(Photos from this trip are located here)
The great success of our first Tuscan Retreat in June 2022 led to a repeat of the experience in May 2023. I was so happy to be able to offer this opportunity, not only to be able to do it again but also because a few of the expected participants for the 2022 trip had to unexpectedly drop out of that trip at the last minute for various personal reasons. Luckily, we were ultimately able to make it happen for everyone during this May 2023 trip. The May 2023 trip was an exact duplicate of the June 2022 trip with some minor tweaks to address the different season and expected variation in weather. It included a full week staying in one place – the same beautiful villa just outside the charming town of Lucca, in Tuscany. Staying in one place for the full week continues to be an anomaly format for Europe Your Own Way since we usually do a lot of travelling from place to place. The benefits of staying in one place were again obvious – unpacking just one time and the feeling of being “home” every evening after our excursions, to name just a couple. We continue to offer those trips that take us from place to place and cover lots of ground. However, based on the success of this format (both in 2022 and in 2023), we will definitely be offering more of these extended villa stays – in Tuscany but also, potentially in other locations as well! As always, stay tuned for additions to the calendar!
Overview of the week: Seven fun-filled days at the villa with excursions pre-arranged for each day for those interested in participating: Pisa/Lucca, Siena, Cinque Terre, San Gimignano (with a cooking class held at a beautiful winery/vineyard), the Chianti region, and of course, Florence. We also had the luxury of a chef on-site at the villa, who served up some amazing meals (and flawlessly handled all of the dietary constraints we threw at her)! And once again, our own personal on-site yoga instructor for those interested in starting or ending the day with some stretches and mindfulness.
Pisa/Lucca: This was the perfect day to do an excursion a bit closer to “home” as we were a little tired from the travel. Our visit to Pisa was short but allowed enough time for those interested to climb up that famous tower. We also made sure to take a few of the classic cheesy tourist pictures of us holding up the Leaning Tower. Next stop included free time for lunch in Lucca and a guided walking tour that unlocked the history of the town for us. A great way to start our week!
Siena: This beautiful, medieval town in the Tuscany region is famous for its shell-shaped main piazza and the traditional horse races (“Palio”) around that piazza. We were not there for Palio set up this year which has its pro and cons. It was definitely unique and exciting to be there in June while the town was gearing up for the Big Event. However, it was also nice this year to be able to see the city without sand filling the piazza and scaffolding/bleachers blocking the beautiful architecture. Once again, our private guide gave us a fantastic walking tour of the city and explained the subtleties of the unique Palio event!
Cinque Terre: These are the 5 famous seaside towns on the Ligurian coast, known as the Italian Riviera. We ended up with the perfect weather for our exploration into the national park for the most famous section of the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) hikes – Monterosso to Vernazza. The path was not incredibly crowded and with the very pleasant temperatures, we actually did the hike in record time for a group I’ve brought through – only 1.5 hours start to finish!! Bravo team! That even includes the time we took along the way to stop and enjoy/photograph the breathtaking views! You can check out the hike, virtually, here.
Cooking Class and San Gimignano: For today’s excursion I organized cooking class expertly run by our very personable chef, Dante. The class took place at a family run vineyard which has grown enormously to the point of beautifully handling many simultaneous cooking classes but still providing the feeling of a cozy private session. Dante taught us the basics of Tuscan cooking and pasta-making, which was much simpler than one would have expected. Our efforts resulted in our delicious lunch along with a generous pairing/ tasting of the winery’s award-winning wines! From there, we were dropped off in San Gimignano where we spent a few hours of free time exploring the narrow, hilly walled town and, of course, gelato tasting.
Florence: Capital of Tuscany, and justifiably one of the most visited cities in Italy. We spent a full day in this gorgeous city, with our time spent how we chose. We had free time to explore, shop, and eat. Many of us also joined our fantastic guide for a lively and very informative private walking tour, including a visit to the Accademia Gallery, famous for housing Michelangelo’s original statue of David.
Chianti region exploration: What would a visit to Tuscany be without experiencing the olive oils and wines of the Chianti region?! This excursion was such a great finale to our week in Tuscany. We started at an estate that produces amazing olive oil – it really has the tastiest flavor and they do such a fantastic job of incorporating the olive oil into the least expected products, such as chocolate and hazelnut spreads, body lotions, and soaps! Our midday visit included a tour and tasting at an organic farm that produces the most wonderful balsamic vinegars and amazing wines, and pairs them with the most delicious local specialties. And we ended the day at a private estate for some wine tasting along with a sampling of local specialty finger-foods.
This was such a fun trip, once again, with another amazing group that has now also become part of my travel-family! If it sounds like something you would enjoy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Based on the success of this trip, we will most likely repeat it in the future – in Tuscany and/or possibly another region of Italy.
And if there’s a different route you’d like to try, anywhere in Italy, France and/or Switzerland (or beyond), I would be happy to come up with a custom itinerary! Please make sure to check out some of the images from this trip in the website photo gallery!