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Planning your Day Trips, Concentric Circles

Pauline Kenny

Concentric Circles

One of the reasons that we are so much in favor of slow travel in Europe is that the driving can be difficult and exhausting. Don't do long drives every day. Instead, pick a vacation rental in a good area and spend the time exploring the towns that are close by. On your next trip, pick a different region and explore it in detail. I do not mean pick Tuscany one trip and Umbria the next. I mean pick the area around Florence for one trip, the area around Siena for the next. Or book two weeks of vacation rentals, each week in a different area.

Think of your vacation rental as being at the center with two concentric circles around it.

  • First Circle: The first concentric circle takes in the nearby towns and villages - no more than a 30 minute drive.
  • Second Circle: The second concentric circle takes in sites and towns no more than a one hour drive from your vacation rental.
  • Outside the circles: The third concentric circle takes in sites and towns over a one hour drive from your vacation rental.

Spend a lot of time in the first circle. These are the towns you go to for groceries, coffee, evening meals (so you don't have far to drive home in the dark). Spend a few days of your week just in your neighborhood. You might as well concentrate on the wonderful things close by, because who knows when you will be in that exact place again. See what is near you first.

Do day trips within the second circle - no more than one hour drive from your vacation rental. An hour on the country roads in Europe is a long time.

Do one long day trip in the week, to the area outside the circles. Maybe just for an exceptional place, like a day in Florence or Arezzo or Cortona. Don't forget that you have the day you arrive at your vacation rental, when you are usually driving from somewhere farther away, to visit a place on the way. And the day you are leaving. For example, if you are driving from Tuscany back to Rome for a few days before you leave, you can spend the afternoon somewhere interesting in Lazio on your way back.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
- - Yogi Berra - -

An Example of Concentric Circles Slow Travel

Here is an example of how we travel. In September 2001, we spent three weeks in a vacation rental near Pienza. Our circles were:

First Circle

  • Castelmuzio, our closest town, with a caffe, restaurant and a food shop
  • Montisi, another small town nearby
  • San Giovanni d'Asso, another small town nearby
  • Trequanda, a larger town with an interesting church and more shops and a restaurant
  • Monte Oliveto Maggiore, an abbey with famous frescoes
  • Pienza, a larger town, a tourist destination, with many good food shops and several restaurants. This was our main town for food shopping, getting the newspaper and having coffee.
  • Montepulciano, a tourist destination, with many things to see and do
  • Montalcino, a tourist destination, with many things to see and do
  • Sant'Antimo, to hear the monks chant and go for a hike
  • Sinalunga, a larger town nearby
  • San Quirico d'Orcia, a larger town with an interesting church and some shops and restaurants

See how much we have to do just in the first circle? We visited every nearby town and walked around it. We enjoyed afternoons at our vacation rental, sitting in the garden and being part of the beautiful countryside.

Second Circle

  • Chianciano Terme, the spa town
  • Asciano, a beautiful town on the way to Siena
  • Citta della Pieve, just over the border in Umbria, to see the Perugino fresco
  • Siena, a town full of art - we spent a full day there
  • Cortona, a beautiful hill town
  • San Casciano dei Bagni, a town we spent a couple of weeks near on a previous trip, with a great caff and restaurant

There is lots more in our second circle - we did not get to all of it in three weeks.

Outside the Circles

Since we had three weeks in our vacation rental, we did three big day trips.

  • A day in Florence.
  • A day in Assisi.
  • A day in Orvieto.

Slow Travelers Setting a Somewhat Faster Pace

What I wrote above is my theory of slow travel. I know many of you will disagree. Most people base themselves in a vacation rental for a week and do exciting day trips every day to see as much as they can. These are still slow travelers - they are just setting a somewhat faster pace.

For example, David from NY likes to stay in vacation rentals, but he and his friends think that driving for an hour or more to get somewhere is nothing - they are willing do that every day and they enjoy the driving. They spend their week seeing as much as possible. David from NY writes in response to my Concentric Circles theory:

"For us, an important adjunct reason why we tend to not balk at driving greater distances to see things is that there's so much fun to be had just in the driving, seeing the country.  I also am very interested in geography -- really knowing what's where and seeing the changes from area to area.  I do think that we don't necessarily get quite as in-depth an experience of a particular town, but it's a trade off, right?  And we can always go back! For this summer's trip we've booked our second rental week trip close to Siena, coincidentally concurrently with the 2nd Palio. We were so blown away by it last time that we might just have to go back.  Actually, since I've now visited Siena 5 times, I love going back and revisiting things, seeing things there that I'd not yet discovered -- feels like we have a relationship with the town.  Also, I've already got in mind to take another drive thru the Crete Senese this summer.  Maybe we'd visit towns in that area that we skipped last time -- or maybe just spend time on the road enjoying the views -- or maybe go back to one of your faves -- Monte Oliveto Maggiore.  It'll be nice to have the freedom and the choices -- that's the principal benefit of slow traveling -- to have that freedom.  Nothing like it."
David Ronis

We are all still slow travelers because we are not racing from place to place, a new hotel every night or two. We have a "home base" - the center of the circles. For a short time, we are living there.

The end of this section. Go to the country sections to read about vacation rentals specifically in that country.

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