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January 2018

10 Must See Sights in Florence

By | 2018-01-14T10:41:49+00:00 January 14th, 2018|Feature, food, General, hidden gems, Wine|

Ponte Vecchio
Uffizi Gallery
Florence Duomo
Boboli Gardens

10 Must See Sights in Florence

1- The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

This massive Gothic cathedral simply known as the Duomo, serves the role of not only being Florence’s religious center but is also one of the most recognizable entities in the city. If the viewer is not already enticed from a far by the building’s stunning architecture, once inside the guest will be drawn into a narrative packed with history and culture.

2-Uffizi Gallery

Located along the banks of the Arno River in the Historic Centre of Florence lies Europe’s first modern museum. This is one of Florence’s most popular attractions so a long wait is expected, but if you have the time endure the wait you would be rewarded with the best collection of Italian paintings in the world. Whether you are observing the work of Giorgio Vasari or admiring the life-sized paintings of Botticelli, the Uffizi Gallery is sure to possess a masterpiece that catches your eye.

3- Galleria dell’Accademia

While this museum holds many works of art that deserve your undivided attention such as St. Matthew or Cassone Adimari, the main reason why this location is one of the most desirable areas to visit by guests can be summed up with one word: David. Michelangelo’s most famous work is housed here in the Galleria and will continue to attract visitors from all over the world for years to come.

4- Ponte Vecchio

Once a location run by butchers and bakers, a flood washed away the old bridge and, in its place, rose Ponte Vecchio, one of the oldest bridges in all of Italy. If you are looking for a historically significant area, look no further than the bridge that has survived it all from natural disasters to attacks during World War II. The bridge is known to be the heart of the city’s gold and jewel trade, so expect to find some fancy trinkets as you venture through the markets.

5- Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)

If you are looking for a change of pace from the up-beat tempo of Florence’s city center, try taking a casual stroll through the Boboli Gardens. This beautifully landscaped area provides a quiet setting where you can take in all of what Florence has to offer without being bothered by all the noise and commotion of city activities. While perusing through the garden try finding some of the statues that have been strategically placed on the path and take advantage of the picturesque views provided by the Boboli family’s garden.

6- Piazzale Michelangelo

Perched high above the city in the Oltrano district lies the Piazzale Michelangelo, arguably the best viewpoint in all of the city. This view comes with a cost, as many of its visitors recall the towering staircase that needs to be climbed in order to reach the square, however, if you are into panoramic views that are sure to garner tons of likes on your Instagram, then it is well worth the workout.

7 – Baptistry (Battistero)

Most known for its massive doors whose work was once praised by the great Michelangelo, Baptistry also has the distinction of being the oldest building in all of Florence, dating back to the 5th century. Interesting enough, this octagonal masterpiece was thought to be a temple dedicated to the Roman God of war, Mars, but it is yet to be proven.

8- Campanile di Giotto

Known also as Giotto’s Bell Tower, the 277-foot tower serves as another vista to capture those scenic views of the city you have been yearning for. The tower actually had three architects influence its construction, so it is very intriguing to see how those powerful minds clashed to create this visual work of art.

9- Palazzo Pitti

What were once residential homes for citizens during the Renaissance, is now the location of some of Florence’s most intricate museums after the area was bought by the Medici family in 1549. The Palazzo Pitti is the largest museum complex in Florence, spanning about 32,000 square meters and previous guests suggest blocking out several hours of your day so that you may see all of what it has to offer.

10- Piazza della Signoria

This free, outdoor museum area is regarded as the perfect place for the weary traveler to rest as well as viewing some marvelous sculptures, such as the gigantic statue of David replica. This area is great to catch your breath while also not feeling as though you are wasting precious exploration time while you complete your experience in Italy!

November 2017

Christmas in Florence and Tuscany!

By | 2018-01-02T22:10:17+00:00 November 15th, 2017|Christmas, Feature, food, Wine|

Christmas in Florence
Italian Christmas traditions with Panettone
Celebration

Christmas in Florence and Tuscany!

Florence, Italy is by far one of the most magical and beautiful cities in the world and millions and millions of visitors agree.  It’s the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to unforgettable landmarks, museums, monuments, art, culture and food!

If you have never visited Florence or have been many times, the Christmas season is not to be missed.  The streets are festively decorated and shopkeepers take pride in their window dressings.  Christmas markets are abound full of unique and precious gifts to buy for you or loved ones and chestnuts are roasting on an open fire but this time—they are everywhere!

Living like a local in Florence means experiencing all that it has to offer this time of the year.  There are fewer tourists (although there are always people visiting Florence), the weather is milder and there are many cultural activities to take part in.  The festivities start in early December.

If you are looking for furnishings, food and wine, the festivities for you start at the Christmas markets all around Florence.  The largest one is located in Piazza Santa Croce.  There’s a combination of vendors and somewhat of a German theme—you know that means–warm wine!  Of course, you can always find the leather goods Florence is famous for—bags, gloves, book binders, notebooks, etc.  You can also negotiate your prices with better success given the fact that Florence has fewer tourists this time of the year.

If you are interested in visiting museums, the Uffizi Gallery is open throughout the Christmas season except on Christmas and New Year’s day.

If instead you are looking for a spiritual experience, Christmas Eve Mass is held by the Cardinal of Florence at midnight in the Duomo of Florence, while the vigil prayers start earlier, around 11 pm.

For New Year’s Eve, you can celebrate in the main squares of the city and attend one of the concerts.  In the Piazza della Signoria, for example, there’s usually a classical music concert while in the Piazzale Michelangelo, a pop concert on New Year’s Eve.

Living like a local, there’s plenty to see and do during the holidays in Florence.  Some wineries are open and other well-known cities such as Siena and Arezzo also have festive decorations and holiday markets.  These make for very enjoyable day trips.

We look forward to hosting you during one of our experiences where you will learn to live like a local all seasons!  Happy holidays from A Toast to Travel!

October 2017

Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles—Let’s Hunt!

By | 2017-10-04T10:20:40+00:00 October 3rd, 2017|Feature, Features, food, General, hidden gems, Wine|

Truffle hunting in Tuscany
tagliatelle with truffle sauce
Toasting travel with Italian red wine

Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles—Let’s Hunt!

So, what are Truffles?  They are rare, edible mushrooms with an intense aroma and flavor.  They grow underground and can be difficult to find.  They only grow in certain parts of the world.  Certain experts in the past (and some still do) used pigs and hogs to find them—today, in Italy, dogs are used as they  don’t eat them as soon as they find them!  That was a big problem–the hogs would eat the truffles as soon as they found them before they could be stopped.  The dogs, on the other hand, can be trained not to eat them so they end up being a much better choice for the hunt.

October and November in Italy are great times to hunt and eat truffles.  There’s also the Fiera del Tartufo or truffle market which takes places during this time.  Prices vary per pound each year.  The rarest truffles are the most expensive food in the world.  Did you know that the record price paid for a single white truffle was $330,000.  It was unearthed near Pisa, Italy and weighed 3.3 pounds!

Imagine learning to make hand-made pasta only to drizzle your own creation with a special sauce created by you from the truffles you hunted in the morning!  During our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience, we hunt truffle with truffle hunting experts and their dog.  We walk the hills and with the help of the dogs, seek and find the most delectable truffles we can to use later in the kitchen during our hands-on cooking class.  Heading over to the kitchen, we learn to make Tagliatelle con Tartufo or Tagliatelle with Truffle sauce.  It’s only the start of the week with many authentic recipes to come so pace yourself, pack yourself!

Of course with any Tagliatelle con Tartufo wine is a good complement.  We usually enjoy a Chianti Riserva with this dish as it brings out the best of each.  In Tuscany, there’s always enough Chianti to go around and you certainly can spend your time focusing on wine tasting during The Ultimate Tuscan Wine Experience where we indulge in stunning wineries in Tuscany during tours, wine tastings and exclusive tasting and dinner menus.  It’s all part of living like a local with A Toast to Travel.

If you’ve always wanted to visit Italy or if you’ve already been and have always wanted to go back, now’s the time to pack your bags.  All you need to do is get there and we’ll handle the rest!

August 2017

Fall in Tuscany—the harvest of the grapes

By | 2017-09-02T13:21:14+00:00 August 23rd, 2017|Events, food, Wine, wine festival|

There are very few places that can compete with the beauty of Tuscany in the fall.  The leaves are turning colors, the air is crisp, the temperature mild and if you love wine, now is the time to travel.  La Vendemmia is the harvest of the grapes and each year, many take advantage of this time of the year to travel to Tuscany.

Italy is dependent on wine production for its economy and it’s an important time of the year.  Unique grape harvesting activities abound in Tuscany while grape stomping like you may have seen in I Love Lucy is considered unhygienic.  Fun, but unhygienic.  Fret not, there are many activities you can take part in or if you are like us, you can just enjoy drinking it.

For those of us who enjoying drinking it, grape selection is an important part where the ripeness of the grape matters.  There are many different tasks that must be completed during the grape harvest, and although no one can exactly predict the week the grape harvest will happen, it’s still a beautiful time of the year in Tuscany.

During The Ultimate Tuscan Wine Experience, we host you on visits to 4 different and stunning wineries in Chianti where you can live like a local and take part in the revelry—even if we don’t stomp grapes, we still enjoy all the abundant wine Tuscany has to offer with Chianti being the most well-known.

The harvest is not only for wine lovers.  Many fall foods are abundant in Tuscany and ready for you to enjoy from fall root vegetables to chestnuts to mushrooms.  During our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience, we take advantage of the fall abundance during our hands-on cooking classes.  Simone, our resident chef, will show us how to make an authentic and mouth-watering mushroom risotto using farm to table mushrooms and herbs.   It’s also time to hunt truffles for the other delicious dishes we will learn to make all as part of living like a local.

If you’ve always wanted to visit Italy or if you’ve already been and have always wanted to go back, now’s the time to pack your bags.  All you need to do is get there and we’ll handle the rest!

June 2017

Visiting an Italian Food Market

By | 2017-06-22T12:01:47+00:00 June 21st, 2017|Feature, food, General, hidden gems, Italy Shopping|

Italian Market
Italian food market

Visiting an Italian Food Market

To really live like a local, you need to shop like a local.  Generally, Italians do not stockpile.  They are generally not visiting a Costco and buying large quantities of food in bulk to store for lengthy periods of time.  Fresh is the name of the game and there’s no better place to find fresh food than at a local Italian food market or “mercato.”

The markets are full of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, cheeses, salumi, bread and more!  It’s an embarrassment of riches and a way of life at the same time.  The prices are reasonable, goods are seasonal and it’s the perfect time and place to sample the local cuisine.  As you walk through the beautiful market and take in all the scents, sights and people, notice how relaxing the experience can be.  It’s what living like a local is all about.  For an authentic Tuscan experience, visiting a local market is essential.  You can soak up the culture and rub shoulders with the locals.  Watch the many different colorful personalities selling their goods—the local farmers, cheese-makers and artisans come to sell their goods every day.  While at the local market, you usually can enjoy other culinary delights like fresh pasta, desserts and even, sample some wine .

I personally use the farmers market not only to buy fresh produce and cheeses but also to socialize with friends and acquaintances.  It can be an adventure, a time for socializing and practicing or keeping up your Italian language skills.  You can also get the latest on all your questions from the locals—ranging from recipes and the best produce to buy right now to politics and elections around Italy and more. Everyone has an opinion!  Italian food markets are weekly, bi-weekly or even daily.  It depends on where you are located.  Most Italians frequent the food markets regularly as a means of buying their fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads and even desserts.  Much of the shopping is done before lunch so that the food purchased at the market can be incorporated into the lunch menu and is supremely fresh.

For me, visiting a local Italian food market is much more than just buying fresh tomatoes, burrata and basil even though I usually make a caprese salad right after my visit!  It’s an essential part of Italian life, shopping with the locals, seeing old friends and making new ones, maybe stopping for a coffee after and generally catching up on life.  It’s a feeling of connectedness that is hard to find in a US grocery store with lists in our hands and little time for enjoying the moment.  I always leave the market with a fresh perspective and a smile on my face.  I look forward to experiencing a local food market each time I am in Italy.  It reminds me of what’s important in life.

We invite you to join us on our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience so you can experience Italian food markets, an essential part of local life!

May 2017

A Day in the Life—the courses of an Italian dinner

By | 2017-05-04T09:19:21+00:00 May 3rd, 2017|Feature, food, hidden gems, Wine|

For Italians, mealtime is a social and friendly affair.  Italians love to take their time, savoring each course and enjoying good company and great wine.  Meals can take several hours with plenty of time for socializing and if the weather is nice, soaking up the beautiful sun.  It can be intimidating to understand what all the courses are and the cadence of the meal in Italy.  To help put you at ease, we’ve put together some information on eating dinner like an Italian.

So what are all the typical courses of an Italian dinner?  Well, after you’ve had your aperitivo (more on that in an upcoming blog) where you’ve enjoyed a pre-dinner drink with a few snacks at a bar or café and shared the latest news with your friends over a glass of wine or two (or spirits or prosecco), now it’s time for dinner.

Assuming you are dining in a ristorante (we will also write more on the differences between the various types of places to eat in Italy), generally the courses are as follows:  antipasto, primo, secondo (with contorno) and dolce.  Of course, not everyone orders or eats all the courses and that’s the beauty of it all—the point is to have a great time and enjoy life.  La Dolce Vita!

Now, let’s start with the antipasto (no pun intended).  This is the starter course and it can consist of charcuterie, cheese and bread or it can simply be a beautiful bruschetta made with fresh tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil.  The next course, il primo, is the first course.  Typical first courses or primi (plural for primo) are pasta, soup, gnocchi and risotto.  Portion sizes tend to be smaller than in the US so you should still have room for the main course, il secondo!  Generally this is your meat or seafood course.  Depending on the region where you are dining, you can choose from various seafood or meat options.  In Tuscany, the bistecca alla fiorentina is your best option if you love steak.  It’s tender, juicy and grilled to perfection after having been drizzled with olive oil and herbs.  Magnifico!  Also, Italians normally order a contorno or a side with the secondo and the contorno is usually vegetables (raw or cooked).  I tend to order a salad—arugula salad to compliment the taste of the steak.  I add a little extra virgin olive oil, squeeze a fresh lemon and add a dash of salt to my arugula salad.

The last course is the dolce or dessert.  There are many delicious options to choose from including tiramisu, panna cotta, cake or gelato.  Keep in mind, wine is served during the meal and after dinner, most Italians have an espresso (no milk).  Some Italians will also have a digestivo to aid in digestion after dinner.  Generally, the digestive after the meal is a grappa, amaro or limoncello (depending on the region of Italy).

I hope you find this content helpful in living like a local.  Please feel free to send us any topic you are interested in learning more about and we’ll be happy to write about it.  In the meantime, Buon Appetito!

 

 

 

March 2017

January 2017

December 2016

Ahhh…. The aperitivo

By | 2016-12-15T01:50:20+00:00 December 8th, 2016|food|

Just one of the many great things in Italy. Order your favorite drink, and for a little more you can partake in great light snacks at the buffet. The idea is not to make this your dinner (many do though) but to rather get your taste buds ready for dinner. I tend to visit smaller, off the beaten path places to enjoy my aperitivo.