Wednesday 27 June 2012

Vacation villas and accommodations in Chianti, Italy

I am contributing to a new blog based around vacation villas and accommodations in Chianti, Italy, but, like my Tuscany-Toscana blog, open to everything of interest to visitors (and also residents) of Tuscany, and especially to the Chianti Classico area between Florence and Sienna.

The new Tuscany Blog is located here:

As we see more and more websites listing vacation rentals in Tuscany, it becomes increasingly important to do business via the long-established sites such as (founded in 1997) and (founded in 1998). Many of the new websites and the businesses behind them are very unprofessional and simply relist over and over again the same group of properties. Problems are also being reported by users of the bigger listing services, complaints being mostly with regard to inaccurate descriptions of the rental properties and lack of accountability if something goes wrong. Many of the big sites now belong to a very small number of corporate owners and this has exacerbated the issue of indifference to customers' problems with the rental procedures, refund procedures and the property descriptions. Too often, farmhouses are being listed as "villas", and rural properties that are not working farms are being listed as "agriturismi".

My recommendation remains to make use of owner-direct websites that are local so that the company owning the website has the opportunity to inspect every property listed, and so that there will be someone on hand to help out if problems arise. In my experience, the visitor has a much better feel for a place if he or she intereacts with the owner before arrival.

Don't for get to read my notes on what you can expect from your Tuscany vacation rental. Misplaced expectations can sometimes have a negative effect on your holiday.

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Exhibition of Renaissance Majolica at the Bargello, Florence

For everyone interested in painted ceramics, there is a fabulous exhibition of Renaissance majolica at the Bargello, Florence, until 16 September, 2012.

Towards the end of the Dark Ages, earthenware was popularly thought to carry the plague and was consequently destroyed in huge quantities during the Black Death in Italy, up until the the early 15 C. Perhaps this loss of earlier work contributed to the resurgence and originality of  "Majolica", tin-glazed painted pottery, during the Renaissance, when it became enormously popular and of high artistic quality. The Medici collected hundreds of pieces, many of which are now housed in the Bargello Museum. These masterpieces, plus many beautiful examples from other museums throughout the world, form the basis of this exhibition - "Fabulae Pictae: Myths and Stories in Renaissance Majolica".

Majolica was a product mostly of smaller centres. Florence itself had a comparatively small production, most of it made in Montelupo Fiorentino (still a centre of painted ceramic production) and Faenza, across the border in Emilia-Romagna. More was imported from Deruta but the finest pieces came from Urbino, where the court took practical steps to promote majolica production.

This exhibition displays some of the sources of Renaissance majolica subject matter in the form of woodcuts, engravings, drawings, medals, placquettes and bronzes, adjacent to the majolica pieces themselves. This is a huge help for some present day visitors who might not be as familiar with Ovid's "Metamorphoses" or, for that matter, the Bible, as were the original owners of these objects.

Over the years, there have been numerous excellent exhibitions of Renaissance majolica in Italy - this exhibition stands among the best of them.

More about Deruta.

More about Montelupo Fiorentino.

More about Urbino.


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Saturday 23 June 2012

Visiting Tuscany in August

There are a number of myths around that seem to discourage tourists from visiting Tuscany in August.

One of these myths is that Tuscany is too hot in August. While it's true that Florence, located as it is in a deep valley, can be boiling, the Tuscan hills and hill towns are always tolerable and frequently extremely pleasant during August. In addition, "hot" is a comparative expression. Texans hear that Tuscany is hot and imagine that it's as hot as or even hotter than Texas - which is not true at all! In fact, air-conditioning, for example, is rare in Tuscany, in large part because it's unnecessary.

Visiting Tuscany in August
The beach is one option when visiting Tuscany during August

Another myth is that all the shops, restaurants and museums are closed because the Tuscans have migrated en masse to the seaside. Well, many Tuscan families do locate themselves near the beach during August, but the working members of the family often commute between their businesses and the beach while the family stays there. And of course the museums are all open. So, in fact, the larger cities are quieter and even more attractive during August than at other times while all the services you require continue to be readily available.

There are even opportunities available during summer, including August, that are not available at other times. One of the best it to be able to enjoy a glass of wine and a snack buffet at a museum during a warm summer evening: Aperitivo Ad Arte!

August is a good time to enjoy a minibus tour with a professional driver-guide. Even when you go to hot places, the minibus will be air conditioned and you won't have to walk as far as you would if you used a rental car or public transport. These tours are not cheap but they make extremely efficient use of your valuable vacation time.

In summary, don't hesitate to visit Tuscany in August! There's plenty of accommodation available and all the important sights are open and less crowded than usual.

Air conditioned holiday accommodations in Tuscany.

Beaches in Italy.

Slow tours in Tuscany.

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Monday 11 June 2012

Volterra A.D. 1398 mediaeval festival

Every year in August, the beautiful Tuscan hilltop town of Volterra goes back to the middle ages for the Volterra A.D. 1398 mediaeval festival. The entire town dresses up and mediaeval trades, professions, music and food are on display everywhere. You can even rent a costume for the day, exchange your euros for some grossi (mediaeval coins) and have a good time spending them. In a country that has some of the greatest costume festivals in the world, the Volterra festival is right among the very best. It runs Sunday to Sunday, and in fact the Sundays are the best days to be here. In 2014, the festival dates are from 17th to 24th August. Don't miss it!

Volterra A.D. 1398 mediaeval festival
Volterra A.D. 1398 mediaeval festival

Much additional useful information for tourists visiting Tuscany is provided by:

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Sunday 10 June 2012

Beaches in Tuscany

Going to the beach in Tuscany is a very different experience from doing the same thing in most other countries. Beaches in Tuscany are very commonly rented out by the municipality in the form of fenced off concessions covered in rows of beach umbrellas and deck chairs (Rimini in Emilia-Romagna and Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany are classic examples). That's what Italians like when they go to the beach, and they go in droves for the whole of August. Seaside hotels often have a private beach, sometimes across a road from the hotel, but check on whether you have to pay extra to use the hotel's concession. In principle, you should be able to walk along the beach within a 10m strip from the water's edge, and to pass through private establishments to get to the sea, but this is not always practical.

tuscan beaches
A Tuscan beach on the Argentario Cape of Tuscany

 There are free beaches (una spiaggia libera) where you and your children can run around doing whatever you want without having to pay, and they often have showers and toilet facilities, and sometimes are bar or cold drinks vendor. However, these free beaches, especially near cities (such as Ostia Lido near Rome) can be dirty, extremely crowded and not particularly pleasant. Take care of your possessions and beware of illegal pedlars.

Beaches in Tuscany

In parts of Tuscany there are remote and pristine sand beaches but, of course, they lack lifeguards. Some of the best beaches in Tuscany are on the coast of the Maremma in SW Tuscany, and at Castiglione della Pescaia on the Maremma coast there are facilities and life guards. Rather rocky access to the crystal sea in pleasant conditions can be found around the Monte Argentario promontory in the extreme SW of Tuscany.

A free-access beach in Tuscany

  If you are continuing your trip by going south to Rome and Naples, there are some beautiful beaches in and near Gaeta which is located on the coast about halfway between Rome and Naples. The town itself is interesting and makes a good base from which to explore Lazio and the Campania.

More about going to the beach in Tuscany.

My list of recommended holiday accommodation in Tuscany.

Much additional useful information for tourists visiting Tuscany is provided by:

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Saturday 2 June 2012

What to expect when you arrive at your vacation rental in Tuscany

Visitors to Tuscany who have always stayed in a hotel during their vacations elsewhere might be hesitant to rent an agriturismo or similar self-catering holiday home when they visit Tuscany for the first time. There is a series of useful articles about what to expect when you arrive at your vacation rental in Tuscany on the website which will allay any worries you have and at the same time obviate possibly misplaced expectations. These articles cover the following topics:

What is a "villa" in Tuscany?
Arrival times, duration of stay and departure times.
Telephones and internet connections.
Electricity, water and natural gas supplies.
- Electricity in Italy.
- Air conditioning in Tuscany.
- Heating a vacation rental in Tuscany.
- Water supply in Tuscany.
Cleaning your Tuscan vacation rental.
- Towels and Linen.
Keys and Security.
- Breakage and Damage.
Food and other Supplies in Tuscany.
Insects, mosquitoes and other "bugs" in Tuscany
Gardens and terraces in Tuscany.
Swimming pools in Tuscany.
Handicapped accessibility.
- Allergies.
Tourist taxes in Tuscany.
Festivals and events in Tuscany.
Roads and driving in Tuscany.


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