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Giro d’Italia 2016: Your front-row view

Its glorious rolling hills and classic Tuscan charms have long made Chianti a hit with discerning travellers worldwide. And on Sunday 15 May 2016, they’ll have an added reason to visit – one of the most decisive stages of the 99th annual Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) will race through the region’s vineyards.

We’ve been tailor-making holidays to coincide with this Lycra-clad spectacle for as long as we’ve been in business. Each year we utilise our local contacts to ensure we can offer our guests the kind of front row experience they won’t get anywhere else – and 2016 is no exception.

This year we’re delighted to offer four very special properties, which, along with that authentic Italian holiday experience our guests have come to expect from us, will put you up close and personal with the elite athletes as they navigate the winding tracks of this luscious part of the country. Call us today to find out how the eager-to-please owners of these wonderful Tuscan hideaways are going the extra mile to ensure you witness this colourful display at its most intimate.

BEST PLACES TO STAY…

Cottage Malafrasca (Siena; sleeps 2)

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This beautiful barn conversion offers a beautiful spot to mix a little city bustle with a little country peace. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £500.

Antico Pastificio (Greve; sleeps 2)

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An oasis of calm for couples, this former pasta factory sits snugly in the centre of a bustling little Tuscan town. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £470.

Apartment Torre 1 (Castellina; sleeps 4)

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A ruined 16th-century farmstead, imaginatively and sympathetically given new life for small families. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £680.

Casa Angelica (Tavarnelle Val di Pesa; sleeps 4)

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This character apartment full of historic touches, just 25km from Florence, is the perfect base for exploration. Stay for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis for £470.

Call Daniela today to discover which of our Giro d’Italia properties is the perfect choice for you.

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Choose your own adventure: holidays with date flexibility in mind

Changeover days have become so synonymous with both package and tailor-made breaks that travellers are used to having to arrange their precious holidays around the calendars of the providers.

We know that sometimes you need a little more flexibility in your schedule, whether it’s a midweek arrival to coincide with a special occasion or time off work, tweaking your start and end dates to ensure you get the very best flight deals, or squeezing an extra few days out of your weeklong stay. That’s why we’ve been busy negotiating with owners to bring you a unique collection of properties that give you just that bit more room for manoeuvre.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ARRIVAL DAY AT…

Cottage Romino (Chianti; sleeps 3)

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15th-century cottage located within a family-run vineyard estate in the Tuscan countryside. Prices range between £580 and £870 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

Cottage Talluria (Chianti; sleeps 5)

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The perfect family base, this rustic retreat lies a short drive from the lovely hilltop village of Castellina. Prices range between £690 and £970 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

Apartment Torre 2 (Chianti; sleeps 4)

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This ruined 16th-century farmstead has been lovingly restored to its characterful present condition in the Chianti slopes. Prices range between £680 and £1,050 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

San Rocco 21 (Lombardy; sleeps 4)

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This former Franciscan monastery perches hilltop, overlooking the beautiful blue waters of Lake Garda. Prices range between £490 and £740 for seven nights on an ‘accommodation only’ basis.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN DURATION AT…

Villa Passione (Tuscany; sleeps 6)

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Stretch out your week with a 9-night stay at this classically beautiful villa from 25 August, at just £2,970.

Villa Maddalena (Lazio; sleeps 9)

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Can’t stretch to a fortnight? Enjoy a 13-night break from 28 August at this luxurious country villa for £4,950.

Cottage Talluria (Lazio; sleeps 5)

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An 11-night stay at this family Chianti cottage comes in at just £1,527 from 23 July.

As always, our goal is to create an authentic Italian experience that matches your exacting needs. Call Daniela today for more information on any of the above holidays or a personal recommendation.

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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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Films set in Italy: Tea with Mussolini

The film, Tea With Mussolini, was released in 1999 and opens in Florence in the mid-1930s. It is a semi-autobiographical story about a young boy, Luca, who grows up surrounded by a group of cultured British expatriate ladies, who go for tea every afternoon.

The film follows the lives of several characters, including Luca, Elsa, a rich Jewish-American woman from the USA, and several English women. As the decade draws on and it looks certain that Italy will join forces with Nazi Germany, one of the women has tea with Mussolini himself, who assures her that the expat community will remain safe.

The Piazza Cisterna in San Gimignano, where many of the film's scenes were shot.

The Piazza Cisterna in San Gimignano, where many of the film’s scenes were shot.

However, the remainder of the film depicts a story of deception, lies and struggle, as the characters try to overcome the problems related to being from ‘the enemy’ in a period of war. Much of the drama is set in the beautiful Tuscan town of San Gimignano, where the characters are holed up in wartime Italy.

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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.

Capanno di Riorsoli

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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Lasagne Fiorentine

Lasagne is one of Italy’s most famous dishes and retains a huge popularity around the globe, with people using the traditional recipe all the way through to cooking vegetarian alternatives with spinach. The dish has its origins in the Tuscan city of Florence and the traditional recipe, as always, is among the best.

To make the dish, you first need to boil some water with a little salt and olive oil added to it, and gently place around 7 or 8 sheets of pasta in it, leaving them to boil for 3 minutes. Remove the sheets of pasta and place them onto a tablecloth where they can dry out a little before you place them in the oven dish. Place one or two sheets (enough to cover the bottom) in the oven dish before layering a spoonful of ragu, made from mince, and half a spoonful of béchamel sauce on top.

Once this has been done, add another layer of pasta before repeating the process with the ragu and béchamel. This process can be repeated until all of the pasta has been used up, or the oven dish cannot hold any more food! Ensure that there is a layer of pasta on the top and then generously sprinkle grated cheese, such as parmesan on top. (Parmesan can be added to each layer if you are not on a diet).

The lasagne is now ready to go in the oven. Pre-heat the oven and then place the oven dish in for around 35-40 minutes. The last five minutes of cooking can be done in the grill. Once ready, serve with salad.

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Italian Books: The Decameron

Written in the period of time directly after Italy had been ravaged by the plague of the Black Death, Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece of storytelling, The Decameron, follows 10 people who have escaped to a villa outside Florence to try to avoid infection.

Illustration from a ca. 1492 edition of Il Decameron published in Venice

Illustration from a ca. 1492 edition of Il Decameron published in Venice

In the garden of the villa they have escaped to, the 10 people, 7 women and 3 men, decide to tell stories to pass the time. They decide that each person has to tell one story a day over a period of 10 days, meaning that the book is split into a grand total of 100 sub-stories, and a certain theme is picked by the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of that day. The themes vary from adventures that end happily to losing something before regaining it.

Miniature by Taddeo Crivelli in a manuscript of c. 1467 from Ferrara

Miniature by Taddeo Crivelli in a manuscript of c. 1467 from Ferrara

The book has lasted the ages and can often be split into passages. Even though it is certainly a long read, at 909 pages, millions of readers throughout the ages have been delighted with its stories.

A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.

A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.

 

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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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