December 2009

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Conde Nast Traveler’s 2009 Readers’ Choice Survey ranked Florence as the top city of Europe!  The results were based on responses from 25,000 readers, and if this doesn’t already convince you to vacation in Florence then the determining factors will.  Florence was scored out of 100 depending on factors including:

  • Atmosphere/Ambience
  • Culture/Sites
  • Friendliness
  • Lodging
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping

The final score that put Florence over all other European cities was an 84.6 out of 100!  Tourists not only find art, architecture and culture in Florence but additionally, a sense of family, exquisite food and wine, alongside romantic settings, luxury and great shopping – proving Florence to be Europe’s TOP city!

Following Florence, Rome and Venice were ranked second and third and in the ninth spot, another Tuscan city, Siena.

It is officially safe to say that not only Florence but Italy, as a whole, dominated the European rankings this year..

TRUFFLES

Savor the aroma, taste and quality of the famous white truffles of San Miniato and/or Alba.  The beauty of these white truffles lies in their rarity – being collected only during October, November and December.

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San Miniato

In fact, about twenty years ago, a group known as the ‘Tartufai delle Colline Sanminiatesi’ or the Truffle gatherers of the San Miniato hills, formed to collaborate together in the hunting of the traditional white truffle along with their truffle dogs.

During the brief season, there are numerous white truffle fairs hosting markets where people can enjoy the fragrance and flavor.  The San Miniato National White Truffle Market held annually during the last three weeks of November or such events can be found in smaller towns near San Miniato like Balconevisi, where you can buy from the actual truffle gatherers.

Alba

Like the white truffles of San Miniato, those from Alba in the Piedmont region are also famous for the aroma, taste and many qualities.  Here, truffle dogs and hunters are also used for the pursuit of these underground surprises.

The National White Truffle Fair of Alba runs annually attracting many tourists and locals.  The Alba truffle market is open throughout the hunting season and smaller fairs are held in Langhe and Monferrato areas as well.

A local tradition in Alba surrounding the white truffle includes giving a prized truffle to a famous person.  Starting in the 1950’s with Giacomo Morra, later recipients include Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan, Winston Churchill, and celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Interesting Facts about White Truffles

  • The truffles and their aroma last about 3 days, so they must be bought and consumed fresh!
  • The consistent different between white truffles from different areas is contingent on variable factors including:

-Moisture

-Weather

-Species

-Age of the tree

-Soil type

-Acidity

-Proximity to the roots and tree trunk

-Insect traffic

For example, if there is a drought, the truffles suffer from dryness, and release a strong aroma that fades rapidly when harvested.  If it is particularly wet and damp, there is little fragrance at all.

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Florence, one of Italy’s most historical and cultural cities, is located in the heart of Tuscany.  Holding the essence of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is filled with attractions for people in search of a ‘bella giornata’.  From the museums, beautiful cathedrals and churches, and simply delectable meals to the narrow streets leading to the numerous ‘piazze’ and the elegant buildings and shops, Florence is THE place to vacation if you are looking for a particularly cultural experience.

Some of the incredibly amazing places that you MUST see in Florence include:

1)      Il Duomo and The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore: This was a great accomplishment of the Italian Renaissance and now serves as a great attraction.  The Gothic dome, built by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1296, along with the elaborately decorated façade of the Cathedral, prove to be a visit you don’t want to miss.  Climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome or climb the 414 steps of Giotto’s Campanile to get a great view of the city!

2)      Ponte Vecchio: Built in 1345, the Ponte Vecchio was the first bridge to cross the Arno River and is the only standing medieval bridge in Florence today.  The Ponte Vecchio, known for it’s lined shops selling jewelry, also provides great spots to take pictures and admire the city’s beauty.

3)      Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio: Check out the famous political square in the city for the viewing of some of the more important statues of the Renaissance.  Come see Neptune’s Fountain, the copy of Michelangelo’s David, and the many statues that sit in the Loggia.

4)      Galleria degli Uffizi: This indescribable museum will blow your mind with it’s collection of Renaissance art!  Artists featured include Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli and Raphael.  If you have time, take a tour through the Vasari Corridor, which leads you to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno where you can see the Boboli Gardens.

5)      Galleria dell’Accademia:  If you are here to see art, you must see the actual David.  You can also see other works by Michelangelo such as his unfinished Prisoners.

6)      Santa Croce:  This piazza holds the largest Franciscan church in Italy and it is gorgeous, make sure to leave time to see Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel as well.  Santa Croce is also a great area to shop, whether you are looking for quality leather goods or simply souvenirs to bring home!

That being said, if you are here in Florence or in Tuscany, Italy for an occasion of some sort, I highly recommend looking into the ‘Unique Occasions’ program provided by Italy’s Finest. What better way can you think to celebrate your special event than luxuriously amidst some of the most historical and influential masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance?

SuperTuscany

Italy's_Finest (10) Low DefDISCOVER SUPER TUSCANY AND THEIR SUPERTUSCANS IN BOLGHERI AND THE CASTELLO DI BOLGHERI

‘La famiglia della Gherardesca’, one of the most ancient aristocratic families of Italy dating back to the early 11th century have held the incredibly large piece of land of Bolgheri for over 1,200 years!  At this time it is the family home, owned by the Counts of Manfredi, Gaddo della Gherardesca and their sister Countess Sibilia. The family has graciously opened up their home for visitors wanting to see a castle full of decorated rooms with simply beautiful frescoes and tapestries.

Bolgheri is a Tuscan city on the Etruscan coast famous for it’s local history and cultural heritage.  Explore the Maremma area and enjoy the wine and food that will give you a sense of the love of authenticity and the country lifestyle of Bolgheri.

The Super Tuscan premium wines, Ornellaia and Sassicaia, are produced here in the Bolgheri area.  Take advantage of some of the most famous and prestigious wine trails through the Maremma hills in the Province of Livorno.

The area provides a haven of peace and quiet for those looking for a vacation.  In fact, some of the most famous celebrities have stayed in Bolgheri, like Kate Winslet, George Clooney and Mick Jagger to name a few, for a tranquil retreat from their hectic lives.

If you are in search of a relaxing retreat yourself, take a trip to Bolgheri and bask in the extravagance that celebrities and noble families have, here on the Etruscan Coast..

Recommended activities to really experience the culture and history of the Etruscan coast area include:

Italy’s Finest ‘Castle Dream’ luxurious vacation package at the Castello di Bolgheri

Italy’s Finest ‘ Hunting with Gaddo della Gherardesca’ at the Castello di Castagneto