Friday, June 17, 2005

A villa in Tuscany

I'm feeling excited today! We've booked part of our holiday - a week in villa in the Tuscan countryside.

I've been on a villa holiday before and loved it - it's a great way to combine lazy days by the pool and barbeques with day trips to towns and villages in the surrounding countryside.

A villa usually works out to be very cost effective if you're travelling in a group of 4 or more people, but if there are only two of you it can be harder to find one at a reasonable price.

If you do a search in Google on "Tuscany villas" or something similar you will be faced with hundreds of villa websites - some of them are fantastic, with great search facilities, lots of details and pictures and online availability checks. Amongst the good sites there are also lots of bad sites - some with very few pictures - why would I book a villa that I'd never seen before? Or hundreds of villas but no meaningful search facility, so you could spend hours trying to find what you want.

In the end I found a lovely 1 bedroom cottage with a huge swimming pool an hour away from Pisa and 45 minutes from Florence. The cost was pretty reasonable - £520 for 1 week. The site we used for booking was Tuscany Now

Now I just have to sort out some flights and hotels for Florence and Pisa!

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Florence Hills Tour

A Florence Hills Tour
Copyright © Suzanne Morrison

Italy, a veritable treasure chest of culture and heritage - with its food, wine, culture and history, is always on the top of a European tour list. A tour to Italy would not be complete without going to Florence. This city is in the heart of Tuscany and is sometimes considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. It is a place that is famous for its abundance of fine art and architecture and in the modern day, its fashion and leather goods.

If you are feeling a little tired out after a few days of sightseeing in Florence, a Florence hills tour can be a great way to relax and wind down. With a great ambience and an aura of solitude the hills of Florence are very popular and ideal for those who wish to take a break from the city.

If you only have a few hours to spare and don't want to venture too far from Florence, then a trip to the town of Fiesole is highly recommended. Set amongst the hills, just 5 miles from Florence, Fiesole makes a pleasant half-day trip from Florence and provides a wonderful view of the city. You can get there by bus from the centre of Florence in around 20 minutes.

If you're feeling more energetic or have a little more time to spare you can walk from the centre of Florence to Fiesole in around 2 hours. Once in Fiesole you can easily spend two or three hours wandering round, taking in the sights and the views of Florence and the valley below. Sights include a Roman Amphitheatre and baths dating from 1 BC, the Duomo and a few small museums.

If you have a full day to spare there are numerous tour companies that can organise day trips by bus, walking tours or biking trips. Alternatively you can hire a car and use a map to discover the delights of the Tuscan countryside for yourself.

A guided walking tour of the Florence hills will provide you with an insider's view of Florence & Tuscany - you can discover the hidden treasures and learn of great legends and stories, giving you a more intimate experience of the region of Tuscany. A walk through the Florence hills is invigorating and you can soak up the beauty of the surroundings as you breathe in the fresh air and bask in the warm sun. You'll also find plenty of photo opportunities as you pass by churches, castles, hill top towns and villages, olive trees and vineyards

If you're reasonably fit and have cycling experience you may want to take a Florence Hills Tour by bike. There are many tour companies that offer guided biking expeditions of the area. With these tours you will cover more ground than the walking tours and you will see many of the different terrains and landscapes that the Florence hills have to offer. Be sure to find out as much information as possible about the cycling route before you go, as many tours of the Florence hills by bike can be arduous because of the steep climbs that you have to make.

If you want to make the most of the peace and quiet and spend a few more days enjoying the countryside you may want to book a stay in one of the many bed and breakfasts, hotels or villas in the Tuscan hills. Hiring a car will allow you to venture just that little bit further afield and visit some of the beautiful Tuscan hill towns such as San Gimignano, Colle Val D'Elsa and Monteriggioni.

Regardless of how much time you have to spend there, a trip to the hills surrounding Florence will give you a taste of the Tuscan countryside that will help to make your trip just that little bit more special.

You can find out more about the Tuscany and Florence Italy Sights in the Ultimate Guide to Florence

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tuscany in September

Having just come back from a 2 week holiday in Cuba a couple of weeks ago I feel it's time to start thinking about the next holiday. You need something to keep you going at work - right? And I've been missing that holiday countdown that I had in big red writing in the corner of my whiteboard, for the 6 weeks before going to Cuba.

So, let the holiday countdown begin! We decided this weekend that we are definitely spending our next vacation in Tuscany.

Nothing has been booked yet, but it's looking like

- 3 nights in Florence
- A relaxing week in a villa somewhere in the countryside in Tuscany
- 1 or 2 nights in Pisa

So, as I research my holiday to Tuscany in September over the next month I'll update this blog with all the useful info that I find.

87 days to go...!!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Florence in a Day

Florence in a day
Copyright © Suzanne Morrison

Overflowing with history, art and culture, Florence is a city that’s very hard to do justice to in a single day. A visit to the Uffizi museum alone could easily eat a day or two into any itinerary.

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Florence for the first time, but unfortunate enough to have only a single day to savour the delights of this city, you will need to ensure that you have a plan.

So allow me be your guide for the day and take you on a whistle stop tour of the sights and sounds of Florence. I can’t promise you the Uffizi in a day, but hopefully at the end of the tour you’ll feel like you’ve seen the best of the city. Your only problem will be deciding when to come back for more!

The first thing you’ll need before you start your tour is a map of the city. The centre of Florence is pretty compact, so the best way to see it, without missing a thing is by foot. If you don’t have a map or a guidebook and you’re not the type that enjoys aimless wandering, make your first stop of the day one of the tourist offices where you can pick up a free map of Florence.

Starting off in the main Piazza, you’ll easily spot the famous Duomo, with its magnificent terracotta coloured cupola. If you are there early enough to avoid the crowds and feel you can face the 463 steps I’d recommend starting your tour by climbing up into dome for a spectacular view of the city. The Duomo is probably the most distinctive feature of Florence’s skyline and is the result of years of work spanning six centuries.

Once you’ve taken in the view, catch your breath with a leisurely stroll around the streets surrounding the Duomo, and then take a walk to the nearby Piazza della Signoria. Here you’ll find a unique outdoor gallery of sculptures, including Neptune’s Fountain and a copy of the famous Statue of David. You’ll also find the Palazzo Vecchio (the Old Palace) here. This was built in the early 14th century and is still used today for its original purpose, as a Town Hall.

Just beside the Palazzo you’ll find the Uffizi museum, with its unrivalled collection of Renaissance art. If you’re an art lover, you don’t want to miss the Uffizi, but it’s not something that can be easily covered in a short 2-hour visit!

Alongside the Uffizi you’ll find the River Arno, with its many bridges. If you take a right turn you’ll arrive at the Ponte Vecchio, the famed bridge that houses a multitude of goldsmiths and jewellery shops, with its medieval workshops overhanging the bridge. The bridge itself was built in 1345 and is the only bridge on the Arno that wasn’t destroyed in World War II.

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you’ll arrive in the area called Oltrano, which literally means “Over the Arno”. Here you’ll find the Palazzo Pitti – a large 16th century palace. The palace was originally home to the Medici family who ruled Florence almost continuously between 1434 and 1743 and it now houses several important museums and galleries.

Palazzo Pitti, Florence

You may want to finish your day by taking a relaxing stroll in the Boboli gardens, which can be accessed through the Palazzo Pitti. These gardens were laid out in 1550 for the Medici a year after they bought the Palazzo Pitti and were opened to the public in 1766. Many parts of the gardens give stunning vistas over Florence and make a welcome retreat after a day of walking round the city.

If you have the time, it’s worth returning to view the Ponte Vecchio at sunset, followed by a walk along the bridge after dusk, when the lights on the bridge reflect on the River Arno and everything seems almost magical.

Finally, don’t forget to take a break from your sightseeing – stop for lunch or a drink in a pavement cafĂ©, take some time to soak up the atmosphere and do a spot of people watching.

You can read more about the main attractions in Florence here.

(Note - you may publish this article as long as you retain the name of the author, copyright information and add a link to the site

Welcome to my Florence Italy Blog

I'm Suzanne and I want to welcome you to my blog on Florence, Italy - one of the most amazing cities in Europe!

Why not grab a coffee (or a glass of vino), stop by for a few minutes, and let me share some stories and photos of Florence and various other places in Tuscany including San Gimignano, Pisa, Volterra, Lucca and Siena.

Ciao for now!