In The Heart of Tuscany By Alycia Oliver

The heart of Tuscany is a great place to get a break from the busy and crowded streets of Florence. The scenery you will immerse yourself in is surreal; the contrast of the vast rolling yellow and green hills against the clear blue sky is breathtaking.IMG_1128 The hills of Tuscany are the home of many sunflower fields. Especially in the summer months, prepare to see rows on rows of sunflowers (more then you could ever imagine!). Several movies have been filmed in the beautiful tuscan towns, such as Gladiator, Under The Tuscan Sun, Heaven, a Mid-Summer Nights Dream, and The English Patient.

In addition to all the above, Tuscany produces some of the best wines in the world! As wine is something all cultures enjoy, this is a favoured place to visit. If you are a wine lover, you absolutely MUST take a day trip to the heart of Tuscany and take part in one or two wine tastings. IMG_1122You can either rent a car or vespa and ride through the hills, or you can take a bus with a tour guide that will take you to towns and vineyards. I personally did the second option and will further explain my experience in the chance you want to take notes and do it on your own!

I got an early start and left Florence, around 8 am to ensure myself a full and eventful day. I arrived in the first town of Montepulciano an hour and a half later excited and eager to explore. We headed to the Nooble Di Montepulciano Cantina Crociani for our first wine tasting of the day (yes, at 11am). I tasted three different red wines, each of different quality, price and body. There was a unique atmosphere with being surrounded by several oversized wine barrels in an underground cellar.  Satisfied and tipsy we left to venture the Piazza Grande. For any twilight fan this was a very exciting moment to step in the exact doorway Edward Cullen was standing in. The size of the piazza itself was surprising as it seemed so much smaller then it had in the movie!IMG_1151

Our second stop was a Cheese farm in Siena hidden in between two sunflower fields. Not only did they have the best cheese, it was also the home of many animals such as puppies, goats, turkeys, guinea pigs, pigs, kittens and last but not least puppies! I cannot deny the fact that I offered the owner money to take one home. The owners did a demonstration of how cheese was made, and after they generously fed us a fresh four cheese pasta and an unlimited amount of wine. In total we tried five different types of cheese until our bellies ached! IMG_1224Although we were all quite tired we went to our third stop in a small town called Pienza. Here we attempted to walk off the wine, bread, cheese and pasta while looking in the small boutiques and shops. The highlight of this town was the amazing view overlooking the hills, vineyards and sunflower fields- it really was picture perfect!

Finally, we made it to the Brunello Winery in Chianti. Since Brunello is one of the most famous wines in the world it was rightfully so the most delicious wine I have tasted. This winery was extra generous and in total we tired three types of brunello all ranging in the year it was made, a grappa wine, and a desert wine. I left with 3 bottles to bring home, and let me say this I was not the only one! All in all Tuscany was a relaxing and tranquil experience. It is lovely to see places in the world filled with such beauty and serenity!IMG_1314

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Fiesole Italy: What kind of Tourist Are You? By Alycia Oliver

When travellers are looking to come to Italy the first on their mind is Florence, Rome, Venice, Milan and maybe the Amalfi Coast. There are many hidden gems in Italy and Fiesole is most definitely one of them. The biggest benefit about Fiesole is that you can stay in the heart of Florence and take just a short 20 min bus ride up the hill to the magical countryside. If you are interested in taking this bus you must get on the number 7, which stops at the Santa Maria Novella railway station and Piazza San Marco.

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First of all, I would like to ask you what type of traveller are you? You may be surprised to know that in fact there are different types of travelers. Here are your options:

  1. Organized Mass Tourist. This is the least adventurous of the bunch. You like you remain within the tourist bubble, and use the itinerary fixed by the tour operators and attend trips out of the complex and organized tours. This is the easy route that most families take if they have a lot of children they are traveling with.
  2. Individual Mass Tourist. These tourist also use facilities made available by tour operators but exercise greater control over their own itinerary. They will typically serve their hotel as a base and arrange private tours or hire a ca for further trips.
  3. Explorer. An attempt to get off the beaten track and experience new places is the main goal. They make their own travel accommodation arrangements and really enjoy experiencing new things.
  4. Drifter. These travellers scorn the tourist bubble and shun contact with mass tourism. They want to immerse themselves directly into the culture and seek for the local spots in their destination. They Actively seek new destinations and are prepared to take risks in experiencing new cultures and places.

I urge you not to be an organized mass tourist, work your way down the ladder and be comfortable with exploring new places! Typically, explorers and drifter tourists will populate Fiesole, as it is not as well known as other larger cities in Italy. Little do most people know Fiesole was an active community before Florence was, with very unique rules! It was said that the women had just as many rights as the men (at this day in age that was very unusual). They could go to the bank, pay for things, work just as hard, and sometimes the men even took care of the children while the women went out hunting for food.  All Florentine history originates in the hills of Fiesole.

This small town in the Tuscany region overlooks the entire city of Florence and was conquered by the romans in the III century BC. In 405 BC everything turned to chaos when the Stillcone defeated the Goths. The reason why this location was so valuable is because it was far enough way from the Arno River, the main form of transportation at the time. This would allow villagers to have a warning when any danger was near. The Ertuscan’s populated Fiesole and many of the remains are still present. With only an 8 euro ticket you are able to see the roman baths, the remains of the roman Etruscan temple, as well as the magnificent theater. What is really special is, to this day you are able to watch classic shows and operas in the roman theater! The capacity is up to around 3000 people. Some of it has been preserved however there are parts that are still untouched.

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Fiesole is small enough to do in a day trip. Here are the main attractions I would jot down to see!

-The Etruscan wall

-Roman baths

-Roman Temple

-Parco Della Rimembranza (best place to enjoy the view)

-Cathedral of Fiesole

-Antique markets (only happen once a month!)

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This list does not include the several points you can enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the view. There are also a couple very beautiful restaurants on the hill tops with the most amazing pasta you will ever taste!  Hopefully this has inspired you to go to the roots of Florence and experience history first hand! Happy travels!

Top Travels From Florence: Day/Weekend Trips By Alycia Oliver

Florence is a spectacular place to set base camp while in Europe. Florence is essentially in the middle of Italy and Italy is sandwiched between beautiful Spain and Croatia/Greece. With a variety of transportation you are almost guaranteed to find a cheap way to the destination you want to reach. Alternatively, there are many student services companies that will take very good care of you. If you do not have the travel agent gene, do not worry the trips are pre-planned and a guide will show you the top attractions of the city! Here are a few of my personal favorite trips from Florence that vary from day trips to weekend trips. Stop by  the When In Florence Office for more information or to book your trip!

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Venice (Day Trip). Sail the canals of the remarkable city of Venice while sipping on processo and listening to talented musicians. Your eyes will never be at rest in this stunning floating city!  After taking a gondola ride and floating down over 150 canals, make sure to see the Murano glass factories. Hopefully you will get to see a glass blowing demonstration, which will surely blow your mind. Other attractions that you can see are the St. Mark Square and the Rialto Bridge. If you don’t want to go with an organized group the best way to reach Venice is by train.

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Cinque Terre (Day Trip). Lace up your sneakers, grab your bathing suit, and head to the home of pesto! Explore the 5 towns that hang amongst the cliffs over the Mediterranean Sea while hiking through the colorful villages. While admiring a breath taking view of the crystal blue sea you can enjoy amazing pesto pizza or seafood. At the end of your day there is a long sandy beach you can relax on before getting on just a 2 hour bus back to Florence.

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Barcelona (Week-End Trip). The home of the ultimate Spanish beach life intertwined within a lively city is a perfect combination for a weekend vacation. The mix of modernity and old Spanish town is found in Barcelona. Some of the top sights you will see are The Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and La Rambla. Last but not least, the nightlife is unimaginable, pack your dancing shoes and expect to stay up until the early hours of the night!

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The Amafli Coast (Week-End Trip). This will be a very eventful, action-packed weekend. Sail around the Island of Capri and visit the outstanding Blue Grotto (if your lucky you will get to swim in it!). Taste the freshest lemon cello while relaxing on many beaches. Visit Positano to cliff jump and swim in caves to keep yourself cool from the hot summer sun. Get another perspective and see Italia from sea as you can ferry from Capri to Positano or Naples!

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Taste of Tuscany (Day Trip). For something a little closer to home we head to Florence’s backyard, the Tuscan Hills. This is all about wine wine and more wine. Taste some of the world’s best wines and go on wine tasting tours as well as vineyard tours.  Walk through the medieval villages and see the Montepulciano and Montalcino.

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Interlaken & Lake Como (Weekend Trip). For all the adrenaline junkies out there, this is your ideal trip. Hiking, rough water rafting, sky diving, paragliding, and canyon jumping are all possible in Europe’s adventure capital, Interlacken! After an eventful day head to the spa or watch a chocolate show for relaxation. Lake Como, the home of many celebrities get-away’s, can be toured in one day as well. The third largest, beautiful lake in northern Italy is worth a visit!

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Croatia (Weekend Trip).   If you are looking for a tropical get-away then Croatia is the place to be. From river rafting, to island hopping, to the Krka waterfalls you come back with amazing photos, memories and maybe even new friends! Exploring the ruins of the Dioceltian Palace and the old town of split should be in your itinerary as well.

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French Rivera (Weekend Trip). Visit the notorious southern France to experience the lifestyle of the rich and the famous! Sun bathe on Nice’s long beautiful beach or take a hike up a small hill to see an aerial view. With Monte Carlo only being a 20 minute subway ride away indulge in the amazing restaurants and test your luck at the famous Casino! Expect beautiful cars, people beautiful, beautiful scenery and a beautiful time!

Ski Weekend Abetone

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There are many things to do in Tuscany, but skiing is not always the first thing to come to mind. However, there is a wonderful ski resort called Abetone, located just two hours from Florence. Think of it as a little piece of Switzerland in Tuscany.

abetoneAbetone ski resort has over 50 km (31 miles) of piste. The slopes are nestled between four well-linked valleys: Val di Luce, Valle dello Scoltenna, Valle dell Sestalone, and Valle di Lima. The convergence of these valleys gives skiers a breath taking view. One of the best things about Abetone: it is considered to be very safe. There has never been an avalanche.

There are a number of nursery slopes for beginners, as well as challenging slopes for the more experienced. There are several multilingual schools, which offer lessons even for the most inexperienced skiers.

There is also a state-of-the-art terrain park for snowboarders that includes a half-pipe and 3 metre (10 feet) jumps. The park is perfect for thrill seeking snowboarders.

Envole vers le cielThe resort hosts an array of activities, including:

  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross country skiing
  • Rafting
  • Mountain biking
  • Horseback Riding

If you happen to visit Abetone during a full moon, don’t miss one of the famous full moon parties! People get together on the top of the mountain and ski down by the light of the moon or anything else they can find (torches, lamps, light sabers….).

For those who are not all that keen on outdoor sports, there are plenty of alternative activities to keep you occupied. There are several good restaurants in the the area where you can take a break and enjoy some great cuisine. One favorite of travellers is Albergo Regina Restaurant. Abetone is known for its mushrooms, so be sure to order something with mushrooms in it! There are also several resorts and hotels where you can indulge yourself in a spa treatment or lounge by the pool for a blissful and relaxing weekend.

So whether you are looking for a weekend of extreme sports or you are just looking to see a new side of Tuscany, consider checking out Abetone – you won’t be disappointed.

Check out When In Florence’s weekend Ski Trip in Abetone. Visit our Facebook page for more information on what to do in Tuscany.