Day 4: Continuing from the previous post , the second part of our trip took us to a villa in a very (I’m talking less than 350 people) small town of Donnini in Tuscany. We stayed at the Villa Pitiana for three nights while touring the region.
At 9:30AM, our driver met us in the lobby of the Marcella Royal to take us back to the Rome airport, where we picked up our rental car, some type of Inifinty – I have no memory of the type 😉 This took about an hour total from arrival to actually leaving the airport. This was much easier than renting the car from downtown Rome – that would be pure insanity!
A quick note; my amazing husband has now driven in France and Italy. It really is not very different from driving in the states. The road signs are not the exact same as ours, but I think anyone reading this is intelligent enough to get the general gist of what they want you to do 😉 Something to be aware of though is that instead of having cops parked on the highway to catch speeding, they have speed cameras. We rented a GPS through Auto Europe and ours told us when speed traps were coming up – pretty sweet! Also, toll roads are all over Europe. Keep cash handy.
On our way to Tuscany, Dave found this itty bitty medieval town to stop in for lunch…in the pouring rain. Anguillara Sabazia, a speck of a town on Lake Bracciano, where we barely got by on our Italian-English…and by Italian-English, I mean mostly hand gestures and repeating ourselves in hopes that what we were saying would get through #tourists 😉
So we had a quick lunch and saw some cute dogs, then hopped back in the car…oh I should mention we spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out if we needed to pay for parking or not. We decided it was free on Sundays. Then spent the remainder of our drive mostly in rain, with a stop at the Italian rest stop (Europe has the best reststops…I haven’t been proven wrong on that theory yet in my travels!), we saw really ominous clouds and upon arrival at our villa discovered there had been a tornado not even 30 miles from us – crazy! Poor Italy is suffering from odd natural events – tornados, earthquakes, oh my!
First, I must address this adorable old villa! A week or so before the trip began, I got a phone call from my partner at Europe Express telling me that we’d be the only ones at the villa during our stay and that they were closing for the season once we departed. I was appreciative of the forethought #ThingsExpediaWouldNeverDo and it
made me both anxious and excited – I knew it could be the time of our lives or the worst part of our trip, hah. Fortunately it was the former! We were in heaven – the grounds are absolutely gorgeous, even in late season when they aren’t maintaining it as much as the summer when their pool is open. They were so kind and generous to us! We were able to pick from the top two suites, with our newlyweds in the honeymoon suite (which was hugeee) and we were next door in
another very large suite with the most beautiful terrace overlooking the valley. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it! My only complaints were in decor…don’t roll your eyes yet 😉 Overall it’s a well taken care of property, but showing signs of wear and tear and maybe that’s something that would be touched up before they open next season. I’m talking about mirrors that need replaced (I’m assuming they were original and someone needs to restore them?) and paint touch ups. It’s a lot of original furniture and artwork, thankfully though modern and spacious bathrooms! #allthepraisehands
It’d be a beautiful spot for a destination wedding and we can confirm the food is wonderful. We were absolutely spoiled at dinner. We chose to dine there every evening since we knew how tired we’d be after touring each day. Our first night, they had a four course dinner for us including a plate of cured meats and cheese, fresh bread, their own olive oil, fresh ravioli with spinach, ricotta and a sage butter sauce, pork tenderloin with potatoes and homemade biscotti. Every day they ensured Dave had a gluten friendly pasta – but I must mention this *he had no issues while in Italy*. We brought pasta home for our gluten intolerent youngest daughter, Maddie, and she had no stomach problems post-digestion either! Hooray! Now to find Italian pasta on Amazon Prime 😉
Day 5: We were up and out the door, thankfully with sunny skies, to meet our guide in Siena by 10AM. Something to note, both Kristine and I relied on Dramamine to get through sitting in the backseat on the windy Tuscan roads. We were fine on highways, but when you’re coming and going into the hilltowns – oof. Pack some! We met Federica in Siena to begin our walking tour highlighting the areas worth noting and the story behind the Palio di Siena – the famous horse race! I had actually never heard of it…shame on me, but now I want to go back in July or August when it occurs to see it firsthand. HCTClient bonus: Our guide has the hook up on convenient apartments. Of course, we spent a chunk of our time in the Duomo di Siena – holy moly, favorite church on our tour of churches. You should know, if you haven’t traveled to Europe, that you’ll spend a lot of time touring churches – it’s a huge part of their history and they are usually stunning. I loved the stripes – I even asked a friend who had been years prior if she remembered the Duomo in Siena and she said, “YES! The stripes!” It was spectacular! I cannot stop gushing about how much I adored Siena. It was everything I imagined the Tuscan hilltowns to be – charming, warm, quaint, walkable, cute shops, friendly people, great food …#perfection I said this on Facebook and it’s worth repeating, I will never send you to Tuscany, without a stop in Siena! We ate in Piazza de Campo at the place on the far right side if you’re looking at the shops 😉 Then we headed to San Gimigiano, another hilltop medieval Tuscan town worth seeing. You can park right outside of the old medieval wall and walk in to all these adorable shops and restaurants. You could tell we were coming at the end of tourist season, as quite a few shops weren’t open that day. The views before entering through the old wall were spectacular! Post-San Gimigiano we headed back for antoher delicious dinner at our villa. Bonus was that we had beef that night – the guys were thrilled and I thought it was amazing, which is saying a lot for this once-a-vegeterian-not-really-a-beef-eater.
Day 6: Firenze! I was really looking forward to seeing Florence firsthand after hearing how much my friends and clients have loved this town. Based on my “crowd sourcing” I was always assumed that I’d dislike Venice and fall hard for Florence. Well, apparently I’m in the minority. But let’s back up and start from the top – we ran super late meeting our guide, Guilia, who is a friend of my amazing friend/guide in Istanbul, thanks to me giving the men the wrong train station address #whoops and construction around Florence. Guilia waited patiently for us and then started our tour by walking us from the train station to the Accademia to see the David statue. (I have to stop and point out that being late on a group tour would mean missing parts of it…another win for private guides!) She filled us in on Firenze’s history and background and we fortunately had very little crowds once inside. It’s actually a pretty small gallery and we had a few times where we could get a clear photograph of the David without anyone else in it! We did not go to the Uffizi because art galleries were not high on our list 😉 The bonus in Italy is that all the architecture is art – there is so much beauty around you. After lunch, we went to the Duomo annnddd I couldn’t love it as much as the one in Siena. It’s one of the most simply decorated churches I’ve seen in Europe but it does have this really fascinating clock at the back of it. I’m into clocks so I got a kick out of that – you never see clocks in churches (well churches this old). After walking along the Ponte Vecchio bridge and scoping out the jewelery shops, we said goodbye to Guilia and meandered around town heading for the San Lorenzo Markets! Kristine was on the hunt for a leather jacket, we made a few stops before finally landing on “Jimmys” …where we spent an hour being schmoozed at, the worst, luckily Kristine knew what she wanted, found what she wanted and we only walked out of there with one jacket. Although we than had our first encounter with an aggressive gypsy/street seller, which turned us all a little bit sour. Florence just didn’t make me go crazy like Siena or just like I thought it would. I said to Dave, Kristine and Brett a few times, but I want to give it another chance – I feel like I missed something! We made ourselves feel better by drinking prosecco, wine and beer and going to bed early because we had an early departure for Venice the next day.
I don’t want to end the blog post on that note, but I really did want to touch on the fact that I had super high expectations for Florence and really, really low expectations for Venice and reality was completely opposite – goes to show, different strokes for different folks 😉
Our time is Venice and the end of our trip coming soon…