Every June, the loud, joyful screams of school-aged children echoes all across the US. School is out, summer is here and it’s time for vacation! It’s not just the kids that get caught up in the excitement. Who doesn’t love to travel, to leave it all behind, to explore new lands, to savor the tastes of other cultures, to take chances on new adventures? Escape with H Texas as we journey across oceans, across continents, and even just across the yard so to speak and then get ready to book your own trip and enjoy a summer vacation worth writing about!
Bask in the Tuscan Sun
H Texas goes boot scootin’ across the Tuscan region of Italy. by Laurette M. Veres
If you’re looking for vineyards as far as the eye can see, one-of-a-kind culinary stores, gastronomic nirvana, and of course a unique blend of art and architecture, Italy is for you.
Renting a villa with friends is the perfect way to explore the vast Tuscan region of Italy. From this home base, you can explore seductive parts of the magnificent countryside.
Home Base “Whoever gets there first will need to check in with Paola, the owner. She’s extremely nice but doesn’t speak much English so just do what she does and wave your arms around a lot,” says the preparatory e-mail from Andrea Stroh, our trip organizer with whom we were planning our vacation.
The biggest challenge arriving at Torre di Vignale, a refurbished fort in a suburb of Arezzo, is the road leading to the house. Paved at first, then turning to loose stone and gravel, the driveway gets very steep and windy. But the top of the hill gives way to the circa-14th century military tower, which has been carefully restored and transformed into a grand and comfortable villa. There are indoor-outdoor living areas to congregate; most notably, the outdoor terrace offers glorious 180-degree views of the rolling Tuscan countryside.
Because the initial drive out of Florence was a little vexing, we were all in need of a drink. And that’s the beauty of renting a Tuscan villa. Each evening, the standard modus operandi is to catch up, swap stories about the day’s activities and drink wine—fabulous, diverse and plentiful Italian wine! Possible day trips from this central location are endless: Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Rome, Assisi and more. You can also travel from Tuscany to the Umbria and Emilia Romagna regions with ease.
Florence In Florence, the capital of Tuscany, you can get lost in the romance and history for months. From the fashion forward inhabitants, to the historically significant art, it’s easy to awaken your senses to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Most importantly: visit Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, on display at the Galleria Accademia. Purchase tickets online, however, to avoid the crowds and lines.
The Duomo, one of the main cathedrals in Florence and a globally recognized example of Renaissance architecture, can be seen in the city center from many vantage points. Giotto’s Tower is adjacent to the Duomo, and offers magnificent 360-degree views of Florence and the surrounding area. Be sure you’re ready for the 414-step climb.
Assisi This small medieval town is perched on a hill in the region of Umbria and is the birthplace of St. Francis. Attending mass at Assisi’s most famous cathedral is magical as you connect to the spirits of the millions who have prayed here since the 1200’s. St. Francis’s tomb is located in the lower sanctuary and is an after mass must-see.
In front of the Cathedral, Via San Rufino takes you to the center of town where Bar Trovellesi offers the perfect Sunday afternoon respite. Enjoy the Lion fountains as you have an Italian coffee.
Cinque Terre One of the true hidden gems of Italy, the Cinque Terre, was mostly unreachable until the 1980s when a train was installed to connect five cliffside fishing villages. It’s still a challenge to get there; there are only two, small highways allowing access to the narrow, cliff-hugging road that winds along the steep, rocky coast. Because of this limited approach, the villages have been virtually frozen in time. Similar to sister villages in better-known Amalfi, the buildings are meticulously engineered into the seaside mountains.
Montelpuciano The Tuscan wine country, with winding roads, terraced hills and cypress-lined pathways have some of the most memorable vistas in the world, and Motelpuciano seems to sprout strait out of the landscape to touch the clouds. Distance makes it a surreal spot, almost like a movie set. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it was chosen as a location for New Moon, the Twilight saga’s Hollywood blockbuster. “You are here” signs indicate where specific scenes were shot. We settle into the arch-covered terrace at Caffe Polziano to enjoy breathtaking vistas as we partake of Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the region’s Pici pasta.This wine is made from a lineage of grapes famous since the 15th century. As you explore the village, picturesque arched walkways beckon the past, and lead to product specific shops offering free wine tastings, olive oil and cured meats like Sotterraneo. The meats and breads picked up here are ideal for sharing picnic-style upon our later return to the villa.
Montalcino Continuing the quest to sample the Tuscan region’s best wine, visiting the hill-topped village of Montalcino is a must. The ancient road to this village was once a principal road between Florence, Rome and France. Wine has been made here for a millennium, and records of commercial wine production date back to the1400´s. La Fortezza—the14th century defense castle is fairy tale quality.