Travel Tips

/Travel Tips

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.

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!

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!

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.

5 Packing Tips for Women

By |2018-06-01T17:10:54+00:00June 1st, 2018|Feature, Travel Tips, Tuscany, Women's Travel|

Packing tips for women
Packing tips for women-1
Packing tips for women travelers

5 Packing Tips for Women

Taking a vacation, while normally a great experience, can also be stressful if you are not adequately prepared. If you’d agree that travel is one of life’s most rewarding and exciting activities, (like we do at A Toast to Travel) then perhaps you’d also say that it comes at the cost of having to pack. Unless, of course, you’re one of the few people who seem to enjoy this step, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For most everyone else, though, packing may induce irritating feelings of dread, and if not done properly, it can cause further headaches during your travels. Here are a few packing tips for women that should serve to make any vacation experience easier and more enjoyable!

  1. Leave some room in your suitcase – Apart from making the process of hauling your bags a little less strenuous, this tip is particularly useful if you plan on doing a little shopping (which would be difficult to pass up if you were to visit, say, Florence, Italy).  If you find yourself having some difficulties with this, then perhaps this next tip will prove helpful…
  2. Wear your heaviest/clunkiest stuff on the airplane – This can do a couple of things for you. Either it will create more open space in your bag so that you may take home any purchases made on your trip, or it will allow you to load the bag up with smaller, less space-consuming articles of clothing. Bonus benefit – if you have a tendency to get cold, especially on airplanes, more layers will prove helpful!
  3. Keep your most important valuables out of your checked luggage – If you travel with any medicines, extremely sentimental objects, important documents, etc., it is in your best interests to keep them with you at all times. As much as we want to believe that our luggage will always be taken care of as best as possible by the airlines, mishaps do happen, and bags do get lost. So in the unlikely event that this happens to you, save yourself the headache of replacing the objects that matter most!
  4. Make sure you know exactly what’s in your carry on before you head to security – Airport security can and will be strict about adhering to the guidelines of carry on luggage. This means that if, for example, you’re trying to bring home a bottle of Italian wine, and you completely forgot you left it in your backpack, you’ll probably never get to enjoy that bottle of Italian wine unless you’re willing to exit the security line and check it in.
  5. Make sure all your liquids/gels/cosmetics are stored in accordance with security guidelines – This is an unfortunate reality of the world we live in, but there’s no way around it. Not only will adequate preparation for this save time at the security checkpoint, but it will also ensure that any expensive/valuable cosmetics you own won’t be tossed out!

Well, there you have it! Some of these might seem like common sense, but there’s nothing wrong with brushing up on them. Hopefully they can help make your next trip, whether it be our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience or something else entirely, a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable.

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!