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October 2018

Christmas in Tuscany with A Toast to Travel

By |2018-10-18T04:10:34+00:00October 18th, 2018|Christmas, Feature, General, holidays, Travel Tips, Tuscany|

Florence Christmas market 600

Christmas in Tuscany with A Toast to Travel

The holidays are an important part of the year in which Italians gather with family to exchange gifts and enjoy a nice meal. Our Christmas in Tuscany experience includes the mainstays of our A Toast To Travel trips where travelers can see historical landmarks in Florence, Chianti, Pisa, Lucca, and Siena, taste exquisite wines and gourmet dinners, take tours of the art galleries and wineries across the region of Tuscany, as well as the once in a lifetime opportunity of joining in on traditional, Italian festivities!

The Christmas markets are a must-see for any traveler during this time of year with the powdered cobblestone streets, skies lit with cheerful lights, and brightly colored goodies every which way you turn. Browsing the Weihnachtsmarkt, which is German for Christmas market, and warming up with a cup of mulled wine is a tradition among the locals of Florence, and will surely create a memorable experience for traveling with family and friends.

We also offer the chance to travel through time while driving up through the snowy trees of the medieval towns of Chianti and to their own holiday markets. Pisa, the birthplace of Galileo, is also a sight to see with the leaning tower and other architectural landmarks like the Battistero and Piazza dei Miracoli, followed a trip to Lucca the famed walled city to wander through their own gorgeous holiday markets. On the streets of the holiday markets, musicians play holiday tunes that are old and familiar, but also new and exciting!

The last few days of your holiday trip with family and friends include visiting Siena, a United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific (UNESCO) World Heritage site, Midnight Mass with the locals at the Duomo, and spectacular multi-course dinners paired with Tuscan wine. In Siena, journey to the Middle Ages with the artistic masterpieces, medieval architecture, cuisine, and of course, the great city’s brightly lit holiday markets.

Our farewell dinner of Festa dei Sette Pesci, Feast of the Seven Fishes, will quite literally give you a taste of authentic Italian Christmas! This meal is commonly served on Christmas Eve in Italian families and features several types of seafood, a pasta dish, and dessert of season’s greetings. While the origin of the feast is unknown, it continues on with the spirit of bringing family and friends together to celebrate Christmas.

Being at the center of Florence makes the Duomo, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a welcoming church to those who don’t identify as religious and allows all to view the gigantic, festive tree, a life-size nativity scene, and the experience of the art and culture along with the locals. Midnight Mass at the Duomo will allow you to get in touch with your spirituality while appreciating the grandiose high ceilings, mosaics, and paintings in peace with travelers and locals alike on La Vigilia di Natale, Italian for Christmas Eve.

With A Toast to Travel, having a warm and unforgettable holiday season is made simple by taking the stress away from the holidays and curating a trip that will be cherished by all.

August 2018

Group Travel

By |2018-09-24T20:52:18+00:00August 22nd, 2018|Benefits, Features, General, Travel Tips, Tuscany|

Group Travel

Private, hosted group travel has its perks!  What you should look for.

It’s a common dilemma; you have a group of friends, family or couples who want to travel together.  Group travel may even be a group from your social club, your country club or a business organization where you work.  It could also be a group of bachelorettes or a sorority.  Everyone is excited and ready to sign up but there’s one problem.  One person is in charge of organizing the entire experience, collecting payment and spending hours and hours researching a place that maybe she has never been.  Ultimately, after hours and hours of research, the person can only hope she’s put together an authentic experience for the group and ends up so exhausted, she doesn’t even get to relax and enjoy the trip.

There’s no doubt that the benefits of group travel are clear.  You have time to spend with those you love and may not be able to see very often.  You can explore a new culture or a favorite city together.  It’s a family reunion of sorts where everyone is sharing in the same experiences and creating lifelong memories.  Sharing perspectives throughout the journey is one of group travel’s major benefits.  When you have a variety of personalities and senses of humor contributing to the dinner conversation (or cooking class), it’s a lot more fun!

Experiencing other cultures and other people together is exciting.  You bring those new experiences and perspectives back with you and you’ll be able to reminisce for years.  Group travel doesn’t have to be so stressful and exhausting.  You can hire boutique companies that offer fully hosted, vetted and curated experiences so everyone can enjoy their trip.

What should you look for when your group is ready to travel?  Here are some tips you may want to consider:

First, if you don’t want one person to be saddled with being the group leader and missing out on the experience due to all the planning and executing, look for a company that hosts the entire experience.  A hosted experience is different from an escorted experience.  When you’re escorted, you only see your escort for the excursions you paid for—a few hours a day.

Second, you should make sure that the company you hire is expert in the area you are seeking to travel to.  Guesswork or simple online reviews won’t do.  It’s about living like a local so firsthand knowledge is critical.  The experience should be curated, vetted and executed by those in the know.

Third, if you don’t want to travel like a tourist, avoid companies that utilize the services of large major tour buses.  Nothing feels more like a tourist experience than boarding an enormous tour bus to visit a site.  Choose small group methods of travel so you can live like a local.

Lastly, choose a company that will work with you to customize the experience for your private group. Flexibility is key.  For example, if you want your morning off or a little more time to appreciate a site, you shouldn’t be forced to board the tour bus and miss out!

Keep in mind that group travel is a lot of fun.  The factors to consider when hiring a company for your group trip should help you make an informed decision.  Outsourcing the experience to experts who not only vet, curate and plan the entire experience but also fully host it will allow everyone in the group to relax and enjoy la dolce vita.

Please contact A Toast to Travel for any of your group travel needs and ideas.  In the meantime, safe travels and live well!

July 2018

Best Places for Bachelorette Party

By |2018-07-28T18:49:12+00:00July 28th, 2018|bachelor party, General, hidden gems|

Bachelor party in Tuscany with A Toast to Travel,
Bachelor party in Tuscany with A Toast to Travel,

Best Places for Bachelorette Party

When planning the perfect bachelorette party, consider a trip you’ll never forget. Italy is one of the best places for a Bachelorette party.  It’s the perfect destination to let loose and enjoy the finer things in life, and when your closest friends accompany you, the experience is greatly enhanced. You want your send-off into your new life to match the excitement you feel, and a fun-filled week (with a private group, you pick the date!) of good food, good friends, and the novelty of exploring a lovely country is a fantastic way to do achieve that.  Let A Toast to Travel show you why a trip to Tuscany is the perfect setting for an unforgettable bachelorette party!

Whether you’re a fan of food and wine, admiring art and architecture, shopping, or simply relaxing, a group trip through Tuscany has a little something for everyone. Stroll through the beautiful towns of Siena, Florence and Pisa, taking in the sights and experience the Italian lifestyle firsthand, then visit the famous walled city of Lucca and experience Renaissance-era history as it lives on in the modern age. Besides becoming familiar with the lovely towns of Tuscany, you may also sample the best of Tuscany’s varied and delicious cuisine and indulge in the best Tuscan wines. How about taking a tour of the legendary Uffizi Gallery, where some of the world’s finest works of Renaissance art are housed? You will live like a local, going on guided tours given by locals of these towns who know them inside and out, offering an intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of Italy that you won’t find anywhere else except with A Toast to Travel’s  Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience.

For a more hands-on experience, perhaps you would enjoy Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun, where your group will become acquainted with the techniques, ingredients, and traditions that give Italian food its well-deserved reputation as some of the best in the world. As a result, you will gain a newfound appreciation and understanding of the importance of food within Italian culture, thus dramatically altering and improving your own approach to food. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see how truffles, some of the world’s most prized delicacies, are collected?  How about learning how to make pasta by hand, as well as authentic pizza? Why not tour a winery in Chianti, where you’ll sample some of Tuscany’s most delicious wines right at the source? Well, your group could have the privilege of doing all this and more, resulting in a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime vacation bachelorette party that will be reminisced upon for years to come.

Above all else, Italy is a wonderful place to simply relax, reflect, and appreciate life. Don’t stress about planning an itinerary; with A Toast to Travel, that’s all taken care of. Don’t worry about feeding yourself and your group, either, or where you’ll stay. Leave that all to A Toast to Travel! You’re about to embark on one of the most rewarding journeys of your life, and an equally grand celebration, free of worries and stress, should be in order. Let the natural beauty and rich history of Italy complement the joy of your friendships and the exciting new journey you’re about to embark on with your dearest love.  Life is short, so why not live it to the fullest?

June 2018

What’s the Fashion Capital of Italy?

By |2018-06-03T11:50:40+00:00June 3rd, 2018|General, hidden gems, Italy Shopping|

Italy Fashion-Milano-600
Italy Fashion D&G Firenze
Italy Fashion Armani Milano

What’s the Fashion Capital of Italy?

Prada, Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana–when you think of the high-end fashion industry, it’s likely many of those famous Italian brands immediately come to mind. It’s no secret that Italy is a powerhouse within the world of fashion, but how did this come to be? What does fashion really mean to Italians? For starters, Italians are known for their attention to dressing well–they adhere to the term “la bella figura,” which translates to “the beautiful figure.” The story goes back to the 11th century and the Renaissance period, when Italy was considered the leading trendsetter of fashion in Europe. This designation was lost throughout the 17th to 20th centuries.

Following WWII, however, Italian fashion experienced a resurgence and is now considered one of the most influential fashion centers in the world. There are a number of reasons for this. On a technical level, there’s the Italian way of craftsmanship and attention to detail, as well as an emphasis on high-quality textiles. So while the clothes themselves have plenty to do with it, there’s some interesting historical context to consider as well. The Marshall Plan, a post-WWII U.S. program designed to aid the economies of war-torn European countries, helped to boost the Italian textile industry. Then, in 1951, Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini held a fashion show in Florence with the goal of elevating Italy to its original standing in the fashion world, and it worked. By the 1960s, a variety of American celebrities and public figures, inlcuding First Lady Jackie Onassis Kennedy, could be seen sporting the latest Italian designs. Italian fashion had become synonymous with Hollywood Chic.

Florence remained the fashion capital of Italy throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but by the 1970s, this distinction began to sway toward Milan and Rome. The 1970s also marked a turning point for Italian fashion, with clothing and accessories becoming less geared towards only the rich and famous. An emphasis on ready-to-wear clothing was made as well, with a focus on jeans and miniskirts, for example. Today, Italy remains at the top, and the industry remains centered on Rome and Milan.

Despite having lost its distinction as the fashion hotspot of Italy, Florence still remains a relevant outpost for Italian fashion, and nothing can take away the fact that Florence spurred the resurgence of Italian fashion in the 20th century. If you were to visit Florence today, you would find a number of high-end boutiques and shopping districts. Florence’s main shopping street, called Via de’ Tornabuoni, is known for its array of luxury fashion boutiques. Some of these include Gucci (whose headquarters are located in Florence), Armani, Enrico Coveri, Roberto Cavalli, and Emilio Pucci. In addition to the high-end, world-class fashion outlets, major fashion labels such as Prada and Chanel maintain large offices within Florence. The pervasiveness of the fashion industry within Florence speaks to the importance of fashion to Italians!

If you find yourself curious in the world of fashion, or you happen to be a huge fan of it, you’ll be happy to know that an all-inclusive tour of Italy on our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience will take you right through the heart of it all in Florence! Part of living like a local is experiencing every cultural beacon that makes a place unique—in the case of Florence, fashion is a part of this. Fashion, food, art, and architecture are all integral to experiencing Italy, and we stand behind this at A Toast to Travel!

May 2018

What is an Italian Piazza?

By |2018-06-01T17:17:06+00:00May 31st, 2018|Feature, Features, General, Informational, Travel Tips, Tuscany|

Piazza in Roma
Typical Piazza

What is an Italian Piazza?

A Central Aspect of Italian Life

If you were to embark on a tour of Italy, one of the first things you’d probably be struck by is the ubiquity of the Town Square, or “piazza” as they’re referred to in Italy. Italian piazzas are very open and welcoming spaces, surrounded by beautiful buildings. They are the hearts and life centers and of Italian towns and cities, swarming with residents going about their daily business or simply taking time to reflect, gather, and enjoy life. What is it about these piazzas, though, that makes them so special and alluring? Maybe it’s the idea of a central gathering space in which the citizens of a town can gather, or perhaps it’s the charm that they add to any city. They are a blend of history, architecture and life, all of which blend together seamlessly to create an important cultural phenomenon unlike any other.

Piazzas date back to the Ancient Romans, whose towns typically consisted of a grid pattern built around two main roads. The space where these roads intersected was considered sacred, so large, open spaces flanked by markets, civic buildings, and other various shops were constructed in these areas. This was the template for the piazzas to follow, and in fact, some of these original Roman piazzas are still in existence today! By the time of the Renaissance period, Italian piazzas had fully evolved. An example of this is Piazza Pio II, widely regarded as one of the finest iterations of the Renaissance urban ideal. Located in the Tuscan town of Pienza and built in the 15th century, Piazza Pio II is notable for its trapezoidal shape—a new idea at the time.

Despite the piazza’s distant origins, they remain an important part of Italian culture and identity. Their usefulness and efficiency cannot be ignored, and they manage to provide this while evoking a sense of community rooted in history. Unlike a fine painting or architecturally brilliant church, the piazza’s value doesn’t lie solely in its physical traits. Rather, the human activity within a piazza is an integral feature of the piazza itself. People are the finishing touch that ties every element of the piazza together, like cars on a roadway or candles on a birthday cake. Simply put, the piazza becomes whole when its form is fully utilized. Italians will enjoy their leisure time in the piazza while sitting at a cafe, browsing the markets that can be found within, and simply going about their lives while surrounded by the rich history of their people. It is truly a testament to the architects of these piazzas that they continue to be used as they were originally intended to this day, and this also speaks to the great pride Italians have in their history and heritage.

Part of living like a local in Italy means enjoying a town square, and on our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, you’ll have the opportunity to do just that—while being guided by locals—in Florence, as well as the beautiful Tuscan towns of Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and several others. In order to get the most out of an Italian vacation, one must delve into the cultural pillars of the country, and piazzas are an excellent starting point!

April 2018

A Tour of Pisa – More Than Just a Leaning Tower

By |2018-04-28T12:35:37+00:00April 28th, 2018|Events, Feature, Features, General, hidden gems|

A Tour of Pisa – More Than Just a Leaning Tower

Pisa is yet another beautiful city located within central Italy’s Tuscany region, and no tour of Italy would be complete without a visit there. Situated on the river Arno just before it enters the Ligurian Sea, Pisa is perhaps best known for the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the most recognizable landmarks throughout the world. Built over the course of 200 years through the 12th to 14th centuries and standing tall at 183 feet from top to bottom, the tower is a wonderful attraction. Be ready to climb up a 300 step spiraling staircase in order to take in spectacular views at the top; if you’d prefer to admire the tower from the ground, though, there’s endless opportunities to take photos giving the illusion that you’re holding the tower up with one hand, which is almost a requirement for an Italian vacation. But beyond having a bit of silly fun, there’s much more that cements Pisa as a must-see Italian holiday destination.

Pisa is home to countless churches, many of which date from the Renaissance Period or earlier. Some of them include Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, which houses a bust made by Donatello; San Fredriano, which was built in 1061 and features a basilica interior along with a crucifix dating from the 12th century, among other things; and St. Sixtus, which was built in 1133 and is regarded as one of the most well-preserved Romanesque structures in town. If you harbor a deep appreciation of architecture and history, Pisa surely will not disappoint. And even if your interests generally track elsewhere, it’s difficult to not be blown away by the living history of the place.

Pisa’s rich collection of historic buildings and artifacts extends to its museums as well. For instance, there’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where you’ll find original sculptures crafted by the influential sculptors Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano. Another terrific museum to visit is Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti per il Calcolo, which exhibits numerous historical pieces of science equipment, including a compass that likely belonged to Galileo Galilei.

Once you’ve taken in the rich history of Pisa and the plethora of incredible historical artifacts you’ll find there, you may take advantage of Pisa’s food and shopping offerings. Dwell among the locals and take a stroll through Piazza delle Vettovaglie, a 16th century town square where you’ll find numerous cafes, butchers, wine shops, and bakeries.  When the hunger you’ll inevitably develop from all your walking and sightseeing becomes your number one priority, stop by Il Crudo Panineria for a delicious panini, then finish it off with a cup of gelato at La Botegga del Gelato, located right in the center of the city. Or, if a slightly more upscale meal is in order, stop by Da Bruno for traditional Pisan cuisine in a trattoria setting.

Not to be overlooked and worth every moment spent there, Pisa is a fantastic conglomeration of Italian culture, heritage, and history. Come for the allure of its most famous landmarks, but stay for the wonderful treasures you’ll discover within its borders. With A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, a visit to Pisa is included for all the aforementioned reasons. You’ll be taken on a guided tour with  the locals, so no must-see attractions will be overlooked. Join us for a visit to Pisa, one of the many stops on our unforgettable, all-inclusive Italian vacation package!

March 2018

Lucca – The Famed Walled City

By |2018-03-07T22:40:46+00:00March 7th, 2018|Feature, General, hidden gems|

Lucca

The Famed Walled City

Lucca is one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany and is famous for many things including the retention of its Renaissance era walls.  The walls around the old city were kept intact even as the city became modern and expanded.  The walls are historic as they served to preserve and protect the city and its inhabitants.  Even though the walls have lost their strategic military importance, today they serve as a beautiful promenade–it’s a beautiful walk or bike ride for you to enjoy with all the greenery and trees.

Lucca has delicious foods and many unique artisan shops.  For food, you can enjoy a delicious meal in Lucca and some of the must try foods include:  Farro Soup, made with borlotti beans and seasonal vegetables, Tordelli Lucchese which is pasta stuffed with beef, or Necci, a delicious crepe stuffed with ricotta.  All are typical Lucchese dishes for you to enjoy.  For dessert, try the Buccellato, a ring shaped cake stuffed with raisins and aniseed which is traditionally eaten on Sundays.  It’s delicious with your morning coffee or a glass of red wine.  Remember, you’re still in Tuscany and Tuscany is famous for its red wines.

Lucca also has many artisan shops.  Purchases of interest can include jewelry, art and ceramics.  For fashion, head to via Fillungo, which is the main shopping street in Lucca and enjoy window shopping.

In addition to the delicious food, artisan shops and beautiful, famed walls, there are many other must see sights in Lucca.  Lucca’s San Martino Cathedral is surrounded by medieval buildings in the Piazza San Martino.  With an intricately decorated marble façade, its style is more Roman on the exterior and Gothic on the interior.  There’s also the San Michele church in the large square.  The square is a great place to sit and enjoy an afternoon.  There are many cafes to choose from.  If sitting is not how you want to pass the afternoon, you can climb to the top of the Guinigi Tower, a 14th century tower with spectacular views of Lucca.  There are 130 steps to climb and you will be greatly rewarded with the spectacular views!

Lucca is not only famous for its walls.  It was also the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini.  His home is now a museum filled with memorabilia, including his piano and musical scores.

These are just a few reasons A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience includes a visit to Lucca–one of the most beautiful and unique cities in Tuscany!  Join us for an unforgettable experience where you will live like a local.

February 2018

A Toast to Travel Recommendations: Where to Eat in Florence, Italy

By |2018-02-19T19:39:01+00:00February 19th, 2018|Feature, Features, General, Wine, wine festival|

 A Toast to Travel Recommendations:

Where to Eat in Florence, Italy

Many different reviews of so many different restaurants have been written about one of the best cities in the world—Florence!  With so much to see in and do in this beautiful city during your Italy tours, it’s amazing one finds time to eat but eventually, we all do.  Travelling to and living in Florence for many years, we’ve seen restaurants come and go but there are some that we will never forget.  We always recommend living like a local and eating where the locals eat.  Unfortunately, Florence has many tourist traps where the food is subpar and the prices are high.  Here are a few of our restaurant recommendations where you can eat like a local and enjoy la dolce vita!

1.     Trattoria Parione

Centrally located but on a side, quiet street, here you’ll find great food and great service.  The restaurant is divided into two different rooms with the open kitchen in the middle.  As a matter of fact, when you walk in, you can greet the cooks!  The pasta is wonderfully fresh and the bistecca alla Fiorentina one of the best.  The wine selection is really good too—try a Brunello di Montalcino with your steak.

2.     Le Fonticine

Near the central market, this is by far one of my favorite restaurants in Florence.  You’re greeted by one of the great staff (many of whom have worked there for a very long time) as family.  Most of the time, you’re also greeted with a complimentary glass of Prosecco to begin your experience.   The pasta selection is all fresh and delicious—try the pasta with the wild boar sauce.  As for your entrée, Le Fonticine is one of the few remaining restaurants in Florence with the wood burning oven as it was grandfathered in when the law changed.  This oven further perfects the taste and texture of the bistecca alla Fiorentina.  When dining at Le Fonticine, you must order the bistecca or share with others you are dining with.  There are many fresh desserts to choose from or try some grappa.

3.     Enoteca Alessi

Near the center, Alessi is a hidden gem.  Although Alessi is a wine bar and retail shop, the food is so good and fresh that it definitely is on our list.  You can order a variety of fresh cold cuts, meats, and cheeses to go with your chosen wine or wine flight.  You can also order off menu.  I usually order a delicious fresh made salad with tuna, olives, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and more.  Equally delicious is the freshly made varieties of bruschetta to get you started.  All fresh and fantastic!

4.     4 Leoni

In old Florence on the other side of the river, 4 Leoni is very well known and I highly recommend reservations.  The ambiance is warm and the service is good.  The restaurant can become quite loud during peak times but all is worth it once you try the food!  They have an array of delicious pastas and starters (try the Bresaola or Artichokes), mains and desserts.  Desserts are a must here including chocolate, pear and apple desserts.  Or simply enjoy cantuccini di Prato to dip into your vin santo.

5.     Cipolla Rossa

In the historic center not far from the San Lorenzo market, you’ll find Cipolla Rossa.  The pasta is very good, fresh and made in house.  I highly recommend the gnocchi.  There’s plenty of space in the restaurant if you need it for your group.   I find the staff friendly and the house Chianti delicious. Buon Appetito!

January 2018

10 Must See Sights in Florence

By |2018-01-31T19:12:10+00:00January 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 can be expected, but if you have the time endure the wait you would be rewarded with the best collection of Italian paintings in the world. When you join A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, we work with locals who help minimize our wait with advance reservations.  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 the 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.  During the city walk on the Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, you’ll have a chance to personally experience all the energy of the Ponte Vecchio.

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.   During A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany, the brave can join us on the adventure to Piazzale Michelangelo!

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!

October 2017

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

By |2017-10-04T10:20:40+00:00October 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!

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