Discovering Our Villa Rentals, A Journey Through Tuscany
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, 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.
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.
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. 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.
From there we made our way out to the swanky beach town Forte dei Marmi, where our friend Paola has a beautiful little house called Casa del Mare. 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.
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. 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.
In Fall of 2015, my family and I returned for an all-too-brief visit and saw a couple of great properties, including 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.