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Under a Tuscan Sun

Choosing where to stay in Tuscany was difficult, every place I found sounded lovely. In the end, we opted for La Pieve Marsina, which is located in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany, midway between Siena and Florence.

We have find that in Italy and France you are often given the GPS coordinates instead of an address. We’ve plugged in the coordinates provided, except that our GPS wouldn’t take all the digits.

We don’t think this should be a problem, it will be out by ‘seconds’ and that (based on my school geography), should translate to a factor of meters, not kilometers.

Well, as we start to climb a narrow road into a forest, I’m thinking this does not look very ‘Tuscan’, where are the pencil pines and rolling hills?

I’m the one that usually insists on following the GPS, but the more rugged and isolated our journey becomes the more I think this is not looking right. We are driving through tiny villages where you feel like you are in someone’s backyard.

When the GPS finally says: “vous êtes arrivé à votre destination” (remember everything is in French) – we are in the middle of nowhere. Our expected 3 hour drive turned into 6, with the GPS sending us 40km in the wrong direction!

After a few telephone conversations with Gabriel (our host), we finally found our Tuscan villa. We did check, but the mystery of the GPS directions has yet to be solved.

In the end, it was well worth the effort, as the vista in front of us is Tuscan perfect.

The pebble driveway is lined with Cypress trees; a golden sun is dipping below the rolling Tuscan hills, stenciled with Chianti vines and dotted with the occasional villa.  The scene is everything you expect of Tuscany.

Even the GPS is forgiven. Before long, we have a wine in hand and are admiring our view from our own little piece of Tuscany.

The travel pace has been fairly hectic since Jane came onboard and we are all looking forward to staying put for a few days.

We have four nights in Tuscany – a mini-break within our touring holiday. We explore our surrounds either on foot, or by car.

The village of Monti is a 2km walk, where the one and only local store served a good coffee (you’d expect nothing less in Italy). A cappuccino is €1.20 – that’s the cheapest CPI we’ve had in a while.

We opted not to visit Florence; we couldn’t bring ourselves to tackle the crowds. We did venture to Siena, starting with a morning coffee – italian style (standing at the counter). We wandered around the town and markets, where we did manage to find a few bargains.

Jane and I refuse out of principle to pay an entrance fee for a church, let alone €18 (each) to go into the Duomo; charging people to enter a church is not very Catholic.  I’m all for leaving a donation, paying something to light a candle, but an entry fee?

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In the nearby village of Lecchi we find Enotica Rinaldi, a wine bar/bistro where we enjoyed a lovely rustic lunch in the sunshine.

On our last night we tried the local recommendation; Malborghetto, also in Lecchi, which was another excellent meal. How can you go wrong in Italy, let alone Tuscany for delicious food and wonderful wine.

The town of Radda is worth a visit; yes, it too is perched on a hilltop with wonderful views. We spot the place we think looks like ‘us’ for Lunch, La Bottega. It’s a full house (also a good sign) and the only empty table has a reserved sign on it.

As luck would have it, the booking is late, so they give us the table. At that moment it starts to rain and about 20 minutes later the booking does show up – they have to wait for the next free table.

It was, as you can guess, another superb meal. Jane takes credit for being our good luck charm, she claims the ‘rock-star’ parking spots we find, tables in restaurants, superb meals and all positive incidents are due to her presence. Who am I to argue?

As we finish lunch, the sun reappears and we have an afternoon to fill. We follow the signs on the side of the road to La Ceramica. The directions take us into a farm, where several men are preparing to crush grapes.

They direct us to a small showroom, where Angela Pianigiani makes and sells pottery. Her work is pretty good and we couldn’t leave empty handed. I’m lucky Jane has some room in her luggage!

We are trying to find a Cashmere Farm from directions on a brochure I collected at lunch. We know we must have passed it and the spot to turn around happens to be a winery. Well, we did need to stock-up and we also got good directions to the Chianti Cashmere Farm.

We all now know a lot about Cashmere and why it’s soooo expensive. We also know the negative sides of the industry; cheap cashmere is usually a product of poor quality and the result of unorthodox practices, goats that are just slaughtered for wool and cashmere that can contain anthrax due to poor processes.

Nora Kravis, has spent years mapping out breeding lines to cultivate high quality wool. Her products are beautiful, with a price to match. After that visit, I’m not sure I will ever be able to buy Cashmere again.

The walled city of San Gimignano dates back to 63 BC, it is one of Italy’s most spectacular medieval towns. As such it’s overwhelmed with visitors everyday. We put aside our aversion and join the masses of swarming tourists – it’s well worth the compromise.

Over 70 Towers once stood around the walls providing protection against invading enemies, today only 14 remain. The narrow paved streets that wind up the hillside are full of charm and character. The town also lays claim to the worlds best ice cream, which we can happily agree with!

After 5 days it was time to get back on the trail.  Tuscany was everything we expected it to be and more.  We will definitely have to come back for more.

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