Monday, 28 January 2013

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.

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Recommend a Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Greve in Chianti

I've been asked to recommend a Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Greve in Chianti, right in town, so I'm happy to give a recommendation for three B&Bs on or within a few minute's walk of Piazza Matteotti, the main square (or, rather, triangle) of Greve. Bed & Breakfast "Nella Piazza", which is right on Piazza Matteotti near the church, plus "Chianti Rooms" Bed & Breakfast and "Casa Montechiari" which are about a 10 minute walk north of the piazza among the last houses of Greve.

Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Greve in Chianti
A view across Piazza Matteotti to B&B "Nella Piazza" on the top floor.
B&B "Nella Piazza" offers three rooms each for 2 or 3 people and each with its own bathroom. Guests have use of a sunny terrace behind the building. There is also a kitchen that guests may use to prepare their own meals. If you want to be right in the middle of things in Greve, this is the place for you!

Chianti rooms bed and breakfast in Greve in Chianti
The garden of "Chianti Rooms" Bed & Breakfast in Greve in Chianti
"Chianti Rooms" B&B offers just two double rooms with en suite bathroom. They are one of the few places in the area that take guests for just one night and are open all year round. They have a beautiful garden out the back, with a terrace and a pergola where guests can enjoy their breakfast on sunny days. There is a WiFi connection available.

"Casa Montechiare" Bed and Breakfast in Greve in Chianti
The terrace of "Casa Montechiare" Bed and Breakfast in Greve in Chianti
About 100 m beyond "Chianti Rooms", we come to "Casa Montechiare" Bed and Breakfast. The front of the house is on an urban street while the terrace and garden at the back look out over the Chianti countryside. Their accommodation consists of two double (or twin) rooms, with en suite bathroom, linked by a double door, together with a fully equipped kitchen-dining room. One bedroom contains a sofa bed that can be expanded into a bunk bed for a total of 4 persons. The Greve public swimming pool is just 5 minutes walk away.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

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.

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A unique vacation rental deep in the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Siena

Today I want to tell you a bit about a unique vacation rental deep in the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Siena. This is "Agrifuturismo", long ago a tiny monastery and now a tranquil agriturismo (vacation accommodations on a farm) deep (really deep) in the country off the road between Castellina in Chianti and Barberino di Val d'Elsa, in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.

vacation rental in the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Siena
"Agrifuturismo", an agriturismo located between Castellina and Barberin Val d'Elsa.

The apartments at Agrifuturismo are spacious, very originally furnished in Tuscan country style, and accommodate 2 and 4 persons respectively. The farmhouse has retained a great deal of its ancient monastic structure, with most of the wall and the main door being retained. A beautiful terrace looks out over the olive groves and forests. This is a place for those who want a really relaxing holiday. You should definitely put aside one day just to explore the strade bianche (dirt farm tracks) on foot. In addition to Castellina and Barberino, Monteriggioni is within easy reach by car, with Siena making an excellent day excursion. A full day excursion will take you all through the scenic Val d'Orcia.

More about this beautiful Tuscan country vacation rental.

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Monday, 21 January 2013

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.

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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Off the beaten track vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Those of you making a second or third (or even first) visit to our beautiful region might well be looking for off the beaten track vacation accommodations in Tuscany. When I'm asked about this, my first thoughts are of the Tuscan Maremma, both the coastal Maremma proper and the inland area known as the Alta Maremma. In these areas you will find the untouched Tuscany of fifty years ago, as well as a wealth of spectacular natural beauty and interesting cultural sights. In terms of accommodation, prices are highly competitive and my top recommendation is Casa Reasco, consisting of two vacation rental apartments plus additional rooms, located in the village of Torniella in the inland hill area of the Alta Maremma.

off the beaten track vacation accommodations in Tuscany
The village of Torniella deep in the Tuscan countryside, SSW of Sienna
You will need a car, motor bike or bicycle to explore the area around Torniella, but with those means of transport you are within easy reach of the Maremma coast, including the beaches such as at Castiglione della Pescaia. And also within easy reach of Sienna and the Val d'Orcia.

Holiday home in the Alta Maremma of Tuscany
Double room in one of the two vacation apartments of Casa Reasco
The Casa Reasco apartments are comfortably furnished and have very well-equipped kitchens, making them ideal for those who seek self-catering accommodation in Tuscany. In addition to the two apartments, these are several further bedrooms available so that the house can accommodate up to 12 persons if, for example, you are a bicycle group exploring the area.

Self-catering accommodation in the Alta Maremma of Tuscany
One of the two apartment kitchen-dining rooms of Casa Reasco
More about Casa Reasco off the beaten track vacation accommodations in Tuscany.

More about the Alta Maremma.

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