Tuscan Treasures in Italy Tour
June 2 – 10th, 2015


As I sat down to put this tour together for 2015 I was reminded over and over again just why it is so special. 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.

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.

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 is indeed a tour as close to heaven on earth…..

June 1st I arrived into Florence a day before the tour and Daniela, my ground handler was there to pick me up to take me to the hotel in Siena. I arrived in the evening so by the time I got to the hotel I was ready for a nice bed and sleep….some guests had already arrived as well this day but the balance would be tomorrow and I would see them all in the evening for a glass of Prosecco.

June 2nd Tuesday Official Day of Arrival into Siena

Our hotel is the wonderful Il Chiostro del Carmine, an ex Carmelite convent, a place of history and holiness that has remained intact for centuries with its delightful and quiet courtyard. Just a few minutes by foot from the Duomo and Piazza del Campo it is a little jewel in a treasure city… Always a convent of the barefoot Monks called Carmelitani, they faced many challenges but always managed to get it back. Next to the convent there is Saint Nicolo Church from the XII century. Inside you can admire beautiful works of art such as paintings of Alessandro Casolani, Franceso Vanni and the image of Madonna dei Mantellin - made by a painter during the second century known as Master of the S.S Cosma and Damiano. Below the altar, there is also the grave and the body of Franco Lippi, a carmelita saint who died at the end of the XIII century. The overall building kept the original architectural structure, which you will notice once inside. As soon as you enter you can access the cloister, 400 years old, and still maintaining the same architectural appeal. In the open space to the back of the convent, now used as a guest parking, the famous “Diana’s Well”. This deep and very old well, was already used in the XII century by the citizens of the area to try to find the water of the Diana’s river. The research of these waters was an obsession for Siena during Medieval time. We can find traces in Dante’s Play, in fact, the street where “il Chiostro del Carmine” opens its doors, is called “Via della Diana”. Please take a moment and watch this video…’The Diana, the Ghost River of Siena’, it is really good http://vimeo.com/77787525 
Even though the hotel does not have lifts – it is heritage – the hotel staff were there to hoist our bags up and down steps and those steps were what we needed to get ourselves in shape for further walking on our walking tours.

I had arranged to meet Daniela and go on a bit of a walking tour with her today as I didn’t have anything planned…

We all met later this evening for our Welcome Drink and got to know each other a bit.