A Taste of Tuscany, Italy

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14755A, International

Highlights

  • Stay at agriturismi in rural Tuscany
  • Hike through countrysides dotted with medieval villages
  • Explore Cinque Terre on a day excursion

Includes

  • All in-country transportation and lodging
  • Local guides and naturalists
  • Admission fees, most meals, and gratuities for group activities

Details

DatesSep 14–25, 2014
Price$4,075
Deposit$200
Capacity16
StaffLaura Bonds-Johnson

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Experience Italian hospitality while touring Tuscany’s fabled towns and countryside. Explore Florence, Siena, Lucca, San Gimignano, Volterra, and Chianti’s wine country guided by experts in Italian art, history, and culture. Travel north to the region of Liguria on a memorable one-day excursion to Cinque Terre. Our moderate hikes traverse centuries-old footpaths, seaside villages, picturesque vineyards, and chestnut forests. Enjoy Tuscan food and wine, and experience firsthand why Italy is famous for its art, architecture, and the good life! At night, relax in comfortable accommodations at rural agriturismi.

Itinerary

Our planned itinerary could change due to weather conditions or circumstances beyond our control. We may also adjust our itinerary to be able to enjoy street markets, festivals, or other local activities. Hiking activities will be between two to three hours in duration, with the exception of day nine in which we will be hiking for several hours.

Day 1: We will meet mid-afternoon at the Florence airport, where our private bus will pick us up and take us through the gorgeous Tuscan hills to our lodging at an agriturismo near San Gimignano. We'll be staying at a working farm that grows crops typical of this area, such as wine grapes and olives. Agriturismi help small farmers augment their income, and allow us to enjoy the bounty of rural life in Italy. This agriturismo will be our home for the next six nights.

Day 2: We will hike today through the farmlands and forests surrounding Volterra, an ancient city founded at the very top of a steep hill. Volterra is known for its Etruscan tombs, alabaster workshops, and artisan galleries. After lunch on our own, we will have free time on our own to visit the well-displayed artifacts in the Etruscan museum, watch alabaster being carved, or browse the local shops.

Day 3: We will visit two abbeys today, each very different from the other. After traveling in our bus along the old Via Cassia, an important road in Roman times, we will hike the final stretch up to the richly decorated Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey, built in 1393 and resplendent with medieval murals depicting the life of Saint Benedict. We will view the murals and their inscriptions in old Italian, and then have lunch together at the Abbey. In the afternoon we will visit the serene Abbey Sant’ Antimo, recently restored and hauntingly beautiful in its Romanesque simplicity.

Day 4: Today we visit San Gimignano, the famous city of towers. In the 14th-century, San Gimignano had 70 towers, and although only a few still remain, the town center is well preserved. We’ll hike through the surrounding vineyards and forests, arriving in town for exploration and lunch on our own. This medieval town is especially beautiful as we sit in the piazza, enjoying a glass of local Vernaccia wine or some of San Gimignano's acclaimed gelato.

Day 5: Today is our day to visit Siena, originally an Etruscan town and later a Roman settlement. Siena is famous for its red-brown brick buildings, and for the Palio horse race run twice a year on the Campo (central piazza). We will tour the town with our guide, and then enjoy lunch on our own. We’ll spend the afternoon in the famous Chianti Classico area, tasting wine and walking through vineyards growing Sangiovese grapes for Chianti wines.

Day 6: We hike today from the old village of Chiusdino to the breathtaking San Galgano Abbey and the Montesiepi Hermitage, with its mysterious sword in the stone. After lunch together at the abbey, our bus will meet us to traverse the Merse River Valley, a historically rich agricultural land filled with farms, forests, and medieval churches. This evening we'll enjoy dinner at our agriturismo and pack for tomorrow’s departure to Lucca.

Day 7: Lucca, the birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini, is surrounded by impressive stone walls constructed in the 1500s. Planted with trees and gardens, the wall tops provide a wide boulevard and a bird's-eye view of Lucca. With our city guide we will explore the Piazza Napoleone, the Roman amphitheater, and other parts of the historic town center. After lunch together, we will have the rest of the day and evening free to explore on our own. Walk or bike the walls, visit Puccini’s home, or browse the specialty shops of this compact and interesting town. Dinner will be on our own tonight so we can sample some of the typical Lucchesi cuisine, or attend a concert of Puccini’s music in the 12th-century church of San Giovanni. A historic hotel in central Lucca will be our home for tonight and tomorrow night.

Day 8: This morning, we’ll travel north for an unforgettable day spent in Cinque Terre where the “Five Lands” (villages) sit nestled on hillsides overlooking the sea. Built in the 12th century, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our time in Cinque Terre will begin with a two- to three-hour moderately difficult hike on steep trails, with rewarding views of the sea and villages. After lunch together, we will have the afternoon to explore the villages on our own. We’ll return to Lucca in the evening and have dinner together.

Day 9: The Garfagnana area is known throughout Tuscany for its dramatic mountains and fertile valleys that produce local delicacies like porcini mushrooms and rich cheeses. We’ll hike for several hours through steep, forested, and rocky terrain, enjoying dramatic vistas of the Alpi Apuani mountains, then have lunch together in the charming village of Barga. In the afternoon we will travel to our second agriturismo, which will be our home for the next three nights.

Day 10: Today we will focus on the production and preparation of the wonderful wine, olive oil, and cuisine we have been enjoying. In the morning, depending on the harvest schedule, we might be able to observe the vineyard workers in the field, beginning the grape harvest. We’ll see firsthand what happens to the grapes and olives after they are brought into the winery. We’ll take a trip to the food market to select traditional meats, cheeses, breads, and other delights to indulge and learn about at lunchtime back at the agriturismo. We’ll spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our time (perhaps poolside) at the agriturismo.

Day 11: This is our day to experience Florence, the captivating city of Michelangelo. After a guided tour we’ll have free time for lunch and explorations on our own. A great city for walking, Florence is blessed with world-famous art, culture, history, and architecture -- all of which can be enjoyed by simply roaming its streets and public places. Enjoy a gelato as you stroll the famous Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River!

Day 12: After breakfast our bus will take us to the Florence airport for flights home. Those staying in Florence or traveling to another part of Italy can easily take a taxi or bus to central Florence and the train station. Participants leaving today should make their flight reservations for the afternoon.

Photos

Details

Getting There

United, US Airways, American Airlines, and other major carriers have flights to Tuscany. You may save money by flying into Pisa and then traveling by train or bus to Florence. Other airports with good transportation to Florence include Rome, Perugia, and Bologna. If you are flying from the west coast you may lose a day in flight, so be sure to check your itinerary to verify that you are arriving on the correct day. To reduce "fuso orario" (jet lag) we suggest arriving a day or two before the trip starts. Florence is full of marvelous treasures and is very easy to see on your own, so a day or two there before our trip begins will definitely not be wasted! Please do not make non-refundable travel arrangements until notified to do so by the trip leader.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in two agriturismi, rural estates that offer accommodations to visitors. Agriturismi have become popular in Italy as a way to provide extra income and help small farmers stay on their land. They are a peaceful home base and perfect setting for relaxation after a full day, and they will serve all our breakfasts and most dinners. While in Lucca, we will be staying at a centrally located hotel for two nights. Rooms are double-occupancy and a roommate will be provided for solo travelers. The trip price includes all meals except four lunches and one dinner on your own, which allows you to sample local cafes, osterias, trattorias, or even Italian fast food. Wine and other drinks will be at your own expense, except when served with meals or at our wine-tasting. Many restaurants offer vegetarian dishes, but vegan or special dietary meals may not be available. The Italian diet contains many wheat products such as pasta, pizza, and bread soups, and there may be few options for those with wheat allergies and restricted carbohydrate diets.

Trip Difficulty

This is a hiking and cultural trip that is suitable for all who are in reasonably good health.

Tuscany is a very hilly place, and most of our hikes, combined with excursions into towns, will total three to seven miles on uneven surfaces or rocky trails. In the Garfagnana near Lucca, our hike will be through a steep mountainous area. The Italian hill towns we will visit have narrow cobblestone streets and lots of stairs. We will have to park our bus outside the old walls and walk into the town center. As with all active trips, the better your physical condition, the more you will enjoy yourself, so prepare for this trip by hiking on hilly, uneven trails.

Equipment and Clothing

The climate in Tuscany in September is usually pleasant, with daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Dress will be casual and comfortable. Churches prohibit visitors in sleeveless tops, short skirts, or shorts. Your leader will provide a comprehensive packing list prior to the trip.

References

Books:

  • Nabham, Gary Paul, Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy.
  • Alvarez, Walter, The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events that Shaped our Earth.
  • King, Ross, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling.
  • Mayes, Frances, Under the Tuscan Sun.

Films:

  • Rick Steves: Italy's Countryside, 2009
  • PBS Empires: The Medici, Godfathers of the Renaissance, 2003
  • Tea with Mussolini, Franco Zeffirelli, 1999
  • Power of the Past with Bill Moyers: Florence, 1990
  • Rome, HBO Miniseries, 2005

Conservation

Tuscany is famous for food, and "0 kilometer cibo" (eating local) means delicious fresh meals. The link between farm and table is clearly visible at our agriturismi and we will have the opportunity to learn about how our food is grown and prepared. Italians also appreciate the beauty of their countryside, and we will observe how they are conserving it as we hike in parks and protected areas with our naturalist guides.

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.

Staff

Leader:

Laura Bonds-Johnson's long-standing hobby of backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, and slickrock canyons of the Southwest has evolved into her quest for conservation activism and outdoor leadership. Cultural, historical, and environmental exploration of European countries such as Italy have become a dream realized for this wannabe world adventurer. This will be Laura’s second trip to Tuscany with the Sierra Club. Laura is a registered nurse and wilderness first responder and resides in Colorado.

Associate Leader:

Gene Goldberg has been leading Sierra Club outings since 1990 in places such as the Rockies, Europe, New Zealand, and Bhutan. Leading is Gene's second career, one that he enjoys immensely. He is excited to be able to share with you his love of the outdoors and travel. He has a laid-back leadership style and a droll sense of humor. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife Gail and dogs Whisky and Bailey.

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