I always describe Tuscany as my ‘happy place’. We’ve visited so many times now that as soon as we head off from Pisa airport in the car I can feel myself start to breathe in more deeply, and becoming more relaxed. I’m not sure if it’s the green of the vineyards, the good food, the amazing wine, the nice weather, or the friendly people, or just the way they all come together to create one of the most magical places on earth.
Of course, I’m slightly biased, as Tuscany is where my husband proposed, and where we honeymooned, so there is a huge amount of nostalgia for us there too. Which is one of the reasons why we were so keen to take Max and show him all of the places that we loved so much and make new memories there with him.
This time around though, we decided to rent a villa rather than stay in a hotel – I hate being in a hotel and worrying about having a toddler disturbing other people’s stay. In a villa you are free to come and go as you wish, and make as much noise as you like. We found Casale dei Mandorli, a villa big enough to fit the three of us and my parents, located up in the Chianti hills, a short drive from Greve in Chianti.
The villa itself was everything we could have hoped for – more than enough space for us all, and very tastefully decorated, but the really special bit was the stunning view from the garden across the tuscan hills. Making the most of the view was our very own infinity pool – so tempting on a hot day, but sadly we only managed to make use of it twice.
The owners of the villa, Elena and Roberto, live onsite, in a similar villa next door, so was on hand if there were any problems. They also had a gorgeous spaniel, Boo, who Max really took a shine too – he can be a bit intimidated by bigger dogs, but Boo was the perfect size! And very patient with Max’s overexcitedness too.
The villa provided us with the perfect base to explore Tuscany – around halfway between Florence and Siena, and perfectly situated to explore all of the various Chianti hilltowns – San Gimignano, Volterra, Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Pienza. We planned to take things a bit easier this time with Max in tow, but still wanted to do a bit of exploring. We were brave (or foolish, depending on your view!), and didn’t take the pushchair with us, as we felt it was too much hassle to lug a car seat and a pushchair around at the airports, and Max doesn’t really like to sit in it, and certainly never sleeps in it. So we needed trips where we knew we would be able to park near the towns as we would likely be carrying a rather heavy two year old. We gave Florence and Siena a miss this time as we’d visited them so often in the past and focused on more of the smaller towns instead, so I thought I’d give you a whistlestop tour of them in photos!
We’ve visited San Gimignano many times, and in fact is where John proposed to me (!), so we were always going to make a trip there. We stopped at the most amazing gelateria on the main square while Mum and Dad climbed to the top of the duomo and waved to us from the top. Max loved seeing Grandma and Grandad waving, and was very taken with the ice cream on offer and the amount of steps that the ancient Italians kindly put in to amuse the many children who might want to scale them.
The views from San Gimignano are amazing – make sure you follow the signs for the panoramicas, you won’t want to miss them!
We visited the small but immaculate town of Pienza on our last visit and it felt like a great place to visit again. It was established by Pope Pius II as a utopian ‘new town’ and was the setting for Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s postcard perfect, with it’s cobbled streets, pretty floral displays, and views for miles. A highlight for Max was the small church, which he liked to walk into and then put his finger to his lips and ‘shh’. Oh, and lots of steps to climb of course!
Fiesole is a tiny hilltop town just outside Florence, and it has the most stunning views you’ll get over the Florence skyline. It’s a bit of a hike up to the viewpoints, but amazingly Max managed to walk nearly all the way up the hill – he’s a determined little guy when he puts his mind to something! When you reach the top, the views are well worth it – there is a little church, a tiny shop to stop at for an ice-cream, and a few benches under some trees which provide a shady stopping point to sit and watch the busyness of Florence go by beneath you.
Our week away just literally flew by – before we knew it, we were on the plane heading home. Next year I’m aiming for a two week break minimum!