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Sharon Goes to Italy, Part 2: Vacation in Tuscany and Hill Towns

Tuscany…the land of wineries, ancient towns perched high in the hills, a peaceful and quiet place. This was where we spent days 4-6 on our trip to Italy.

First things first for our vacation in Tuscany – the car rental. A manual transmission Italian car, which my husband quickly mastered (he only stalled out 3 times during our trip) and a GPS on which he had downloaded the Italian map were our means of transportation and navigation. We worked as a team – I watched the map and (mostly) kept him on the correct path, while he drove the unfamiliar Italian highways and roads. Honestly, I can’t imagine how people did this before GPS systems were available!

Public service announcement: If you’re planning on using Google maps on your smartphone to navigate your vacation in Tuscany, think again. Many places in Italy have spotty- if any – cell service, which renders Google maps useless.


The view, Castello del Nero Hotel

A quick 45 minute drive and we arrived at our hotel, Castello del Nero in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, a tiny place. Castello del Nero is much more than a hotel – it’s an experience. A Leading Hotel of the World, the staff at Castello del Nero will do anything and everything to make you feel welcome, pampered and relaxed. Because we booked and paid for it nearly a year in advance and visited off-season, we were able to get a reasonable rate on our room – otherwise it would have been way out of our price range.

We spent our first afternoon driving…and driving…and driving…in search of the hill towns we wanted to visit – and there are many, many hill towns. Our dear little navigation system sent us on some strange routes, but we took it in stride, enjoying seeing the sites, the views (!!!) and trying to communicate with the locals.

“How do we get to Greve?”

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get much help, but finally did make it to the sleepy little village of Greve in Chianti, where we wandered around, bought a few gifts (so much to buy!) and had a light lunch. Every hill town has it’s own charm and it’s own duomo (church), and there are many towns to see.

That evening, after a restful nap, we had dinner at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, La Torre. The hotel was fairly empty, so we were attended to by the maitre’d, the waitstaff, and the chef himself. We drank a bottle of Brunello – I don’t remember which, exactly – and had a wonderful meal. My favorite was my appetizer, a crispy egg with puffed rice, and the petite bites we enjoyed for dessert.



Day two in Tuscany we woke up feeling exhausted, and  decided to spend the day relaxing, which we both needed – we hadn’t stopped moving since landing in Rome! The weather was a bit gloomy, but the room so comfortable and the view so lovely that we didn’t mind. We snuggled up and read the Sunday paper and watched a movie.

Day three in Tuscany, refreshed and ambitious, we headed to Siena, one of the largest and most visited of the hill towns. Siena was delightful, with an enormous town square ringed by dozens and dozens of cafes. Hundreds of people hung out in the Piazza del Campo (town square), lazing in the sun or following tour guides. We wandered up and down the narrow streets that surround the Piazza del Campo, where one shop was more enticing than the next (more to buy!).

The Piazza del Campo, Siena

We then walked over to see the Siena duomo.



That evening we went to a restaurant in the little town where our hotel was, and we were not disappointed! La Gramola is a charming place run by a husband and wife – he’s the maitre’d and waiter, she’s the chef. We were surprised to find that the house specialty was a hamburger and fries – so of course I ordered it. This was no ordinary burger and fries, though – the beef was from cows raised just a few miles down the road, and the fries were made in locally pressed olive oil. Delicioso!


Not your ordinary burger and fries!

We had another Brunello with our dinner. It had quickly become our favorite.


Public Service Announcement: As someone who doesn’t drink wine because it gives me headaches, I was thrilled to discover that this didn’t happen in Italy. Is it because there are fewer sulfites in Italian wines, as some suggested to me? Or maybe it was simply the relaxed state of being on vacation…who knows? I tend to agree with the idea that the healthier, unprocessed foods in Italy interact better with wine in my system.

The Tuscan countryside is a beautiful place to visit, with friendly people and many incredible views to enjoy.

Next week – the Amalfi Coast

Click here to read part 1: Sharon Goes to Florence


Castello del Nero Hotel and Spa

Greve in Chianti


La Gramola 

Don’t forget to buy a copy of Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook (affiliate link) if you’re planning a trip. It’s the best resource I found!


Sharon Greenthal

Sharon's blog, Empty House Full Mind, focuses on observations of the world from the midlife empty nest. Sharon is the Young Adults Expert on Sharon writes for the Huffington Post and Purple Clover. Sharon is the mother of two grown children - a daughter, 26 and a son, 24. She lives in Long Beach, CA with her husband and their perfect dog, Lambeau. Instagram: sharongreenthal

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Dani Rogers

Thursday 1st of May 2014

Sharon, your story has taken me back to my favorite place in the world - Florence. It has been almost 10 years since I last visited but I went to all the same places! We even rented a villa in Tuscany near Tavernelle di Pisa. I feel the same way about museums, although my favorite (which it does not sound like you visited) is the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens across the Arno river. I am also celebrating 25 years of marriage this year and am planning a European vacation, but unfortunately will not be visiting Italy. Hard to be so close and not go, but there are so many places to see and never enough time. So happy to relive my Italian vacation by reading yours!

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