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An insider's view of Tuscany

Raymond Lamothe Facebook



Firenze - Siena: all of 85 kms (52 miles) and the Chianti Classico in between.

I often receive messages from guests who ask to have a villa "within easy access" to Florence or to Siena. The last person I wrote to is Effie, so I want to thank her for bringing up the topic.

Tuscany is one of the best known of Italian holiday destinations and has been on everyone's favorites list for many many years now. I think one of the most important things for travellers to consider is size and distance. Most guests write stating that they want to be close to Florence or to Siena without realizing that the entire Chianti Classico region between Siena and Florence is connected by a highway that is 85 kms long, which is around 52 US miles, so being closer to one or to the other of these cities makes very little difference.

This means that it takes one hour from the outskirts of one city to those of the other. The Superstrada that connects the two major historical cities of Tuscany also has a series of really comfortable exits that will allow you to go visit the heartland of the Chianti Classico Region. Sometimes I speak with guests who are totally amazed by how small the Region really is. And when they go visit the Brunello di Montalcino area and see that it is half the size of the Chianti Classico, they are totally dumbstruck.

The region is dedicated to two major crops: grapes and olives. And you see this in all the expressions of the countryside, with soft hills laid out with symmetrical rows of vineyards, and nicely spaced olive trees in carefully planted groves. And near them are the farmhouses, villas, and complexes where you can spend your holidays, sipping the local wines and enjoying a natural holiday.

Winemaking is a lot of work and takes dedication and a lot of faith in nature and its quirks. This year, for example, the rain ended late and the summer heat exploded over the space of a week's time with the result of an explosive vegetative growth of the vines, and all the workers are bending the long branches back and treating the leaves against mold and mildew. At the same time, the olive trees had just started to flower and the heat wave has damaged a lot of areas, not allowing a good pollination of the olives. This means reduced amounts of oil in certain hotter areas.

Back to distances: I always ask guests when they plan on coming and if they have children with them. The reason is that if you come in the low and midseason months, from March to May and from September to November, you can go visit the cities without overbearing crowds pushing you around, and it is a wonderful period to drive around and also to visit the small towns that have made Tuscany so famous. Some historical site or another is just around the next corner waiting to be discovered. I find that children also like this time of the year as they don't suffer the heat of summer as much and there are always things for them to do.

Summertime instead, can be very crowded and the main cities run noisy with busloads of tourists and all kinds of people queuing up to get into one museum or art gallery or another. This is not fun for children to have to deal with. My suggestion to those of you who are forced to come in the full summer months, is to plan to visit a city or a museum in the course of the morning, and then take the kids back to your holiday Villa and let them relax and play in the swimming pool in the afternoon. When the heat goes down in the evening, a pleasant stroll in one of the local towns looking for artisan icecream can be a real treat. This makes it bearable both for you and for them.

With older kids, then you can extend your day trips further. I would choose an accomodation in the heart of the Chianti Classico region. That way you have access to the cities of Siena, Florence and San Gimignano that all merit a visit, and also to the little quaint towns of the Chianti such as Castellina in Chianti, Radda, Gaiole, Greve and Castelnuovo Berardenga, which are the heart of the Chianti Classico wine region. Any of these towns are fine and a house some 4 or 5 kms outside of town would be perfect.

Another choice you may want to make is whether you want to be totally independent (which means that you arrive and are handed over the keys to a private villa with its pool by the owner or the caretaker and you see them again on the following saturday), or in a shared residential complex where other families will be present and you can meet other people and your kids can mingle with other kids and find something to amuse them. I say this because we have a lot of parents of young kids who come back to us after a holiday and say that they wished they had chosen a place with other kids so that their own would have been busy playing with them instead of bugging the parents.

Let me close by saying that Pisa, Lucca and the seaside are all within day trips from the Chianti Classico region: many people don't realize that Italy from top to bottom is shorter than the state of California and that distances here are much less significant than what people normally face, for example, commuting back and forth to work in the US.


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