Thursday, 15 August 2019

Tuscany, Europe's top budget tourist destination

Today, I'll be giving a positive answer to this question: Is Tuscany Europe's top budget tourist destination? As we all know, the dollar and, to an even greater extent, the pound have fallen in value against the euro for several years in a row. This no doubt helps US and UK exporters but it might be expected to be less than helpful to tourists visiting the euro zone, including Tuscany. The empirical evidence strongly suggests this is not the case, especially for visitors from America. How can that be?

Tuscany budget vacation destination
Tuscany - Europe's top budget tourist destination?
Your vacation costs are in essence the flight, your accommodation, your food and local transport.

Prices of flights to Europe have been decreasing steadily in real terms. (Comfort has also decreased, but that's another story.) The airlines are definitely stressed by this trend, but, in the meanwhile, tourists should take advantage of what's on offer.

What about accommodation? In Tuscany, uniquely in Europe, there has been a huge increase in the availability and quality of non-hotel vacation accommodation in the form of farmhouses (often incorrectly referred to as "villas"), farmhouse apartments, village apartments and Bed and Breakfast rooms. The increased competition due to the greater numbers of vacation rentals available together with much easier price comparison via the internet, plus the fact that agriturismi and similar rural and village vacation rentals are much less regulated than hotels, means that prices have decreased in real terms over the past ten years to the point where a couple can easily find a comfortable apartment for 65 euros per night or less. A family with children can easily find a stand-alone farmhouse with a swimming pool for under 100 euros per night. In addition, the old Saturday to Saturday minimum stay has long since vanished from owner-direct bookings and from a great many agency-mediated bookings as well. A three night minimum stay is now the rule rather than the exception. Many B&B's will let a room for a single night. The rural holiday homes are almost always beautifully-restored, traditional Tuscan structures furnished in Tuscan country style and with modern bathrooms. In Tuscany, families are reluctant to sell houses that have been in the family for generations and would rather renovate them and rent them out. Since Italy's rental laws are unreformed (meaning you can't boot someone out for not paying the rent), most Tuscans strongly prefer renting to tourists for a few months a year than risk renting to a local who might decide not to pay. This is all to the advantage of holiday-makers coming to Tuscany.

More about what to expect from your Tuscan vacation rental.

vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Tuscan country style furnishings in a Tuscan farmhouse vacation accommodation
How are food prices? There are two aspects to answering this question. First, restaurants and trattorias. During last year, I spoke to many Americans about restaurant prices which I remembered as being very inexpensive in the States. The responses were almost uniformly that it was too long since I'd been there. While quantity is always greater in the States, restaurant prices have gone up to the extent that eating out in Tuscany is now comparatively inexpensive. Competition and the structure of the Tuscan restaurant trade (mostly family run), has kept prices more or less constant in real terms for more than a decade.  I have discussed what it costs to eat out in Tuscany previously on this blog and my colleague Elena Spolaor provides current data on restaurant prices in Tuscany.

The second aspect regarding the price of food is related to Tuscan accommodation opportunities. If you rent a villa or an apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, you can prepare your own meals at home either from the abundant and inexpensive raw materials available everywhere in Tuscany or from the freshly cooked meat, vegetables and pasta available in supermarkets all over the Region. Buying a bottle of wine at a winery or in supermarket contributes to making eating at home inexpensive and enjoyable.

eating at home in Tuscany
Dining at your own accommodation in Tuscany
Lastly, the subject of local transport. There's no denying that renting a car provides the best way to see the many sights of interest in Tuscany. Nevertheless, it's possible to have an enjoyable holiday in Tuscany without a car by staying in or within walking distance of a town or village served by trains or buses. For intercity travel, the new high speed trains, Frecciarossa and Italo, are preferable to many, including me, over a car. By booking in advance, you can make substantial savings and make high speed train travel not only convenient but inexpensive as well.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

More about getting around in Chianti.

In summary - I'm totally convinced that Tuscany is the new budget destination in Europe, with undiminished (indeed, enhanced) comfort and convenience, plus the wine, countryside and art cities that have always been here for the pleasure and profit of our visitors. See you soon!

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Florence bus tickets - tickets for the ATAF buses in Firenze

STOP PRESS! As of 18th July 2019, Florence's ATAF buses allow contactless payment, meaning credit card touch technology. The system is installed on 355 buses within the city plus the airport bus, and currently accepts MasterCard, VISA, Maestro and V Pay. The ticket price of 1.50 euros and the validity duration of 90 minutes remain unchanged. When asked to produce your ticket by an inspector, simply tell him give the last four digits of the card with which you made the payment.This is an enormous time-saver and obviates the need to validate and manage paper tickets which tend to accumulate in the pockets of busy tourists. We await news on when the system will be installed on the trams.

There are a few simple but important things to know about using the city buses in Florence, Italy.

ATAF bus ticket
ATAF 90 minute bus ticket

ATAF bus tickets should be bought BEFORE you board the bus. They are available from any kiosk (news stand) and from many cafés (bars), and at tobacconists. There are also two ATAF offices very near the SMN railway station where you can buy tickets. The most useful ATAF office is the one at via Alamanni 20r. You can get to it from inside the station by going down the steps leaving the station on the right (when facing away from the platforms), turn right again at the bottom of the steps, go past the very useful Conad supermarket, a florist shop and a post office. The ATAF office is the next place and is open Monday through Saturday 7.15am to 7pm.

In extremity, you can buy a ticket from the driver. Note that he's not obliged to provide change and sales are suspended if an inspector is on board.

how to buy an ATAF bus ticket in Florence
Etiquette indicating that ATAF tickets are sold inside.
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets

IMPORTANT Florence ATAF bus tickets must be validated as you enter the bus. You do this by inserting the ticket into the franking machine located beside or just behind the driver, and another near the rear entrance to the bus. Insert the pink strip uppermost and first into the machine. Check your ticket to make sure it was stamped with the date and time. Inspectors have no mercy on those without a ticket or with an unvalidated ticket or with an expired ticket - the fine is on-the-spot and painful (50 euros). If one machine is not working, try the other one. You only escape a fine if both machines are inoperative.

There is a good range of tickets available. Most commonly used is the 90 minute ticket. Using this you can get on and off as many buses as you like in any direction for the 90 minutes from when you validated the ticket.

Other tickets are good for four 90 minute rides. These tickets can be shared as long as they are validated the requisite number of times. For example, two people taking the number 7 bus to Fiesole could frank such a ticket twice to go and again twice to come back later in the day. These tickets have four strips for validation. Be sure not to overwrite your validation.

There are also 24 hours tickets and tickets for several days. Since these tickets are not meant to be passed from one person to another, YOU MUST WRITE YOUR NAME ON LONG DURATION ATAF TICKETS, such as 24 hour and three day tickets.

ATAF tickets are good for the small, electric buses that follow routes mainly through otherwise traffic-free lanes, and also for the trams. They are NOT valid for the bus that runs to and from SMN railway station and the airport. You can buy those tickets on the bus. Note that a taxi from the airport costs a fixed price of 20 euros plus baggage and late hours fees.

Last but not least, there are pickpockets on the buses in Florence, especially when they are crowded and on routes favoured by tourists. Please read this article on pickpockets in Italy to understand what you can do to protect your valuables from these thieves. It's not as bad as in Rome, but they are here in Florence for sure.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Infotech website promotion 2016 - 219. All rights reserved.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Should I rent a car or hire a driver to explore Tuscany?

How to get around Tuscany is a bit of a vexed question. Between the larger towns, there is an excellent rail service with frequent trains all day. Smaller towns can be reached by bus, but the bus service is scheduled more for commuters than tourists. To explore the countryside, a car is by far the best way to go and, of course, many visitors to Tuscany rent a car for the duration of their stay. There is, however, an alternative strategy. "Should I rent a car or hire a driver to explore Tuscany?" Suppose you are here for two weeks but only five of those days are trips that require a car? Money-wise and for the reasons outlined, this might be the optimal alternative:

Don't rent a car in Tuscany: hire a driver.

For those of you who want to explore Tuscany efficiently, rather than renting your own car, consider hiring a private driver - a chauffeur, in other words - with his own vehicle. Yes, it will cost a bit more than a rental car but the advantages are numerous:
  • Instead of focussing on the narrow, twisting roads of Tuscany, you will be able to admire the views and identify the sights while you let your driver take care of the driving.
  • Planning your routes together with your driver - before you arrive, if possible - will allow you to visit more of your destinations in a shorter time - no time wasted on the wrong roads, slow speeds and closed sights. Plus, your driver will help you choose the most scenic routes where there are more than one.
  • Once you arrive at one of your destinations, your private driver will drop you off at the sight and then he'll take care of finding a parking place - often a problem with popular small Tuscan villages.
  • No more worries about bus lanes and limited traffic zones. A driver with an NCC license is allowed to drive into limited traffic zones where private drivers are prohibited. That means he can pick you up at your accommodations and drop you off again, as well as access sights with limited traffic zones.
  • Doing a wine-tasting tour is a popular activity among visitors to Tuscany. "Taste and spit" can be tiresome on day-long wine tasting tour. With your own driver, that issue disappears and you can enjoy yourselves freely.
  • Last but not least, your driver knows places that the guide books don't. Tell him or her your interests and ask for suggestions.
A minibus carries up to 7 or 8 passengers, will probably be air conditioned and provide WiFi access to the internet.

My recommended drivers are:

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2016 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

How can we do an olive oil tasting in Tuscany?

Wine tasting is a favorite of visitors to Tuscany and there are numerous avenues to that activity. In contrast, I'm often asked by readers, "How can we do an olive oil tasting in Tuscany?" This is slightly more difficult to arrange. Although, of course, many Tuscan olive oil producers will let you taste their olive oil before buying, this doesn't help much because you've got nothing to compare it with - you're dependent on having an "educated" palate. What you need is to have an expert present you with 2 or 3 olive oils to taste while the differences are described to you. It could be two good but very different extra virgin olive oils from different locations (e.g. Lucca area and Chianti), or a very fresh olive oil and a two year old oil from the same farm, or a bottle of Turkish olive oil and a sample from Tuscany, or a second press oil and a cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. There are many interesting and illustrative comparisons, but the basic aim is to be able to distinguish a fresh, extra virgin olive oil grown (not just bottled) in Tuscany from other, often inferior, products.

Just a personal note: the colour of the olive oil doesn't necessarily tell you much. Grass is also a good source of chlorophyll! In southern Italy, where counterfeiting olive oil is, or anyway was, rampant, there is a group of tasters who use purple glasses to hold the oil they're examining so that they aren't influenced by the colour. Having said all that, a fresh, extra virgin oil should look deep green and might well be cloudy.

olive oil tasting in Tuscany
Extra virgin olives oil ready for an olive oil tasting.
For you olive oil tasting lesson, one option is to stay at an agriturismo where olive oil is produced and where the owner is able and willing to do a comparative tasting. Podere Felceto, a vacation villa located near Panzano in Chianti, does exactly that. In fact, the owners organise an olive oil evening where a light meal follows the tasting. Needless to say, there's plenty of their organic olive oil in the dishes as well as in the tasting glasses!

Another option is to take a day tour where an olive oil tasting is part of the programme. A good tour has either a driver-guide who is expert in comparing olive oils or who can take you to a producer who is expert.

More about the olive oil tasting evening at Villa Felceto in Tuscany.

More about the different commercial grades of olive oil.

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

What you need to know before renting a car in Italy

Today, a few tips on what you need to know before renting a car in Italy.

Firstly, many car rental agencies in Italy leave much to be desired in terms of service, accessibility and opening hours, and some of them are to be avoided at all costs. Waits of up to two hours are not exceptional when picking up and dropping off a car at a popular point such as an airport. Closure for lunch, holidays and at night are standard practice. Be aware that some rental car companies that have a good reputation in the US, for example, are totally separate from companies of the same name in Italy.

Secondly, don't try to save money by using price comparision websites and opting for the cheapest deal. You will surely lose money and a lot of time if you do. Use Avis, Hertz or Europcar or a reputable broker such as Auto Europe even if it appears to cost a bit more. Europcar is probably the largest rental company in Italy and has a good reputation.
renting a car in Italy
Motoring in Tuscany
Auto Europe is an agency that arranges cheap rentals with the major and reputable car rental companies. The UK site is sometimes cheaper than the US one, so check out both and AutoEurope has a good reputation.

DO NOT confuse Auto Europe with Auto Europa - Sicily by Car which has a very bad reputation. Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

Rental car agencies in Italy to be AVOIDED at all costs.

● Auto Europa - Sicily by Car has an appalling reputation for sullen service, hours long waits, major overcharging, total lack of response to communications etc. NEVER have anything to do with Auto Europa. All business for Dollar and Thrifty car rental companies in Italy is handled by Auto Europa - therefore AVOID.

Once again: Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

● Goldcar Rental Agency, especially at Pisa Airport, is notorious for hard-selling additional and unnecessary insurance, including not mentioning that the charge is per day not per hire and stating falsely that your own insurance, if any, is invalid. They overcharge for the initial tank of petrol and refuse a refund on remaining petrol when the car is returned. There are also endless reports of other excess charges. Waits can be up to four hours. Their staff are uniformly reported to be rude, aggressive and intimidating. Note that many brokers send customers to this rental car agency without fully explaining their fuel and insurance policy. If a broker offers you a car from Goldcar, refuse it.

● Maggiore Car Rental is another company to be absolutely AVOIDED, especially in Sicily. All the same issues as for Goldcar and more. Maggiore Car Rental has by far the worst reputation of any large car rental company in Italy. They routinely come up with excess charges in the hundreds and will call in the police if you don't pay. Never threaten to dispute a card payment nor give them cash. Work through your card company after the event. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT RENT FROM MAGGIORE.

● Sixt Holiday Car Rentals is yet another rental car company that should NEVER be used. If a broker sends you to this company, cancel immediately. A Sixt speciality is to send you to a franchise that does not have an available car. Complaints to Sixt elicit the response that their small print says that reservations are NOT confirmed (despite their email titled "Confirmation of your reservation".)!

● Locauto should NEVER be used. If you are sent there through a broker, cancel immediately. They routinely demand a large deposit and then charge for existing damage, they do not check returned vehicles in the presence of the customer and they add damages to the blank check sheet, their insurance makes no provision for the passengers if the car breaks down and so on and on.

 ● Firefly is yet another disastrous hire car company that should NEVER be used. Easycar and Holiday Autos sometimes refer customers to Firefly. Cancel immediately if that happens. Dirty vehicles often with over 100,000 km on the dial, headlights that don't work etc etc. plus charges for an additional driver despite that being included, the usual massive (e.g. 1500 euros) deductions from credit cards without explanation, and so on.

To check carefully: unethical car rental companies pressure their customers to buy additional insurance. This not only costs money unnecessarily but can render your original insurance invalid.

Always insist that you get a finalisation of your rental - that is a receipt that the car has been checked and that signed off as OK and that there is no balance due for car items (damage and petrol). This can take a lot of time but it's worth it. They will not sign off on possible future parking or other road infringements.

IMPORTANT - limited traffic zones (ZTL's).
These are the areas in the historical centres of most Italian cities and towns that are closed during certain hours to traffic other than permit holders. Rental cars do not have these permits. The ZTL's are monitored by traffic cameras and entry by non-permit holders results in a charge to your credit card by the car rental company and a fine from the traffic authorities. Many rental car companies have offices very near these zones so that it's easy to wander into one when driving to or from the car pickup. For this reason, it is highly recommended, in Florence, for example, to use the offices and rental car pickup at the airport rather than those in the centre of town.

Full details about traffic violation in Italy, including ZTL infractions, click here.

Car rentals in Italy
Driving in Florence
ALSO IMPORTANT - an International Driving Permit, which is in essence an official translation of your driving licence, is required, in addition to a driver's licence, by everyone who does not hold a driving licence issued by an EU country and who intends to drive in Italy. Note that International Drivers Licences sold over the Internet are all scams, offering worthless pieces of paper at best. You need an International Driving Permit from your national motoring organisation. They're very cheap. Most rental car agencies now ask to see your International Driving Permit in addition to your licence.

If you plan to spend most of your time in a city such as Florence, with just one or two excursions into the countryside, you might find that the additional cost of a car and driver-guide rather than a rental car will be far outweighed by convenience and the efficiency of having a planned sightseeing itinerary.

More about motoring in Tuscany.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

Chianti without a car, including a list of recommended drivers.

Rental cars, minibuses and coaches offered by a small, local company in central Chianti

Rental vehicle companies are hard to come by in the smaller towns of Chianti, but there is one in Gaiole in Chianti that hires out high end machines from their own garage. If you're planning a stay in the Chianti area of Tuscany and will need transport, especially for groups, you might want to contact Tuscany Limousine
These are the cars, minibuses and buses they have available
with and without a driver.
Mercedes Classe E280 4 (+1) persons
Mercedes Vito 8 (+1) persons
Renault Trafic 8 (+1) persons
Mercedes Sprinter 18 (+1) persons
King Long 35 (+1) persons
Domino HDI 52 (+1) persons
Domino HDH 55 (+1) persons

They also offer luxury sports car rentals for test drives, weddings etc.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Horse drawn wagon tour through the Chianti countryside

Despite the heat wave we're currently experiencing, I have just returned from a fabulous horse drawn wagon tour through the Chianti countryside under the expert guidance of Luca Perrotta. I can't think of a more appropriate way to get around in Chianti than by horse and wagon! Luca met my friends and me at Montagnana near Montespertoli. That's where his tours start, although by prearrangement, you can start off from elsewhere if you'd prefer to tour a different part of Chianti. The wagon is covered to keep the sun off but open at the sides to let the breezes blow through. This was ideal for the kind of weather we're having right now. The seats were comfortable and the horses very strong and beautiful. Off we go!

Horse and wagon excursion through Chianti, Tuscany
Luca making the last minute preparations for a horse and wagon excursion through Chianti
Luca spends as little time as possible on tar-sealed roads and even then on roads with little traffic. Most of the time we travelled over Tuscan strade bianche (dirt roads) among the vineyards and olive groves. We took a full day tour and so stopped off for some wine tasting during the morning at one of the wineries near Montespertoli and San Casciano, and we had lunch at a farm house in their fine old kitchen. During the afternoon we continued our explorations with a stop at a castle (a small castle or a large fortified villa - both descriptions fit!). Altogether it was a wonderfully relaxing day.

Horse and wagon excursion in Tuscany
We took it in turns to ride beside Luca on the driver's bench
I can especially recommend Luca's horse and wagon tour for parents who are visiting Tuscany and who are asking themselves "what activities are available for kids in Tuscany?" One excellent answer is "a wagon ride through the Chianti countryside!" If you want to give a group of children (including grown-up children) a real treat, Luca can arrange for clowns, jugglers and other similar actors to meet you at some point during the tour. Wedding parties also often appreciate this kind of entertainment.

A group of children about to set out on a horse and wagon outing in Chianti
A group of children about to set out on a horse and wagon outing in Chianti

More about Luca's horse drawn wagon excursions in Chianti.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2015 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Is it customary to leave a tip in Italy?

Many visitors to Italy, particularly our friends from America, where tipping is customary, are concerned to know the answer to the question "Is it customary to leave a tip in Italy?". Or to put it plainly, "should I leave a tip in Italy?"

The answer is simple: in almost all cases you do not give a tip to anyone in Italy. This applies to restaurants in particular since that's the most likely venue where tipping might be expected. The only possible exception to the no tipping rule might be at the end of a minibus tour, the reason being that these tours are taken almost exclusively by tourists and the drivers have become accustomed to receiving a tip. I have to add, that taking into account how expensive these tours are, a tip should not be expected and if given should not exceed 5% at the most.

Is it customary to leave a tip in Italy?
Is it customary to leave a tip in Italy?
So why do we not tip the waiter in an Italian restaurant? The reason is simply that tourism sector workers are employees or family members who are paid a proper wage, receive paid vacation time, pension contributions and medical coverage just like the workers in any other sector of the Italian economy. They do not depend on tips to get through life. Incidentally, they are also much longer term employees than in many other countries - being a waiter is a perfectly respectable profession here in Italy and many people are waiters for their entire working lives. The same tipping rule applies to taxi drivers. At the most, you might want to round up the bill by a couple of euros.

An additional reason that tipping is not expected in Italy is that some restaurants add a fixed percentage "service charge" to your bill - usually 10%. This is effectively a mandatory tip although how it can be justified is hard to fathom. It would be the height of absurdity to leave an additional tip in a case like that. By the way, village and country trattorie, where most of the custom comes from local people, do not add a service charge to their bills. This practice seems to be confined to restaurants that cater mainly to tourists.

All content copyright © ammonet Tourist Website Promotion 2011 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Mercantia at Certaldo, Tuscany, one of the best street theatre festivals in Europe

Mercantia, one of the best street theatre festivals in Europe, takes place this year, 2019, from 10 to 14 July in the attractive mediaeval walled town of Certaldo, Tuscany. Certaldo consists of the ancient Certalo Alto, on its hilltop, and Certaldo Basso, the modern part of the town in the valley below. Certaldo is very likely the place where Boccaccio was born and he certainly lived there towards the end of his life and regarded it as his hometown. It's therefore appropriate that Certaldo should provide popular entertainment today in the form of Mercantia, its famous street theatre festival.

Mercatia Certaldo 2019
Mercatia Certaldo 2019

Mercantia at Certaldo 2016
Mercantia at Certaldo 2016

The festival takes place in Certaldo Alto, the ancient upper town which can be accessed easily by funicular or on foot. Within the walls, there will be dozens of performers along the few streets of the town and also inside the courtyards, where stages are set up to host clowns and comedians, contortionists and acrobats, puppeteers and ventriloquists, magicians and illusionists, fire-eaters and dancers, actors and street musicians.

Mercantia street theatre festival at Certaldo, Tuscany
Mercantia street theatre festival at Certaldo, Tuscany

Tickets cost roughly €10.00 on Wednesday and Thursday, €12.00 on Friday and Sunday, €18.00 on Saturday. If you are planning to visit Mercantia more than once, you can buy the 5-day pass for about €30.00. I haven't seen the exact 2017 prices yet.

Certaldo street theatre festival
Certaldo street theatre festival
In addition to the street theatrical performances in Certaldo Alto, Certaldo Basso is packed for the duration of the festival with street stalls selling hand-made jewellery, clothing, masks, various kinds of art, herbal remedies and beauty products, hand-crafted leatherware and shoes, and a wide range of other arts and crafts, all of varying quality and price. No ticket is required for Certaldo Basso. There are also some stalls in Certaldo Alto.

More about Certaldo.

Map of the main sights of Chianti.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Villas of Florence and the 19th century photographer Longworth Powers

When I have a free hour or two - an increasingly rare event - I like to wander the byways of Florence in search of less known corners of beauty and history. Viale Poggio Imperiale, starting at Porta Romana and running uphill all the way to Arcetri is one productive hunting ground, lined as it is with beautiful villas, each with a story to tell. The avenue leads to the Medicean Villa del Poggio Imperiale which belonged to the Medici Grand Ducal family from 1565 until 1738, but which reached its architectural peak under the Habsburg Lorraines, the successors to the Ducal Medici as rulers of Florence and owners of the villa. It later became, and still is, an exclusive girls' boarding school, the Istituto Statale della Ss. Annunziata, but the magnificent imperial rooms are open to the public one day a week.

Villa Poggio Imperiale in Florence, Italy
One of the imperial rooms of Villa Poggio Imperiale in Florence, Italy

A more modest but in some ways much more attractive villa on Poggio Imperiale belonged to Longworth Powers, a sculptor and photographer. Longworth was the son of Hiram Powers (1805 - 1873) who was an extremely successful American neoclassical sculptor, Swedenborgian and spiritualist, who moved to Florence in 1837 and settled on the Via Fornace, where he had access to good supplies of marble and to traditions of stone-cutting and bronze casting. He remained in Florence until his death, turning out marble busts and statues that were often reproduced in large numbers by his workmen and which sometimes fetched thousands of dollars. His studio was a fashionable stop on any American's grand tour. One of Longworth's brothers, Preston Powers, followed in his father's footsteps, first in America and then in Florence, but without success, and he died penniless in Florence in 1931.

The Longworth family in Florence
The Longworth family in Florence - Hiram top centre.

Longworth Powers was eventually more successful than his brother Preston. He was the eldest son of Hiram and in his early life he struggled to establish a career, failing to persevere at any task for long, a fact that continually frustrated his successful father. Longworth enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his family hoped that the education and discipline would would have beneficial effects, but he was "asked to leave" after only one semester. He then attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York, but failed to stay long enough to earn a degree. His father thought Longworth might do better in Florence and so put him to work as bookkeeper in his studio while teaching him the basics of sculpture. Longworth created portrait busts and idealised pieces in a softer more romantic neoclassical style than his father, but his interest soon waned, and Hiram sent him back to America.

Flora a sculpture by Longworth Powers
Flora (1880) is clearly indebted to Hiram Powers's allegorical busts but in a more romantic style

By 1860, Longworth was back in Florence and began working as a photographer. He was a great success, creating portraits of the prominent men and women in the city, as well as selling photographs of Florentine landmarks and works of art. He created a great many plaster busts of the famous and not so famous visitors and residents in Florence and bought himself a villino on Viale Poggio Imperiale, with an annex which he turned into a photographic studio.

The villa of Longworth Powers on Viale Poggio Imperiale
The villa and studio of Longworth Powers on Viale Poggio Imperiale

The Powers Villa in Florence - living room
The living room of the Powers villa in Florence - high Victorian!
Photographs and plaster busts by Longworth Powers still come up on the market. His photographic  his portfolio in preserved in the Gabinetto Vieusseux. Alas, a search of the Florence white pages suggests that the Powers family is extinct here.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2019. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Exhibition of drawings at the Museum Horne, Florence

A wonderful exhibition of drawings at the Museum Horne, Florence under the title "Souvenir d'Italie" has just opened and will continue to be on show until 30 July, 2019. These drawings, selected around the theme of travels in Italy, are from the collection of Herbert Horne.

exhibition of drawings at the Museum Horne, Florence
An exhibition of drawings at the Museum Horne, Florence until 30 July 2019

Herbert Percy Horne was born in London in 1864. He was an amazing man who crammed a huge amount into a tragically short life (he was only 52 years old when he passed away in Florence in 1916). Horne was an architect and a man of many interests in the fields of art, including font design, literature and music. He was an associate of the Rhymers' Club in London and he edited the magazines The Century Guild Hobby Horse and The Hobby Horse for the Century Guild of Artists.

Herbert Percy Horne
Herbert Percy Horne
Horne first visited Italy in 1889 and kept an illustrated journal of his travels, and art and architectural research. His monograph on Sandro Botticelli from 1908 is still recognised as of exceptional quality and thoroughness. Later in life, he settled in Florence, restoring a Renaissance palazzo into which he eventually moved. He donated his collection of arts and handicrafts of the 14 C and 15 C to create the Museo della Fondazione Horne in Florence.

A room in the Museo Horne, Florence
A room in the Museo Horne, Florence
The museum is housed in the Palazzo Corsi. The Palazzo, the seat of the Museo Horne since 1921, was built on the site of a 13 C building belonging to the Alberti family. It owes its current appearance to a plan for renovation and enlargement commissioned by the brothers Luigi and Simone Corsi from Simone del Pollaiolo, nicknamed ‘il Cronaca’, between 1495 and 1502. The Palazzo Corsi was the property of the Corsi for three centuries, until it passed to the Nencini family in 1812, then to the Fossi family, and in 1896 to the Burgisser family who sold it to Herbert Horne. Horne bought this 15 C “palagetto”, or small palace, in via de’ Benci in 1911 and proceeded to restore it with the aim of creating not so much a museum as a perfect example of the kind of house in which a wealthy Renaissance noble or merchant would have lived. The furnishing of the rooms was completed after his death in 1916 by Count Carlo Gamba and Giovanni Poggi.

A watercolour of the Arno at Firenze looking towards the Ponte alla Carraia, by John Thomas Serres 1790.
Detail of a watercolour of the Arno at Firenze looking towards the Ponte alla Carraia,by John Thomas Serres 1790.

"St. Stephen" by Giotto in the Horne Museum, Florence
"St. Stephen" by Giotto in the Horne Museum, Florence
The museum houses a unique and extremely valuable collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, goldsmith’s work and other artefacts, furniture, plaquettes, seals, fabrics, cutlery and a variety of household and kitchen utensils dating back for the most part from the 14 C to 16 C. The Horne Museum should not be missed during a visit to Florence, and the current exhibition of drawings from Horne's collection makes a visit all the more worthwhile.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2019. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Where to rent an e-bike in Tuscany?

As more and better models of e-bike (electric bike) become widely available in Tuscany, we are lucky enough to have access to a new and wonderful way to explore the Tuscan countryside. Standard bikes are already hugely popular in Tuscany, especially among male Tuscans of all ages as well as with many visitors. On weekends from Spring through Autumn, you can see them zooming along in their thousands over the scenic routes, especially the Chiantigiana highway that traverses Chianti between Florence and Sienna. The one adjective that applies to all of these riders is "fit".

cycling in Tuscany
White road cycling in Tuscany

Then there are the rest of us . . . keen on enjoying the outdoors and getting a bit of exercise but not quite up to tackling the Tuscan hills on racing bikes. Fear not, Dear Reader, the answer is nigh. The electric or assisted bicycle, commonly known as the e-bike or ebike, is a bicycle with pedals like an ordinary bike but with, in addition, a generator and an electric motor powered by accumulators (rechargeable batteries) which are recharged by the generator on downhill or easy, flat stretches. I tested one of these recently during a brief warmish spell and I can say that they're incredible. You can tackle the Chianti hill roads, including the unpaved strade bianche without breaking into a sweat (or perspiring, in the case of ladies). This really puts at your disposal the most attractive way to explore Tuscany outside the big art cities. Very little sound, fresh air blowing through your hair and the option to stop for a "photo opp" or a rest or lunch whenever the spirit moves you. Riding an e-bike really does bring you effortlessly into close contact with rural Tuscany.

Where to rent an e-bike in Tuscany?
E-bike in Tuscany

This brings us to the question of where to rent an e-bike in Tuscany. I have personal experience so far of just one e-bike rental agency in Chianti, namely Tuscany Limousine who are located in the pretty village of Gaiole in Chianti and can be recommended for anyone staying in the Chianti Classico wine area between Florence and Sienna. Tuscany e-Bike Rental snce rent e-bikes and you can arrange a guided e-bike tour with them. For a small fee, they will also bring your e-bikes to any location within a reasonable distance of Gaiole. Their service is very friendly and helpful, and you can rent or buy things like gloves, helmets, GPS systems etc. from them.

Their sister company, Tuscany Limousine, rent cars, with and without driver - one of the few car rental places outside of the big cities.

More about Tuscany e-bike rentals.

My post about self-guided bike tours in Tuscany.

Tuscany e-bike rentals

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2017 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Cooking lessons at our accommodation in Tuscany

Food definitely has to be one of the reasons to spend some time in Tuscany, and second to enjoying Tuscan cuisine comes the desire to know how to prepare a Tuscan meal. No doubt that's why I often receive enquiries about arranging "cooking lessons at our accommodation in Tuscany". Usually, my answer is first to try Le Cetinelle, Simonetta Landati's B&B in the Chianti hills above Greve in Chianti.

cooking lessons at our accommodation in Tuscany
Agriturismo Le Cetinelle Bed and Breakfast offers Tuscan cooking lessons to vacationers.
At Le Cetinelle, the Tuscan cooking classes are hands-on. When participating in a cooking lesson, you prepare and cook yourself under Simonetta's expert guidance in a very friendly and informal atmosphere. Whenever possible, fresh produce from the Le Cetinelle vegetable garden and orchard are used, plus, of course, their own Chianti Classico wine and extra virgin olive oil. Cooking classes can be arranged over 1, 2, 3 or more days and they usually start at 10 am for a lunch cooking lesson and 4 pm for a dinner lesson. This allows plenty of time for the lesson before you sit down to enjoy the products of your labours.
A Tuscan cookery class with Simonetta
A Tuscan cookery class with Simonetta
For those more interested in dining that cooking, Simonetta also prepares evening meals for those who are interested.

So if you're seeking very attractive and economical vacation accommodations with the opportunity to learn Tuscan cookery, Le Cetinelle is the place for you!

More about Tuscan cooking lessons at Le Cetinelle.

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2019. All rights reserved.