Tuesday 21 December 2010

Bed & Breakfast accommodation in Tuscany

Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Tuscany, Italy, provides an excellent and often very economical alternative to a hotel for those who have no need of the additional facilities offered by hotels and/or who would like to stay in a village or the Tuscan countryside where hotels are not very commonly found. Most Tuscan B&Bs offer just a few rooms in a farmhouse or, rarely, in a classic Tuscan villa (for example Corte di Valle), often with access to a swimming pool and a terrace or garden for relaxing in the sun. Sometimes they are air-conditioned although air conditioned vacation accommodations in Tuscany are not common, in large part because air conditioning is not really necessary and is incredibly expensive to run because of the high cost of electricity in Italy.

Here are some useful links to information about Tuscan B&Bs:

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Saturday 11 December 2010

Truffle festival at San Giovanni d’Asso

The Tuscan truffle festival at San Giovanni d’Asso takes place during the second and third weekends of November.

 truffle festival at San Giovanni d’Asso
Display of truffles and other fungi at San Giovanni d'Asso

The Tuscan truffle season lasts roughly from September through December. I went there this November and can strongly recommend it. It's a smaller occasion that the truffle fair in San Miniato, on the same intimate scale as the truffle fairs in the villages around San Miniato, and tremendous fun for anyone interested in Tuscan food and folklore. There is a group of stalls selling white truffles, plus food stalls and restaurants selling truffle-flavoured specialities. During the festival, it's a good idea to book your restaurant. If you buy a truffle, make sure you're in a position to use it within three days - next day if possible - because their incredible aromatics disperse into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. San Giovanni d'Asso is located about 80 km southeast of Florence and about 30 km southeast of Siena in the picturesque area known as the Crete Senesi. It's a small village dominated by a large castle which now houses the truffle museum.

Sometimes the "Nature Train", a steam engine with antique carriages, makes the journey to and from the San Giovanni d'Asso truffle fair with an option to book a truffle lunch.

Tips on the truffle festival at San Miniato near Florence.

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Thursday 9 December 2010

Tuscan villas to rent

Tuscan villas to rent - what are they? For architects, the villas of Tuscany are patrician residences set in a garden and integrated visually into the wider Tuscan landscape, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, and derived during the Renaissance from a concept of country life in Augustan Rome. For many tourists visiting Tuscany, however, a Tuscan villa seems to equate with any free-standing house - hence the many advertisements for "Tuscan villa vacation rentals". Both usages are common practice and perfectly acceptable, but tourists should be sure not to narrow their search too much by over-reliance on the expression "Tuscan villa". Most houses and, indeed, most free-standing vacation rental accommodations in Tuscany are in fact farm houses - case coloniche - and not villas. For a small family, a farmhouse or a farm apartment (both are referred to as "agriturismi") provides more than enough space. Several families travelling together or a wedding party, for example, might reasonably seek a genuine Tuscan villa - not a Renaissance villa, but one of the many 19th century villas that dot the Tuscan landscape.

When is a Tuscan villa not a Tuscan villa?

What is the difference between a Tuscan villa and a Tuscan farmhouse?

Villa Podere Felceto is a typical and beautiful Tuscan villa available as a self-catering holiday home.

If you prefer a truly deluxe Tuscan villa, try Villa Vitigliano.

Corte di Valle, in contrast, is a Bed and Breakfast accommodation located in a magnificent villa in Chianti - an opportunity for a couple or a family to experience villa living.

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Wednesday 10 November 2010

The Roman Theatre beneath the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

The Roman Theatre excavated beneath the Palazzo Vecchio opened to the public for the first time from 25 September 2010. It dates back to the first century BC and is one of the most interesting Roman remains in the area of Florence. The theatre took twenty years to excavate and is now part of the Museum of the Palazzo Vecchio. One-hour guided tours take place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 11, 14,30, 15.30 and 16.30. When the Palazzo Vecchio is open in the evenings, there are also tours at 17.30 and 18.30. The tours must be booked in advance (booking is free) by calling the Museo dei Ragazzi at 055 2768224. The entrance ticket is 8 euro and includes entrance into the rest of the Palazzo Vecchio museum.

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Tuesday 2 November 2010

Super Tuscan wines: what are super Tuscan wines?

For many visitors to Tuscany, our wines are one of the things they plan to enjoy while they are here. No doubt that's also why I fairly frequently hear the question: What are Super Tuscan wines ?

The answer is very simple but with interesting ramifications - super Tuscan wines are wines made in Tuscany that are very good to drink and that do not conform to one of the standard wine compositions - meaning the percentage of certain grapes used to make the wine.

Super tuscan wine
Sassicaia - the first and one of the greatest Super Tuscans.
The Super Tuscans originated in the 50's and 60's when Chianti wine was not all that good - indeed, when it was plonk, and when there were even growers who proposed to rip up all the vines and put cows on the Chianti hills instead. That's how low morale had fallen. However, coincident with the introduction of modern wine-making techniques, a few lateral thinkers decided to grow non-native grapes and make blends with sangiovese, the best of the autochthonous Tuscan grape varieties, and in some cases the results were phenomenally good. Since then, the wine consortia that set the composition rules have become more flexible but nevertheless there are still excellent wines with grape composition outside the rules. These are designated IGT (the former "Vino da Tavola"). Most are good, some are outstanding, but remember that some are also indifferent. There's nothing on the bottle to guide you. You need to do some tasting and also read the wine reviews to know which Tuscan wines are super Tuscans and which are still simply just table wines. They don't have to be expensive (although the famous ones are very expensive) because there are more and more super Tuscan wines out there waiting to be discovered.

More about Super Tuscan wines.

More about the new Chianti Classico top quality designation.

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Tuesday 26 October 2010

Chianti Classico 2010 vintage

The 2010 grape harvest in the Chianti Classico wine zone together with the initial analysis of the wine suggests an unexpectedly good year. Winter was very cold for the zone and spring was wet and cool, so that the vines blossomed later than usual. However, July was hot and vine growth accelerated. Growth proceeded somewhat slowly in August and September, which were also hot but not scorching. The second half of September and early October offered splendid days of normal weather with temperatures close to seasonal averages but also several hours of rain. The sunny days during the harvest in late September and early October, bringing high temperatures especially at midday, contributed to the good results of the harvest. Nevertheless, grapes had to be picked in batches, depending on the ripeness of individual vines. By agreement via the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, growers lowered harvests by 20% in 2010 in an effort to maintain a reasonable price for bulk wine. This will also contribute to the quality of bottled wine.

Chianti Classico vintage

All in all, the grapes arriving in the cellar this year are really good. Initial impressions from the winemakers are that fermentation proceeded without hitches and the wines emerging have intense colours and fragrances, with acidity levels high enough to predict a good aptitude for aging; alcohol content is high but not excessive, to the benefit of balanced wines leaving room for a wealth of aromas.

Be sure to check our post on shipping wine from Tuscany.

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Friday 15 October 2010

Vasari Corridor in Florence

For current details on how to visit the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, please see my post here:


Vasari corridor Uffizi Florence
Interior of the Vasari Corridor in Florence

More about
what to see and do in Florence.

More about Florence Museum Cards and Florence Museum Passes.

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Wednesday 15 September 2010

August in Tuscany - not hot this year!

August in Tuscany is often described as a month of overwhelming heat. This is not always the case. August this year was quite cool in Tuscany, other than in the flat and populated valley of Florence. It rained heavily several times here in Chianti and the nights were noticeably fresh. Right now, in September, I need a blanket to sleep.

In any case, all of these things are comparative. It doesn't help if a guidebook describing August in Tuscany as hot is being read by someone in Texas who might naturally think it's even hotter here in summer than it is in Texas. In fact, there are probably only two days a year when air conditioning would be good to have here in the Chianti hills.

Similarly, we noticed that there were few tourists here in August this year compared with July and even with now. Some who were here told us that they had read that the towns of Tuscany basically close down in August as everyone goes to the seaside. This is ridiculous, of course. For parts of August, some lucky people go to the beach for a break, but there are still plenty of people here keeping the place running.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Neighbourhood dinner in Montefioralle

Montefioralle was the scene of our neighbourhood dinner last night. Tables ran along the middle of our narrow and only street - enough for 200 people. Good food, good wine and good company. These dinners are open to anyone who buys a ticket (15 euros) and there are usually tickets available until 2-3 days before the event.

On Friday night, I went to Lamole to hear a selection of operatic pieces sung by students attending Daniel Ferro's vocal music course. A good selection starting with the younger students and progressing to the more advanced singers. These concerts are great fun because usually there's some wine and nibbles provided afterwards and the students all seem to be keen to talk. Lamole is in any case well worth a visit if you're in the area, not least for the beautiful drive up from the turnoff from the Chiantigiana highway between Greve and Panzano.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

Sunday 11 July 2010

Shipping wine from Tuscany

To ship wine from Tuscany to distant countries such as the States, Australia or New Zealand is quite easy but might not make economic sense. In the first place, bulk wholesalers are often able to bring wine to market outside Italy for the same price or even less than what it costs at the vineyard. This is because of the substantial discounts they obtain by buying in large quantities. However, you might find a wine you love the taste of that is not going to be available in your home country or home area. Your options include getting the winery to ship a case for you - some but not all do this. Post offices in wine-producing areas sell special wine cartons, allowing you to handle everything by yourself. If you pack it well, putting wine in your checked baggage is an option - maybe each one well wrapped in plastic in case it breaks. Of course, currently, carrying bottles of wine onto the plane is not an option - no liquids allowed. One day this ridiculous rule will disappear and bringing home a few bottles in your hand luggage will once again the the cheapest and safest method of importing small quantities of wine. Visitors within train distance are not limited - yet another reason to travel by train.

Some wineries are more experienced than others in shipping wine. Pieve di San Cresci a producer of excellent Chianti Classico, will ship cases or even whole pallets of wine for you.

Author: Anna Maria Ballini

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Bibliophile Bookbase - antiquarian books for sale online

Talking of good sources for rare books, one of the best rare books listing sites is Bibliophile Bookbase. They're quite selective about what they list in terms of out of print books, maps and prints and there are dealers listing on the Bookbase who don't list anywhere else. I've found some great stuff there, particularly early traveller accounts of Italy.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

Sunday 4 July 2010

Good list of useful books about Italy

Books about Italy, including maps. I have created a good, ready-prepared list of books about Italy available on Amazon at Books About Italy. This list, based on my own library, covers not only guide books and maps but also villa architecture, gardens, interior decorating, FOOD and WINE. Two other and excellent related websites are Gardens of Tuscany and Villas of Tuscany. Both have good pictures, descriptions and bibliographies. The latter also includes some of the villas of the Veneto (Palladian villas) and of Rome.

And here's a CD, a good guide book and the latest version of Kindle for your ebooks!

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

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Thursday 1 July 2010

Hot weather in Tuscany

Tuscan days can be hot and today in Chianti the temperature went up to 33 C. I stayed down in the cantina for most of the afternoon cleaning up my strimmer and then when the day cooled down a bit, I used it to buzz away the grass around the olive trees. Disturbed a couple of grass snakes that were resting in the sun, strung along the tops of the grass, and also saw a slow worm (legless lizard) - they're not really slow! The slow worms hibernate quite deep in the ground - I dug one up last winter. They're much rarer than grass snakes and vipers.

The summer and harvest festivals seasons are only a couple of months away. The Festivals of Tuscany website lists many of the famous ones as well as a few minor but interesting fetivals.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

Saturday 26 June 2010

Public WiFi in Tuscany

WiFi in Tuscany

Heard that there's an anti-terrorism law in Italy that requires anyone who logs in to the internet to have an individual password. This implies that the authorities, in the appropriate circumstances, have the right to access server logs and trace the author of any online activity - email, blog, web page etc. Unfortunately, it currently costs a lot of money to have this multi-password system if you use WiFi in your agriturismo or small hotel, so a lot of owners are not advertising on their web pages that they offer WiFi access. If you need WiFi acces while on holiday here, be sure to ask. It might be available right where you're staying.

Free wifi in Tuscany

UPDATE: This law is no longer applicable with the consequence that many more agriturismi and B&Bs are offering free WiFi connectivity. Don't expect this deep in the country where ADSL is either not available or works badly, but within a mile or two of any small town, you should have broadband WiFi available.

Free WiFi hotspots in Florence

Follow this link for information and a map of free WiFi hotspots in Florence.

Accommodation in Tuscany

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Wednesday 16 June 2010

Neighbourhood dinners in Chianti

Tomorrow night I'll be eating out in the street! Here in Chianti, we have neighbourhood clubs that organise dinners that are served at tables set up in a continuous strip down the middle of the main road of our quarter. Since all the labour is voluntary, for €15 we eat a five course dinner with wine and mineral water, and the opportunity to yak to all of our friends and neighbours. These dinners are open to anyone who buys a ticket which are available from shops in the quarter. So when you're visiting Chianti, look for hand written notices annoucing the event. This is a fabulous way to get to know genuine Tuscans in their native habitat - the dinner table.

Monday 14 June 2010

Summer is finally here in Tuscany

After a cold and very rainy start to 2010, warm weather has arrived in Tuscany. If you're planning your visit here, be sure to take into account the correlation between altitude and cool breezes. Air-conditioning is rare in Tuscany but the thick walls of the traditional Tuscan farmhouses act as giant heat sinks so that they cool down at night and little heat prenetrates inside during the day if the shutters are kept closed. If your accommodation is up in the Chianti hills, you'll have a refreshing base to return to after a hard day of sight-seeing. In addition, many "agriturismi" offer a swimming pool for the use of ther guests. For a really good deal, you best consider "owner direct" accommodation where you contact the onner of the property directly without an agent (and price mark up) between you and your Tuscany vacation rental. One of the best local websites in the whole of Tuscany is the Greve in Chianti website which not only displays a good range of holiday villas and vacation apartments, but a huge fund of information on what to see and do in Chianti.