Sunflowers in Tuscany

Tuscany by Car in 2007

A Siteseeing, Cooking, Shopping, Eating and Wine Tasting Holiday in Tuscany

This is a travelogue describing a trip to Italy taken by Lee and Karen Briggs from June 29 to July 8, 2007.

Normally, I would not have set up a trip like this for this time of year. Summer in Italy can be hot, crowded and expensive. However, this was a special situation. Karen started taking a culinary course at the Center for Culinary Arts here in Connecticut, USA, beginning in January, 2007. It was a 15 month course that covers all aspects of the culinary business. The only break she had all year that was longer than a few days was the week of the Fourth of July. She had a class on Thursday, 28 June, and was off until Monday, 9 July. So we took advantage of this and went back to Italy for the first time since our trip to Italy in 2001.

Part of the trip was a stay at an agriturismo that offers cooking classes. I started by looking into week-long cooking vacations. I thought it would be a good tie-in with her schooling. I found a few that were not to pricey and then talked with Karen about them. She said that she liked the idea but didn't want to spend the entire week doing that because there were other things that we want to see and do. I agreed with her and started looking at shorter tours.

I found a few and one in particular caught our eye. It included four days staying at an agriturismo and included cooking classes on three days. The cost was $1075.00 per person, and this price did not include airfare. I sent them a message asking about availability and in the meantime, I did some investigation.

I found out that the place where the cooking classes were given was an agriturismo called Agriturismo Fagiolari run by a woman named Giulietta. On their web site was a link to another agriturismo that is run by her sister, Marinella, called Podere (Estate) San Lorenzo. I then checked out the web sites of both places and sent them some emails.

There was a wedding going on at Agriturismo Fagiolari during the time that we wanted to be there. But Podere San Lorenzo had availability for us.

The accomodation cost us 85.00€ per night, and the classes cost us 85.00€ each. So, for three nights accomodation, plus two cooking classes each, the total was 595.00€. At the then current exchange rate, that was approximately $773.50. The tour we were looking at would have cost $2150.00 for the two of us. So by dealing with the establishment directly, we saved about $1376.50! Something to think about the next time you are making travel arrangements.

And this allowed me to splurge a little on our first night's accomodation in Porto Venere, where we stayed at the Grand Hotel Portovenere.

Friday, 29 June, 2007

On Friday we had a four hour drive to Philadelphia to catch a flight to Milan Italy. The flight left a little late, but arrived in Milan about when it was supposed to on Saturday morning.

I looked around at a lot of options for flights to Italy and as I expected, at that time of year, flights are expensive. I finally settled on a non-stop flight from Philadelphia to Milan. This option saved us over $400.00 over the next best option. It meant that we had a four-hour drive to Philly to get to the airport but we didn't mind that.

We left the US on Friday, 29 June, on a US Airways flight to Milan, which arrived in Italy on Saturday morning, 30 June.

Map of Italy Map showing the relative positions of
Milan, Tuscany and Rome.

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Day One — Saturday, 30 June, 2007

Map of Italy Map of northern Italy showing the route from
Milan to Porto Venere via Parma.

Our first night was in the seaside town of Porto Venere, along the coast just below the Cinque Terre. According to all of the mapping websites, the best way to get there is to go down the A1 as far as Parma, then get on the A15 toward the coast. As long as we were going through Parma, we decided to stop there and spend a couple of hours siteseeing and having lunch.

We then drove to Porto Venere to the Grand Hotel Porto Venere. We had dinner at the restaurant at the hotel.

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Day Two — Sunday, 01 July, 2007

Sunday morning we got up and had the included breakfast at the hotel.

We walked around the town again, buying some souvineers and taking a few more photos.

Then we were on the road, heading for Carrara to get some photos of the marble quarries.

After that, we set out for Volterra and the agriturismo Podere San Lorenzo. We drove back into Volterra and had dinner at a little Pizzaria Ristorante.

Day Three — Monday, 02 July, 2007

On Monday morning, after the included breakfast at the agriturismo, we headed back the way we had come on Sunday to explore some of the things we had seen along the way.

Then we went back to the Podere San Lorenzo for our first cooking class. Dinner was the food we made in the class.

Day Four — Tuesday, 03 July, 2007

Tuesday morning we had our included breakfast at the agriturismo.

After that we set out to do some more exploring and wine tasting.

Then we explored Volterra for a few hours.

In the afternoon, we had our second cooking class with Giulietta at the Podere San Lorenzo. Again, dinner was the food we made in the class.

Day Five — Wednesday, 04 July, 2007

On Wednesday morning we had our included breakfast at the agriturismo and then bid it farewell.

We drove to the town of Greve in Chianti for a tour and wine tasting at the Castello di Verrazzano.

After the tasting we explored Greve in Chianti, including a macelleria (butcher shop) the Antica Macelleria Falorni.

We drove to Florence where we had some time for some siteseeing.

Then we had dinner at da Pennello.

Day Six — Thursday, 05 July, 2007

Today, after our included breakfast, we went straight to the duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, to the entrance where you can climb to the top of the dome (cupola) inside the two shells, 463 steps.

From there we went to San Lorenzo, the outdoor market next to it, and the indoor, two-level food market.

Then we walked to Santa Maria Novella to see Massachio's The Holy Trinity, the first great renaissance perspective painting, and Brunelleschi's crucifix.

After that, we went back to the Piazza del Duomo and decided to climb the bell tower (campanille,) another 414 steps.

We walked over the river to Oltrarno and the church of Santo Spirito.

Then we had dinner in the Piazza della Republica at Caffe Concerto.

Day Seven — Friday, 06 July, 2007

On Friday, after the included breakfast, we started off at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, the Museum of the Works of the Duomo.

Then we went north to the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the orphanage designed by Brunelleschi.

We explored the Piazza Filippo Brunelleschi and then made our way to the Basilica di Santa Croce. There we also explored the Pazzi Chapel, also designed by Brunelleschi.

We walked from there to the Piazza del Duomo where we explored the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) and the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery.)

Then we had dinner at the Osteria dell'Agnolo.

Day Eight — Saturday, 07 July, 2007

On Saturday we had our included breakfast and then we left Florence. The drive out of the city was much less stressful than the drive in.

Our first stop was Pistoia, where we saw the Silver Altar and the earliest known works of Brunelleschi, and the orphanage there which he also designed.

Next we went to the little town of Borgo Capanne, which is where Chef Mario Batali spent three years working only for room and board to learn authentic Italian cooking.

Then we stopped in Modena, which is noted for balsamic vinegar, to do a little more siteseeing and have some lunch.

Then we drove to Malpensa, and had dinner at a place we found nearby.

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Sunday, 08 July, 2007

On Sunday morning we drove to the Malpensa Airport for the flight back to Philadelphia. Once we arrived in Philly, we had a four-hour drive home.


At the beginning, above, I stated: Normally, I would not have set up a trip like this for this time of year. Summer in Italy can be hot, crowded and expensive.

However, it turned out to be quite different. The flight to Italy was more expensive than it probably would have been in the spring or autumn (or winter) and we did have to pay more for our stay at the Grand Hotel Porto Venere becuause of the season. But it wasn't really too hot at any time, most places weren't as crowded as I expected and other than the expenses I just mentioned it really wasn't any more expensive than it would have been at other times.

Porto Venere was crowded, but it was mostly Italians on holiday. Volterra was a little crowded, but not bad. At the wine tour and tasting at Castello di Verrazzano, you can see two rows of chairs where we had our tasting, but the second row was not needed as there weren't that many people on our tour. And Florence was a bit crowded but nothing like I expected.

So we had a very enjoyable time throughout our entire time in Italy.

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Contents © Copyright 2001 Author: Lee Briggs except where noted. All rights reserved.