Morning one in Florence was spent taking in the city with Cassie and Julia – we had a complete overview, from meeting the David to touring the Leather School. The crowds were out in full force on a Tuesday morning since both the Uffizi & Accademia are closed on Monday – note to travelers, you might want to schedule for another day than a Tuesday. Reserving tickets in advance is non-negotiable, but even doing that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be in line for half an hour. I highly recommend having a private guide to walk with you around the city and navigate this system and, depending on their connections, sometimes they can get you in in front of the line (like ours did!).
After spending time with the most acclaimed sculpture in the world, we darted out of the city center for a site inspection and lunch of Villa San Michele. Just 15 minutes by car (and they do provide a complimentary shuttle), this Belmond property feels like stepping into another world. Where else on this planet can you say that you’ve stayed at a hotel that was partially created by Michelangelo himself?
The facade, which he designed, is somehow the least jaw-dropping element of the property – the real magic rests in the wisteria-laced gardens and sweeping views of the city from just behind the doors of the entrance.
I was blown away by the simple elegance – what a retreat! I want you to imagine waking up and having breakfast on your terrace while overlooking this view, taking your time getting ready in the morning, and then enjoying a quick trip into the city center at your leisure. This is the best of both worlds in Florence – close enough to see the sites, but far enough removed to feel like a true getaway.
Beyond that, the meal was absolutely spectacular. After all the fresh handmade pasta and cheese, I felt like I might need to be rolled to our next stop. As it so happens, our next stop was beyond the Florentine border, so it would have been quite the roll. We said goodbye to Villa San Michele, sadly, and hopped in the car with our fabulous driver, Lorenzo. Lorenzo would become our BFF over the next few days, educating us on all things Italy, from the New Jersey posers (“We call them Spaghetti and Meatballs because we don’t have spaghetti and meatballs in Italy!) to the Italian men who think they are charming just because they’re Italian men (“We say, “That guy has the full kit. You know, slicked back hair, suit, he thinks he is something. The full kit.”)…we let him know that have some of those in America, too…
Our first stop in the Tuscan countryside was San Gimignano – a medieval village that I’ve always likened to Eze in the South of France. While similar, the key to seeing this charming little city is to get there early – otherwise, the tourists flock here in throngs. We got back into the car with Lorenzo and, upon realizing how taken aback we were by the crowds, he proclaimed, “It’s kind of like Medieval Disney World.”
From here, the towns became less and less overcrowded, which was a great experience. We enjoyed a stroll through Siena, where we saw the Palazzo and learned of the traditions revolving around the ancient horse race, the Palio. To this day, individuals will not marry someone from an opposing team – and we thought SEC football was bad.
For the evening, we retired to La Corte dei Papi, another fabulous hotel recommended by Celebrated Experiences and hand-selected by Kurz-Ahler’s, so we knew it would be good. We fell in love with the countryside charm as we were greeted by the owner, David Papi, who takes such sweet pride in welcoming guests to his childhood home-turned-hotel. David gets to know each and every guest by name and serves his clientele with an unprecedented level of humility. It was truly heartwarming to enjoy his hospitable nature and to see the current work that he’s undergoing to make Corte dei Papi a destination into itself.
As it stands, the property combines its traditional setting with a modern flair – the spa suites are over the top in their fixtures and amenities.
The location, right next to Cortona, cannot be beat. The charming little city, just 10 minutes up the road, was easily the most authentic and least-touristy town that we visited up to that point.
We popped in for dinner at Bocaccia, a charming little restaurant where we were literally hand-fed by the owner when we couldn’t possibly finish our meals. I didn’t mind this when it was tiramisu being spoon-fed to me…but Julia seemed to mind when it was a chunk of steak flying in her direction. No pictures available of this experience 😉
The next day, we woke up bright and early to meet Lorenzo for more touring through the countryside. On our agenda was Chianti, where we toured my new favorite city, Greve. Grabbing a bite at the oldest butcher shop in Italy (Falorni) and popping in the extensive wine shop, without being tossed around by crowds, was exactly what I imagined Tuscany would be like.
We enjoyed lunch at a charming little restaurant with sweeping views of the vineyards before enjoying our first wine tasting of the trip.
Right before the sun set, we pulled up to our home for the night, Castello Del Nero, an esteemed castle-turned-hotel with sky-high Cypress trees and perfectly manicured vineyards in the valley below. A must-do is the wine tasting menu at La Taverno – but make sure you time it right after watching the sunset from the terrace with a glass of Prosecco in hand.
Castello Del Nero’s over the top service, prestigious spa, and beautifully restored accommodations make it a true 5 star experience, but the two properties we stayed in were such a complete juxtaposition that it’s impossible to compare them. What Castello De Nero offers in grandeur, La Corte dei Papi provides in subtleties.
From what I’m seeing personally, choosing the perfect hotel is just as important as choosing the right towns to see and choosing the right wineries to visit. This makes the value of firsthand experience from your travel advisor, plus our connections with incredible tour companies, all the more priceless for your own adventures through Tuscany.
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