Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Italian Adventure 2011, Part III

On day 14 we arrived in Florence after another tense drive through Northern Tuscany in the pouring rain. At this point we were just here for one night and meeting up with three other couples and our tour guide in the morning. We planned to return to Florence for a couple of nights after our Tuscany tour as we had been there before and do love the city.

After several complications… dropping off our car, finding our room, not being able to get into our room, we finally arrived frazzled and tired. Mark wanted to get something to eat and retire for the night. I however, wanted to see the Duomo.

Mark was more agreeable after a nice dinner and a little wine, and we strolled down to Piazza Duomo. The streets of Florence are very narrow and the buildings are tall, blocking the sun and any views of the city’s sights. When we stepped into the square the enormity of the cathedral took our breath away. We had forgotten the majesty and shear size of this incredible structure. We circled the cathedral, baptistery, and bell tower awed and speechless until we realized it was cold and we had an early wake up call.

                                                                             We met our guide, the charming and entertaining Salvatore, and the other couples at the train station. To our great relief, it turned out to be a friendly and fun group of people from three different areas of the US and we immediately hit it off. Next stop, Castello Delle Serre, a centuries old castle in the heart of Tuscany. Salvatore had purchased the castle 14 years ago and has been restoring it ever since. We had stayed there three years ago and were excited to be returning for an entire week with Salvatore, a knowledgeable historian, and his son, Antonio, as our guides.

We settled into our elegant room, had a quick lunch, and headed into the Tuscan countryside. Mark and I have toured many areas of Italy, but as soon as we arrived, we agreed that Tuscany is our favorite. There is something unique about this part of the world. The way the sun illuminates the landscape, the vineyards covering the slopes, the historic hilltop towns with their winding narrow streets, all combine to take you away from the modern world into history itself. There is a feel to this place that is like nowhere else.

With local residence as our guides (from left, my husband Mark, Salvatore, and Antonio), we were able to enjoy local restaurants, private wineries, and even private homes. We ate some dinners at the castle prepared by Sal and his family, which were fabulous and memorable. On our first full day of touring we were welcomed at the Dei Family Winery and even into their home for lunch. The Dei family fortune derives from their travertine quarries, and more recently, their winery. I was delighted to find them welcoming and warm as we toured the gardens (pictured below) and interior of one of their country estates. The meal was amazing, the wine delicious, and the company unforgettable. Once again we were living among the locals, in this case, the wealthy locals. What an experience!

Next week, part 4.

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