Exactly ten years ago, I was just returning from a trip of a lifetime to Tuscany, Italy. On June 14, 2009 I joined my sister Page and her two daughters, Kathryn & Caroline, who were sill teenagers then. Although the three of them were able to stay for full two weeks, I was only able to stay for ten days as I had to fly back to photograph a wedding. Any amount of time there is so worth it and I was grateful I was able to go at all during busy wedding season!
We flew in to the Florence airport, retrieved a rental car, and drove about an hour out to Castello di Colognole where we stayed in a fabulous 3 bedroom apartment within the castle. It's located in the beautiful countryside on the outskirts of the village, Greve in Chianti, overlooking vineyards and olive groves. Our wonderful hostesses were sisters Rosita Ricci and Rita Meunier who also reside in apartments within the castle. We had access to several courtyards and to the gardens - vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The private courtyard in our apartment had a wall of jasmine in bloom which my bedroom faced and the scent was heavenly. Every time I get a scent of it here, it brings me back to this.
It was wonderful staying there and honestly my favorite part of the trip. When we didn't dine out, we had our own kitchen. Rita taught cooking classes gathering fresh vegetables, herbs, and cherries from the garden. We joined them for a couple of meals too - they also had quite the spread for us the evening we arrived. It was amazing, memorable, and so much appreciated. In addition they had two of the sweetest dogs, Bacco & Gemma, and several cats so we felt right at home.
We visited surrounding villages and two cities, Siena and Florence. Both cities were gorgeous with all of the architecture, art, and history. The Douma in Florence was awe inspiring with its size and I'd always wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio. We were in Florence on a Monday, which meant the museums were closed and we were stretched for time anyway, as we had to catch a bus back by a certain time. I was hoping to see the Statue of David, however I had to settle for a copy in the square. I had studied art and art history in college, so I knew what I was missing. It's an excuse to go back someday!
As far as cities go, I think I actually preferred Siena. It was easy to get around and we even found a parking space close by to the historic part of the city, where we spent an entire day. The Piazza Del Campo was a great place for people watching and photo ops, but I also loved the Doumo there too, especially the ceiling in the Piccolomini Library. It was incredible with its colorful frescos. The facade of the Doumo outside was also amazing with the lion gargoyles and all the detail. It was nice to stop and buy some fresh fruit at the street market and take those back with us to our apartment.
We also took a day trip to Castello di Albola near the village of Radda in Chianti. It was my favorite experience of the trip, besides where we stayed. It's the summer home to the Zonin family, but also a working winery and vineyard. Lisa Assini gave us a wonderful tour of the winery & vineyards, a history of the place, and then we did a wine tasting in their tasting room. Afterwards we joined winemaker, Allesandro Gallo, for a delicious luncheon onsite and prepared just for us by their chef. Thanks in part to our dad, Chiles Larson, who is a travel writer and photojournalist who had visited there a few years before us. He worked on a book project with sister winery & vineyards in Virginia, Barboursviille Vineyards. The book, "Barboursville Vineyards: Crafting Great Wines Inspired by the Past", is now out of print. However copies can be found on Amazon from time to time.
Things I remember about my trip: The food was always fresh and delicious & the wine abundant! We also found a fabulous little gelato shop in the village of Greve. We visited it every single day. It was nice to have several restaurants, a cheese shop, butcher, and wine shop in the village too but also a supermarket for basics. Page and I both love to cook & having a kitchen was wonderful. Cooking some of our own meals saved us some money too (I did this trip on a shoestring- my plane ticket was the biggie!). We would eat out for lunch from time to time, as you have to experience that too.
Everything about Tuscany was just incredible. From the scenery, gardens, vineyards, & olive groves to the shops, cuisine, gelato, wines, and of course the people. We found everyone to be so friendly! Rita and Rosita were the perfect hostesses. When it was time for me to catch a flight back to the states, Rosita graciously took me to the airport in Florence. I still keep in touch with them via social media, email, and a yearly Christmas card. Sadly, the two of them were in Virginia at Wintergreen last fall and I had a work/travel conflict so I couldn't make the time to drive up to see them (and it's less than 3 hours away). So, yet another excuse to get back to see them in Italy.
It has been great fun to look through the photos again and to relive such an amazing trip. It gives me the feeling of wanderlust again. While there, I kept a travel journal & blog, as I documented my trip along the way. To see any of those posts from my former blog, you may click on one by one below:
If you love to travel AND photography, I'll be teaching a weeklong (6 days) photography workshop this fall at the John C Campbell Folk School in Western North Carolina. More info on the class can be found HERE or you may sign up for the class at the folk school HERE. Also two summers ago, their marketing department interviewed me about the same class, Wanderlust: The Art of Travel Photography, so if anyone would like to see that Q&A on their blog, it can be found HERE!