Friday 20 December 2019

Roselle and Grosseto in the Tuscan Maremma: an ancient Etruscan town and a modern cathedral city in Tuscany

Roselle is a picturesque, Etrusco-Roman ruin located on the boundary between the valley of Ombrone and the Maremma, on the shore of the ancient lake Prile (Lacus Prelius). The ruins are about 15 km SE of Vetulonia, another Etruscan site, and 8 km NE of Grosseto, the largest town in this part of Tuscany.

Remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Roselle in the Tuscan Maremma
Remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Roselle in the Tuscan Maremma

The relationship between Roselle and Grosseto is quite interesting - to a large extent, Roselle is the ancestor of Grosseto.

Roselle (Rusellae) stood and, as a ruin, still stands on two hills separated by a valley that formed its political, economic and religious nucleus. The area has been frequented humans since prehistoric times, but Roselle became a real city when it was settled by the Etruscans, in the 7 C BC. Roselle was among the Etruscan cities that were not members of the Etruscan Dodecapoli.

In 294 BC, Roselle was conquered by the Romans, led by the consul Lucio Postumio Megelio. Its flowering began in the first century AD. Thanks to the imperial favour and the work of some munificent families of local patrons, there was intense building activity at this time, that extended throughout the county.

From the late imperial age, Roselle was affected by the same decadence that struck numerous Roman cities. Archaeologists have been able to identify signs of this recession in the contraction of the urban area and in the numerous cases of re-use and abandonment of the oldest structures. Roselle was unable to recover its modest but not unimportant status in Tuscany, despite its role as a bishopric.

In fact, it was at Roselle that the first cathedral of this bishopric stood, at least from the 5 C AD, when Bishop Vitaliano participated in the Roman Synod of 499. The first building was built on the remains of a thermal baths complex dating from between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, on the slopes of the northern part of the city and was subjected to various reconstructions, such as the imposing Romanesque phase, characterised by the bell tower of which the foundations may still be seen.

The Duomo of Grosseto
The Duomo of Grosseto

The spiritual and administrative center of the diocese was, however, transferred in 1138 to nearby Grosseto, by a bull issued by Pope Innocent II. Thus, from the 12 C the city of Roselle was gradually abandoned and its remains reused as building or decorative materials elsewhere. Some of them were used to embellish the new Duomo and others were generally transported to Grosseto. Some architectural remains have been recovered and displayed in the Museum and in the Archaeological Garden or form part of the Grosseto street decorations, to illustrate the close link with ancient Roselle.

decorated stone element from Roselle
Decorated stone element from Roselle

More about the Maremma.

More about Grosseto

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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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

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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:

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vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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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.

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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.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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

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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 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
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Tuscany Travel Guide

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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.

More about the Museo Horne.

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Friday 22 March 2019

Apartment to rent in a small town or village in Tuscany

I often see enquiries on travel forums, from travellers preparing for their trip to Tuscany, requesting a recommendation for an apartment to rent in a small town or village in Tuscany. They have the right idea! There's no better way to enjoy and really understand life here in Tuscany than by renting a self-catering vacation apartment outside of the main centres. And it's economical as well! Today I want to describe just such a place, namely Appartamento Saverio in Greve in Chianti which sleeps 4 in a double room and a twin room, and can sleep two more on a sofa bed.

Apartment to rent in a small town or village in Tuscany
An apartment to rent in a small town or village in Tuscany
The apartment that I'm recommending today is situated right on Piazza Matteotti, the arcaded, main piazza of the small town of Greve in Chianti. Greve has around 14,000 inhabitants and is located on the scenic via Chiantigiana, the main road between Florence and Siena. Greve is accessible by bus from Florence (60 minutes to the centre of Florence) and Appartamento Saverio is a five minute walk from the bus stop, meaning that you don't need a car to get here nor to make excursions to Florence. There is a good supermarket in the town plus numerous restaurants and food outlets, many of them around Piazza Matteotti. And yet, in most directions, a 15 minute stroll takes you out into the vineyards and olive groves, and the mediaeval walled village of Montefioralle is just a mile away.

The apartment is large and both the structure and the furnishings are typically Tuscan, with a huge fireplace in the living room. In fact, the buildings around Piazza Matteotti date back several hundred years. Appartamento Saverio has two modern bathroom and a huge terrace that overlooks the piazza. A great place for a dinner al fresco or just to sit and enjoy the sun while watching the activity of the piazza. In essence, if you're looking for an apartment to rent in a small town or village in Tuscany, Appartamento Saverio should be at or near the top of the list!

More about Tuscany Holiday Apartment "Saverio" in Greve in Chianti.

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Saturday 16 March 2019

Exhibition in Florence dedicated to Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello

A fabulous exhibition in Florence dedicated to Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello joins the list of unmissable art shows hosted by the Palazzo Strozzi over the years.

From 9 March to 14 July 2019, over 120 paintings, sculptures and drawings from art galleries and museums in a number of countries is on display. They include wonderful works by Verrocchio, the teacher of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as works by the best-known artists associated with his workshop in the second half of the 15 C, among them Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci, his most famous apprentice. The curators have attempted to illustrate Leonardo’s early artistic career and interaction with Verrocchio by juxtapositions.

Verrocchio's Dama del Mazzolino, viewed from behind
Verrocchio's Dama del Mazzolino, viewed from behind, in the Bargello.
Verrocchio was born in Florence ca. 1435 to Michele di Francesco Cioni, a tile and brick maker, and later a tax collector. Little is known about his life but he was initally apprenticed to a goldsmith. There is no real evidence that he was later apprenticed to Donatello and verylittle evidence that he trained as a painter under Fra Filippo Lippi. His main works are dated in his last twenty years and his advancement owed much to the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and his son Piero. His workshop was in Florence where he was a member of the Guild of St Luke. Several great artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credi passed through his workshop as apprentices, and artists such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, Francesco Botticini and Pietro Perugino probably worked in some kind of association with Verrocchio. Their early works can be hard to distinguish those of Verrocchio. At the end of his life, he opened a new workshop in Venice where he was working on the statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, leaving the Florentine workshop in charge of Lorenzo di Credi. He died in Venice in 1488.

The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio and Leonardo
The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio - the angel to the lower left is very likely by Leonardo.

The exhibition is part of the programme of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death and is the first retrospective ever devoted to Verrocchi. Don't miss it!

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Monday 11 February 2019

How to get from the airport to central Florence

Many first time visitors to Tuscany ask me how to get from the airport to central Florence. And of course I have to ask them to specify which airport. Florence is served mainly by Pisa Airport (Aeroporto Galileo Galilei - code PSA) and to a lesser extent by its own small Florence Airport (Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci, often known as Peretola - code FLR). I have heard but cannot confirm that sometimes long distance passengers have tickets specifying Florence as the destination when in fact they will land at Pisa. Be sure to check that and to check whether subsequent ground transport is included.

The Pisamover light railway from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station.
The Pisamover light railway from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station.

There are three different ways to travel from Pisa Airport to Florence - by train, by bus or by taxi

By train: The new, fast and fully automatic PisaMover light rail runs from Pisa Airport to Pisa Central Railway Station every 5/8 minutes every day, from 6 a.m. to midnight, and the journey takes 5 mins. The airport stop is in via Pier Giorgio Ballini, 40 m from the Passenger Terminal, and it arrives at platform 14 in the Pisa railway station. It has an intermediate stop at San Giusto/Aurelia station, where you’ll find two parking areas with about 1,400 spaces, open 24 hours a day, every day.

By bus: the notoriously unreliable Terravision bus is apparently still running and when there is no issue with traffic it is slightly faster than by train (around 70 minutes) and a ticket costs about 5 - 10 euros. Return and children's tickets cost less. Terravision bus timetables here. [Note March 2017 - Terravision is not running currently and their booking form yields "Not available". It is unclear whether or not this is permanent.]

Other bus services from Pisa Airport to Florence are Autostradale and Sky Bus Lines Caronna (the latter with multiple stops en route).

The choice between train and bus will very likely depend on the next train departure time but, taking traffic problems and comfort into account, along with the new PisaMover, my recommendation is to take the train.

There are other bus services from Pisa Airport to Lucca, Siena, Montecatini, Pistoia and Prato.

Beware of gypsy and other pickpockets when there is a scrum during boarding of the Terravision bus.

By taxi: A metered taxi will cost you about 150 euros or more because you have to pay the driver to return empty (that's included in the meter reading - the driver doesn't double the displayed price). There are also fixed-fare NCC minibuses that can be reserved in advance. This latter option costs about the same as a taxi base rate but the drivers are usually more familiar with country accommodations and so provide a good option if your have several people, a lot of luggage and will be staying in the country. Both people and baggage will cost extra with a taxi. NCC drivers can be booked for times when trains, buses and rental car offices are not active. Finally, you can rent a car, but do not try to drive it into central Florence (or Pisa, for that matter) where there are camera-patrolled limited traffic zones and fines aplenty.

Florence airport
Florence airport

There are three different ways to travel from Florence airport to central Florence.

By tram: Florence's new T2 tram route, which opened to the public at 2:30pm on 11 February 2019. The new line operates between piazza dell'Unità Italiana (main railway station - SMN) and Florence Airport.

By bus: Florence airport is only 4 km from the Florence city centre and the Volainbus bus shuttle takes about 20 minutes, runs every half an hour and costs about 5 euros. It leaves from the SITA bus station near the SMN railway station and from near the taxi rank at the station itself. Departures from city centre are every 30 min from 5.30 am to 8.00 pm, then after every hour up until 11.00 pm. Check timetable details on the ATAF website. I do not see the point of taking this bus, which can be delayed by traffic, when the tram is just as fast, more frequent and costs less.

STOP PRESS The VOLAINBUS - FIRENZE AIRLINK service is temporarily suspended until 28 June, 2022

By taxi: A metered taxi has a fixed price for trips to the airport (currently 20 euros), takes 15 minutes and is obviously a good choice if you are 3 or 4 people and/or want to leave directly from your hotel. Picking up and dropping off your rental car at the airport is generally a good idea because you avoid the limited traffic zones in the city centre.

A taxi will cost 20 Euros, plus 1 Euro for each piece of luggage (maximum 5 Euros). There is also a 2 Euro supplement for Sunday service and a 3.20 Euro supplement for night service (22:00 to 6:00). Consequently, the "break-even" point for using the airport bus is 3 or 4 passengers traveling together.

Some recommended fixed-fare NCC minibus drivers.

Getting around in Tuscany.

Warnings regarding limited traffic zones in Tuscany.

Recommended vacation accommodation in Chianti towns, villages and countryside.

vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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