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Tuscany
The trip from Rome

At lunchtime we decided against stopping by the freeway to eat and there was a nice looking round lake a few miles off our route with an island in the middle. On the map it looked rather like Crater Lake in Oregon. It was spectacular. Castiglione del Lago is a little Etruscan hill-town built on a cliff looking out over the lake. We spent an hour wandering through the delightful little main street with unique shops and wonderful places to buy lunch food. We bought food including local wine which was delicious, and ended up in the parking lot for lunch. The parking lot was covered with grass and nestled under the ancient town walls, surrounded by olive trees with a view over the lake to die for. Some "parking lot".

A cute town square with a very old castle and museum
View down the main street out to the lake We went shopping for food and found wonderful spices and home-made wine to die for.
There was even one of the cutest Hippie-style shops we had ever been in. The architecture was quite splendid
The views from the hill top were delightful

On to Tuscany and our B&B which was by the town of Vinci. Yes, Leonardo grew up there.

We had picked this particular B&B, like the others, by searching on the web and had been attracted by the pictures of the surroundings. We had been right. It was an old farmhouse completely surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. It was owned and run by Marco Ciani who lived a few miles away and we voted both Marco and Tassinaia, the B&B, by far the best we encountered. Marco was delightful, spoke very understandable English and was the consummate host. Here are the directions to his B&B in his email to us.

Taking the Autostrada A1 Milano-Roma/Roma-Milano ,exit to Firenze Signa at the exit of Firenze Signa take on the right the speed-way Firenze-Pisa-Livorno the sign is - S.G.C.FI-PI-LI - exit to Empoli Est,is the 5th exit after the starting.At the Empoli-Est you have turn left direction Empoli you have drive for about 700mts and you will find a big road panel that sign Vinci you drive ahed and cross 2 traffic lights at the 3rd traffic light on the bridge of the Arno River you turn right direction Vinci,runs ahed for a new blvd at the end of this blvd you will find another traffic light,cross this one and after 500 mts about you willfind another one,cross this one too always direction Vinci and after this traffic light you will enter in a commercial area at the end of this one you will find on the right a Peugeot car seller and on the left an Essostation service after this about 200 mts.you will find on the right a cypress blvd with a touristic brown sign -LocalitÓ Petroio- and a sign showing - Chiesa di S.Maria a Petroio- and Via di Petroio.You run for 200 mts. And at the end of this blvd.you find a little place with a green wooden gate and on the left- and you have to pay more attention - 3 red mail boxes - 1 cypress- and a sign with on -Via di Petroio dal N░9 al N░25- I write this because the sign is hidden by a another cypress- on a shaped American mail box is written on Tassinaia bed & Breakfast 840 mts.You take the left stony road you drive down and drive up and at the end of the road you will find a big tree and the B. & B.
If you are in trouble don't exitate to call me at the mobile 347 8273962.
Best rgds.
Marco Ciani
Tassinaia B&B
Sorry for my macaronic english.

If it sounds like it is in the middle of the country - it is. And the 'stony road' was very definitely a farm track that required first gear. But it was surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. And, yes, we got there with not a single misstep.

We would very strongly recommend this B&B to anyone who wanted a place in the countryside, forty miles away from the hustle and bustle of City life - lots of peace, quiet and countryside and it's centrally located to all of Tuscany.

Marco met us and we chatted for a while. He left us after suggesting a hill-top restaurant run by a relative and making reservations for us. The restaurant is La Querciola (The little oak tree). A fabulous find.

We settled into the old farmhouse that only a couple of years ago had had a fallen-in roof.

As you can see from the 18x18 beams holding up the new stone ceiling, this roof will be here for the next millenium

Here's where we settled Here's us settled!

Later, we drove through Vinci to the restaurant Marco had recommended. It truly was on top of the hill with a fabulous view
The sun was just setting

The next day we went to Florence. First stop was Michaelangelo Piazza which is a large parking lot on top of the hill south of the City with the usual tourist stalls. The views over Florence to the North were spectacular.

The views from the hill top were delightful The large dome is the Duomo, to its left are the Campanille and the Baptistry
Looking out over the City. The river Arno is in the foreground. This gives a good view of the City, the dome in the center is surrounded by the market place we visited next.
The river Arno again, this time with Ponte Vecchio across it - this is the medieval bridge with all sorts of shops built on it. This is Michaelangelo's David, of course, in all his glory.

We drove down into the town and parked (yes, we actually found a parking spot) and walked to the leather market. Diane wanted to get a wallet and a brief case. The main market is in a square and a couple of streets surrounding the cathedral shown above and was in full swing when we got there. We wandered the stalls until we had a feeling for the values and to find the best fit for what we wanted. The briefcase was $250 but they offered to let us have it for $150, then their very lowest price was $120, then we counted the money out of the pocket that only had $75 and they laughed. We said that was all we had so the salesman found his boss who said no deal. Peter managed to triumphantly find another $5 in a different pocket and as a master stroke brought out 89 cents. They argued they couldn't do it, we argued that was all we had and after a few minutes we walked away with the briefcase for $80.89.

We had had enough shopping by now so we went home and made it back to the B&B just in time for another sunset.

Out of the window at Tassiania. Note the vineyards just below in the second picture (click to enlarge), olive groves above them, a castle on the next hill and then, in the third picture, the mountains to the North.

In the morning we found that the harvest had begun under our window

...and after breakfast, Marco took us to a potter friend in the next village where we bought some beautifully painted pieces.

Later in the morning we went to Pisa. The views were as expected - quite spectacular...

The leaning tower is to the right of the Duomo
With a very large green lawn in front of everything
To the left again is the Baptistry...
...with a wonderful door Legend has it that Romulus and Remus were twins that were raised by a she-wolf and grew up to found the City of Rome. Here they are having breakfast.

In the town we bought salad makings and a bottle of wine and headed home.

Diane had a rest while Peter took a walk through the vineyards to the little chapel on top of a nearby hill - Chiesa di S.Maria a Petroio - and gorged on grapes all the way. When he got home, he took a twig and some toothpaste and gently erased all traces of the paint he had decorated the car with when trying to get out of the alley in Rome. He said that somewhere in the back of his mind there was a story of African children cleaning their teeth like this so it seemed like a good substitute for rubbing compound.

We had a wonderful romantic candlelight dinner in Marco's kitchen.

And then ... .... the final chapter -

From Tuscany we sadly said goodbye to Marco who had become a firm friend and indispensable guide and major domo. We headed for Venice and the airport. Back to San Antonio.

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