Undiscovered Tuscany

DAY 1- FLORENCE

Arrival from Bologna or from the US. Accommodation in the selected hotel located in the historical centre.

Welcome cappuccino at the “Caffetteria delle Oblate”. Presentation of the tour in the beautiful terrace right in front of the Duomo’s Brunelleschi Cupola. Orientation guided walking tour within the city centre with a special focus on the discovery of small and invisible details of the major Florence monuments such as the Duomo, Palazzo della Signoria, Uffizi Gallery. Welcome Tuscan dinner in a typical trattoria.

DAY 2- FLORENCE

Today, we will be met by an art critic who will show us some of the most interesting hidden art collections in Florence. Real gems of art & architecture right in the outskirts of the city:

Villa La Pietra. Now property of the New York University thanks to a recent legacy by the British author and aesthete Sir Harold Hatton, the villa is a magnificent example of Reinassance Tuscan Architecture. It hosts an outstanding art collection and can be visited by appointment only.

Villa I Tatti. The Reinassance Villa, famous for its amazing Italian gardens, became an important cultural centre during the XX Century thanks to Bernard Berenso, distinguished art historian. Since 1936 property of the Harvard University, it is now a research centre of Italian Reinassance. The art collection is impressive and hosts masterpieces of Giotto, Gentile di Fabriano and many others. It is normally closed to the public.

Lunch en route. The rest of day may be dedicated to the exploration of the area, with the medieval village of Corbignano. Dinner will be on our own in Florence.

DAY 3- FLORENCE

This morning we take a leisure stroll around the city historical centre and browse through the shops of old crafts, particularly leather and jewellery. We will meet the artisans who will tell us their stories and show us their art. Then we can take a guided visit to the local market of Sant’Ambrogio. Opened in 1873, it is the most important food market in Florence. We will taste some local specialties on site for lunch.

The afternoon will be free, with optional special guided visits:

–                 the Galleria Palatina in Palazzo Pitti, that hosts, among others, a unique collection of paintings by Andrea del Sarto with the Boboli gardens, UNESCO world heritage site.

–                 The Museo del Bargello, with its remarkable collections of Reinassance sculptures, including masterpieces of Donatello, Michelangelo, Luca della Robbia.

Dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight.

DAY 4 – FLORENCE/LUCCA/LERICI

After breakfast we head by private bus to the charming town of Lucca, city of the 100 churches. We will spend part of the day here guided by a Professor of Architecture. A great way of exploring Lucca is to start along the old 2,5 mile long city walls, Lucca’s most distinctive element known worldwide since they are the only ones to be completely accessible. From up there, we will overlook many secret corners that you won’t be able to discover by walking through the tiny streets of the old city centre. Bycicles are the best means of exploration in the case of Lucca.

Among the many great monuments and attractions, we will focus on the Cattedrale di San Martino, one of the most amazing architectural wonders in Italy. This Romanesque cathedral contains highly skilled, ornately decorated marble sculptures, arches, and columns. Additionally, the Cathedral is home to volto santo, also known as holy face. Legend has it that the crucifix completed the design of its face overnight while the artist slept.

After lunch on our own in one of the many cafés and restaurants of the historical centre, we continue to Lerici. On the way we stop in Seravezza, where we will discover one the twelve Medici Villas that are UNESCO world heritage.

Check in at our hotel in Lerici, dinner at the fisherman’s harbour, with scenic vistas of richly colored pastel and terracotta houses, boats bobbing in the water and pretty rolling hills in the background. Overnight.

DAY 5 – LERICI/FIVIZZANO/LERICI

The morning is free to slow down and take some time to walk, relax and enjoy this charming seaside ancient village, gate to the Cinque Terre in the heart of the Bay of Poets: Shelley, Lord Byron, Petrarch and Dante all had a fondness for the natural beauty of the landscape. We may walk to the nearby villages of Tellaro and San Terenzo, visit the Lerici Castle, or just relax at the beach.

After lunch on our own, we enjoy an excursion to the Lunigiana Tuscan Region, a journey back in time. Along the Via Francigena, several medieval castles and walled hamlets characterize this beautiful mountain valley. We will head to Fivizzano, with visits to the Dell’Aquila and Malaspina Castles as well as the Caves of Equi, cave complex developed over the course of hundreds of thousands of years thanks to the action of water, which over for millennia penetrated into fractures in the calcareous rock, eroding it and leaving behind features of great beauty and naturalistic interest: shafts, galleries, chambers, and underground lakes.

On our way back to Lerici, we will stop for dinner and taste the very special local gastronomy.

DAY 6 – PORTOVENERE/CARRARA/PISA

After breakfast, we take a boat and cross the Gulf of Poets towards Portovenere, where we enjoy our morning with a local chef who will guide us through the village while explaining the history of Ligurian gastronomy. We will then take a hands-on cooking class where we learn to make pesto and then enjoy lunch together at our chef’s restaurant.

After lunch, we take our private bus to Carrara, famous for its marble quarries. We will visit a White Carrara Marble Quarry, just like the one where Michelangelo himself used to choose the best blocks for his masterpieces. The owner of the quarry will tell us about the history of this industry, the characteristics of this material and the secrets of marble extraction, as well as how this material is used nowadays.

After the visit, we will enjoy the Italian aperitivo ritual with lardo di Colonnata, produced in the small village right close to Carrara.

We then take our bus and head to Pisa, where we check in at our hotel.

DAY 7 – PISA

After breakfast, we go straight to the Campo dei Miracoli, UNESCO world heritage site, before the crowd fills the area. We will be met by a Professor of Geotechnics, who will explain to us the history of what happened during the ages to the tower, why it leans, and how it is being preserved. We then head to Cimitero Monumentale, north of Piazza Duomo. Here one of the hugest frescos restoration campaign is under way. As a matter of fact, during World War II a bomb hit part of this exceptional fresco cycle dating back from the XIV Century. Recently, a significant part of this masterpiece has opened to the public. We will be guided through the history of this undiscovered Medieval art masterpiece.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we will visit the Romanesque Church of San Piero in Grado, right outside of Pisa. Very particular from the architectural point of view, this Basilica has two apses and it is said that San Peter held his first preaching here. Dinner on our own and overnight.

DAY 8 – PISA/PONTEDERA/VOLTERRA/SIENA

Today in the morning our private bus takes us to the legendary Piaggio factory, in Pontedera, a few miles from Pisa. Here, back in 1946, the first Vespa motorcycle was built. Vespa is an icon scooter, synonym of La Dolce Vita and shown in many old movies, such as Roman Holidays, with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. We visit the Piaggio Museum and its unique collection but today’s special will be the visit of the factory itself that will open especially for us. We will be led by one of the factory managers who will show us the production lines. We will learn how the new Vespas are fabricated and we will have the chance to speak with the Piaggio Engineers.

Lunch en route. In the afternoon, on our way to Siena, we stop in the walled Etruscan town of Volterra, one of Tuscany’s most evocative hilltop towns. We’ll enjoy a guided walking tour of the town with its Roman Theatre, Piazza dei Priori and the magnificent Duomo with its peculiar ceiling. We will certainly not miss the Guarnacci Museum, important evidence of the Etruscan heritage.

Dinner and overnight in the countryside around Siena.

DAY 9 – SIENA/FONTERUTOLI/SIENA

We are in the heart of the Chianti Region and we are going to enjoy a really exclusive experience at a winery. The Castello di Fonterutoli winery is exactly what we are looking for. The owner, architect and wine maker, has designed and built in 2006 the new cellar that was defined by Steven Spurrer (“Decanter”) “the most impressive of the whole Chianti Region”. She will welcome us to her property, and tell us her story with an in-depth visit to the whole process of wine making through the different stages, from harvest to bottling. We will have a guided tasting and a light lunch in the winery.

In the afternoon we will reach the town of Siena. We will have free time to enjoy the historical centre at our own pace. In the evening, after dinner on our own, we will head back to our hotel.

DAY 10 – SIENA/PIENZA

After breakfast we take some small panoramic routes south through some of the greatest views of the Tuscan countryside. We will stop for a gentle walk to experience and feel the very heart of the Chianti Region and take some memorable pictures. We then reach the Medieval village of San Quirico d’Orcia. Despite the small dimensions, it holds many outstanding pieces of art: the Collegiata of San Quirico & Giulitta, the Horti Leonini (an Italian Renaissance garden) and many outstanding ancient palaces. In this particular village, the traditional cuisine reaches real high standards: we will not miss the “pici” for lunch.

Before heading to Pienza, we will spend our afternoon at Bagno Vignoni, an ancient Roman thermae resort town that was once frequented by the Popes. It is the only town in the world that has a central huge pool instead of a central piazza. For those who wish, a bath in the public open and free thaermae can be enjoyed.

We head to our hotel in Pienza and after dinner, we enjoy the suggestions of a guided tour by night of the town. The magic atmosphere by night will not be easily forgotten. Pienza is a rare example of “perfect city”, as it was completely built according to an extremely homogeneous city plan.

DAY 11 – PIENZA/AREZZO

After breakfast, the first part of the morning is free to stroll around and do some shopping. Then head by private bus to Arezzo, the town of Piero della Francesca.

On our way we will stop at a Pecorino Cheese Farm. Right in this area probably the best Pecorino cheese is produced. We will meet the cheese maker and a “fromager”, a sort of cheese sommelier, who will guide us through a journey of taste. We’ll have our light lunch here together with the staff of the farm.

In the afternoon we continue to Arezzo, where a guided walking tour of the city centre will be provided. Check in at our hotel, dinner and overnight.

DAY 12 – AREZZO

This morning, we meet with an Art Historian that will hold a lecture about Piero della Francesca, one of the greatest painters of the 15th Century. After the lecture we visit his frescoes in the San Francesco Basilica guided by our Professor.

The rest of the day will be free for individual visits or shopping.

A special farewell dinner has been organized at a private mansion. Overnight.

DAY 13 – AREZZO/FIRENZE

After breakfast, depart from Arezzo to Florence airport.

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