows. And the flowers. My goodness, the flowers.
Once you've arranged the dates of your trip, you've got to find a place
to stay. For numerous reasons, I would suggest renting a villa, cottage, farmhouse or apartment for the duration of your stay.
It is wonderful to have your own bathroom and kitchen. You can save money from dining out every night by preparing your own
meals and drinking (cheap and delicious) wine around a table. (Yes, just like we believe all Italians do.) For more information
about this sort of housing, visit vrbo or slowtravel.
Il Poggiolo, pictured left, is owned and operated
by Sara Matthews-Griecos and her family. Located near Montevarchi, and only a few hours from Florence and Siena, this villa
is ideal for day-tripping and sabbaticals. Each hill town and a unique history and different products to offer.
Montepulciano is known for its wine, Vino Nobile, which is considered
to be some of Italy's best Chianti. So, of course, there are free wine tastings (called vino enoteca) in little shops
throughout this village. Just as it began to rain, my mother and I made it to the top of Pazzalo Communale, which is located
in the grand piazza at the top of the hill. It makes for a stunning view of the countryside. We left Montepulciano with two
bottles of wine and a very good bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and all were definitely worth the trip.
Our visit to Arezzo was my favorite, and was further enhanced by lovely weather and a monthly
Antique Market. The tiny stone alleys in the town centre were crammed with jewelry, paintings and furniture. It was a fantastic
mix of old and new art, as Arezzo is home to many Italian artists. We also witnessed a modern Italian wedding in the Cathedral
of San Donatus. Amidst hundreds of visor-clad, backpack toting tourists was a beautiful bride with a long white train and
her husband-to-be at the altar. I'm not sure anyone would have noticed the ceremony had it not been for the hauntingly poignant
melodies that echoed through the domes of the church as the couple was being blessed. I also highly recommend eating at Vasari
Loggio, which is located in the heart of Piazza Grande. The presentation, service and food were exquisite.
|Chianti region from Montepulciano
|Every piece has a story at the Arezzo Antique Market
|Cottage-style garden at Il Poggiolo
There are plenty of other towns in the Umbria region that warrant
a visit, but Castiglione del Lago is a must-stop. From the central gates of the Piazza Grande, the views of Lago Tresimeno are breathtaking. We tasted a selection of fresh meats and cheeses for our dinner menu at several different
trattorias (family-owned shop). After tasting some authentic Italian Grappa, we decided on a truffle-themed meal (pecorino infused with black truffles and a white and black truffle
sausage). As we made our way down the hillside, there was a colorful gathering in a field near the water. In fact, we had
stumbled upon Castiglione del Lago's annual "Color the Skies" festival, in which folks get together to fly kites
and take trips in hot air balloons. Accidentally discovering these types of local events can turn out to be the most memorable
scenes of a trip.
I wouldn't call myself an expert, but
I have a few years of international travel experience under my belt. And the following advice came in handy in Tuscany and
can be applied to any itinerary.
- Start your day early.
After you've overcome any severe jetlag, you'll want to make the most of your day. Beginning your day early allows you to
beat the crowds and pack more sights into each hour.
the WC, toilette or restroom at every chance you get. Finding a public restroom in a small foreign town is usually a challenge,
and rarely free.
- Pack clothes for all sorts of
weather. In Europe especially, it is common to experience strong winds, rain and warm sunshine in the same afternoon during
- Do not panic if transportation is late.
Different cultures have different concepts of time. Take in the scenery, enjoy the people-watching and eventually you will
get to where you're going.
- Try to go inside every church you come across. You never know what you may
Stacy Williams, our hospitality editor, is based in Washington, D.C.,where she provides us with her viewpoint on
the lifestyles, art and cuisine that she encounters. Visit her ongoing blog, stacy's morning coffee, for more east coasts destinations, DIY projects, recipes and more.