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A Month in Rome and Tuscany

Author: esfeld
Email: esfeld@cyberdude.com (More Trip Reviews by esfeld)
Date of Trip: August 2001

Not all plans go according to plan!!! The original plan was for my wife and I to rent a house in Tuscany for the month of August and to have our eldest son, his wife and our grandson (along with a friend's daughter as baby sitter) join us for the second ten days ... our daughter and her husband join us for the first ten days and our youngest son join us for the last ten days, each with a few days of overlap. Due to my grandsons getting sick just before we left we knew that that crew would not be joining us -- bummer!

We arrived in Rome on what had to be the hottest day of the century (August is not the best month for Italy, but the timing was dictated by the kids' work schedules). The Hotel Condotti (found through charming hotels of Europe) picked us up and sped us into Rome with no hassles or delays. The Hotel was convenient (right behind P. de Spagna) and was very charming albeit small.

We cleaned up and went out to explore the neighborhood. We had a pre-arranged private tour through Odyssey Tours at 3:00 and so we meandered our way to their offices seeing all the sights along the way. I had met the owner of this new agency online while trying to arrange for a crib for the baby (who now isn't coming) and it was a blessing in disguise. Marianne De Reuitter knows Rome and knows her history and we had a most marvelous tour of ancient Rome. She had tickets in hand, knew her way around all the crowds and lines, and was most considerate in keeping us out of the sun and heat and ended with her own performance of "Friends Romans and Countrymen" ... just a great time. She and her staff get my highest praise!

We cabbed back to the hotel, showered and went around the corner to Ristorante Re degli Amici for what turned out to be a great dinner, and the owner is a lot of fun and kept the entire room in stitches with his antics. The next day we did our own tour (using Jeanne Oelerich's Pocket Walking Guide) and had a lovely dinner at La Terrazza del Eden (top of the Hotel Eden) with a view of Rome at our feet.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Galleria Borghese (get reservations online before you leave) and do not miss the "Apollo & Daphne" by Berninni. We live in New York and have access to great museums ... my wife sculpts ... this is a treat to see!!!

Planning to leave the next day. I was up early for a run. The breakfast at the hotel was great. We wandered a bit and off I went to find the Hertz office in the Borghese Gardens. We were on the road by 2PM ... found the A1 and arrived in Buonconvento at 4PM (we were due at the house by 6PM) so we grabbed a Paninni in town and went on up to Siena to scout out the train station. We walked through the city and made it back to the house at 6 on the button.

The homeowners (just wonderful, wonderful people) gave us an indoctrination tour, had a drink with us and left for England. Because the agency (HomebaseAbroad) had misquoted the availability of a cook and housekeeper (only one of many errors on their part), the owner had pre-prepared two delicious meals for us. We ate and slept. The house (3 bdrm 2.5 bath) is actually in Bibbiano (10 minutes from Buonconvento) and is large, airy and very comfortable with a pool that overlooks a valley of sunflowers.

I had planned our days around day trips to each of the main cities in southern Tuscany, along with routes from my maps. Today was a trip to Montalcino ... on a white road ... at first they will scare you but after your second or third experience you'll start looking for more. Follow everyone's advice and keep a supply of 500L coins in your car for parking!! Here's a trick to remember. The Coop (local supermercatos) in each town has a change machine at the entrance (you need a 500L coin to get a shopping cart, which is returned when you replace it) so a quick stop at the Coop gets you your parking stash of coins!!

Montalcino is a great little town. We came back and had dinner at Da Mario in Buonconvento (I will say no more than Da Mario is a gem of a local ristorante with great ambiance -- mangiare a fuori -- and dynamite food and is considered a secret find by the local inhabitants of this working village, one of the few non "waltdisneyized" in southern Tuscany). Our neighbors in the house are local architects (they are redoing a local castle and its town for a wealthy American) and gave us the scoop on all the local hot spots ... this is one of them!

Just a quick note here: I will leave out activities in each town, unless there is something spectacular since most of the information is available either on Slowtrav or in various guide books ... but Montalcino is a gem. Today, after breakfast under the pergola (the aroma of Welch's comes to mind, and we ate grapes right off the vine) we drove up to the Abbazia de Monte Oliveto Maggiore and happened to catch a local wedding in the chapel. Had a wonderful lunch on the terrace at the Ristorante La Torre on the grounds and went on into Asciano, then on into Siena on SS 451 to 326 to 73 (meaningless until you get there ... then you will know these roads like the back of your hand). Even though these are paved roads, this is an adventurous drive.

Photo Credits: Image of Daphne and Apollo sculpture appears courtesy of the Galleria Borghese. Image of Montalcino appears courtesy of Montalcino.net.

Here's how a predictable day in Italy goes. We left the house in time to meet my daughter and son-in-law in Siena at 1PM. On the way out of Buonconvento my telephonino rang ... they missed their connection and so instead of a left we made a right and headed to Chiusi (otherwise they would have had to wait till 6PM for the next train to Siena). Dinner that night was great ... went into Merlo, the smallest walled city? village? I've seen -- consists of an Etruscan museum, a pizzeria, a restaurant and a lot of apartments. Ate at Pizzeria Dell'Arco on the terrace ... food was great!!

BTW so far we have had the vino rosso de la casa with every meal and have not been disappointed yet! Having a lot of fun shopping at the Coop daily to keep the house stocked. Just stand off to the side and watch the action ... in no time you'll know the routine and start to pick up enough Italian to get you by.

Went into Montepulciano today. Advice: I know everyone seems to say take the first parking lot you see, but we had no trouble driving right up into every village (as far as we could go ... follow the signs to centro storico) and either parking on the street or in a remote lot. Just read the signs carefully ... just like New York!!!

In town (at the main piazza) there is a tourist info center. They sell you access to the top floor of the town hall for a spectacular view of the valley. Don't do it ... keep walking down the street, turn left into the music school (you'll hear them practicing), walk to the back and you'll get a better view from the terrace!!!

OK, so we were in the centro storico on streets so narrow we had to fold the mirrors in and couldn't find our way out because the car was too wide to turn where is said "tutto di direzione" (this is what you follow to find main arteries). Found a nice kid on a vespa who led us out of town on streets that were even narrower!!! OK, maybe you should park outside of town, but if you speak Italian and you're adventuresome you'll have a ball doing it my way ... we laughed all the way to Chianciano Termi.

If you get hungry, carry food. This was one of many occasions when we ran into the afternoon closings, and we were starved. In Chianciano we managed to find the Bar Pasticceria Centro Storico open and had a great lunch on the terrace (three tables on a fire escape) with nothing below us for 300 feet but the town. Our daughter only wanted to find the thermal springs so we went off to Bagno San Fillipo. After a hike in the woods we found the waterfalls and springs (look it up somewhere ... another good adventure!!) From there we hit Bagno Vignoni, more civilized and docile but thermal nonetheless. The four of us cooked in and had cocktails (the excellent wine we got in a winery outside of Montepulciano) at the pool and planned our trip to Florence the next day.

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