Listen, there are two types of vacations. There are vacations that are relaxing — typically, this is a beach vacation, but it's one where you literally plan to do nothing the entire time except for sleep in, stuff your face and not move, ideally in a pretty place.
Then, there are vacations that make you say, "I need a vacation from this vacation," a la Jack Donaghy. The ones where you go, go, go and see, see, see (and spend, spend — you get it). And by the end of the vacation, you've done a million things and walked a ton of miles and you had fun but you also have to go back to work – and ugh!
My husband's family visited last month, and we managed to do both these vacations in one. We saw a lot, but we had entire days where we did nothing, and this was ideal. And the easiest place for us to do nothing, but still do things if we really wanted to was out in Tuscany.
This was my second time visiting Tuscany — I had been almost exactly a year before with my mother and grandmother, and then again this year with my in-laws, and both trips were really similar. Both times, we booked a gorgeous place out in the middle of nowhere and used it as a hub to do day trips to "doing" places, like Pisa and Florence.
And Florence is great, but honestly, my favorite part of Tuscany is how beautiful and quiet it is in the countryside. It's just a stunning place with rich architecture and rolling hills. It's a great place to cook great meals and enjoy them al fresco, taking in the olive groves. We stayed in some stunning places both times in Tuscany, and I put off writing about the region because it's written about so extensively by locals so much more knowledgable than I am. However, I couldn't resist sharing the places we stayed, because I thought they were that special — they're among my favorite accommodations that I've ever used.. So, I thought I'd share some Toscano tips and link to some of my favorite Florence resources, for the best of both worlds.
HOW TO CHIANTI & CHILL:
- Stay in a central location, but away from the main attractions: When we did Tuscany the first time, we wanted to try to go to both Pisa and Florence, but didn't want to just do one night in a hotel in each place, especially since Pisa is so small. The solution? Stay between them! We found this perfect Airbnb, Podere Marchiano, smack dab between the two, which proved great for day trips to both touristy locations. It allowed us to enjoy literally all the best parts of the region, and also proved to be a bit more affordable. We spent many nights and mornings eating near the pool and talking walks in the olive trees. Our host, Alessandro, was incredible and I swear I'm going to make it back there before long!
- Make sure you have a car: If you're just coming to Tuscany to do Florence, then you probably won't need a car, but the best part of the region is just getting lost among the vineyards, hills and tiny towns. The ideal way to do this, of course, is on the back of a mint-colored Vespa with your arms wrapped around a beautiful Italian man, but renting a car is the second best choice. This will allow you to make all the pitstops you want, whether it's for an impromptu photo shoot in a field of sunflowers or an unexpected chianti wine tasting.
- Visit a grocery store and enjoy make a meal at home: Sure, you could try to eat that giant Florentine steak, but part of what I love about Tuscany is just taking in the views quietly, and what better way to do that than with a bottle of Chianti and your own giant cheese platter? See, you don't even have to cook. Multiple times, we visited a nearby grocery store, stocked up on local wines, meats and cheeses, and ate them in the wonderful outdoor eating areas provided by our Airbnbs.
- Roll like the Medicis in their former hunting lodge: I still cannot believe we stayed in this incredible place, which was an old Florentine villa literally right outside of Florence that used to be owned by the wealthy and highly influential Medici family. We were a 15-minute bus ride to the center of Florence, but this place was quiet and impressive as can be, just barely out in the Tuscan hills, surrounded by olive groves with its own olive mill in the basement. The entire home was stunning, with a beautiful fire place, updated kitchen (and so many bathrooms — always a plus). My stayed here with my husband's family as a party of 7, but it was incredibly cheap even for two. Our favorite part was grilling outside in the courtyard and taking walks in the trees and gardens around the house. I still cannot believe we scored such an affordable, well-located and stunning place with such a rich history.
- Get the inside scoop on Firenze with Girl in Florence: One of my favorite Italian blogs is "Girl in Florence," written by a former Texan who now lives in beautiful Firenze. She has a ton of great tips about all of Italy, but her tips about Florence are unparalleled and so thoroughly researched. I especially appreciate her useful restaurant guide.
Photos and text © Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.