Category Archives: Visit Italy

Off Tuscany’s Beaten Track

P1010328Tuscany can often be perceived as a busy region especially in the summer months with tourists flocking to the major sights and towns such as Florence, Siena and San Gimignano.  But what about those that want to get away from the crowds and see a totally different part of this great region?  One idea might be to experience L’Eroica.  This is a permanent, signposted route 200km in length which crosses some of the best landscape Tuscany has to offer.  The route forms a ‘figure of eight’, stretching from Gaiole in Chianti in the north to Montalcino at the southern tip with approximately half being ‘white’ (unmade) road, common in this part of the world.

The route takes in some of Tuscany’s unique and amazing scenery – in the north you are in the Chianti Classico region sculptured by its abundance of vineyards and olive groves.  It then skirts around Siena and continues to the rolling countryside of southern Tuscany onwards to the delightful hilltop town of Montalcino at the most southerly tip.  The eastern route takes in the unique Crete Senesi (craters of Siena) which in the dryness of summer and autumn is like possibly being on the moon.  En route you will pass delightful villages and hamlets which really are off the beaten track.

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Each year there is an official race on L’Eroica when in early October 5000 cyclists on pre-1987 bicycles take this tough course on with an option to do the Complete 200km or three shorter distances.  It is a celebration of everything that is great about cycling and a great spectacle to witness.

But why not experience this route for yourself at another time of year?  Even if it’s just for a few kilometres it is well worth doing just to get away from the tourist crowds.  Bikes can be hired in all the major towns on the route and it is possible to download the official ‘road book’ for just EUR2 from here. Motorcyclists can also follow the route which is ideal for adventure bikes with the entire route being achievable in one day if you have limited time (note: sports bikes might have difficulty in places!).

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Visit Chianti: Stay at Casa Conca d’Oro

Chianti, famous for its wine, is a beautiful area of Tuscany to discover, and the lovely town of Panzano is a great example of why this is the case. The town is perched on the top of a hill, giving it wonderful panoramic views of the valley and the town of Greve below.

It is in Panzano that the Casa Conca d’Oro can be found, a beautiful apartment which offers some of the wonderful views that Panzano boasts. It is the perfect place for a small family, or two couples, looking for a relaxing break, with two double-bedded bedrooms, one of which is en suite. There is another shower room and toilet, ensuring it is a very comfortable apartment for all guests.

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When you visit Chianti, if you would like to try your hand at cooking the Tuscan cuisine, there is a small kitchen equipped with essentials such as hobs, an oven and a fridge. The sitting room/dining area is open plan and can be warmed in the winter months by the wonderful open fireplace that the apartment offers. The owner even provides free firewood.

The lovely outside shaded garden area of the Casa Conca d’Oro is the ideal place to relax and watch the world go by, and guests are invited to try the barbecue, for which you can find meat at the famous local ‘butcher of Panzano’, who sings and offers customers a glass of wine as they purchase their meat.

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In the town itself, there are plenty of different activities and local shops to discover. The centre of Panzano is just a short walk away from the apartment, offering you the chance to leave the car behind and enjoy an evening in one of the many restaurants that the town has to offer. Panzano has every kind of shop you might require, but in case you feel more adventurous, the bigger cities of Siena and Florence are nearby and more or less equidistant.

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Visit Tuscany: The Florence Baptistery Doors

Florence is one of the world’s great artistic cities, boasting numerous beautiful pieces of art; whether in the form of architecture, such as the Ponte Vecchia, or artworks such as Michelangelo’s David. Another architectural piece can be added to this list: the Baptistery Doors.

The three doors of the Florence Baptistery, located opposite the Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo, have become a famous entity in themselves. The first set of doors, designed by Andrea Pisano in 1330 and 6 years in the making, are made from bronze, with each of the 14 panels on each side being delightfully gilded. This was an incredible piece of work, given that the use of bronze was by no means commonplace and had not been perfected at this time.

The second set of doors were built some seventy years later, when the young Lorenzo Ghiberti won a competition and was commissioned to create them. He took his time over finishing them, with a twenty-year gap between the time he started and when the project was complete. The door is similar in style to Andrea Pisano’s, with 28 panels.

The final set of the three was again entrusted to Lorenzo Ghiberti, after he had impressed with the first door he created. The ‘Doors of Paradise’ form the north entrance to the building and are different to the others, as they are comprised of just 10 panels, telling stories from the Old Testament. The final door was even praised by the great Michelangelo, and is known as Ghiberti’s pièce de resistance. The doors have been renovated, but still stand today.

 

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Visit Florence: Stay at Capanno di Riorsoli

If you are looking for a holiday which combines beautiful countryside, peace and the possibility of seeing some of the most beautiful historic towns in the world, then we would recommend you visit Florence and stay at Capanno di Riorsoli.

A renovated Tuscan barn, built over two floors, Capanno di Riorsoli is the perfect place for either a winter or summer retreat. In winter, the open fireplace keeps the living room warm and cosy, whilst in the summer months, the swimming pool is open and the perfect place to keep cool. The accommodation comes with two bedrooms, one double on the ground floor which also has direct access to the garden outside, and a twin room on the lower level, meaning that it is ideal for either two couples or a small family.

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The aforementioned living room is also located downstairs and is open plan and spacious, doubling up as a dining area. A short trip down four stairs will take you to the kitchen, which is equipped with a small oven, four hobs and a fridge freezer. In addition to the twin room on the lower level, there is another shower room. A major attraction is the garden space that the Capanno boasts, where you can try your hand at cooking Italian cuisine on the barbecue.

Away from the barn, the location could not be better for discovering the beautiful region of Tuscany. It is just 35 kilometres away from the famous city of Florence, with its beautiful architecture and art museums, and a similar distance from the medieval town of Siena. Closer to home, the town of Gambassi Terme provides all shopping essentials and the slightly larger and more famous neighbour, San Gimignano, also provides an interesting day trip. The focus of the region and the barn is peace and relaxation, the perfect mix for taking a break from day-to-day life.

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Visit Tuscany: Stay in Antico Pastificio

For those who want to visit Tuscany to experience the real history of Italy, what could be better than spending time where pasta is created? The Antico Pastificio is precisely this, as an old pasta-making factory which has now been converted into a series of beautiful apartments. It is located in the centre of the bustling town of Greve, in Chianti, and an apartment can be used as a base to discover both a fascinating hilltop town and the beautiful surrounding area.

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A typical apartment in the building has a double bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen with hobs and a fridge, and an open plan living and dining area. The factory has been well converted, as the apartments make use of the old plan, to create space in the rooms with their high ceilings. Apartments also come with satellite television to give the option of having a quiet evening in.

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The owners are friendly and go out of their way to ensure that guests have the most comfortable stay possible, with quiet rooms and games rooms in the building in addition to the swimming pool which is located in the beautifully kept garden. Guests are invited to relax on the hammocks and make use of the outside dining area, barbecue and pizza oven. Every week, there is a pizza night, where guests can enjoy one of the most typical Italian delicacies, and, for food lovers, there is a guide on where the best cookery classes can be found in the local area.

Antico Pastificio’s location allows easy access to the town and its bars and restaurants. The Chianti region is, of course, famous for its magnificent wine, and there are several different tour options available to those who are partial to a glass or two. Greve itself offers fantastic views of the valley below and the Tuscan countryside.

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The Carnival of Venice 2014

Each year, the Carnival of Venice attracts over 3 million visitors. Have you ever thought about visiting it yourself? Maybe you are worried that it will be too expensive? From Cottages to Castles, we would like you to think about it one more time!

There is no extra charge to be in Venice for the Carnival (although accommodation can be more expensive and gets booked up fast!). Tickets for some of the most exclusive parties start from 500€, but you don’t need to splash all the cash to be able to enjoy the glamour of the Carnival. Many of the most fascinating events are free, and we would suggest staying in one of the many villas and cottages available in the surrounded areas and reachable by train in around an hour. It will be cost-effective and less stressful, as you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of the party AND some peace and quiet so you can sleep at night!

We recommend that, each day, you visit and linger around St Mark’s Square, where the most amazing costumes can be seen every year. The Volo dell’Angelo, one of the most well-known events, takes place on February 23rd. This year, organisers are hoping to bring some of the crowds away from St Mark’s and into the Arsenale. While not everybody has been happy about this change in tradition, we believe the Arsenale can also set a breathtakingly spectacular scene for some of the events scheduled for the next few days, which will surely deserve to be part of your to-see list.

Last but not least, do not forget to get your own mask! The Carnival is more fun when you are also taking part. While traditionally Venetians have preferred the plain white masks (called volto) you can get your own mask and go as extravagant and dramatic as you wish. Browse what’s on offer at some of the traditional mascarei of the city, hide your face and enjoy the Carnival of Venice 2014!

Read more in the official website!

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Visit Tuscany: Stay at Cottage il Gelso

When dreaming about the perfect summer holiday, what could be more appealing than some peace and quiet in a Tuscan valley with nothing but the wonderful view, a good book and a glass of wine to worry about? This dream becomes reality at Cottage il Gelso, a semi-detached cottage located in the heart of Tuscany with views of the infamous rolling hills and the gem of a town, San Gimignano, in the background.

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The cottage is an ideal romantic getaway, appearing to have been built with peace and privacy in mind. The garden has a covered eating area, which allows you to while away the warm afternoon hours with a long lunch as you stare out at the Tuscan countryside. If you prefer to be a little more active then there is a swimming pool just across the road, where you can cool off and catch some rays.

Cottage il Gelso is secure; you have to go through electric gates before parking your car off-road. Inside is just a lovely as outside, with a sitting room area which doubles up as a dining room. There is a kitchen area in the corner which is equipped with hobs, an oven, a fridge and a washing machine. Further into the cottage there is a double bedroom which is air conditioned and comes with insect screens for those hot summer evenings.

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As mentioned, San Gimignano is, at 2 kilometres, a short distance away and is the perfect place to discover and eat a delicious meal in the evening. The town is a lovely walled medieval city and is one of UNESCO’s world heritage site and is certainly worth the short trip. The closest airport is in Pisa, which is another alternative for a day trip from this wonderful Tuscan cottage. Last but not least, when you visit Tuscany, don’t forget to make time into your schedule for day trips to Siena and Florence, if possible!

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Visit Tuscany: Stay in Villa Panorama

When considering where to go on holiday, one of the most common requirements is somewhere relaxing. We feel that for those who, when they visit Tuscany, look for peace and quiet during their free time, the Villa Panorama is the ideal place. There is still plenty to do in the area, such as visiting the beautiful medieval city of Siena and Tuscany’s cultural and artistic centre, Florence, yet even the villa itself is a work of art.

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Situated in the perfect location to enjoy miles and miles of unspoilt views of the stunning surrounding landscape, the villa is home to a swimming pool, from which the views can also be appreciated. In addition to the pool, children are invited to enjoy the slide and roundabout which can be found on the property. For afternoon and evening meals, there is a barbecue, and the villa is ideal for outside dining, with a table and chairs placed on the lovingly kept lawn.

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Spacious and light inside, the villa remains cool in the summer months, and can be enjoyed by up to eight guests in total. For added comfort, all of the bedrooms are situated upstairs in the property, leaving the downstairs area, with its large living room, dining room, well-equipped kitchen and bathroom available for all. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, two of which come with en suite bathrooms, and one more bathroom. Further entertainment can be found inside, in the form of a table tennis table, a satellite television and a card table.

For days when you are feeling more adventurous, there is plenty to do when you visit Tuscany, including visits to the aforementioned towns of Siena and Florence. Away from the towns and in keeping with the tranquility of the villa, the local area has beautiful countryside, including mountains and a spa, including thermal waters.

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Italy’s best beaches

Known for its beautiful, warm seas, Italy is surrounded by water and thus a highly popular beach holiday destination, as both locals and tourists enjoy the best that the country has to offer. In this article, we rate a few of Italy’s best beaches to help you choose a destination for your next beach holiday.

Forte dei Marmi:
Located on the West coast of Italy, on the ‘Tuscan Riviera’, Forte dei Marmi has mile after mile of sand with an unspoilt view of the Mediterranean, which stretches as far as the eye can see.

Amalfi Coast:
Pollica beach in Salerno was voted the third best beach that only Italians know about in 2013, and it is not difficult to see why. The beach boasts beautiful white sand and clear blue water. The backdrop to the beach is equally stunning, as it is surrounded by a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Vallo di Diano national park.

Image: Pioppi in the Amalfi Coast

Image: Pioppi in the Amalfi Coast

Lido:
Venice may be more famous for its canals than its beaches, but just a short water bus ride from the main island is the Lido. The Lido is a bar of sand in the Adriatic Sea which stretches for seven miles and is a firm favourite with the locals, who have named it the ‘Island of Gold’ after the colour of the sand.

Sicily:
The beaches in Sicily resemble something from the Caribbean, with their white sand and warm, turquoise water. San Vito is one such beach. It has the beautiful Mount Cofano in the background, and was even used in the filming of Ocean’s Twelve.

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Visit Le Marche: Stay at Casa Patrizia

Located near a small village close to the East coast of Italy, you may feel as though you have your own private piece of paradise at the Casa Patrizia, especially when you see the wonderful, unspoilt view of the Aso Valley from the garden. The Casa is kept to the highest standard by its owner, Patrizia, and allows you to enjoy peace in a beautiful surrounding when you visit Le Marche.

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Another major attraction of the accommodation is the swimming pool, which at 11 x 5.5 metres allows plenty of room for keen swimmers to cool off during the long, warm summer days. For the more active holidaymaker, mountain bikes are also available on the property, and are an excellent way to discover the surrounding mountains, or even the Adriatic Sea, which is only 10 kilometres away from Casa Patrizia.

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On the inside, the house does not disappoint, with space for up to 9 guests, making it perfect for groups or extended families, and stretches for two storeys. The ground floor is home to a spacious living area, a well-equipped kitchen and one of the bedrooms, with room for two guests. There is also a shower. Upstairs, there are 4 more bedrooms in total, one en suite double room, two others with double beds, and a single room, alongside another shower. The furnishings are modern and well kept.

As previously mentioned, the house is 10 kilometres away from the coast, so the golden sandy beaches are a must-visit during a stay here. The coastal towns offer some beautiful fresh seafood for food lovers to enjoy. There are also several immaculately preserved medieval villages to enjoy, and if we have one piece of advice, it would be to rent a car, which allows guests the chance to enjoy driving around the beautiful countryside and hidden spots using the Casa Patrizia as a base.

 

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