Tuscany Family Holiday 2014
We (Nancy’s mum and eldest sister and us) flew out to Rome on May 16th having spent a superb five days with Debbie and Bas in Kent. Hotel Arcangelo provided a quiet, comfortable base for our stay near the Vatican, and also had a great roof terrace with views to St Peter’s.
We visited the Vatican on the first morning and were glad to be there before the 9 am rush as the queue jumped from zero to hundreds of meters while we were inside the church of St Peter. It has to be one of the most stunning buildings in the world, both in terms of its overall size and grandeur, as well as the quality of the artwork and construction.
The subsequent hop-on bus tour of the city didn’t prove to be as enjoyable as the crowds were out in full force, on the roads as well as at the sights. Trevi fountains were under repair, the Spanish Steps were rammed and you couldn’t get into the Pantheon with the volume of people, so the best fun was to be had wandering the back streets. Rome is such a great place with surprises round every corner.
Pizzeria Baffetto was a real find (recommendation) for the evening meal with its very thin crusts and super-tasty fresh toppings. Lovely street too! So good that we went back the next evening with the rest of the gang for the Tuscany visit – Nancy’s other sister with her husband, and her mum’s cousin and husband. Gracchi gelateria was also worth a second visit (and was conveniently close to the hotel!).
The other highlight of our visit was the Villa Borghese. Although the displays are order thematically rather than chronologically, and are consequently harder to grasp, the artwork is amazing and includes six Caravaggios (Caravaggii?). You just have to be careful to get there at the right time slot. There is so much more to be seen in Rome that we’ll just have to go back for another visit!
We collected our hire car from near the airport to avoid driving in town and headed up to Viterbo. I had planned to visit the city’s classic architecture, but ended up waiting while we did a comprehensive shop for the villa. We passed Orvieto on the way up and made it to Pian di Sco in mid-afternoon. Villa Valentini is set in olive groves with views over the Val d’Arno – and a great swimming pool.
The eight of us based ourselves here for the week, and were soon increased to nine when Nancy’s brother, Gordon, surprised us all, giving a full complement of MacDonalds. With three cars we were free to explore and took excursions to some of the classic sights of Tuscany.
My favourite was Montepulciano, though that was partly because we beat the crowds there. Nevertheless, it is a stunning renaissance city with plenty to see and do. The views over the surrounding countryside are particularly beautiful. We also visited Pienza – the first ‘planned’ city – and Montalcino the same day. Pienza was very well laid out, but surprisingly small. We did find a gorgeous spot for lunch. The best thing about Montalcino was the bottle of Brunello we bought as a treat (because we’re worth it!), though the basic Rosso was very palatable too.
We took an early train to Florence and went straight to the Duomo. Such an amazing building. Unfortunately, there are just too many visitors in the summer so we will have to return at a quieter time of year to appreciate it at its best. And we’ll make sure that we take a guided tour of the Uffizi.
San Gimignano was an extraordinary place too. More interesting and not as touristy as I feared, it was also notable for the beautiful surrounding countryside. Despite getting lost on the way there (note to self – buy updated GPS maps) we had a lovely drive on the way back, passing through oak forests and vineyards interspersed by quaint towns and villages.
As a means of seeing the best of Tuscany I don’t think that staying at the villa was as good a way as doing a circular tour with a couple of nights in different places, but as a family holiday it was great to be able to cook, relax and chill by the pool in a convivial atmosphere. Where’s the next one