Hidden Tuscany: Yes touristy, but try Certaldo Alto

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times regarding Tuscany. In a few words, the article said Tuscany is overrun by tourism. It suggested other areas of Italy that are just as beautiful. For example, the article suggested visiting Le Marche in place of Tuscany.

“Others are heading to the calf of Italy’s boot, to Le Marche,” the author wrote, “a small, diverse province rising from the Adriatic Sea to the 6,000-foot peaks of the Apennines. In between lies a Tuscan-like rumple of lavender fields, sunflower fields and vineyards spread across hills that hump off toward every horizon like a patchwork quilt on an unmade bed. In 2003, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, Le Marche had just 7 percent as many visits by foreigners as Tuscany.”

The article is partially right. Yes, cities like Florence and Pisa have the problem of mass tourism, but it’s not all Tuscany. You just have to find the hidden gems of Tuscany.  Just this past Christmas season, my friends and family had one of these delightful experiences.

We first took our little group to Siena and San Gimignano. Yes, there were tourists (mostly Italians on holiday) but nothing like the spring and summer months. We then decided to go for lunch in a new town which no one had ever seen, including my son.

The place is Certaldo Alto, which is not far from San Gimignano. You will never find it overrun by tourists but you will find the magic of Italy’s medieval era.

My son loved it. It has the same feeling as many of the hilltop towns near our home in Lucca: beautiful landscapes with a medieval village at the top, with magnificent views from all sides. We walked around and found a place for lunch despite many being closed. Everything was traditional. It was an excellent afternoon.

Certaldo Alto is home to one of Italy’s greatest 14th-century writers, Giovanni Boccaccio. His most famous work is Decameron.

Yes, it’s true Tuscany can get too crowded in some areas especially certain times of year. Well, those are times to discover the unknown parts of #hiddentuscany and believe me, there are many!

Hidden Tuscany: The views of Garfagnana

Recently we were asked by good friends if we would go with them to Garfagnana to see Parco dell’Orecchiella, a wonderful regional park. We have visited it many times and we always enjoy beautiful views. The park is located high in the mountains north of Lucca, about a one hour drive. Going past the many medieval towns and villages we reached our destination just in time for lunch. I had made a reservation at La Greppia, a very well-known restaurant located just outside the park. We had a wonderful lunch and then walked around the park to enjoy the magnificent views, the trees, a small lake, and some of Garfagnana’s tallest peaks.  It’s also a hikers paradise with the many marked trails all around.

On our way back to Lucca, I told my friends about Il Castello delle Verrucole. They had never been to this wonderful gem. Even though they realized that there would be a bit of a steep hike up to the Castle, they decided it was worth it. Upon entering the castle (not really your typical castle but a defense system of the 11th century) a guide will take you through the what was the living quarters of the structure and describe the history in a very fun and interesting way. Of course, the views from here are spectacular too. The tour lasts about one hour and it’s interesting for both young and old. Our friends told me that the steep walk was worth every step!

Hidden Tuscany: Let us be your guide

Maybe you’ve heard Tuscany is a very popular tourist destination!?

Of course, you have. Because the magic of Tuscany never disappoints. While it may be popular for tourist websites and publications to talk about the “next” Tuscany or some new place for adventurous tourists, Tuscany remains for many the trip of a lifetime. And many of my clients keep coming back because why not have the “trip of a lifetime” more than once!

Over the next few weeks, we will help stir your spirit of adventure with many posts about #hiddentuscany that include our favorite spots for day trips and more. Come along with us and read about these gems of Toscana and if they inspire ideas, perhaps we can help with a consultation for your next visit. Just click here to get started.

We have many stories to tell you, starting with the beauty of the hilltop town of Montecarlo that welcomes visitors with many local restaurants, several significant historical places to see and magnificent views of the Lucchesia.

Montecarlo played a critical role in the defense of Lucca during the perilous medieval era of rival nation-states, Florence and Pisa in particular. In 1325, Lucca’s famous commander Castruccio Castracani used the strategic position of Montecarlo to direct the army and win the battle of Altopascio against the Florentine army.

According to VisitTuscany.com,  “Montecarlo’s top sights worth seeing include the Collegiate Church of Saint Andrew (Chiesa Collegiata di Sant’Andrea), the not-to-be-missed parish church Pieve di San Piero in Campo, dating back to 846, and the tiny but enchanting theater Teatro dei Rassicurati, which was frequented by the composer Puccini.”

Montecarlo is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves with local products that celebrate the bounty of the region. The city often hosts events that bring local people for a night of leisure and beauty. Be sure to visit around sunset!

Do you have a favorite memory of Hidden Tuscany? Comment here or send me a note. Maybe, you’ll inspire an article here!

 

Warm Tuscan days, pleasant nights

Summer heat has arrived. It’s a beautiful time of the year where sun splashes everywhere. In the evening, the piazzas are full as people mingle, eat outside and stay up late.

A sure sign of this heat is colorful front door protective curtains that you begin seeing. They are made with a very strong fabric that will not allow the sun to “cook” the doors. The traditional colors are yellow and white. Mine is green and white because I had to make a new one this year and was unable to find the original fabric. They last a few summers before you need a new one.

Besides protecting your doors, they help keep the heat outside during the day, which keeps the house more pleasant, especially at night.

By the way, in the picture of my curtain, you will see Pallino our cat, looking for a shady place to hide.

Enjoy your summer!

Be local: Visit a street market

Weekly street markets in Italy! How fun. Anywhere in Italy you visit you will find one. Each community holds these markets on different days. It is best to check with locals for information.

In Lucca the street markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Though some may linger, most start closing around 12:30 p.m. By 1 p.m. they are done for the day.

Mind you, they are not “flea markets” or used items. These markets feature new merchandise. You can find anything from the freshest cheese to fancy dresses and garden plants. But there is so much more: kitchen items, home decorating, make-up, toiletries, etc. Each week I try to go one of the two days, usually on Saturday mornings so I can buy the fruits and vegetables I will need for the weekend. And of course, I will always find something else that is “just what I was looking for.”

Prices are good. The merchandise can be on the economical side but sometimes you will find stands that sell high-quality clothing at a very reduced price because they are selling “stock” items they bought in one big bulk and can sell it at a very reduced price.

Italians are used to street markets; it’s part of the culture. So what better way to see the local population than at a street market? I would say the majority are women but many have their husbands tagging along, waiting for the time to get back in the car and go home and have lunch. How typical it is to find someone you know and haven’t seen for a long time. You see people from all walks, the young, old, Italians and non Italians, children wanting to buy everything that attracts their attention, animals to be adopted (I almost brought another kitty home the other day but I didn’t think my husband would be too happy). It really is a fun part of the Italian culture. Next time you are here, make it a point to go. You will be happy you did!

Rainy days can still be fun days

Not all our walking tours are always under the Tuscan sun!  Tuscan rain happens here, especially in Lucca. Lucca has a wonderful Meditteranean climate.  However, Lucca can also be very rainy.  I think the reason for our rainy days is a combination of being close to the mountains to the north, but still close to the sea. Whatever the reason, we benefit from the rainfall and it doesn’t do much to dampen the city’s charm. Our city is so green all year round and we have plenty of sun to enjoy as well.

I try to keep an eye on the weather forecast so that I am ready in case of any rain.  I keep my little umbrella buried in my purse, just in case.  And it has happened a few times that I got caught without one as the rains came down. My hair gets spoiled, my shoes are soaked, and I feel the dampness all over while doing a tour! That is not as pleasant as it should for both me or the guests that are on my tour.

Take a look at the photo. It was a wet rainy day, but we prepared ourselves for the rain.  The photo is of myself and the tour escort. You can see from our smiling faces that taking a tour even on a rainy day that Lucca is still beautiful! In fact, it can be a great day for a tour because we will get you out of the rain into our amazing churches, museums and shops. There is no reason to let a little rain spoil a great vacation!

Take a stroll to authentic Tuscany

“You don’t need to go far from Lucca’s historic center to find the beautiful countryside that comes to mind when first think of Tuscany. Olive groves, vineyards, cypress trees, soft rolling hills, and magnificent villas surround the city.  With a very short drive, or a long pleasant stroll beyond the city and you can be in the middle of this country paradise. But be careful. It’s true that many fall in love at first sight!

Tuscany’s hillsides are home to wonderful vineyards and olive groves. Many places welcome visitors for tastings, just as many roadside trattorias offer wonderful local food. This is place to experience Tuscany!

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If you would like help arranging a tour, please contact me. I’d love to help you travel like a local! And after you’ve fallen in love with Tuscany, you may want to rent or buy a place of your own. We can help with that, too!

I look forward to meeting you the next time you visit. Be sure to take a little side trip to Lucca’ss most beautiful countryside.  You too will feel like I do!