Tuscany

/Tuscany

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.

What are the best wines in Tuscany?

By |2018-06-12T05:45:34+00:00June 12th, 2018|Brunello di Montalcino, Feature, Features, Tuscany, Wine|

What are the best wines in Tuscany?

Italy is known for producing a number of quality wines, and this is especially true of Tuscany. Sangiovese grapes, with their fruity and aromatic aura, are the foundation of Tuscan winemaking. Tuscany’s hilly terrain and warm Mediterranean climate prove beneficial for the growth of these grapes, meaning that Tuscany has no shortage of delicious wine. Whether you desire a journey to experience Tuscany’s best wines or you are simply curious as to what they consist of, here’s a rundown of the best that Tuscany has to offer!

Without a doubt, Chianti is one of the best known and loved wines to come out of Tuscany. Chianti wines are made within the Chianti region of Tuscany, and while they vary in composition, some common traits that are generally shared among them include a dry character, a bright, cherry-like aroma and flavor, and a satisfying level of acidity. Like many Italian wines, Chianti tastes excellent with food. More specifically, it pairs well with many meat dishes (an example being the legendary Bistecca alla Fiorentina, or T-bone steak) and dishes containing red sauce. Chiantis, like many Tuscan wines, are primarily made from the Sangiovese grape.

Another delicious wine originating in Tuscany is Brunello di Montalcino. Known as one of the most rare and expensive wines to come out of Italy, Brunello di Montalcino is grown in vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino, about 50 miles south of Florence. As per governmental regulations, Brunello di Montalcino must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. What separates this wine from others made of Sangiovese grapes, however, is the conditions in which the grapes are grown. Montalcino’s climate and altitude are such that the grapes ripen more fully than anywhere else in Tuscany, giving the wine a distinctly unique profile. Brunello di Montalcino retains a fruity character but has darker traits than Chianti, with notes of blackberry, chocolate, and leather, among other things. Like Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino has a high level of acidity, which makes it a terrific wine to pair with food (especially grilled meats).

So while Montalcino and Chianti hold the distinction of being Tuscany’s two main Sangiovese variants, Tuscany is also home to the “Super Tuscans.”  What, exactly, have the super Tuscans done to earn the title of “Super?” While nobody knows for sure where the name originated, Super Tuscans are unique from other Tuscan wine in that they don’t adhere to the strict regulations of the Italian government’s classification system. This allows winemakers to create red blends with non-indigenous grapes, resulting in more inventive, creative and delicious wines. Some super Tuscans retain the use of Sangiovese grapes, whereas others may be made solely from Merlot or a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah; no matter what, though, Super Tuscans all share the tendency to have big, bold flavors and a high level of desirability.

The scope of winemaking in Tuscany is quite vast—some other varieties of Tuscan wine include Bolgheri, Rosso di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano all of which have the Italian government’s seal of approval. If there’s one thing we can be certain of, there’s a Tuscan wine out there to suit any personal taste. On our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, good food and good wine abound, so why not take the opportunity to sample the best wines in Tuscany with us at A Toast to Travel?

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!

Experiencing a Beautiful Italian Summer

By |2018-05-16T05:12:36+00:00May 13th, 2018|Feature, hidden gems, Summer, Tuscany|

Summer in Tuscany
Panzanella

Experiencing a Beautiful Italian Summer

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people, that means it’s time for a vacation! Summer vacations in Italy, especially in Tuscany, can be full of many wonderful festivities and attractions; if you’re a fan of warm weather, you will love experiencing Tuscany’s stunning natural beauty. Tuscany is classified by its Mediterranean climate, with generally mild winters and nice, toasty summers. Due to the unique geography of the region, temperatures can vary widely based upon your location, with the coasts and valleys being generally warmer than hills and mountains. There’s no better time to enjoy the beautiful coasts, with gentle, refreshing sea breezes blowing in to contrast the warm summer air.

Apart from the joys of enjoying lovely Tuscan weather, summers in Tuscany come with another host of benefits. If you read our recent Tuscan food piece, you may recall that we mentioned Panzanella, a salad made of leftover bread and fresh, sun-ripened vegetables grown in the fertile Tuscan soil. It should come as no surprise that this is a terrific summer dish, so if you want to try it at its best, summertime is your best chance. It’s amazingly refreshing on a hot day! If the warm temperatures attract you to the coast, then you’ll find lots of wonderful seafood to dive into as well. And how awesome does a big scoop of authentic gelato sound for a chilly summer treat? Tuscan food is borne out of the finest resources available at any given time, and as a result, it complements the weather in ways that few other foods can.

While summer in Tuscany demonstrates itself to be a great time to enjoy seasonal dishes and the region’s natural beauty, it is also ideal for attending events and landmarks. Most of us would probably agree that a warm and pleasant day is the best time to go for a leisurely stroll; that’s enjoyable enough in its own right. But imagine doing so in the midst of some of the most well-preserved Renaissance architecture in existence! We know that warm weather brings people outside, and this will you give you the chance to observe the peak of human activity throughout the town squares and side streets of Tuscan cities and towns if you feel so inclined.  The chance to observe and explore the ways the citizens of a distant country interact and function throughout their daily lives is a valuable aspect of travel, and one could argue that it is key to fully understanding and appreciating a place. At A Toast to Travel, we believe an Italian vacation should allow you to fully immerse yourself in the culture so that you may experience how it feels to live like a local. And if you choose to embark on our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience in the summer, you’ll get the chance to experience everything that a Tuscan summer has to offer.

Experiencing Italian Cooking

By |2018-05-03T05:58:00+00:00May 3rd, 2018|Feature, food, hidden gems, Tuscany|

Experiencing Italian Cooking

For the many travelers who choose to embark on a tour of Italy, one of the commonly recognized highlights of the overall experience is the food. Tuscany, in particular, is home to a number of delicious specialties. Tuscan cuisine is known for its delightful simplicity which lets the individual ingredients speak for themselves, with bread, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables being central to many dishes. Much like the rest of Italy, olive oil is an important staple in Tuscany, where it is typically made from Leccino, Moraiolo, and Frantoiano olives. The region is also known for traditional Florentine steaks, which come from the native Chianina and Maremmana cattle breeds that are found there. Apart from these fundamental elements of Tuscan cuisine, there are plenty of specific dishes there that are very much worth trying!

Throwing away stale bread is highly frowned upon, so instead, a salad called Panzanella is made. The bread is tossed in with Tuscan-grown cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, then is seasoned generously with salt, olive oil and vinegar. Not a bad way to make use of those leftovers, and it’s a lovely summer meal to boot! If you’re feeling more like enjoying some fresh Tuscan bread, however, you may try Fettunta. Fettunta is typically ordered at the start of a meal, and it consists of a freshly toasted slice of bread drizzled with delicious Tuscan olive oil, rubbed with garlic, and sprinkled with salt. These dishes are two examples of the many ways in which the people of Tuscany demonstrate their passion for bread.

Beyond that, there’s also a special affinity for soups in Tuscany. Papa al Pomodoro is a thick, rich tomato soup prepared with basil and other vegetables, then served with stale bread. (Again with the stale bread—they really know how to make the most of their food!) Another type of soup is ribollita, which is made with kale, cabbage, onions, beans, carrots, potatoes and a few other vegetables, as well as—you guessed it—leftover bread. If you’re not a fan of soup, that’s not an issue—there’s plenty more variety in Tuscan cuisine. For example, you may fancy trying tagliatelle al tartufo, a dish that consists of pasta smothered in a rich truffle sauce. Tuscany is fortunate enough to feature naturally-occuring black and white truffles, both of which are very rare, growing within its borders. So as a result, this decadent Tuscan staple is absolutely worth giving a try. As a matter of fact, when you tour Italy with A Toast to Travel, you’ll hunt truffles in the morning. Then, during our hands-on cooking in Tuscany experience, Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun, you’ll learn to make fresh, Tuscan truffle sauce for our fresh pasta.

Potatoes are an important ingredient in Tuscany as well, so the wonderful potato tortelli should not be ignored. It consists of ravioli-like pasta stuffed with potatoes and smothered in a rich game meat sauce. And of course there’s the aforementioned Florentine steak, or Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which cannot be missed. It’s a large t-bone steak typically weighing 3 to 4 pounds, and it’s so thick that it must be cooked on all sides! Once you’ve tried some of these meals, save room for dessert, because Tuscany is home to plenty of those as well. There’s the world-famous gelato, of course, and trying it is certainly a given. Ricciarelli, from Siena, are traditional biscuits made with an almond base as well as sugar, honey, and egg whites, and are typically consumed around Christmas.

The chance to sample some of these dishes (and many, many others) could be yours with the Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience! A Tuscan holiday simply would not be complete without the opportunity to indulge in the finest food offerings available, and because A Toast to Travel gives you the chance to live like a local, nothing will be glossed over. Italy is a wonderful, dynamic country, and we strive to give you the best Italian vacation experience possible!