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Episode #137: Live itinerary consult – Tuscany focus

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In this episode, we share a live session from our Italy Travel Planning Facebook community, where Laura and Ed are joined by Danielle Oteri from Feast Travel for a trip consultation – an itinerary review with suggestions on how to structure their trip, in and around Tuscany, to make the most out of their time and experiences.  Danielle has lived in Italy and has been traveling to and around the country and running tours for many years. She guided Laura and Ed through some options that would suit their wish list, as well as avoiding the tourist traps they hope to avoid.  

Show notes

Our expert itinerary advisor, Danielle Oteri, is an art historian and runs a tour business specializing in southern Italy – Feast Travel. She has a deep knowledge and even deeper passion for Italy.  Laura and Ed plan to focus their trip in Tuscany and its nearby regions, wanting to avoid some of the more popular locations and are looking for experiences and connections with locals – something many of our listeners dream of on a trip to Italy. Danielle has great tips and advice on magical, lesser-known places to go, with some recommendations for some fabulous wineries and local resources. 

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Laura and Ed are planning to travel late October, which is always a great time to travel. Summers in Italy can be incredibly busy and things have quietened down and the temperatures have cooled – you tend to still get warm days and cool nights. Tourism hotspots like Cinque Terre, will still be busy, but spots like that are on Laura and Ed’s ‘don’t wish’ list, as they look for less touristy areas and more authentic experiences
  2. When you go to Tuscany, unless basing yourself in Florence, you generally need to rent a car. Some go to Tuscany to just rent a villa, hang out with friends and family and maybe just use a driver/tour company for some day trips, but if you want to really explore the Tuscan countryside, a car makes sense. Although if you’re planning a specific vineyard day and want to really enjoy the drinking, then you might want to book a driver for that night or stay at a winery. The Tuscan hills are pretty straightforward to drive around – they’re fairly rolling, rather than dramatic so the GPS is a bit more reliable
  3. When renting a car it’s usually best to rent outside a city to avoid the tricky city driving and the fine heavy ZTL zones. Picking up a car from an airport often makes sense as there are lots available and there is usually a good connection into the nearest city
  4. If flying long haul, it can be trickier to find flights into some of the smaller airports. Florence, despite it being a popular location, is a very small airport, so you might not find many options. Nearby Pisa has a slightly bigger airport so more choices. 
  5. The major international airports are Milan and Rome and is often going to be more practical with timings and pricing. If you do fly into Rome (Fiumicino), even if you don’t want to visit Rome, like Laura and Ed, it is a great transport hub. If you were to take the train for instance – the shuttle train service from the main airport to the Roma Termini, the main train station, is called the Leonardo Express, and is well priced at around 15 euro, runs every 25 minutes. and takes about 25 minutes.  You don’t have to buy a ticket at a certain time – just go buy your ticket when you arrive (where there’s a good coffee bar so you can get your first great coffee in Italy!). You can get all the train lines from the main Rome station – Italo,  Trenitalia, but Frecciarossa is the fast train and will get you to Florence in around 1 hour 45 minutes
  6. If arriving or departing from Rome Fiumicino airport, there is a hotel just outside that is also a really nice spa. It’s a nice alternative to some of the generic airport hotels where you can refresh upon arrival or relax at the end of your trip. 
  7. Rather than get a train to Tuscany, you can, of course, pick up your car at the Rome airport and drive north. This is a great option as along the way, especially in southern Tuscany, there are a lot of really beautiful towns to stop and check out, maybe stay in
  8. A wonderful town worth visiting is Saturnia. It’s pretty well known as it’s famous for its natural thermal hot springs. You can simply pull off the side of the road and jump in if you are feeling adventurous, but there are also clubs and spas for a more organized, gentile experience. There’s a hotel there with a beautiful restaurant
  9. Near Montepulciano, there’s a farm with rooms, Poggio Etrusco, run by cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns, an American who’s been living in Tuscany for 20/30 years. It is quite simplistic, set on an olive oil farm but is beautiful and is a real chance to see real Tuscany with people who speak fluent English
  10. Further north in Tuscany, around an hour before Florence, there’s a town called San Miniato. The town is on an ancient pilgrimage route, Via Francigena, that went to Rome and on to Puglia. Santiago de Compostela is the pilgrimage route to Spain, and as this has become so over-touristed, many are looking for alternatives Italy’s Via Francigena is a fascinating route and in the Middle Ages, San Miniato, was one of these pilgrimage stops. It has a beautiful medieval center with a tower
  11. Near San Miniato, there is an incredible winery called Pietro Beconcini. It is family-owned and is situated on an ancient seabed. When you walk around the grounds, there are millions of tiny little nautiluses on the ground from this prehistoric seabed. The grounds have this fascinating history and then Eva and Leonardo, who run it, are wonderful. The family lives there, you’ll taste inside the house, with their family (and one-eyed cat) wandering around. They have a Tempernilllo wine, which is a grape from Spain, which came about when monks brought the vines when doing the pilgrimages in the Middle Ages. It’s one of these places where you have history, food, beautiful people, and fantastic wine (they are up for the Tre Bicchieri, Italy’s top wine awards!)
  12. Tuscany is the epicenter for wine tourism in Italy, so you’re going to have lots of tourist traps. Experiences where a bus turns up with lots of people, who shuffle off, are given not such great wine and are then on their way again. If you do want to have more of a Napa experience, with a well-organized tour – a beautiful winery with great wine is Banfi. Banfi was started by an Italian American family from Long Island, and they have just a fantastic sort of user experience alongside great wines
  13. Very close to the Beconcini winery, there is a company called Truffle in Tuscany. Truffles are more usually found in Umbria or in Piedmont, but they do have black truffles in the area around San Miniato. It is a family that hunts truffles, giving you a wonderfully rustic experience – you get into their Fiat Panda, head off with their wonderful dogs and you’re likely to get dirty. You just go out in the woods and go searching for truffles. You may or may not find something, and then afterwards, back to their property, his sister cooks a delicious lunch while you relax
  14. Pietrasanta is a beautiful, small, walled medieval town close to Lucca. It is very close to the Cararra marble caves (where Michelangelo sourced his marble), which you can do a jeep tour of – though not for the faint-hearted. The city of Pietrasanta itself has a lot of sculptures, bronze workers, and contemporary artists. It’s a place with a deep medieval and Renaissance history, but there are also all these contemporary artists there too, and so there’s art all over the city. Sometimes in Tuscany, the history can be a bit overwhelming and sometimes a little dry. Pietrasanta where art is still being made, has a very vibrant feel, alongside the history. There are also some fantastic restaurants – especially some more high-end places
  15. If you’re looking for a cooking class or experience, there are lot of different kinds all over Italy – somewhere they will come to your house, some you go to theirs, some group workshop styles, some that include market trips – all kinds. It’s usually best to find something where they are cooking local produce and dishes – ie if you want to make pizza, do it in Naples, for tortellini, go to Bologna and Rome for carbonara
  16. Danielle often sends people interested in cooking to Judy Francini, an American cooking teacher who has lived in Tuscany since the 80s. She used to run a cooking school inside the Florence Central Market, which is now closed, but she still has amazing connections with all sorts of chefs around Tuscany and do things either out in the countryside or in Florence or on market tours
  17. Panzano is a very well-known foodie place. The famous Tuscan butcher Dario Checcini is based there, and’s been on lots of different travel shows. He is known for reciting Dante aloud while he works and has some very specific methods, techniques, and philosophies. His restaurant is pricey but worth it but you need to make a reservation as early as you possibly can. If you can’t get a reservation, which is very possible, he has a couple of food trucks that are open on certain days of the week
  18. There are so many places in Italy that look dreamily picturesque and get a lot of attention on Instagram and TikTok and it’s that these are false images, but they are not always portraying the best places to experience. Some of these places that look so dramatic are actually difficult to navigate or they are at the epicenter of an incredibly crowded area. There are so many, much smaller towns, which may not look as spectacular in a photograph, but are really full of wonderful people and a great atmosphere
  19. If you’re wanting to spend some time on the coast of Tuscany. Viareggio is the easiest option. Talamone is also really beautiful, but these places are resort towns and can be a little desolate in the off-season
  20. The island of Elba, in the Tyrrhenian sea, off of Tuscany is stunning. Napoleon was famously exiled there for a while (until he escaped).  You get there by taking a ferry from Piombino, an industrial port and you arrive at this undeniably pretty paradise. It will be very affordable in October and you could likely get a great deal on an apartment right on the beach
  21. Leaving Tuscany, we head southeast to Abruzzo. Abruzzo is a region where the food is unbelievably good, the people are lovely, there are mountains, a fabulous coastline and it costs so much less than Tuscany. Along the coast, there are Trabbochi, which are wooden fishing huts that jut out into the sea, like piers. You can have lunch on one of these and will be treated to the freshest, most delicious fish. The region is quite rugged and wild. The driving therefore will be a little more challenging in the mountains, though less so on the coast
  22. Whenever you’re traveling in Italy, no matter where you are, always have a paper map in the glove box as a backup. There are places where your GPS will simply stop working.  It can also sometimes send you off the main road, through a tiny village with the tiniest roads so it’s always worth scanning your route ahead of time and knowing when you’re best to stay on the highway and spend that extra ten minutes on the road – rather than on a stressful detour which might not save you time anyhow
  23. The epitome of Abruzzo wine is Emidio Pepe. Standard wise they can be considered the Lafite Rothschild of Abruzzo, yet the winery is still rustic enough where the old man still putters around the grounds. The daughter runs the business side mostly now. The wine is spectacular and priced to suit. You’re going to pay somewhere around 50 euro for a tasting, but it is without a doubt the best wine you’ll have in the region and if you’re not in Italy/Europe the prices for these wines is through the roof
  24. In the nearby region of Umbria, a similar winery is Paolo Bea. Paolo Bea’s winery is spectacular. Pricey, but again worth it.  If you want to spend less, there are lots of wonderful vineyards around Perugia
  25. Gubbio, in Umbria, is a gorgeous city to visit and a great alternative to the lovely but crowded San Gimignano in Tuscany. A city surrounded by stone walls and so ancient, and yet modern life is still going on inside of it. They have these bird cage-style chair lifts that go up to the top of the mountain. At the top, in the church, you can see the mummified remains of Sant’Ubaldo
  26. Much of the tourism in Italy is notoriously bad at its marketing and it can be really difficult to find all the wonderful businesses that are out there, offering the most unique and special experiences. It’s easy for people to say to just ‘Google it’ but for most of these businesses you simply can’t – you won’t find them. Pages that are ranking high on Google are by businesses that know how (and pay) to rank on Google – so it’s going to be large tourism companies or third-party hubs. Recommendations are so important, so hearing from people who’ve had wonderful times and have details of these amazing resources and someone like Danielle who has all this knowledge and also importantly, connections, is so useful. As well as offering itinerary consults, if you know where you’re going she also offers the service to recommend the best guides, restaurants, and experiences in those places

About our guest – Danielle Oteri from Feast Travel

danielle oteri feast on history

 

Danielle Oteri is a writer, art historian, and founder of Feast Travel (formerly known as Feast on History) a food, wine and art school specializing in Southern Italy. She is passionate about the city of Naples and surrounds and knows it inside out – including where to get the best sfogliatella and life-changing pizza. After visiting her grandmother’s town on the Cilento Coast she was inspired to celebrate her family’s homeland and help others do the same.

Danielle offers services for both itinerary consulting, itinerary design, as well as Feast Travel’s own group tours. She publishes fantastic information on the many treasures of Southern Italy to help people can reach and learn more about them, especially as information available in English is hard to come by for many of these places. 

If you’re visiting New York City you can also join Danielle’s company Arthur Avenue Food Tours on a delicious walk through Little Italy.

You can find Danielle on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Roma Termini – Rome’s main, central train station
  • Arezzo – lesser-visited Tuscan city which is a great base for visiting Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche regions
  • Saturnia – Tuscan town famous for its hot springs
  • Montepulciano –  a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, famous for its wines
  • Poggio Etrusco – farm with rooms run by Pamela Sheldon Johns
  • San Miniato – town in Northern Tuscany
  • Via Francigena South – The leg of the pilgrimage from Rome to Brindisi is a little less well-trodden but has recently been recognized by the European Union and improvements to the infrastructure are being added all the time. Visit www.viafrancigenasud.it for more info
  • Pietro Beconcini – Tuscan, family-run winery set on an ancient seabed
  • Pietrasanta – walled medieval village near Lucca
  • Carrara Marble Caves – where Michaelangelo sourced his marble
  • Panzano in Chianti – with an interesting history and holding some great local festivals and wine tastings
  • Macelleria Cecchini – a famous butchers shop in Panzano run by the world-renowned Dario Checcini
  • Truffle in Tuscany – company offering a fantastic, authentic truffle hunting experience
  • Talamone – coastal resort in Tuscany
  • Viareggio – coastal city in northern Tuscany
  • Elba – island located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where Napoleon was exiled for a while
  • Piombino – industrial port town where you catch the ferry to Elba from
  • Abruzzo – region south east of Tuscany with gorgeous mountains, a fantastic rugged coat and great value
  • Perugia – beautiful college city in Abruzzo
  • Emidio Pepe – incredible winery in Abruzzo
  • Paolo Bea – spectacular winery in Umbria
  • Banfi – Tuscan winery
  • Ttrattoria Sostanza – restaurant in Florence
  • Lake Trasimeno – lake in Umbria on the border of Tuscany
  • Gubbio – city in Umbria, located on the lowest slope of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apennines
  • San Gimignano – picture-perfect Tuscan village 
  • Urbino – walled city in the Le March region

Resources

Resources from Untold Italy

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