Siena

Hill Towns of Tuscany: Art, Wine and Music

September 13-18 2018

We are delighted to be running a new tour to Tuscany in 2018, staying in a beautiful villa overlooking the picturesque town of San Gimignano.  September is one of the loveliest months to stay in the Tuscan countryside: the weather becomes milder, the colours start to take on rich autumnal hues, and there is an excitement in the air as the grape harvest begins.

Our tour includes visits to Florence and Siena; a specially arranged musical recital; a day trip into the beautiful Chianti region sampling some of its finest wines, and a cookery lesson at the wonderful Montese Cookery School. We also visit the stunning medieval hilltop town of Volterra, as well as lesser-known treasures such as the moving terracotta statues created for the chapels of the Holy Mount of San Vivaldo. A number of exclusive private visits are also arranged, including a visit to the renowned art restoration studios of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Here we meet some of the world's most experienced conservational experts and examine some of the city's masterpieces under restoration. The studios are not open to the public and so the visit will be a truly memorable experience.

A highlight of our 6-day tour will be a private recital given by internationally renowned classical guitarist Morgan Szymanski. Morgan will be flying to Italy especially to perform for us one evening.

All dinners and two lunches are included on this tour.

Please note: this tour is now fully booked but let us know if you would like to join a waiting list in case of any cancellations

 

Itinerary

DAY 1

We depart from London Heathrow and fly with British Airways to Pisa, arriving at 11.35.  We then transfer to the nearby Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa where there will be some time to enjoy a light lunch and admire the famous Cathedral, Baptistery and Leaning Tower. A private coach will then take us to our beautifully situated hotel, an elegant villa which has magnificent views of the Tuscan countryside and overlooks the famous towers of San Gimignano. There will be some time in the late afternoon for a swim in the pool or perhaps a drink on the terrace before dinner. Dinner with wine is included this evening.

DAY 2

We spend the day exploring the charming town of San Gimignano. First of all we visit the Civic Museum located in the 13th century Palazzo del Popolo, and examine masterpieces by a number of Tuscan artists including Benozzo Gozzoli, Lippo Memmi and Coppo di Marcovaldo. You may like to climb the Torre Grossa which boasts incredible views over the countryside. We then visit the Collegiata church and spend time admiring the frescoed interior with its dramatic scenes of the Last Judgement and exquisite frescoes by Ghirlandaio depicting scenes from the life of local saint, Santa Fina.  

After lunch and some free time we join friends Mauro and Viola for a cookery lesson at the wonderful Montese Cookery School, just a few minutes’ walk from our villa. The lesson in Tuscan cooking and traditional pasta will show you how to prepare long pasta such as fettuccine, tagliatelle, tagliolini and pappardelle as well as stuffed pasta such as ravioli and tortellini and the sauces which accompany them. Mauro and Viola will then prepare a delicious dinner for you to savour with local wines, whilst enjoying the spectacular panoramic views of San Gimignano.

Lunch and dinner with wine are both included today.

DAY 3

Today we travel to nearby Siena, a stunning medieval city situated on the ridge of three hills in the heart of Tuscany. During the late 13th and 14th centuries she became a powerful independent republic, a thriving centre of agriculture and one of the most important banking centres of Europe. This led to a flourishing of the arts, a so-called Golden Age, epitomised in the ravishing icons of Simone Martini and Duccio and the construction of a majestic Cathedral.

We begin in the beautiful Piazza del Campo, one of the most attractive squares in Italy where the famous Palio horse race takes place each summer. Here we visit the Palazzo Pubblico or town hall which is famous for its enchanting frescoes painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti on the subject of Good and Bad Government, as well as the equestrian portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano attributed to Simone Martini. Afterwards we explore Siena’s magnificent Cathedral – we discover the unusual history of its construction, and why plans for its extension were dramatically curtailed. Inside we admire Pisano’s pulpit panels, the Piccolomini Library and some little known sculptures by Michelangelo.  An al fresco lunch is arranged in a delightful restaurant in the Piazza del Campo, for those who would like to join the group.

This afternoon we visit the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo which houses Duccio’s famous Maestà, followed by a short tour of the little visited Pinacoteca, one of the hidden gems of the city which traces the development of Sienese painting from the 12th to the 16th centuries. We concentrate in particular on the Golden Age of Sienese art looking at medieval paintings by Duccio, Lorenzetti and Simone Martini, but we also see how these artists had a profound impact on those of the Renaissance such as Sano di Pietro and Matteo di Giovanni, particularly evident in the expense of their pigments and beauty of craftsmanship.

Before leaving we have arranged a private visit to the art studio of Marco Caratelli. Marco is a local artist who specialises in replicating the work of the great Sienese painters of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and will demonstrate the different stages of the egg tempera technique for us, from the choice of panels and pigments to gilding and tooling, allowing some of us to try some of the decorative techniques involved.

Dinner with wine is included this evening.

DAY 4

Today we enjoy a private visit to a nearby local treasure, the beautiful terracotta statues created for the chapels of the Holy Mount of San Vivaldo. The origins of San Vivaldo date back to the 14th century when a chapel was constructed at the shrine of a local hermit, the blessed Vivaldo. A monastery followed soon after, and in 1500 the resident Franciscan friars started to build a complex of chapels and churches reproducing the topography of the holy places of Jerusalem, offering pilgrims the possibility of going on a pilgrimage without travelling to the Holy Land. From 1500 to 1516, a number of chapels were erected at the site and decorated with near-life size terracotta groups, representing different episodes of the life and Passion of Jesus Christ, some of which have been attributed to the studio of the della Robbia family

We are not far from the spectacular hilltop town of Volterra, and following our visit to San Vivaldo we spend time exploring its beautifully preserved medieval streets and squares. We enjoy a walking tour of the town as well as a visit to the local art gallery and a private tour of the Palazzo Viti, an exquisite private palace which is still owned by descendants of the Viti family and which is beautifully furnished with furniture, porcelain, paintings and collections of alabaster, which has been mined in the town since Etruscan times. Our visit will be followed by a wine tasting in the cellars. Lunch is arranged for those who would like to join the group.

We return to San Gimignano where there will be some free time to relax at the villa, or if you prefer you can return to San Gimignano for independent exploration

This evening we enjoy a private recital by classical guitarist Morgan Szymanski. Morgan, who in recent years has established himself as one of the finest players of his generation, can regularly be heard at major UK venues and festivals including Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Bridgwater Hall, Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall. He has appeared as a soloist with many orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallé, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and we are delighted that he will be flying to Italy especially to perform for us. Morgan will join us for dinner after the concert.

DAY 5

Today we explore the beautiful Chianti region. We will drive by private coach through the magnificent countryside and learn about the history of viticulture in this world-famous area. We begin at the Castello di Monsanto, a family-run winery today managed by the granddaughter of its original founder Aldo Bianchi. The family combine traditional methods with experimental techniques and are now regarded as responsible for the revival and modernization of Chianti wines. They produce some of the finest Chianti Classico vintages alongside more unusual wines such as the delicious “Nemo”, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. We take a tour of the cellars followed by a tasting served with light snacks, overlooking the beautiful gardens.

We continue to Volpaia where we have arranged a private tasting at the Castello di Volpaia, another exquisite family-run property near Radda in Chianti at the heart of the Chianti Classico wine zone. September is harvest time so the cellar will certainly be busy. After the tour of the winery and olive mill, the Stianti Mascheroni family will receive us for a delicious private lunch in their villa. This will be served in the library or dining room, or in the gardens if the weather is fine. Lunch is accompanied by five Castello di Volpaia wines: Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon, Prelius Vermentino, Chianti Classico DOCG, Coltassala or Balifico, and Vinsanto.

In the afternoon we stop en route home to enjoy the beauty of two charming medieval towns - Radda in Chianti and Monteriggioni.

Dinner with wine is included this evening.

DAY 6

A trip to Tuscany would not be the same without a day in Florence, the cradle of Renaissance art and architecture.

We begin with a specially-arranged tour of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, where we have an exclusive private visit with the restoration team. This will be an exciting and unique opportunity to examine some of the city’s great masterpieces at close hand, and discuss their conservation and restoration with some of Florence's most eminent experts.  Recent restoration projects have included Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, Donatello’s panels of the Passion and the Resurrection for the pulpits of San Lorenzo and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Baptistery doors. After some free time, lunch is arranged for those who would like to join the group, followed by a short walking tour of the historic city centre (or free time if you would prefer).

Over lunch we have provisionally arranged to meet the novelist, broadcaster and critic Sarah Dunant. Sarah has written twelve novels, four of which have been short listed for awards, three screen plays and edited two books of essays. Her most recent novels, set within the Italian Renaissance, weave cutting edge historical scholarship into fast moving popular fiction. Sarah is often based in Florence in September and if she is in the city has kindly agreed to meet us for an informal guest talk (TBC).

We depart in the mid-afternoon and return with British Airways from Bologna airport arriving into London Heathrow at 20.10. Please note that our arrival and departure airports in Italy are different.

Further Tour Information

Accommodation

5 nights’ half-board accommodation at the Villa Ducci, situated in a panoramic position with magnificent views over the mediaval town of San Gimignano. We have reserved most of the rooms of the villa and will be sure to receive a warm welcome - the staff are extremely friendly and accommodating and we have been coming here for well over ten years. Villa Ducci was recently upgraded from B&B to hotel status and given a 3-star rating but we feel that a 4-star grading is more representative - it is not luxurious but very comfortable and beautifully-located. It has an excellent restaurant with covered terrace where breakfast and dinner are served (delicious Tuscan dishes are prepared by head chef Andrea); a large outdoor swimming pool with views of San Gimignano; TV and telephone in rooms; laundry service and bar. Rooms are simply furnished but elegant and spacious, and a number have views of San Gimignano, which will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. Others have views over the Tuscan countryside. Dinner with wine and coffee is included each evening (there is a choice of menu and all special food requirements are catered for)

Itinerary and Meals

I will lead guided tours on all days, giving you some free time too (please feel free to join the group or be independent if you would rather opt out of any activities). A detailed, confirmed itinerary will be provided nearer the time and all reservations made where necessary. Please note that flight times may be subject to alteration. All will be done to ensure that the details of the trip remain as indicated, but museums and churches may close without warning, and if this happens I will always make every effort to organise alternative arrangements. I will always suggest good places for lunch and dinner, so we can either eat together as a group or you can be independent – it’s up to you.

On Day 2 we will divide the group into two to make it more comfortable for you – one group will join me in the morning for a tour of San Gimignano followed by lunch (included) then a cooking lesson in the afternoon followed by dinner with Mauro and Viola, and the other group will do the same in reverse (two meals are therefore included today).

How Strenuous?

Please note that there is a fair amount of walking involved in the trip, although at a gentle pace and not strenuous. We are visiting some hill towns such as Volterra and Siena, so there will be steeper gradients in some places and sensible shoes are recommended. Taxis can always be arranged if you are tired or prefer not to walk.

Price

The price will be £2019 per person for those sharing a standard twin or double room, and a single room supplement of £199. (If you are travelling independently and would like to room share, please let us know).

The price includes scheduled flights and taxes with BA; half-board accommodation for 5 nights (breakfast, and dinner with wine), city taxes; transfers by private coach; fully guided tours; a number of specially arranged private visits and wine-tastings; lunch at Castello di Volpaia; a cookery lesson at the Montese Cooking School followed by a meal with wine; gratuities; tour notes; reservations and all entrance fees in the itinerary. It does not include meals other than those indicated; travel to and from Heathrow; insurance and personal spending. Porterage is not included.

Participation

If you would like to join the tour please complete the online booking form. If you would prefer to send a booking form by post please download a copy here. 

 Please note a £225 non-refundable deposit is required at the time of booking. I will send your tickets, full travel details and other practical information approximately 3-4 weeks before travel. Numbers on this trip are strictly limited, so do get in touch earlier rather than later if you would like to join the group, to avoid disappointment.

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions for booking this trip.

All the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. When you pay you will be supplied with an ATOL Certificate. Please check to ensure that everything you booked (flights, hotels and other services) is listed on it. Please see our booking conditions for further information or for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOLCertificate

Thank you for such a wonderful trip to Tuscany ….. The whole holiday was really a joy. We thought the accommodation and its location were excellent, and we very much enjoyed all the excursions. The wine tastings were also fantastic. We really appreciate all the time and organisation that you put into making your trips run so smoothly. ”

Mr and Mrs Jill and Graham Zacharias

Read more testimonials and comments

Highlights

  • Beautiful villa overlooking San Gimignano
  • Excursions to Siena, Florence and Volterra
  • Visit the world-famous restoration studios of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure
  • Private guitar recital by Morgan Szymanski
  • Private tours of renowned wineries and lunch with the family at Castello di Volpaia
  • All dinners and two lunches (all with wine) included

Practicalities

  • Tour Price: £2,019.00
  • Single Supplement: £199.00
  • Room Upgrade: per room per night
  • Deposit: £225.00
  • Lecturer: Siân Walters

Booking

Fully booked.

If you have any questions regarding the tour or booking please send us an email or
call on +44 (0)1932 267322

Recommended Reading

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