It’s time again to embark on our favorite part of this little travel business— planning our next trip to Tuscany to scout new villas, new activities, new restaurants and new adventures, and of course to visit some old favorites.
As our friends, families and clients know, we take the personal touch aspect of our business very seriously. We pride ourselves on getting to know the properties that we represent as well as we can. We visit them, we get to know the families that own them, explore the surrounding areas and, where possible, we stay in the villas. This level of attention requires regular travel to Italy, which is just fine with us.
It’s fun to reminisce about our first visit to Tuscany as Tuscan Travel Group. Both Brandy and I had been to the area before and in fact had each spent some significant time in Florence earlier in our lives. But this first business trip in the Spring of 2013 was no leisurely vacation. It was a dizzying speed-lap through Tuscany, as we tried to pack as much as we could into a week’s trip. I’m not sure we slept at the same place two nights in a row, and we both have only fuzzy, confused memories of our last morning, when we were diverted by bus to Bologna because the Florence airport was closed.
We learned some valuable lessons on that first trip. For one thing, consider flying into the more reliable Bologna airport instead of Florence, especially if it’s not summer and the weather is questionable. Also, pack light. We bring less than we think we need, and if we really get tired of wearing the same sweater over and over, we trade sweaters- voila! A new sweater. We also learned how important it is to start a business with someone with whom you have a solid and easy friendship. We are very lucky in that respect.
On that first trip we only toured 6 properties. You’ve got to start somewhere! But as it turns out, on that trip we saw some of our favorite places, including Casa di Lusso and Casa Storica where we’ve since sent many happy clients. In the peaceful countryside right outside of Florence we visited Casa dell’Arte (pictured), with its beautiful house and cooking studio. We also met with our now very dear friend Paola, who owns Casa Agnese, Casa del Mare and some great apartments in Florence. A year and a half later, when my family and I relocated to Florence for our 3-month stay, Paola made clear that she’d be there whenever I needed her, like family. She represents all that is beautiful in Italian culture. I truly treasure that friendship.
Toward the end of that first trip we also made our way to our smallest, most romantic villa, Casa Piccolina (pictured), located near Sansepolcro in eastern Tuscany. We happened to arrive on March 8th, Festa Della Donna (International Women’s Day), and we enjoyed a very special lunch with the lovely villa owner and her friend— just 4 women who happened to be in the same place at the same time, getting to know each other and toasting the delicious serendipity of life.
OK, I got a little sappy there. You get the idea— it was a great trip. About 6 months later, we returned to scout a few more properties. This time we brought along our husbands, and the trip was a little longer and a little less rushed. This time it was Fall and we stumbled right into harvest season in Southern Tuscany. Here’s the blog post we wrote about wine-tasting in the area- Harvest Time.
The valley in Southern Tuscany known as Val d’Orcia is exceptional in so many ways. First of all, it’s a little more off-the-beaten path than Florence, Siena and the Chianti region. Also, the hills and valleys seem more dramatic to me, higher and lower. The tiny hilltop towns seem dangerously perched. On that trip we visited Pienza, Montepulciano and Montalcino. On a later trip we visited Cortona, where Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed. This is seriously breathtaking country.
On that October 2013 trip we stayed the first few days at the elegant hotel spa Castello di Velona outside of Montalcino, which is a little slice of paradise. I’ll never forget the leisurely afternoon we spent in the pool watching the sunset reflect off the river that snakes through the hilly terrain. We also got some work done. We visited and secured for our portfolio Casa di Viti Rossi, Casa Azzurra, Casa di Loggia and the very grand Casa dei Giardini, among others.
We were blown away by the chic luxury of the remote La Bandita (pictured). As a B&B this is not our usual type of property, but it is incredibly special and we couldn’t pass it up.
Eventually the husbands had to return to reality, and Brandy and I relocated to Lucca. There is something different about this walled city. We explored on bikes and fell squarely under its spell. We met the lovely Luisa, who manages two spectacular properties in the area, Casa Bella Vista and Casa Palazzo. Through the years I’ve struggled to explain the draw of this town in Western Tuscany, almost all the way out to the beach. There’s just something about Lucca. I tried to describe its charms in this blog post I wrote after spending a weekend there with my daughters a couple of years ago- Lucca by Candlelight. We were all enchanted.
From there we made our way out to the swanky beach town Forte dei Marmi, where our friend Paola has a beautiful little house (Casa del Mare), and her friend has an elegant, larger house (Casa di Marmo). We spent only one night in the area on that trip, but that was enough to understand. Despite the grey autumn skies and occasional showers, we walked for hours, from beach club to beach club and along the marble sidewalks lined with upscale shops and restaurants. I would later return during August with my family to witness the bustling joy of tourist season— mostly Italian tourists escaping the heat of the inland cities. But even on that first trip during the off season, we loved everything about Forte dei Marmi. (Photo credits by My Travel in Tuscany)
The next time Tuscan Travel Group sent a representative to Italy, it was Fall of 2014 and time for my family to embark on our 3-month stay in Florence. I’ve written extensively about that experience— 10 blog posts in 12 weeks, beginning with this one about our side trip to Forte dei Marmi in late August- Back to School, Italian Style. Now that our business was a little more established and we were happy with the size and makeup of our portfolio of properties, it was time to focus more on restaurants and activities around Tuscany. Brandy came to visit that November to help in this endeavor. We found our preferred Florence tour guide, our favorite restaurant in the hills of Chianti, our favorite cooking classes, a spectacular wine festival, the best shopping, some great day trips and much much more.
The next year, in Fall of 2015, my family and I returned for an all-too-brief visit and saw a couple of great properties, including our newest addition Casa Carina in Southern Tuscany. But mostly it was a trip down memory lane, when my kids got to reconnect with their school friends from the previous year. On our last night in Florence, we went out to dinner at the same restaurant that was the locale of our goodbye dinner the year before, with the same group of friends. It was so amazing to be back amongst that beautiful group, reminiscing about a time that meant so much to me and to the kids. There’s no doubt that Florence and all of its beauty, history and in particular its people, will be forever in our hearts.
Now here we are, Brandy and I planning and preparing for our next trip to take place in October of 2016. We have a small handful of new properties to visit, a winery to check out, a tour company to meet with, but mostly some dear friends to see. We’re coming home.