Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wine Country with my boys: Tuscany

We just got back from an amazing weekend in Tuscany.  Then again, how can you go to such a beautiful part of the world and not create incredible memories?  Our decision to go to Tuscany for Labor Day was literally last minute.  We finally had Baby C's passport in hand, so we scouted the internet for any cheap airfares that weekend.  We got lucky and found a super cheap flight out of Leipzig into Pisa on RyanAir.

Despite the last minute trip, I was able to find a great Italian Villa near San Gimignamo called Il Casale Del Cotone.  San Gimignamo is a beautiful town in the southwest corner of Tuscany between Florence and Siena.  It truly is a gem of a place, and the villa where we stayed was perfect for our trip.  It sat about 3 km from the old town, and it was surrounded with vineyards.  So beautiful.

Our first excursion was to head into San Gimignamo.  It's a walled medieval town in the hills of Tuscany.  The town is known for its seven well preserved tower houses.  These are less obvious when you are inside the town's walls, but the create a signature townscape recognized throughout much of that part of Tuscany.  The village is charming and medieval.  When we arrived, it started to rain.  The summer shower gave the town a romantic feel.  We wandered around the town to take in the atmosphere, we ate dinner in a square near one of the tower houses, and then took the boys back to the villa to snuggle in for the night.  

^^^A romantic scene right inside the walls of San Gimiginamo^^^

^^^The warm summer rain, although wet, added a charm to this already beautiful town.^^^

^^^One of the seven tower houses in San Gimignamo.^^^

^^^Little r hamming it up in the square where we ate dinner.^^^

^^^The summer shower created a double rainbow over one of the towers. It felt like a good omen.^^^

^^^Storefront in San Gimignamo.  Such a charming medieval town.^^^

^^^Tuscan countryside with San Gimignamo in the backdrop.^^^

Our villa was so fabulous.  The owner was incredibly friendly and helpful.  If you are heading to Tuscany, I can't recommend this place enough, especially for the low price.

^^^Il Casale de Cotone^^^

The next morning we took off for a day in Siena.  I think at least half of the enjoyment of our trip was about driving from one town to the other and taking in the incredible Tuscan countryside.  Big R kept asking for me to pull over so he could take photo after photo of all the beauty.  September truly is a perfect time to visit this part of the world.

My first time in Siena, I was freshly out of college and exploring Europe with my best friend.  We took a bus from Florence to discover Siena.  I remember being so impressed with the old architecture.  The whole experience was so new to me.  It's crazy to think of how much I have been fortunate enough to see since that trip, and how it can change your perspective.  Our visit was so different this time around. We drove to the town and walked from a garage with a three year old and a baby before 10 a.m.  Most of the town was still asleep because the tour buses hadn't arrived yet.  The weather was amazing and the streets were quiet.  I quickly realized that so much of the amazement of this town was the buzz created by the people that sat on the square taking it all in.

We spent some time discovering the beautiful Duomo and walked the streets down to the square.  A visit wouldn't be complete without our family climbing a clock or bell tower, which little r has disclaimed he is "really good at" now.  The views from the top were incredible!  The weather could not have been better.

^^^Me holding Baby C in front of the Duomo in Siena.^^^

^^^I just love my boys :) ^^^

^^^A view from the top of the clock tower in Siena.^^^

^^^Even the store fronts were beautiful.  I was taken aback by how carefully the store owner arranged his produce as if it were a work of art - incredible!^^^

^^^Little r contemplating the meaning of life, no doubt, while Big R works hard to get that perfect picture.^^^

For dinner we had decided to try a meal at our villa.  Dinner was offered including fresh organic ingredients and all the wine you could drink.  This sounded like a perfect way to finish our second day in Tuscany.  We spent the afternoon poolside at the villa, and finished the evening having dinner on the terrace.  After little r ate his dinner (and decided to crash his chair backward into the stone wall - ouch!), he decided he was done and just wanted to go to bed.  I took him to our room and tucked him in.  Baby C was cuddled up in his carseat next to our table.  You really couldn't ask for a better situation - it truly felt like a date! (Considering our poolside excursion was anything but relaxing, it was nice that the boys cooperated for us to enjoy dinner.)

^^^The view of Tuscany outside the window of our room at the villa.^^^

^^^Salute!!!  Dinner was fabulous and so romantic!^^^

^^^I was the driver for our Tuscan adventure, so I didn't drink much wine during this trip, but for dinner that night, I truly let myself enjoy the wonderful Tuscan wines made from grapes on the adjacent hillsides.^^^

It was sad to leave our beautiful villa, but the departure was made much sweeter knowing we were heading off into Chianti to discover the countryside where some of the most well known wines are made.  I was anxious to share some of the towns in Chianti with Big R that I discovered on my trip to Tuscany with my girlfriends back in March.  We  drove from San Gimignamo to Radda and then over to Greve.  These are very small, unassuming towns that are more about the people and the food than anything else.  Our stops there were short and sweet.  Radda afforded Big R some views of the valley, while Greve became a great place to pause for lunch.

^^^Views of the countryside as we drove through the Chianti region of Tuscany.^^^

^^^Radda in Chianti is a charming village with typical Tuscan architecture.  It's a simple town that would be a perfect place to stop for lunch or to watch the sunset over a wonderful meal at dinner.^^^

^^^Radda was full of historic world charm.^^^

^^^...and amazing views of the countryside!^^^

^^^More Tuscan charm in Radda.^^^

 ^^^and even more charm...^^^

As Radda sits atop a hill in Chianti, Greve is nestled down in a valley.  The towns are completely different, and offer a contrasting viewpoint of Chianti.  Unfortunately, there was some sort of festival being set up in the town square while we were there, so it took away some of the photogenic qualities of the town.  We still enjoyed a lunch at one of the restaurants in the square before heading back into wine country.

^^^My cool little dude at lunch in Greve in Chianti.^^^

^^^Enjoying a relaxing lunch with my boys in Greve.^^^

^^^Wine country in Chianti!^^^

^^^GRAPES!!! When I took this picture in March, there were only vine branches - not a single leaf or grape.  It was so beautiful to see this terrace covered in growth!^^^

We quickly realized how much more expensive it was in this region of Tuscany, and we decided to move along toward the coastline.  We were spending our last night in Pisa because our flight was leaving painfully early.  As a last minute decision, we veered over to Lucca expecting it to be a fast stop before we landed in Pisa for the night.  A fast stop became an amazing afternoon and evening because Lucca was incredible!!!  I dare say we enjoyed it so much more than Siena and probably Florence as well.  It had all the charm of the more popular Tuscan destinations without the crowds.  Despite it being September, the town still had that "summer in Europe" feel to it.  I'm so glad we made the decision to stop by, and if you have the time, I can't recommend it enough.

^^^A photogenic moment in Lucca.^^^

^^^My crazy little man was wild the entire time we were in Lucca.  Too much ice cream and chocolate on this trip!^^^

While in Lucca, we climbed not only one, but two towers.  One of these days I'm going to count the number of stairs I have climbed since we got to Europe.  I somehow am always carrying an extra person as we climb to the top, too!

^^^Oh look, it's a bell!^^^

^^^Views of Lucca from the top of Torre del Ore.  The tower was apparently restored and recently reopened to the public.  We agreed that it must have been crazy because restored it was a little adventurous getting to the top!^^^

^^^Another view from Torre del Ore. Isn't Lucca gorgeous?^^^

^^^Shot of the Duomo in Lucca from above.^^^

^^^A pause in the window climbing Torre del Ore.^^^

^^^Baby C literally stared at me the entire climb back down the tower - it was too cute!^^^

We descended the Torre del Ore and wandered the medieval streets until we landed in Piazza Anfiteatro, where we enjoyed some much needed gelato.  Isn't gelato always a necessity after climbing a tower?

^^^Piazza Anfiteatro^^^

^^^Archway into Piazza Anfiteatro^^^

^^^I felt like a perfect picture was waiting at every corner...^^^

^^^I mentioned we climbed 2 towers...^^^

^^^Yep, we climbed all the way up this one as well!  Torre Guinigi is a tall tower with a garden atop.  Very cool.^^^

^^^The trees atop Torre Guinigi gave the photos a neat effect.^^^

^^^I have to steal the camera sometimes, too.  Big R was actually on this trip, and here's proof!^^^

^^^More views from atop Torre Guinigi^^^

^^^And more views of the beautiful town of Lucca.^^^

^^^Awesome picture Big R took as we descended the tower.^^^

^^^The bascilla of San Michele in Foro in Lucca - the fascade was unique and impressive!^^^

^^^And...they had a carousel.  Always little r's favorite!^^^

^^^Me and my little man on the top of the wall surrounding the town.  The wall is now a bike path that wraps around the city.^^^

^^^Sometimes Big R takes over and shows Baby C the sights as well.^^^

We were pooped and the boys were beyond done, but we had just one more stop before our hotel that night.  We had to find our way into Pisa to see the leaning tower.  It somehow felt criminal not to at least get a photo when we would be sleeping just down the street.  Well, it wasn't just any photo that Big R wanted to get.  It was actually THIS photo....

^^^Everyone is always posing holding the tower up, so Big R thought it would be hilarious to pose little r knocking it over.  Classic...^^^

^^^Can you tell we are tired? We had no clue what we were doing in this picture. Little r definitely wasn't in the mood to follow directions, he just thought it was funny to hold his hand up in the air and copy me - hahahahaha^^^

^^^Despite the jokes, the leaning tower of Pisa is actually an impressive monument especially at night.^^^

We stayed that night at B&B Hotels in Pisa.  Nothing fancy, but the hotel was a stone's throw from the airport, it had parking, and it was comfortable.  It was also pretty darn cheap for all of us.  Everyone slept hard, and despite the early flight, I had to hesitate before waking up the boys in the morning because everyone was sleeping so hard.  Such a great trip!

Hard to believe we were in Tuscany for less than four days.  We were able to see so much while we were there.  The weather was incredible and our visit was nothing shy of remarkable.  This trip definitely goes into our travel archives as one of our best family excursions.  I hope we make it back to Tuscany again, and when we do, I'll be sure to visit again in September!

No comments:

Post a Comment