Tuscany  Treasures Italy 2012
June 4th - 12th - 2012  

June 4 & 5th  

As I sat down to write the tour recap I was again reminded over and over again just why this tour is so special and fills up quickly each time I do it. The book ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ sums up this truly magical tour from beginning to end. It is the sun on the stately upright and dark green Cypress trees painted against the olive trees and yellow broom that is just so everywhere this time of year. It is the fields full of wildflowers, grains, garbanzo beans and soon to be shining sunflowers. It is the sound of birds and bells of the churches in the villages of Siena and Montecatini Terme. It is the extraordinary food we enjoy and the people we meet. It is a tour that honestly makes everyone smile every day, just because we are here. You cannot help it because Tuscany does this to you…the hills and valleys laden with grape vines and olive trees bring this smile to your face and you don’t even want to close your eyes for fear you will miss something.
I was not going to do an Italy tour in 2013 but have decided that it must be done again…come along with me and see why in 2013.
Surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards of Chianti, Siena is one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. Declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, Siena is famous for its art, museums, cuisine and medieval city. Set on three hills, the city is drawn together by winding alleyways and steep steps. The Piazza del Campo is its heart with the Duomo and St Maria della Scala serving as further landmarks. The Chianti area, between Florence and Siena, is one of the most beautiful country sides in Italy and a famous wine production area.
Siena's cuisine is pure and simple, yet distinguished by the excellence of its ingredients. Sienese meats, vegetables and herbs are of excellent quality, and most recipes call for the use of olive oil (which in this region is among the highest quality).
Siena's museums are filled with fine examples of paintings and sculpture from the Romanic, Gothic and Pre-Renaissance periods. Aside from museums, the town is filled with Gothic architecture and the art of the Sienese school. You will not want to miss Siena's many small churches, and historical squares either.
Montecatini Terme is an Italian district of approx. 21,000 inhabitants within the province of Pistoia in Tuscany. The Valdinievole is an original mix of famous thermal resorts, intact nature and ancient Medieval villages. It is found in the deep and secret heart of Tuscany, between Pistoia and Lucca and, for centuries, was a crossroads for culture, trade and meetings. Her hills conceal villages and castles that, from the “Swiss Pesciatina”, stretch out until Montalbano where the genius of Leonardo da Vinci was born. From the chestnut woods, passing through the landscape scattered with olives trees, we reach the valley where the precious waters of Montecatini Terme and the steam of Monsummano Terme’s grottos are born, and where the natural reserve of Padule di Fucecchio extends.Lucca, clasped within her well-preserved walls, encloses a historical, architectural richness of masterpieces from different ages. In the vast plains and on the hills that surround the city are scattered numerous splendid villas, characterized by parks and gardens rich in tree-lined lanes, statues, fountains and waterworks. The olive grove that colours the landscape with its typical silvery grey supplies an incomparable oil, famous throughout the world. The vine also contributes to the character of the landscape, especially on the hills, producing the famous Doc di Montecarlo and delle Colline Lucchesi wines.
This was indeed a tour a close to heaven on earth.

Monday June 4th, 2012

In the historic centre of Siena, near to Piazza del Campo, famous for the well known Palio, there is Hotel Athena. There is a large terrace with wonderful views where guests can take advantage of the bar service while enjoying the countryside around and below them characterised by the ancient city walls of Siena and its backdrop of soft green hills. We all arrived at various times to the hotel and met this evening for our welcome drink, Proscecco of course, and met each other and went over the tour a bit before dinner. It was great to meet old tour friends and new.

Tuesday June 5th Siena

We started our walking tour of Siena by getting to know the different contradas or communities that are here in Siena. The picture of the panther is one of the Contradas. This was a great stop as you can see by the next picture that one of the Contrada della Pantera had a baby born and was announcing it here. There is another picture of the Eagle. I believe there are 17 in total but only 10 are really active. This was especially important as it gave us some insight into the famous Palio race which will take place in July. The banners were starting to appear around each of them – a colourful and happy time to be here. It is a very serious time as well because although each of the communities gets along, during this prelude to the race, there can be altercations. For instance our guide told us that while people from different communities can marry, sometimes they will live apart during the prelude to the race happening just to keep the peace in the house so to speak. We visited the Contrada of the Giraffe where we learned that the riders are on bareback and it is a super intense 90 second ride around the ring and yes injuries can happen. If a rider falls off a horse and the horse continues to race and even wins, that they are in fact the winner and the rider is not disqualified. We even got to visit the Contradas chapel where we learned that the morning of the race brings the riders in for a blessing. They also bring in a horse and if the horse poops, that that is considered a good omen.
The Piazza del Campo is one of the most beautiful piazzas of Italy. It is shaped like a large shell, paved with red bricks and divided into nine sections. It is where the center of city life is, dominated by a tower built in 1848 and rising 102 meters high. This is where the famous Palio of Siena takes place twice a year.
We walked along the narrow streets of this history filled village and discovered so much. One of my pictures shows a cradle with a baby in it. This is ancient. It tells us that this was a place where women could bring babies and drop them off if they could not afford to keep them. It happened then as it happens now, but here they were safe. The window would have had a wheel with baskets attached that you would put your baby in and then it was wheeled around until inside to be taken out of the basket. Another alley led us to a small shop that had hats and scarves…we gave them a few minutes to check this out and as you can see by the pictures, they loved it!
The Cathedrale di Santa Maria, better known as the Duomo, a gleaming marble treasury of Gothic art was a stunner. The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The nave is separated from the two aisles by semicircular arches. The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. The origins of the first structure are obscure and shrouded in legend. There was a 9th century church with bishop's palace at the present location. In December 1058 a synod was held in this church resulting in the election of Pope Nicholas II and the deposition of the antipope Benedict X.
I could not get over how similar the tower was to a minaret. Everything was just so unusual and awesome…the library was so beautiful – full of handmade paper with this gorgeous font and artwork. The organ alone has 4 sets of pipes. Never have I seen this nor so many beautiful frescoes. Truly inspiring.
In 1196 the cathedral masons’ guild, the Opera di Santa Maria, was put in charge of the construction of a new cathedral. By 1215 there were already daily masses said in the new church.
Also part of the Duomo is the Duccio’s Maesta at the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo

The Maestà, or Maestà of Duccio is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. The front panels make up a large enthroned Madonna and Child with saints and angels, and a predella of the Childhood of Christ with prophets. The reverse has the rest of a combined cycle of the Life of the Virgin and Life of Christ in a total of forty-three small scenes; several panels are now dispersed or lost. Though it took a generation for its effect truly to be felt, Duccio's Maestà set Italian painting on a course leading away from the hieratic representations of Byzantine art towards more direct presentations of reality. Tempera and gold on wood.

The painting was installed in the cathedral of Siena on June 9, 1311. One person who witnessed this event wrote: ‘ And on that day when it was brought into the cathedral, all workshops remained closed, and the bishop commanded a great host of devoted priests and monks to file past in solemn procession. This was accompanied by all the high officers of the Commune and by all the people; all honorable citizens of Siena surrounded said panel with candles held in their hands, and women and children followed humbly behind. They accompanied the panel amidst the glorious pealing of bells after a solemn procession on the Piazza del Campo into the very cathedral; and all this out of reverence for the costly panel… The poor received many alms, and we prayed to the Holy Mother of God, our patron saint, that she might in her infinite mercy preserve this our city of Siena from every misfortune, traitor or enemy.’
Then we had a private visit to the Imperiale Contrada Della Giraffa. A contrada is a district, or a ward, within an Italian city. The most well-known contrade (plural) are probably the 17 contrade of Siena that race in the Palio di Siena. Each is named after an animal or symbol and each has its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations. Oca or Goose is one of them. These districts were set up in the Middle Ages in order to supply troops to the many military companies that were hired to defend Siena as it fought to defend its independence from Florence and other nearby city states. As time has gone by, however, the contrade have lost their administrative and military functions and have instead become simply areas of localized patriotism, held together by the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents. Their roles have broadened so that every important event – baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals – is celebrated only within one's own contrada.
Every contrada has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, motto, allied contrada (only Oca has no allies) and adversary contrada, typically a neighbor (only four, Bruco, Drago, Giraffa and Selva, have no declared adversaries). Often the adversary contrade share borders. Traditionally, its residents made dyes. Oca's symbol is a crowned goose wearing around its neck a blue ribbon marked with the cross of Savoy. Its colours are green and white, with red trim. Oca is one of only four noble contrade; it earned its title for its people's bravery during many battles fought by the former Sienese Republic.
Then a wonderful lunch at the Ristorante Grotta di Santa Caterina and it was off to…

Castello di Celsa. Celsa has the quality that dreams are made of. A castle with turrets surrounded by a formal garden, a Renaissance chapel and a beautifully converted conservatory - the Limonaia - look across the valley towards the skyline of Siena, surrounded by 250 hectares of land. The Castello di Celsa is one of Italy’s best kept secrets as it is not open to the public.

The exclusive Castello di Celsa, owned by the princely Aldobrandini family, lies fourteen kilometers south-east of Siena. The true beauty of Celsa lies in its silence and the spectacular view over the surrounding countryside, at a stone’s throw from the magical city of Siena, a landscape that has not changed for centuries.

Visit to Tenuta Monaciano – A drawing by the artist Ettore Romagnoli dating from 1835 attests to the fact that there was a garden annex to the Villa in the eighteenth century but was actually put in place during the middle part of the century when the building was completely modified by the nobleman Alessandro Pucci Sansedoni. The owner constructed a new villa and romantic garden complex in the innovative spirit of the styles pervading Florence at the time. The Villa and the garden are the heart of the Monaciano estate rising high on the hilltop that dominates the Tuscan Chianti in the countryside in the province of Siena. Thanks to a recent restoration and conservation initiative, the garden has been returned to its original splendour without additions and intrusive modifications, typical to restoration projects. Behind the garden project, one can still experience the original inspiration and design of the eighteenth century noble owner, who actively participated in the farm’s management possessing botanical, territorial and agricultural knowledge.

The park is divided approximately into two parts: the first part, on the higher end, is dedicated to decorative flowers; the second part, at the lower end, is the heart of the romantic park, with large forested spaces alternating with curved walkways that spontaneously open up onto surprising new views and paths, created to enchant visitors at every turn.

The landscaping of the garden is based on the English style where full green spaces alternate with empty open spaces, forests offset by clearings. The romantic park is made up of evergreen high-standing trees such as Holm oak trees, a large Lebanese Cedar, as well as horse chestnut, oak and palm trees.

Other significant elements of the garden include stone fixtures and sculptures strategically positioned, guiding one’s gaze towards the immense panorama where the historical Villa emerges among the Tuscan hillside completing the scene. The garden was designed as a place of contemplation, relaxation, and place for collection and harvest for the original owners of the villa. Such purposes, both eclectic and domestic, have ensured that spectacular and extraordinary aspects be highlighted. The most noteworthy are: the heated green house, the Lemon house, the Aviary, the Water Lily Pond, Venus’s Grotto, the temple, water fountains and other wonders interspersed with flowering hedges, forests and pathways.

We also enjoyed tasting the wine!

From here it was on to dinner at Ristorante La Porta del Chanti.


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row