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Report 673: Tuscan Rambles

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Spring 2004

Trip Description: Two weeks in the hill towns of Tuscany, with a side trip to Elba and an unexpected encounter with the Giro d'Italia, May 1-15, 2004

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Tuscany

Categories: Vacation Rentals; Shopping; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 17: Introduction and Planning

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My beautiful wife (BW), photo on the right and I had been planning a trip to Tuscany for several months, beginning shortly after returning from a 16 day independent vacation in the Algarve, with a 4-day stopover in London on the way home. It had been by far our longest vacation ever. We had a great time and certainly enjoyed the freedom of having a rental car. We also discovered that we got along very well traveling together. This may sound a bit surprising since we’ve been married for 30 years, but our individual careers, combined with raising four children, meant that we never really did spend much time by ourselves. We learned that travel was good for our relationship as well as for us as individuals.

I had been to Italy three times in the 1970’s, twice backpacking in Europe in the summers as a young teacher, and once, newly married, on a Spring Break tour with a group of high school students. I remember looking out the window of a bus at the small towns up in the hills and wondering what they were like. I never got the chance then, most of the time was spent in Florence or Rome with a day trip to Naples & Pompeii. I did manage to get to Siena on my own and one summer I spent a few days on Capri. But the hill towns of Tuscany stuck in my mind. So after our trip to Portugal, we decided to visit Tuscany.

I was able to book our Air France flights and car rental quite early and easily, using a local travel agent who we had worked with before. But we were on our own as far as booking accommodations. This was before I was aware of the Slow Travel site. We knew we wanted to stay in one place for two weeks outside of a major population centre.

Using rental websites, we started looking at properties in the area around and to the north of Siena. The fact that there were only two of us limited our choice quite a bit. I also became wary of any location that was described as being “a short distance from a hard surface.” Plus, I became disenchanted with the draconian cancellation policies of almost all the properties. A chance meeting in Ottawa with a young woman who had spent a couple of days in the area around Montepulciano, about an hour south of Florence, made me aware of Villa Nottola – a recent addition to the agriturismo network.

It proved to be an ideal location and provided excellent accommodations for our stay. The price was right, the owners were friendly and helpful and the directions were great. It is in an attractive setting among vineyards and an olive grove. Villa Nottola includes a very good restaurant and cantina where you can purchase the excellent estate wines and olive oil. We enjoyed two excellent meals in the restaurant, on our first and last evenings.

We prepared our own breakfasts each day, were never around the apartment for lunch and prepared our own dinners a few evenings when we didn’t feel like going out. The kitchen was functional and well equipped for the two of us. Plus, our apartment had a balcony with an excellent view of Montepulciano, to be enjoyed while sharing a bottle of wine.

A few caveats about Villa Nottola. We were there in May. It is a working wine and olive oil producing estate. There wasn’t a lot of agricultural activity when we were there, but I would image it gets quite busy at certain times of the year. Also, while we were quite pleased with the location, it is not in a rustic spot, but near the junction (bivio in Italian) of two well-traveled roads. There was some traffic noise in the night – not a lot and it didn’t bother us, but I thought I should mention it. Finally, Villa Nottola is a few kilometers from any population centre. Walking anywhere is not practical.

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