While many of you may be mistaken in thinking I have neglected my blog in preference to having a little festive holiday, I want to tell you what I was really doing. From the 26th December until Jan 3rd, I worked as Tour Manager for an extended family of 38 individuals for 9 days. The trip began in Florence where I met the family for the first time. The next 9 days would see us travel into the Tuscan countryside, and then finish up in Rome.
How I got this job is a testament to good networking, and having my sister see a query on Facebook from her fellow FB friend Kate that she thought I may be interested in helped too! Kate Collins from Buongiorno Principessa was responsible for organising the entire itinerary for this family. She worked tirelessly to create a very busy yet structured itinerary and coped with everything in a calm and professional manner. Once you’ve read the itinerary she put together, you’ll realise how special she is!
It was Katharina Trauttmansdorff, owner and founder of Trust and Travel who collaborates with Kate though who introduced Kate to this particular family and their needs for their Italian holiday. Visit Trust and Travel’s website to see the dream destinations Katharina can organise for you. She specialises in luxury villas and accommodation on some of Italy’s finest historic estates.
Returning to the actual trip, I can summarise our 9 days briefly as follows:
- 38 people
- 9 days
- Over 1500km
- Over 95,000 walked steps
- Over 32 restaurants
- 23 activities….. but I’m sure you would all like a bit more information than that…
MONDAY: The adventure began when the entire family arrived in Florence. Some family members had already been in Italy for a few days while others arrived, only to be diverted to Bologna due to thick fog over Florence. This didn’t dampen anybody’s enthusiasm, and I arrived at the hotel reception area to a buzz of palpable excitement. There wasn’t time to relax too much though as the itinerary of activities began at 5:30pm that day with a talk from a Professor about the current political situation in Italy, also explaining the structure of the Italian political system and the current climate. As you can imagine, this is a very complicated topic to try and fit into a one hour talk. Dinner on this night involves the entire group. Kate and I are introduced to everyone.
TUESDAY: At 9:30am, we met Freya from Freya’s Florence Tours and Sara at the hotel. They were our two delightful guides who took us all on a brief Introduction to Florence tour. They both were two of the best tour guides I have ever come across. Apart from both of them having an infectious & bubbly personality, their knowledge of Italian history, art, food, fashion and architecture was vast. It was a pleasure listening to such educated and knowlegable guides. The tour concluded with a competitive scavenger hunt which Freya had put together. We split up into 5 groups for this, and although we all found it a little challenging, we all ended where we were supposed to, i.e. the Mercato Centrale where there was a chaotic grab for some lunch. After lunch the group was divided into 3 smaller groups to particpate in Artisan experiences which inlcuded fresco painting, paper marbling and perfume making. That evening for dinner, the goup were divided into 5 groups and enjoyed 5 different restaurants.
WEDNESDAY: At 6:30am, 23 family members left for a Ferrari driving experience in Modena. I stayed in Florence with those remaining . I was thrilled to accompany three of the group for an early morning climb to the top of the dome of the Duomo. The weather was crisp, but the sun was shining. We were rewarded with a breathtaking view of Florence which made the climb up the 463 steps and the occasional claustrophobic passageway well worth it.Some others visited the Duomo Museum, others visited the GUCCI Museum, one lady went to the Uffizzi Gallery, and one family went to see Michelangelo’s David.
After lunch, the whole group participated in a food tour which involved a gelato, chocolate and pastry tasting walk. Dinner was once again in five separate restaurants.
THURSDAY: We departed from Florence in one large bus and headed into the Tuscan countryside. Our first stop was an emotional one as we visited the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial. www.abmc.gov The guide spoke to us about a couple of individual stories and flowers were laid at various graves by all of us. There weren’t many dry eyes as we climbed back onto the bus to proceed with the day’s itinerary.
Our next stop was for lunch, but this time lunch involved a cooking class which involved everybody. Divided into three groups, each group was responsible of making each course. A varied menu was created which included a mixed antipasta plate, two types of hand made pasta (ravioli & tagliatelle) and Tiramisù for dessert.
With full bellies, we continued driving into the stunning and clichè countryside views that epitomise Tuscany. LA FOCE would be our home for the next three nights, and using 3 mini vans luggage and people are transported to the individual houses collectively called Chiarentana. Look at Trust and Travel’s webpage here to read a little more about the history of Chiarentana, and the accommodation it offers. With just enough time for a quick settle in, we headed out for dinner in Montalcino to the estate of CastelGiocondo where Frescobaldi wines are produced. Our evening began with a detailed tour of the cellars where valuable Frescobaldi wines are aged. Dinner followed which included not only wine tasting but also a tasting of the Frescobaldi Extra Virgin Olive Oil, ‘Laudemio’. This evening will also be remembered for the adventurous drive our bus took as our driver Dino navigated along narrow, winding and very bumpy Tuscan roads in the dark… Pitch black actually as there were no street lights along many of these roads.
FRIDAY: Back at La Foce we have a wonderful tour and talk by Benedetta Origo. She is one of the owners and also the daughter of Dame Iris Margaret Origo, Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, who was the original owner with her husband of La Foce. She was an English-born biographer and writer who lived in Italy devoting much of her life to improving the Tuscan estate. She is the author of many books and 3 of these are based on La Foce. I would highly suggest reading her books if you plan to visit this area of Tuscany. I bought 2 of the books there, although her autobiography, ‘Images and Shadows’ is currently in re-print. In the meantime I shall search for it on Amazon and see if I can’t find a used copy.
Feeling a bit like we have been transported back in time, we returned to Chiarentena, and remain in theme. We are treated to a wonderful talk by University Professor Martino Traxler about Italy’s involvement in WWII and the role La Foce also played during this time. Martino is based in Florence and everybody loved listening to him talk, as he was a very informative and entertaining speaker.
After Martino finished, we headed to the beautiful little town of Pienza where we divided into three groups for lunch at different restaurants. Our itinerary was incredibly busy though and from lunch we headed to a Pecorino Farm, Podere il Casale where we had a tour, got to cuddle week old baby lambs, and finished with a delicious sit down tasting of about 10 different cheeses. We then drove to Montepulciano where the group was once again divided into five separate groups for dinner at various restaurants in this wonderful town.
SATURDAY began with an activity I had long been looking forward to. We went hunting for Truffles with an expert in his field, ‘Giulio the Truffle Hunter’. Giulio began by first giving the group an educative talk about truffles, and this was followed by the actual truffle hunt. Giulio had come with his friend and colleague Mauro and thanks to their gorgeous and talented dogs, Eda & Nina, about 9 black truffles were found in total. I have written about this experience in more detail though here. We headed back to the house where we had an Olive Oil tasting and food pairing lunch which was hosted by Donata Origo, another daughter of Dame Iris Margaret Origo , Marchesa of Val d’Orcia and obviously, Benedetta’s sister who also lives on the estate. We also enjoyed Truffle Oil and Pecorino Cheese which Giulio had left for the group to complete the Truffle experience he offers. After lunch, the group had an afternoon free to relax or explore the grounds. One of the family members and myself took advantage of this time and we drove to the nearest town Chianciano and bought supplies for a pre-dinner aperitivo. After our aperitivo of local Tuscan wines, cheese, olives and salami, we sat down to enjoy a catered dinner and bring in the New Year.
SUNDAY: No time for sleeping-in is allowed and we farewell La Foce ready for the next and final phase of this adventure. We head to Rome and everybody is happy that our faithful bus driver Dino has returned to drive us there. We arrived in Rome in perfect timing and everybody was free to find their own lunch. There was only an hour though and then everybody was expected to meet back at the hotel. We had to divide into five groups, to do a guided tour of Ancient Rome – the Fori Imperiali and surrounds. January 1st in Rome means a big public holiday. We discovered quickly that Rome was completely blocked and crowded. There are no taxi’s to be found, and so with the invaluable help of the concierge from the hotel, it was decided to use two shuttle buses to transit people to and from Colosseum where the tours began. At 6:00pm, everybody regrouped at the hotel for a talk by Australian freelance journalist Josephine McKenna on the Immigration and Refugee situation in Italy and Europe. Josephine has lived in Rome for 10 years.
This was the final night that everybody would have dinner together and I had organised a set menu for all at my favourite local restaurant, Romolo alla Mole Adriana. I tried to make the dinner to be as typically ‘Roman’ as possible. Our menu was as follows:
- Fried Artichoke (Carciofi alla Giudia)
- Buffalo Mozzarella
- Mixed Tempura Fried Vegetables
- Pasta: Cacio e Pepe & Amatriciana
- Saltimbocca with Puntarelle (Roman Chicory) and Roast Potatoes.
- Tiramisù & Crostata di marmellata (homemade jam tart)
MONDAY: We were all up super early as our Tour of Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica began at 8:15am. We divided again into 5 groups, and met our 5 guides across the street from the entrance to the Vatican museums. After the 3 hour tour, everybody was free to do as they pleased for lunch and the rest of the afternoon.
The final evening saw everybody divide and go to five different restaurants.
TUESDAY: This was the final day and there was just time for breakfast and emotional farewells. I made my way to their hotel early to ensure I said goodbye to everyone. Everybody was flying back to USA on different flights, and the family groups slowly departed the hotel to make their way to the airport.
As I walked home and went over the last nine days, I seriously couldn’t believe just how much we had accomplished and how our first meeting in Florence seemed more like a month ago… and not just under two weeks ago. I will confess that when I returned home, I felt really strange not having an itinerary to adhere to…. I felt that something was missing…. like I was forgetting to do something. Sitting at home, the silence was almost deafening. I say almost because I then treated myself to an afternoon nap and surfaced two hours later!
I came away though with the realisation that I had made some very special friends, and that I had been blessed to have had the honour of being a part of a very unique and magical family. I sometimes think that things happen for a reason, and this is one of those times where I feel destiny defintely had a role to play.
Now it’s time to update my C.V. I plan on making myself available for more tours in the future, and have already changed my business cards to read ‘ Food – Tours – Shopping’.