Ciao from Tuscany! It is now autumn here and thoughts turn to the vineyards as the region prepares for one of its favorite traditions, the vendemmia (wine harvest). Those of you who have been here with us at the villa on tour (and some of you were here during the harvest of the vineyards next to the villa), remember it was a difficult harvest last year as the years rainfall was much less than normal, so the harvest produced anywhere from 25-50% less grape. But as many of you experienced Italians do not complain, they spoke about looking forward to learning (and tasting) how that years vintage would turn out.
So, this year after a plentiful rainy season, careful tending, trimming and tasting, Tuscan grapes are ready to be transformed into what is music to every Tuscan’s ear, vino nuovo (new wine). Of course, you don’t have to own a vineyard to partake in the season’s festivities. There are plenty of fantastic wine festivals in the coming months that celebrate the harvest and the traditional dishes that are prepared alongside it, giving you the perfect excuse to raise a glass with the locals. Just don’t forget to say “Salute” or ‘Cin Cin’.
Tuscany has some great wine festivals. As old as the act of making wine itself , this is your chance to taste the region’s reds and whites as the locals intended (and very different from our tasting experiences in the US; away from fussy cellars, tasting rooms and stark wine shops), rather in Italy accompanied by plenty of great food and by locals in period costume, and music.
Those of you who have been with us on tour remember the town Greve in Chiani where one of these festivals, Expo del Chianti Classico just occurred. Expo del Chianti Classico is the event for the serious Tuscan wine buff. Hundreds of stands were set up in the gorgeous main piazza, representing the best of local Florentine and Sienese producers. Throughout the festival, there was ample time to taste and buy from the winemakers as well as plenty of free lectures on the history and cultural significance of Chianti, guided tours through the town, live and DJ music and … the annual highlight, super bingo!
The last Sunday in September is the Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta, a small town just outside of Florence. The grand dame of Tuscan wine festivals, Impruneta’s Festa dell’Uva is a celebration of ‘vino’ in Italy. It’s a celebration of the grape growers and wine makers that define their cultura Contadina (farming heritage). Sure, there’s plenty of wine to taste – here the locals are partial to the Toscano I.G.T - but there’s also an action-packed cart race between the four town districts, which battle it out for a hand-painted cup and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
Tuscany’s wine festivals aren’t just about enjoying a glass or two with some great food, they’re also a chance to taste the best established and up-and-coming vintages.
Sangiovese is Italy’s numero uno grape. The name means ‘Blood of Jove’, aka Jupiter, the Father of the Roman Gods. Sangiovese is at the core of Chianti, which was once considered as simply a red table wine.
Chianti is now the feature wine at all of Northern Tuscany’s wine festivals. Chianti has sour cherry notes with hints of tomato and tea leaves, violets, herbs, earth, licorice and leather.
Southern Tuscany’s quickly becoming favorite wine is also packed with plenty of Sangiovese. The Morellino di Scansano is Tuscany’s youngest DOCG wine. Its name stems from the word ‘morello’, either the dark red morello cherry found in the area or a local nickname for the brown color of its horses. The Morellino di Scansano is rough around the edges, full-bodied, fresh and fruity with ripe notes of plum and other dark fruits.
Tuscany isn’t really famous for its whites, but is known for the Tuscan wine Vernaccia most notably Vernacci di San Gimignano. Those of you who have joined us at the villa, had much of this wine. Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the most well known variety of Vernaccia and produces crisp wine with good acidity and citrus fruit, and is sometimes blended with the local Trebbiano grape. But, if you’re partial to something lighter, you can try the wine from nearby Elba, Elba Ansonica, named after the region’s favorite white wine grape, the Ansonica has an intense aroma and a flavor that drifts from dry to sweet.
Consider joining us on our all-inclusive Tuscan Adventure, August 18-28, 2019 to experience all that is Tuscany. We only have 3 couples spots (6 people double occupancy) remaining for this tour (6 couples max.). If you have family or friends who you would like to share what will be ‘lifetime memories’ please contact us for further tour details. Early booking discounts of up to $1000 per couple are still available.
A small $500 deposit per person will hold your spot. And, please read our informative blogs at Villas of Italy. We are looking forward to sharing the real Italy with you in 2019.
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
Ciao . . . a presto!
The magazine, L’Italo-Americano the #1 source of all things Italian since 1908, shares with us about eating and living with Italian gusto . . . which is what we at Villas of Italy create for our guests while on tour. Not only during our meals at the villa with Chef Mauro, but also while on tour with Giacomo and our city guides . . . we share the life, culture, cuisine, and art of the Italian people who always - no matter what they do – live life with gusto.
Eating in Italy mirrors life: it speaks of family, friends and love, of history and local heritage, of a past that shapes the future, something of which we are still profoundly and undeniably proud. This is what we share with our guests on every tour.
Just like the arts, food is one of the most important aspects of Italian life and Italian culture. As I experienced growing up in the kitchens of my grandparents, my great aunts and uncles they always used simple recipes, simple ingredients, respect for the past and a lot of love. In Italy, food is an expression of love (sounds a bit corny, but if you’ve met our villa Chef Mauro you know what I mean) where eating becomes a joyous gathering and food is a sign of welcoming, of affection.
We recreate this ‘tradition’, this ‘feeling’, with each meal while on tour at the villa, a philosophy where simplicity is key, using ingredients that are local, fresh and organic, because the most beautiful surprises come from the humblest of things - in the kitchen, just as in life.
In Italy, “every meal counts:” it counts because it becomes, day in day out, the central moment for family and friends to take time to gather. A meal in Italy is a moment of profound community, of sharing and discussion. You eat, and enjoy the warmth of those you love the most. Our Italian ancestors all understood the importance of sharing food and gathering around a table. In a world of social media and smartphone relationships, learning from this Italian tradition could make many rediscover the pleasure of true human contact.
The soul of Italy has been, for centuries, agricultural and it’s here we find the origin of much of our time-honored dishes: and so, out comes our Italian cuisine’s tradition of using simple ingredients and seasonal recipes, for things that fill you up from morning to evening, that comfort the stomach just as much as they soothe the soul.
Very rarely does Italian food ask for ‘special’ ingredients, very rarely does it involve complex, overly fancy preparations. Those who have been at the villa with us and have experienced the phenomena that is Chef Mauro, know it is understanding the beauty of what we have and discovering the treasures of what’s around us. And if this is not a lesson to learn for life as well . . .
Italians are pleasure lovers! And food is one of the pleasures we love the most. What does Italy’s affair with fresh, organic ingredients in the creation of unbelievably delicious food tell us about life?
Well, I think it’s simple: it is an invitation to enjoy the earthy pleasures of everyday living with an open heart because life is too short to be perennially on a diet or to postpone that trip we’ve always wanted to take.
At Villas of Italy we strive to share with our guests that eating the Italian way also teaches us a thing or two about how to live a better life, how to live life filled with friendship, with love, with serenity.
We hope we will see you at the villa soon to experience the life, culture, cuisine, and art of the Italian people who always - no matter what they do – live life with gusto.
Our Tuscan Adventure, August 18-28, 2019 (6 couples Max.) has 3 couples spots (double occupancy) remaining. Contact us for special early booking pricing saving up to $1000 per couple. A small $500pp deposit will hold your space.
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
Yesterday we had the great pleasure of having lunch with a good buddy from college and his wife (he was in my wedding and I was in his) who are joining us on our Tuscan Adventure next year August 18-28, 2019. We had a wonderful time catching up but our conversation eventually turned to the trip. One of the questions was how far in advance to purchase airfare? Those of you who will be joining us in Venice for our Venezia - La Serenissima tour in June (sold out) or our Tuscan Adventure (3 couples spots left) you will be receiving many emails with all kinds of great travel tips and what to consider when traveling. You can also read our blogs and FAQ's here on our website that will give you a ton of information. And, if you still have questions you can always email us and we'll get back to you with answers to your questions, and probably answers to questions you haven't thought of yet!?
The question of how far in advance to purchase your airfare . . . we usually recommend the best time to purchase airfare to Europe is 3-5 months out from your trip. If you purchase farther out than 5 months out you could be paying too much, and if you wait to purchase closer than 3 months to your trip you'll likely pay more as well.
We always recommend using fare trackers to watch for preferential pricing like Kayak, airfarewatchdog, skyscanner, tripsavvy, orbitz, etc. that will alert you when the fares drop or into the pricing range you've set.
This coming year however we are suggesting waiting closer to the 3 month mark as 2019 is the year airfares may drop for a few of reasons. With the US economy growing stronger and showing signs of not slowing down anytime soon, the currency exchange rate is moving into more favorable territory for the dollar which will increase your buying power, and there are BIG changes coming in the airline industry which may generate fare wars.
For the last many, many years us Americans rarely flew on an unfamiliar air carrier; it’s been decades since U.S. travelers saw a new airline emerge. The Big Three (American, Delta, and United) have had little competition since Southwest and JetBlue came onto the scene in the 60s and 90s, respectively. But that may finally change. With a new low-cost American carrier taking off and European start-up airlines expanding to the States, so many more cheap flights across the globe could be on the horizon. Here are the new airlines to keep tabs on.
Faithful JetBlue flyers will be happy to know that the buzz about a new airline by the low-cost carrier’s founder, David Neeleman, looks to be coming to fruition. Neeleman recently annouced the tentative purchase of 60 Airbus A220-300 jets for the venture, which he’s referred to as “Moxy.” The new airline’s name is likely to change, but what’s clear is that Neeleman wants to stay true to JetBlue’s low-cost, high-comfort ethos, this time for secondary airports located outside of urban air hubs. “The A220 will enable us to serve thinner routes in comfort without compromising cost, especially on longer-range missions,” Neeleman told investors. But not so fast: Moxy isn’t likely to fly until 2021.
Backed by Qatar Airways and born of a small Italian carrier formerly called Meridiana, Air Italy is looking to capitalize on the shortcomings of financially troubled Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier. Air Italy’s flights to Italy and beyond (including Brazil, Spain, and Israel) began from New York’s JFK airport, Miami, and the airline’s Milan hub in early 2018. Those routes seem to be just the beginning: The new airline is expected to more than double its fleet by 2022.
A new airline concept out of France, French bee is billing itself as the first low-cost, long-haul-only airline. The focus is connecting France to far-off cities like San Francisco, which is the only American route for now. You'll start seeing French bee’s blue planes at more airports, and you should check out some low-cost long-haul options that’ll take you further for less.
Owned by IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus) and based in Barcelona, budget carrier LEVEL began operations in 2017. It’s so far succeeding with its routes to Martinique, Punta Cana, Buenos Aires, Montreal, and Paris through Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Oakland. However, its recent airport meltdown, which stranded travelers in Montreal, indicates that management still needs to work out some details. LEVEL’s newest mission is to expand offerings from its Vienna hub, beginning with short-haul European flights that could eventually extend to the States.
Yet another new airline that’s low-cost and based in Europe, Primera Air began its transatlantic routes to the U.S. in 2017. Patterned on Norwegian Air (our latest personal favorite nonstop Oakland-Rome), Primera’s U.S. options include flights from New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. to London and Paris.
A rare U.S. startup aiming to launch a big new airline, a tentative venture called World Airways resurfaced in 2017 when new investors bought out the “intellectual property” of a small carrier of the same name that went under in 2014. World Airways has been somewhat vague about its plans. Some statements seem to indicate a focus on long-haul routes with 787s, while others seem to say the line will copy Norwegian with transatlantic flights from New York’s Stewart International Airport.
So, a lot of reasons to watch and wait to purchase your airfare to Europe for 2019 but resist the temptation to wait to see if airfares will continue to drop within the 3 month window prior to the trip.
If you see a great price I would recommend buying it.
In a coming blog we'll give you more tips on 'how' to look for airfare - what to consider - perhaps not just flying from Point A to Point B, i.e., not just searching for airfare and typing in San Francisco to Florence, or Oakland to Venice.
And, if you are considering joining us for our next Tuscan Adventure, August 18-28, 2019, we have 3 couples spots left and we're still giving 'early booking' discounts off our listed tour price as an incentive to book now. Email us for details and our Tuscan Adventure daily itinerary.
Ciao . . . a presto!
Ever wonder which word is the most universally used word? We have, and L’Italo-Americano, the #1 source for all things Italian since 1908 has as well. L’Italo-Americano tells us, the single handedly most popular word of the bella lingua, the ultimate passport to Italian living, a word so famous it has been adopted by other nations, so perfect and clear it can’t be bettered is: Ciao.
Yes, Ciao. Can you think of anything more Italian than that? Where did it come from and when did we start using it? Was it always a salutation, or did it have a different meaning initially? So, here’s what we know about Italy’s “hello.”
Apparently, the origin of the word is found in the dialect of Venice, where people had the habit to say hello to each other using the word “s’ciavo,” or “slave.” No, Venetians were not crazy, quite simply they used the expression instead of the longer and more cumbersome “servo vostro,” which we’d translate in English as
“I am your servant,” or even “ at your service.” To find examples of such use, we don’t need to look any further than the work of Venice’s own playwright extraordinaire, Carlo Goldoni, who employed it often in his comedies about Venetian society.
“S’ciavo,” however, is not quite the same as ciao and it took some time and a good deal of linguistic evolution to go from the first to the latter. “S’ciavo” most likely came from the Latin servus, which meant servant or slave. During Imperial times, many slaves came from the area of what was then called Slavonia or Sclavonia, which roughly corresponds to modern Eastern Croatia. Because of languages’ transitive property, the adjective indicating people from those regions, sclavus or slavus, became synonym with the word servus: and that’s how we went from the Latin servus to the vulgar Italian schiavo.
Fast forward a few centuries and the rise in popularity of Dante and Guido Cavalcanti’s Dolce Stil Novo,
a type of poetry in vulgar Italian inspired by idealized love and the iconic figure of the donna angelo, gives to the word schiavo a new meaning: a schiavo is no longer a mere servant, but also someone subjugated by love and passion, someone ready to do anything for the object of his desire. And so, being a schiavo no longer means only and exclusively being a slave to a master, but also being ready to do anything for someone, just like an infatuated man would do for his lover. It’s in this sense that the use of “s’ciavo”in Venetian dialect should be interpreted: people would salute each other in the street saying “I am at your service,” a polite and reverent manner to show appreciation and respect.
The first, written attestation of the word ciao is 200 years old, although we can imagine its use in the oral language must have been already common for a while: it appeared in a letter written in 1818 by Francesco Benedetti, a playwright from Cortona who in it described the niceties received by a group of Milanese with whom he had gone to La Scala: “Questi buoni Milanesi cominciano a dirmi: Ciau Benedettin.” In 1819, British writer Lady Sidney Morgan mentioned people, always at La Scala in Milan, exchanging cordial ciavo, from a box to another. From the very same period is yet another written confirmation of the word, found in a letter sent by countess Giovanna Maffei, from Verona, to her husband, where she mentions that their young son “mi disse di dir ciao a Moti.”
Today, “ciao” is an international word, always associated with Italy, but whose meaning is clear in every corner of the world. Well, you know what? It has been the case for more than one hundred years, as its presence in a French novel dating 1893 proves: written by Paul Bourget, it has a character speaking in Italian and saying “Ciaò, simpaticone!” Just a few years later, at the beginning of the 1900s, a popular waltz entitled “Ciao” had people dancing around Europe. After the end of the Second World War, the popularity of Italian cinema helped the internationalization of “ciao” even further, making of it a linguistic symbol of Italy.
And because language is continuously evolving - as the origin itself of ciao demonstrates - there are new variations of our favorite salute, which have become particularly popular in recent years and decades: “ciao raga” (hey guys), “ciao neh” (hey! Hi!) and even the horrible “ciaone” (literally, a huge ciao), recent neologism already part of the Vocabolario Treccani della Lingua Italiana.
Today, “ciao” is the most used Italian word on earth, second only to another icon of Italy’s life and heritage: “pizza.” Short, simple to remember and with an interesting story: no wonder we all love it. And so it goes, the illustrious tale of “ciao,” of its birth and how it became the most common and colorful way to say hello to friends, family and people in the street: mostly used only among those who know each other, it’s not that uncommon, when the atmosphere allows it or the occasion calls for it, to say “ciao” to people we’ve just met, especially when we’ve enjoyed their company or shared a special experience: a little word that makes us all feel closer.
Why not join us in Tuscany to practice using ‘Ciao’. We still have a few 'couples' spots (double occupancy) for our Tuscan Adventure tour from August 18-28, 2019 at our villa in Tuscany near Certaldo and Gambassi Terme, 45 mins. south of Florence and 45mins. north of Siena. Savings of up to $1000 per couple still available. Email us for a detailed daily itinerary.
Ciao . . . a presto,
An airport connection (or two) is often the price you pay for service to far-off destinations. Unfortunately, a connection almost always complicates your travel planning, asking you to decide where to connect and how much time to allow for the connection. There’s no easy answer to those questions, but there are a
few choice airports to avoid. You don’t always have the opportunity to choose where to connect,
but when you do, three factors can determine which airports are riskiest:
Delays: Among the major U.S. airports, New York’s JFK, Newark, Chicago’s O’Hare, and San Francisco generally fare the worst in delay tabulations, which make them bad for an airport connection. Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston suffer more delays than you’d expect, given their benign weather locations. Conversely, snowy Salt Lake City and rainy Seattle generally do pretty well.
Connecting abroad? In Europe, Paris’s Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt, and London’s Heathrow tend to top most delay lists. Most frequent travelers suggest connecting in Munich or Zurich when possible.
Airport Layout: The best hubs for an airport connection consist of large, single terminals, with all gates accessible through a single security point and inside-security (airside) for access between any two gates. Connecting is usually relatively easy this way, in that you need not go out of security and back in through another security checkpoint; your only worry is about getting from one gate to another. Among North American hubs, Atlanta, Denver, Miami, Portland, Salt Lake City, Toronto, and Vancouver are built this way. Overseas single-big-terminal hubs include Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Milan, Munich and Zurich.
Other big hubs, however, consist of separated terminal buildings you might need to navigate, including Chicago’s O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston’s Bush, Los Angeles, New York’s JFK, Newark, and San Francisco, plus London’s Heathrow and Paris’ De Gaulle overseas. You might be OK if your connecting flights are on the same airline, or otherwise use the same terminal. But if you have to change
terminals—and there’s no airside interterminal transport—you may have to exit security at your
incoming terminal, schlep to your outgoing terminal, and go through security again.
Try to avoid connections that require changing terminals.
Transit Areas: Most big connecting airports outside the U.S. allow you to remain in “transit” status, airside, on any connection. You still have to have your passport stamped, but you don’t have to do the double security thing. The U.S., however, does not offer transit status. Even if you’re connecting on the same airline in the same terminal, you could have to exit the secure zone to get your baggage, go through the immigration and customs rigmarole, and re-enter security.
But connecting at a foreign airport isn’t as easy as it once was, either: At many airports the U.S. now requires secondary screening for travelers heading here, even for in-transit passengers. Still, if you have a choice, it’s generally better to connect at a foreign rather than a U.S. airport.
At Villas of Italy while we don’t include air for our tours, we regularly help our guests in finding the best and most direct flights for the least possible cost when traveling to meet us for one of our tours.
Speaking of tours, we still have a few 'couples' spots (double occupancy) available for our
Tuscan Adventure next August 18-28, 2019.
Once at the villa EVERYTHING is included; lodging in our Tuscan villa in a private double bedroom with a private bath, a beautiful pool overlooking vineyards, olive groves and nearby hill towns, unlimited beverages at the villa, all meals; gourmet meals while at the villa prepared by our villa chef, meals away from the villa at slow food movement restaurants, cooking classes at the villa by Chef Mauro of the Montese Cooking Experience, all tours, all wine, cheese and salumi tastings; EVERYTHING!
And, we will extend our special pricing for up to $1000 off per couple. Email us for a daily itinerary to see all the exciting things we will be doing over the 10-day adventure.
We travel not to escape life, but for life not escape us
The year was 2000, it was a warm summer and I was sitting outside enjoying un bicchiere di vino in Piazza Cisterna in San Gimignano in Tuscany watching the big tour busses unload 40-65 people each.
The peoples faces contained a variety of expressions, from awe to frustration. As the throng of people formed the passing parade, I thought of how important this trip was to them. Each person who vacations
in Italy will leave with their own impression of the cities they visited, and for some,
it may be their one and only time in Italia.
My wish was then, and is now, that travelers have their eyes and hearts opened to the beauty that is Italy, that they appreciate the Italian people and culture, that they experience the real Italy . . . my Italy. This experience led me to envision a different way, a better way, for travelers to experience Italy. This was the beginning of what would become, Villas of Italy.
The ‘Big Tour” things I wanted to guarantee wouldn’t happen:
1. FOLLOW AN UMBRELLA — If your entire vacation is spent frantically trying to follow the person with the umbrella, you will miss the beauty of Italy. Trying to glimpse a view of a famous painting, or being herded through a church with a throng of other people, won’t allow any time to savor it. The narrow, winding streets and local ristoranti can’t unfold their charms when you travel en masse.
At Villas of Italy we travel with groups of 12. And, we travel in custom, air conditioned vans with the ability to go places and see things those big tour busses can’t. When with our tour guides, you are provided with your own 'whispers' for your ear so no matter where the tour guide may turn their head you hear them as if they were 'whispering' in your ear so you won't miss any detail.
2. AMERICANIZE YOUR EATING — Italians will tell you they have the best cuisine in the world, and
that’s hard to argue. The big tours work with hotels and restaurants to create dishes that cater to Americans, but aren’t ‘real’ Italian dishes. We ensure you're ‘eating adventure’ is 'really' Italian, Italian recipes of authentic, and often decades old, recipes prepared by chefs who are proud to share
their cuisine and culture . . . their 'authentic' Italy. Meals are expected to take time,
savoring not only the food, but the wine and conversation.
At Villas of Italy whether at the villa, or out on tour our meals our relaxed affairs
allowing us to experience and enjoy our meals as Italians.
3. ARRIVE WITHOUT A CLUE — You needn’t be a scholar to appreciate the art, architecture and culture in Italy, but a little studying before you arrive is going to enhance what you see. At Villas of Italy we have written blogs of some of the cities, sights and cuisine we’ll encounter. Our tours away from the villa are balanced itineraries and our local, private, professional tour guides know the history of their towns and are extremely proud to share it with us.
4. CRAM TOO MUCH IN A DAY — Realize the fact that, generally, if you are spending limited time in the major cities, and often with the bigger tour companies you spend limited time and typically won’t get to see all the major sites. At Villas of Italy we prioritize and add a variety of experiences to each day. Working with our private, professional guides we have maximized the number of sights we see, but still in a relaxed fashion and even stopping for a gelato or espresso every so often to soak in the local culture. And, we have 2 days of leisure at the villa so you can either relax by the pool, take a cooking class from our villa chef Mauro, or take the train to a local town to spend more time, on your own, exploring.
5. BE UNPREPARED TO WALK — Nothing zaps the fun out of a vacation faster than aching feet. Big tours keep you moving fast, like cattle, to cram in as much as they can before they load you onto the big bus to move on to the next city. They don’t even warn you that breaking in new shoes on tour isn’t a good idea,
or 'preparing' to walk for 4-5 miles a day is a good thing. Many cities, such as Florence, are mostly
pedestrian only, and that means it’s your two feet that are going to get you around. We plan our daily itineraries with our private, professional guides to move in a logical progression from one sight to
another so while we do walk for several miles we’re not retracing our walks back to sights we missed
like tourists on unguided tours do, or some of the bigger tours often do. We believe your eyes and mind will only absorb and appreciate what your feet allow!?
6. NOT BOOKING IN ADVANCE — During the high season, all major attractions require long waits if you haven’t purchased tickets in advance. Our guides and tours are planned for and we make reservations,
so there’s never a wait.
7. CRITICIZE WHAT’S DIFFERENT — Italy is not the United States. As obvious as that sounds, it’s important to remember that you are visiting a foreign country, and a foreign culture. While those bigger tours move you fast through towns, museum’s and historical sights to cram in as much as they can, you often don’t get a chance to experience, or feel the culture, or the people. At Villas of Italy we plan our
days so you can embrace the experience, the people, the food, art, architecture and ‘tempo’ of life.
Things will be done differently, which is, why Villas of Italy was created and hopefully one of
the reasons you wanted to visit!
Welcome to a new kind of tour – Villas of Italy - The kind that gets you closer to the authentic and unforgettable Italian experience you travel to find in the first place. Tours carefully crafted to local organic, biodynamic wineries and farms, visits to the major Tuscan cities and hilltop towns led by professional tour guides who actually live in the towns, all to deepen and enhance your tour experience with a local perspective. And, no unpacking and repacking every few days to move to another location . . .
yet another hotel.
At Villas of Italy you live at your country villa for 10 days in your private double bedroom with private bathroom with a beautiful pool overlooking the vineyards and olive groves. Everything is arranged for you; all meals, wines, tours, cooking classes . . . everything!
You arrive as guests, but leave as famiglia. Join us at the villa on our next
Villas of Italy:Tuscan Adventure tour, August 18-28, 2019. If you’re picturing yourself in the Italian countryside, now’s the time to get a trip on the calendar. Contact us for a detailed daily itinerary.
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us
For many centuries Tuscany was the best kept secret in the Mediterranean Sea, and still today we think it’s the best location to live and enjoy life every day of the year but what really makes Tuscany so special?
Tuscany is located in the very center of the Mediterranean, in the heart of Italy. It’s strikingly hilly landscape never ceases to impress, with backdrops littered with olive trees, vineyards, cypresses, and umbrella pine trees (or Stone pines) used by the Romans to provide shade. Tuscany continuously torments painters and photographers with its ever-changing colors.
But does Tuscany live up to the hype? Under the Tuscan Sun, Seinfeld (no villas in Tuscany) and an endless stream of iconic photos of the countryside can suggest that it has in fact been ‘done-to-death’. How can a region that is the size of New Hampshire be THAT great???
Well, Tuscany IS that great. Why you should never turn your nose up at the possibility of a trip to Tuscany!
1. The coolest towns you’ve never heard of – of course we go to Florence and Siena but what about Pienza, Montalcino, San Gimignano, Volterra, Castellina, Greve. These idyllic towns are quintessentially Tuscan and will have you longing to return to the region over and over again.
2. Wine – Some of Italy’s best wines come from Tuscany and the wine culture is an integral part of the region. If you are at all into wine, Tuscany is the place for you; from Tuscan white wines; Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino and Vernaccia, to the Tuscan reds; Super Tuscans, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Bolgheri, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tignanello, Sassicaia and the sweet Vin Santo. There is something for everyone and no shortage of wine at the villa. These, paired with the delicious local cuisine make for a divine culinary experience.
3. Cheese – I would return to Tuscany just to taste the Pecorino – in ravioli, on an arugula (rocket) salad or melted with pear on crostini. Pecorino from Specific Zones, Pecorino Toscano DOP Fresco, Pecorino Toscano DOP Stagionati, DOP products meaning that production is government protected and regulated, and if you have never tried fresh pecorino (as opposed to the more commonly found aged pecorino) you are missing out. But, this is not the only delicious Tuscan cheese; Abbucciato, Pecorino a latte crudo, Caciotta, Il Grande Vecchio di Montefollonico, and Marzolino. And, the flavors differ significantly from sheep to goat varieties.
4. You can ride on top of city walls – we make our way to Lucca, one of my favorite cities in the world. This city in the northwestern part of the region has a charming historic center, wonderful people, a piazza that retains the form of the amphitheater that stood there in the Roman age and a walking/bike path that was created on top of the medieval walls. Great to walk on, bike ride on, or as my good friend Joe was able to do while participating in the Mille Miglia this year – drive on it (you won’t be able to do this!?).
5. Tuscan Hospitality – Some of my most exceptional experiences from a hospitality standpoint have been in Tuscany. Especially when you get out of the larger cities of the region, the people are genuine, simple, generous and interesting. The Tuscan attitude is contagious, there is a warmth and relaxed attitude toward life in the Tuscan countryside that makes it a place that one immediately wants to call home.
6. Traditional meets Modern – a number of my favorite vineyards have incorporated magnificent modern architecture among centuries old vines. The contrast is striking and impressive and I think it shows that these winemakers are in touch with the modern world while preserving the ancient winemaking traditions.
Join us for our Tuscan Adventure where we do all this and MORE! We still have a few couples spots (double occupancy) available for our Tuscan Adventure next August 18-28, 2019. We are extending our special pricing for up to $1000 off per couple. Email us for the details. Once at the villa EVERYTHING is included; lodging in our Tuscan villa in a private double bedroom with a private bath, a beautiful pool overlooking vineyards, olive groves and nearby hill towns, unlimited beverages at the villa, all meals; gourmet meals while at the villa prepared by our villa chef, meals away from the villa at slow food movement restaurants, cooking classes at the villa by Chef Mauro of the Montese Cooking Experience, all tours, all wine, cheese and salumi tastings. EVERYTHING!
Tuscany – “Believe the Hype”
I just returned from a trip to Italy in the Venetian lagoon on the island of Torcello to meet the owners of the villa that will be our home for our Venezia – La Serenissima, June 3-13, 2019 tour (an intriguing history and fascinating family – more on that in a bit).
Torcello, was founded in the year 452 and has been referred to as the parent island from which Venice was populated, meaning Torcello is even older than Venice and was a very important island in ancient times, a town with a cathedral and bishops even before Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica was built. After the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands to be populated. First settled by the inhabitants of Altino (Altinum), a once-important Roman town. Led by their bishop, they fled successive invasions, which laid waste their mainland homes, and built their new town on this island.
Torcello benefited from and maintained close cultural and trading ties with Constantinople; however, being a rather distant outpost of the Eastern Roman Empire, it could establish de facto autonomy from the eastern capital. The tiny island rapidly grew in importance as a political and trading center; in the 10th century it had a population often estimated at 10,000-35,000 people, with 20,000 the most commonly cited estimate. In pre-Medieval times, Torcello was a more powerful trading center than Venice. Torcello’s economic backbone and its harbor developed quickly into an important re-export market in the profitable east-west-trade, which was largely controlled by Byzantium during that period.
In a dusty piazza stands one of the most impressive and interesting churches in the Venice area, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta founded in the 7th century. A section of the earlier mosaic floor can be viewed through a glass panel. On the walls and apse are some fantastic mosaics which would make the trip worthwhile on their own: a lovely Madonna and Child on a gold background, and a scary depiction of the Last Judgement with details such as serpents crawling through skulls. The Church of Santa Fosca, next door, is very different but also lovely. The small church, which dates to the 11th century, is built to a Greek-cross plan and fronted by a later portico. The campanile (belltower) of the basilica is a steep climb up sloping ramps, but the view over the island and lagoon is worth the effort. The museum in the square is also worth visiting; it has a small collection of archaeological finds and historical items from the cathedral, the lagoon and the surrounding area.
Today, the main reason for visiting Torcello is to see the spectacular Byzantine mosaics
in the 7th century Cathedral.
Over the years, however, Venice grew more important while Torcello found its waterways silting up and its swamps malarial. Eventually the residents of Torcello, who had survived, packed their bags and took them south over the lagoon to sites nearer the hub of trade and politics. Buildings were plundered for building material so that little remains of its once splendid palaces, churches, and monasteries. Nowadays just a handful of residents remain; the town's piazza is overgrown with grass and weeds, and the two churches of Torcello stand in magnificent isolation.
Somewhat incongruously, the island is also home to a world-famous Inn and restaurant, called Locanda Cipriani. Yes, that Cipriani, of various "Cipriani's" and Harry's Bar's around the world—not to mention Harry's Bar in downtown Venice (the original Cipriani's first name was Arrigo, which is Italian for "Harry.").
Locanda Cipriani on Torcello was consecrated as a literary myth due to Ernest Hemingway living there in the fall of 1948. Joined in Venice by his wife Mary, Hemingway, already a legend, decided to spend the whole month of November at Locanda Cipriani, dividing his time between duck hunting, and writing his novel “Across the River and Into the Trees”. The impressions and memories of that November in Torcello are forever imprinted on the pages of his novel. Hemingway returned to Locanda Cipriani on Torcello with his wife Mary in the spring of 1954 during their stay in Venice and following their unfortunate experience in Africa.
Now, about where we will be staying during our Venezia – La Serenissma June 3-13, 2019 tour, Villa San Giovanni, or what the Venetian's call, Villa Baslini. I spent the morning with Angelica Baslini and her mother (86 yrs. old) at the villa. The villa is actually on a smaller separate island of San Giovanni Evangelista, connected to Torcello by a small bridge, Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge). Another long, historical story I'll have to tell you another time.
As we talked I was told that Villa San Giovanni / Baslini is the only villa left on Torcello. The property began as The Monastery of St. John the Evangelist built in 640, an ancient ecclesiastical complex inhabited by Benedictine nuns, in which a basilica (there are ruins in the garden) where the preserved remains of Santa Barbara were brought and dedicated to the convent of nuns. The much larger complex stood on the property on an islet to the south-west of the square, accessible only over the famous Devil's Bridge, or by water. The villa is the lone remaining structure.
The first written document concerning the monastery is in the chronicle of Giovanni Diacono (Giovanni from Venice), who asserts that in 1009 the relics of St. Barbara of Nicomedia were transferred to St. John’s, donated a few years earlier by Maria Argyropolis, niece of the Byzantine emperor and sister-in-law of the then Abbess Felicita, daughter of Venetian doge Pietro Orseolo II.
Ancient map of the island showing The Monastery of St. John the Evangelist in the lower right hand corner. Also notice the name of the island as it use to be called "Torzelo".
Ancient drawing of the monastery as it looked in the 11th century
In 1168, under the Abbess Amabile Keulo, began a lively period of acquisitions that saw an exponential increase in its properties; there were acquisitions in Torcello; houses, plots of arable land and mud flats and two salt pans (Natural salt flats are flat expanses of ground covered with salt and other minerals, shining white under the sun) were added, one donated in 1178 by the Bobiçum brothers, the other set up in 1180 by the same nuns on one of their waterways.
The economic increase was continued by Abbess Adoalda Marcello, who lived in the first half of the 13th century. During this time two powerful noble families emerged, related to each other, the Barozzi and the Gradenigo families, who in the following centuries contributed to the life of the monastery by giving it Abbesses and Procurators.
Angelica told me that history records that in 1810 the Napoleonic edicts affected the Monastery of San Giovanni. The buildings became State Property, were abandoned and demolished. But she said, her family history says Napoleon ordered the nun’s quarters destroyed but spared the ‘guest house’ of the monastery, which her family later purchased as their summer home. Today few traces survive from the monastery with the exception of Villa Baslini.
The Baslini Family is a noble family. Angelica’s grandfather, Dr. Ernesto Baslini, founded an industrial chemical company in 1922, which grew substantially over the years and still exists today. Her father Antonio was an Italian politician spending over 20 years in the Italian Parliament.
An amazing, historic villa, sitting on ancient, historic land on an historic island in the Venetian lagoon with a beautiful swimming pool (the only swimming pool in the Veneto region) overlooking not only the surrounding area of Torcello and its salt pans, but also the nearby island town of Burano with its brightly colored buildings.
Looking forward to our Venezia – La Serenissima June 3 -13, 2019 tour at historic Villa Baslini, an historic property on a now quiet island that in its day was the power that became Venice!
We still have a few couples spots (double occupancy) for our Tuscan Adventure tour from August 18-28, 2019 at our villa in Tuscany near Certaldo and Gambassi Terme. Savings of up to $1000 per couple still available. Email us from our website to find out more.
Ciao . . . a presto,
Who remembers eating grissini when you were a kid? I sure do? When my brothers and I would go down with our dad to Genova Delicatessen in Oakland on Saturday (sadly its closed) to shop we would always walk in and go to the bin and grab a grissini to munch on while we were getting our cheeses, meats, ravioli, etc. Domenic would always give us another if we finished our first quickly. And, we were never charged for our grissini. It was something kids always got as a treat (probably to keep us quiet too), but Italians, whether in the US or Italy, are always good to kids. Italian's love children!
As a kid I always wondered, what is a grissini and why do they make them? They're bread, I think, but not really bread!? What the heck?
Well L' Italo-Americano Magazine, the #1 source of all things Italian since 1908 tells us these very crunchy “bread sticks” were invented in Turin in 1679, by the Savoias’ personal baker, who created them specifically for King Vittorio Amedeo II, who couldn’t digest regular bread very well.
Their dough is the same as bread but, as they are very thin, they dry while baking so remain very crunchy. Grissini were an immediate success because they were not only good to eat and easy to digest, but also lasted longer than regular bread; they were so famous that they became “les petits bâtons de Turin,” as Napoleon would call them (one of his favorites), turned into a local speciality.
Those first grissini - called “robatà,” between 10 and 15 inches in length, irregular in shape and rolled by
hand - are today a 'prodotto agroalimentare Italiano protetto' (Italian agri-food protected product).
Later, the grissini 'stirati' were invented, the mechanical production of which started as early as the
Today, we can enjoy herbs grissini, spice grissini, olive oil grissini, all of which should be enjoyed with local cold cuts, prosciutto and soft cheeses.
I still like munching on them, but plain, just for the crunch . . . it also brings back some very sweet memories. And oh by-the-way after leaving Genova's we'd walk across the street to Buon Gusto bakery (an Italian bakery, also sadly long gone) and we'd get free cookies from the ladies working the counter. It was good being a Italian kid back then!! Buon appetito!
As a kid growing up in an Italian family, during Lent we ate ‘frugally’, avoiding meat (definitely on Friday’s) and rich foods. These days were called, giorni di scammaro. Now, I wasn’t quite sure if it was a ’religious’ thing, or a holdover from the tough years my grandparents had to endure in Italy before immigrating to the US in the early 1900’s.
A ‘tradition’ of those tough economic times – when wallets were empty and nothing would go to waste. And this is how, what I consider a delicacy, was born and became a traditional local dish – a bowl of leftover spaghetti became “frittat’e maccarun, or (leftover) pasta frittata.
Throwing away pasta, was sacrilege! Especially when it can be used to make up a delicious meal for the following day. In spite of its name, frittata di pasta is usually made with spaghetti, vermicelli or bucatini, that is, with pasta lunga, so that the final result is dense, soft inside and crunchy outside.
My Nonna would take the leftover pasta from the night before (the pasta must rest overnight) and slice up some zucchini (always plentiful in any Italian’s garden and my Nonno’s garden was no different), onions, garlic, chard or whatever other vegetables might be fresh from the yard (and even some leftover meat from the sauce . . . yes sauce, NOT gravy), mix it together with the pasta, some eggs, some cheese, some salt and pepper, fry it in a cast iron skillet until brown on the bottom and either flip it over (which is a skill), or place the skillet in the oven and broil until the top is brown. You can eat it warm but it always seems to taste better cold. I think as it rests the flavors mingle and intensify.
To this day when we have any leftover pasta, we look forward to the frittata the next morning (Now, I throw a bit more Pecorino Romano on top before putting it in the oven to get a nice cheesy, crunchy top – sorry Nonna, but I know you’d understand).
Amo mia nonna! Buona mangiata!
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.