Informational

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November 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

By |2018-11-21T16:22:42+00:00November 21st, 2018|General, holidays, Informational, Olive oil, Tuscany, Wine|

Happy Thanksgiving!

When we think of Thanksgiving or giving thanks, we think of family and friends gathering around the dinner table with drinks in hand to relax, enjoy each other’s company and feast!  In America, it’s an important holiday largely centering on feasting, quality time and football! After all that food, what else can you do?

The tradition of Thanksgiving originated to celebrate the harvest of the year.  Plymouth, Massachusetts is where the first American colony started and its people were known as the pilgrims. After the first harvest, the pilgrims celebrated in November with a meal shared with Native Americans.  Thus, Thanksgiving was born.

There is no official Thanksgiving in Italy like that we know of in America.  There are many other days of thanks for other reasons including patron saints.  Generally, the typical Thanksgiving meal (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and plenty of pies) is not served in Italy.  Some restaurants will accommodate a special menu for a private group–especially in a city like Rome or Florence where there are many different nationalities constantly traveling through.

What we’ve found very popular is a group of friends and family looking to enjoy Thanksgiving together while learning how to cook.  A cooking experience all can enjoy over Thanksgiving is definitely very popular.  A Toast to Travel’s Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun experience fits the bill perfectly.  Each day, you will cook a meal from start to finish together while enjoying music, fun, and wine.  You will learn from an authentic Italian chef all the secrets of the Italian cuisine and then sit down with your friends and family to enjoy the meal you’ve all just cooked together.  It’s a very bonding experience and the unlimited wine doesn’t hurt either.

During the experience, you also have the opportunity to hunt truffles, explore Florence and Siena, tour and taste wine at a stunning winery in Chianti and enjoy relaxing yoga classes to burn off some of those calories.  All the dishes we cook are very natural (as is commonly the case in Italy) so you can indulge a bit more without the guilt.  We learn to make starters, fresh handmade pastas, pasta sauces, second courses, side dishes, and decadent desserts!  All while staying in a cozy, sleepy villa in Tuscany.

If you are looking for a different experience in 2019 for Thanksgiving for your friends and family, please contact us soon so we can hold the week for you.  Thanksgiving should be enjoyed to the fullest–filled with fun, authentic and life enhancing experiences.  We have one for you to enjoy!

Live like a local in Tuscany so you can enjoy it to the fullest and get the most out of your experience with your hosts, Natalie and John, at A Toast to Travel!

September 2018

The Lesser Known Florence

By |2018-09-25T06:50:09+00:00September 24th, 2018|Benefits, hidden gems, Informational, Travel Tips|

Oltrano

Florence is the city that is known for Michelangelo, the Medici’s and the famous Duomo, just to name a few.  Most have heard of it and few would struggle to recognize its remarkable landmarks.  Florence is the capital of Tuscany and the birthplace of the Renaissance.  Its population is just under 400,000 and it’s full of culture and beauty, rendering it the embodiment of the Italian lifestyle.

There are many things to see and do in this beautiful and historic city.  True to the Live Like a Local mission and vision of A Toast to Travel, there are noteworthy must-see sites in Florence on the other side of the Arno River known as Oltrano.  “Oltrano” means beyond the Arno.  Many travelers to Florence tend to stay in the historic area and do not venture across the bridges to this great area and because of this; they miss out on some truly great sights.

Below are just a few of the highlights of Oltrano –all well worth the time to explore in this lesser-known part of Florence:

  • Piazzale Michelangelo- This Piazzale boasts of probably the best views of Florence.  It is a beautiful area to sit at a café and indulge in an aperitivo with some light snacks while you admire the beauty of Florence in the background with the Duomo and all her glory.  It is a bit of a hike to get to this area if you are walking from the historic area of Florence, but it is well worth the effort.  This is arguably one of the best views in the city.
  • The Palatine Gallery- Everyone has heard of the Uffizi and the Accademia, but there is another beautiful museum located inside the Pitti Palace just over the Ponte Vecchio.  The Palatine Gallery is home to over 500 beautiful paintings, most from the Renaissance period.  The Gallery itself looks more like a history lesson on the History Channel.  Pitti Palace was also the residence of the famous Medici’s an Italian banking family and political dynasty.
  • Boboli Gardens– Encompassing 11 acres of greenery, the Boboli Gardens is one of the largest public parks in Florence.  The garden is very easy to find as it is attached to the Palazzo Pitti.  The Boboli Gardens include ancient Roman statues and even a beautiful grotto.
  • Santo Spirito- Although the formal name is Basilica of S. Maria del Santo Spirito, this church is often simply called Santo Spirito.  A passerby may overlook this church and keep walking, but they would be missing out on a true work of art.  Designed by Brunelleschi, it is definitely worth a look.  The exterior was never completed, but venture inside and admire the Latin cross and its 40 side chapels.  Also, be sure not to miss the beautiful frescoes in the transept.

These are just a few of the Oltrano highlights.  Our recommendation is to travel with experts in the area.  Traveling with experts who love what they do and know what it is like to Live Like a Local will provide you a local’s view into the true Italian culture and leave you with a truly memorable Experience.

Live Like a Local with A Toast to Travel!

July 2018

Christmas in Tuscany

By |2018-08-05T11:52:03+00:00July 24th, 2018|Christmas, Feature, holidays, Informational, Tuscany|

Florence Christmas market 600

Christmas in Tuscany

Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday.  And there is no better place to spend Christmas than in Florence, Italy.  Christmas, as you might have guessed is one of most important holidays in Italy and you will definitely feel and see the importance when you are there.  The cobbled streets are all decorated with beautiful lights and festive decorations.  Warm wine is abundant and the holiday markets are in most of the major town squares.  There are holiday specialty baked goods in all of the stores, restaurants and bakeries that will constantly tempt you.  There are just too many things to list in a blog, but below are some of the must-see and do highlights.

The Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore):
This cathedral is the hub of Florence.  Located in the center of the city, you cannot miss this magnificent work of art.   Even for those who are not religious, this is a must-see attraction.  At Christmas time, there’s a life size nativity scene outside of the cathedral as well as a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.  This is also the favorite place for Christmas and Christmas Eve mass.  Christmas Eve mass starts at 11:00PM and seats are first come first serve.

Christmas markets:
The biggest Christmas market in Florence is located at the Piazza Santa Croce.  If you want to immerse yourself in holiday cheer there is no better way than to walk around this market.  Grab a glass of warm mulled wine and explore the various stalls boasting beautifully decorated ornaments and other festive wares.

Concerts:
There are always amazing concerts in Tuscany, but at Christmas time, they are especially amazing with all of the beautifully written Christmas music.  You can find the upcoming events listed at the individual venues.

Food:
The traditional Christmas Eve dinner is called the Feast of the seven fishes or Festa dei sette pesci.  The origins of this feast are blurry and the number of courses is not set in stone—the main reason for the dinner is to bring together family and friends.  The meal traditionally consists of 7 or so courses of seafood dishes and of course, there’s a pasta dish and a sweet ending.  While in Tuscany, there are many restaurants that serve this traditional feast, and reservations are highly recommended.

Around Tuscany:
There are many Christmas markets around Tuscany as well as other Christmas related activities, including the Santa Claus factory located in Montepulciano which is a real treat.  Expect to be transported to a fairy tale time that is all about Christmas and Old St. Nick.  The factory is not just for children, it’s a magical way to spend a day or evening for adults too.

Experiencing Christmas in Tuscany is a bucket-list Experience that you will never forget.  Join A Toast to Travel this holiday for a fully hosted, all-inclusive experience where you’ll live like a local!  For more holiday cheer, you can also check out our Christmas blog from last year.

June 2018

Your Own Private Group Trip– Your Way

By |2018-06-14T05:55:49+00:00June 14th, 2018|Informational, Travel Tips, Tuscany, Uncategorized|

Your Own Private Group Trip– Your Way

Consider a trip you’ll never forget. Italy is 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. A fun-filled week of good food, good friends, and the novelty of exploring a lovely country is a fantastic way to do achieve total bliss. Let us at show you why a trip to Tuscany is the perfect setting for an unforgettable private group trip!

Whether you’re a fan of food and wine, admiring art and architecture, shopping, or simply relaxing, a small, private 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 residents 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.

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 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 our Women’s Only Experiences, 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?

So if you have a group of 8 or more, whether it’s a special birthday, family reunion, retirement trip, alumni reunion, bachelor/bachelorette destination party, girls’ trip, romantic couples’ trip or a corporate/organizational business or charity outing, A Toast to Travel can host your private group and make it special and memorable.  We will host you on your chosen date and help customize the experience for the needs of the group.  One of our most popular experiences, Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience is sure to be a crowd pleaser!  If you’re the one who has to do all the planning but would rather leave it to the experts while you enjoy, contact us so you can enjoy la Dolce Vita.

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!