Europe Wildlife & Cultural Adventures

Italy - Artisans of Tuscany: La Bella Figura

Let author, Kamin Mohammadi take you away from the crowds to explore the hidden art and culture, which makes Florence one of the most captivating cities in Europe. Live like a local for a week and discover an alternative side to Italy’s Renaissance capital by exploring the left bank, brimming with artisans' workshops, trying local specialities and uncovering peaceful side streets. Discover Florence’s highlights including the Uffizi - one of the world’s premier art museums and the Basilica di Santa Croce, the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians including Michelangelo and Galileo.

  • Discover a secret side to beautiful Florence
  • Stay in a beautiful historic Tuscan castle
  • Shop in local markets and then learn how to cook traditional Tuscan dishes
  • Discover many wonderful culinary delights in some of Florence's best-known restaurants.

Escape the city for a few days and journey to the Tuscan hills with its rambling wine estates and rolling hillsides, dotted with medieval villages and olive groves. Spend the weekend in a historic Tuscan castle and experience the produce of the land. Visit a local market in Chianti with the region’s most famous butcher, followed by a cooking lesson using seasonal ingredients, ending the day with a wine tasting session in the historic cellars of local wine producers.

Itinerary at a glance

Day 1: Florence

The starting point for the group is the Hotel Continentale in Florence. Please speak to one of our team should you need help organising an arrival transfer. You will meet with the rest of the group for a short briefing at the arrival hotel - meeting time to be confirmed in your final documentation.

Florence, capital of Italy’s Tuscany region and birthplace of the Renaissance is a small and vibrant city, steeped in history and character with narrow streets and market squares that evoke a thousand tales. Home to masterpieces of art and architecture, Brunelleschi, Bernini and Michaelangelo all left a lasting impression. Visit Michaelangelo's David in the Museo Accademia, Walk to the Piazza del Duomo to climb the 436 steps of Brunelleschi's venerable Duomo with its pink, green and white facade. Admire some of Bernini's most famous works of art in the Uffizi gallery. Walk around stately palaces, world class art galleries and the picturesque Boboli gardens, not forgetting to try the renowned Fiorentina cuisine in one of the many characterful restaurants that line the city streets.

Morning exploration of the Centro storico

This morning walk around the Centro storico (historic) region of Florence. Visit the Mercato Nuovo, where you can browse the leather stalls and touch the nose of the famous Porcellino. Legend has it that those who touch the nose of the bronze wild boar statue will return to Florence. Continue up to the Piazza Repubblica for a cappuccino on the famous terrace of the historic café Gilli before visiting Piazza del Duomo. Spend some time visiting the cathedral, climbing up to the dome and the bell tower, as well as the incredible Baptistry of St John with its Byzantine mosaics. Cross the square to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo which contains the most precious works from inside the cathedral including notable works by Donatello and Michelangelo.

Afternoon city tour

After lunch walk to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, one of the largest churches in Florence. Browse through the famous leather stalls of San Lorenzo market on the way. Visit the historic Laurentian Medici Library by Michelangelo before walking to the Renaissance fortress, Riccardi-Medici palace and visiting the Chapel of the Magi. Marvel at the walls, which are entirely covered by a famous cycle of frescoes by the Renaissance master, Benozzo Gozzoli. Take a gentle stroll back down to the Piazza Signoria for refreshments at the Rivoire café, which is famous for its Florentine thick hot chocolate served with cream.

Return to the hotel to freshen up and an aperitive on the rooftop of the hotel before heading out for dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Day 2: Florence

Morning exploring the Oltrarno region

Walk over the Ponte Vecchio bridge, Florence's' most famous landmark. The bridge is thought to have been built during Roman times. However, it has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times over decades due to flood damage. The bridge itself comprises of three segmental arches, and houses a variety of gold and jewellery shops which you will have the opportunity to explore. Continue to the well-known Piccini jewellery shop, which boasts the only balcony on the bridge, which hangs over the river Arno and offers beautiful views.

Continue onto the Piazza della Passera where you can either enjoy a coffee or pop into arguably Florence's best gelateria, Gelateria della Passera, where all the gelato is handmade and the owner delights in making unusual and delicious combinations.

Afterwards, walk along Via Maggio with its antique shops, grand palaces, and the historic English church of St Mark's as well as a couple of artisans' workshops. Continue down to piazza Santo Spirito to visit the church which was built by Brunelleschi.

Enjoy lunch at one of the locals favourite eating spots.

Afternoon exploring the Oltrarno region

After lunch, visit leather craftsman Dimitri Villoresi who will show you around his workshop. From here, browse at innovative bakery San Forno, before continuing to piazza della Carmine to see the Brancacci chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Visit one of the last existing silk factories still left in Florence, the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, where they still produce silk damasks in the same way as during the Renaissance. This is an enchanting place with a courtyard filled with jasmine and the sound of 17th Century looms clicking as the women weave. A guided tour of the factory ends in the showroom where the luminescent quality of the silk damask textiles helps bring to life the art of the city.

Visit Le Volpi e L'Uva, one of the classic wine bars in Florence with an excellent selection of wines. Continue onto Al Tramvai in piazza Tasso, a very popular traditional Florentine trattoria, where you will have dinner before returning to the hotel.

Day 3: Florence

Artisans of San Niccolo

Today walk over to the via dei Benci to visit the little-know Horne museum, displaying the typical artefacts found in a Renaissance home, arranged over several enchanting floors. From here, walk over the Ponte delle Grazie and admire the palazzos en route to San Niccolo. This afternoon visit the artists, craftsmen and artisans of this area, such as Lorenzo Villoresi's handmade perfumes, jeweller Alessandro Dari, modern graffiti artist Clet whose 'hacked' street signs, which can now be seen all over Europe, started life here in San Niccolo, and Stefano Bremer the shoemaker.

Monks of San Miniato

After lunch, walk up through the gate of San Miniato in the medieval city wall to the Piazzale Michelangelo for panoramic views over the city and Tuscan countryside. Visit the church of San Miniato al Monte, one of the finest Romanesque churches in Tuscany. Spend the afternoon visiting the treasures of the crypt, the sacristy and the chapel of the crucifix. Stay here until the early evening where you will have the chance to listen to the monks singing in the Vespers. Leave the church and watch the sunset over the city.

In the evening enjoy dinner at a restaurant favourite.

Day 4: Florence

Santa Croce cathedral

Today will involve another full day exploring some of Florence's hidden gems, starting with a morning walk to Santa Croce cathedral. Visit the cathedral and the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. At the far end of the cathedral visit the Scuola del Cuoi, a leather school. The school was founded by the Franciscan monks alongside a couple of leather making families after World War two to provide orphans with the means to earn a living. Still occupying the same space inside the cathedral and still run by one of the founding families.

Visit one of Florence's cave style restaurants for lunch.

Uffizi

Having spent time absorbing some of the highlights of the city including its medieval past, panoramic views of Tuscany's rolling hills and the damask silk fabrics worn in the Renaissance, it is time to visit the Uffizi. Deemed as being one of the most important museums in Italy, it is also one of the largest. Housing a priceless collection of works from the Italian renaissance, days can be spent exploring the myriad of corridors and rooms that make up the gallery. Your guide will show you some of the key pieces from the Renaissance masters including the Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

In the evening, enjoy an Aperitive at one of the last 'hole-in-the-wall' wine shops left in Florence. Dinner at a nearby local restaurant.

Day 5: Florence

Explore the markets of Sant'Ambrogio

After breakfast, walk to the neighbourhood of Sant'Ambrogio. Visit the outdoor fruit and vegetable market whilst learning about its' origin and browse the stalls with their excellent local produce. Although Sant'Ambrogio market is smaller than the mercato Centrale, it is where the locals shop and has a wonderful atmosphere. Across the road is a well-known flea market, Mercato dei Pulci, offering Tuscan prints, old books and furniture. Afterwards, visit La Via del Té on the market square, perfect for tea lovers or those looking for a break from the Italian coffee sampled so far.

Lunch will be at the Cibreo Caffe, which serves food from the famous Cibreo restaurant, which is situated across the road and has a wonderful terrace where you can watch all the action of this lively neighbourhood.

Terracotta workshop

After lunch, visit a traditional Florentine ceramic workshop where you will have the chance to learn about the history and craft of ceramic making.

From here, thread your way back to the hotel via the Bargello, Florence's unmissable sculpture museum housed in a medieval prison.

The evening is at leisure to pack for your weekend in the Tuscan countryside and meander Florence's streets on your own.

Day 6: Florence

Travel from Florence to Castello di Poggio Petroio

Depart Florence in the early morning and drive to beautiful Tuscan countryside. Stay at the Castello di Poggio Petroio, a 9th Century castle and estate situated near Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, which overlooks the Pesa valley.

This historic place was originally a Roman fort, and in the 10th Century, became the birthplace of Saint John of Gualberto, a nobleman who had a radical conversion when he saw Christ and entered the Benedictine monastery at San Miniato al Monte. His discomfort with the practice of simony led to him founding his own order at Vallombrosa. The medieval monastery Badia di Passignano which can be seen across the valley from the castle was donated to his order. The castle was subsequently a key post in the wars between Florence and Siena. The castle will be given to you for exclusive use, so this is a special occasion and a chance to experience the authentic life of the Tuscan nobility.

After a welcome coffee, there will be time for you to settle into your room. Afterwards, drive to the nearby medieval village of Barberino Val d'Elsa where you will meet local cookery writer, Giulia Scarpaleggia, in the weekly market, she will then accompany us around the market and help us shop for a wonderful meal that you will cook together back at the castle.

Lunch will be cooked by yourself as part of a cookery demonstration in the main kitchen of the Castello by Giulia. You will eat the fruits of your labours on the terrace of the castle overlooking the beautiful Val di Pesa.


Explore Badia di Passignano and the Antinori wine estate

In the afternoon, visit Badia di Passignano monastery which is extraordinarily beautiful and surrounded by the vineyards of the Antinori wine estate. You will then have the chance to explore the cellar and partake in some wine tasting. Dinner this evening will be served back at the castle.

Day 7: Florence

Travel to Panzano-in-Chianti

Spend the morning at leisure, exploring the castle grounds.

In the mid-morning, drive to Panzano-in-Chianti to enjoy the market and the beauty of Chianti. Visit the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, the butcher shop of Dario Cecchini, where you will meet the most characterful butcher of the area who recites Dante as he cuts meat. At the time of mad cow disease, he famously held a funeral in Chianti for the death of beef. Now he travels all over the world preaching his philosophy that no cut of meat is unusable and we can learn all about this as well as the provenance of the Chianina cow which gives the perfect meat for Florence's famous T-bone steak (bistecca fiorentina).

Drive to Cantinetta di Rignana in nearby Greve-in-Chianti for lunch.

Travel to Fattoria e Villa di Rignano

In the afternoon, visit the historic villa and farm estate of Fattoria e Villa di Rignano, to spend the afternoon exploring the villa, enjoying the Chianti countryside, using the pool or visiting their wine cellar and tasting wines.

Return to Panzano-in-Chianti for a wonderful eight course feast.

Day 8: Florence

Final departure

After breakfast you will have a free morning before the departure transfer to Pisa airport.

Why should I join this group tour to Italy?

Kamin Mohammadi spends six months of the year living in Florence. She is passionate about the city she has called home for the last ten years, so much so, that she has recently written a book all about her time there. (To be published early 2018).  Kamin knows where to find hidden gems that many tourists do not get to see. This tour is completely unique, designed with Kamin, to offer a real flavour of Tuscan life with the opportunity to stay in a private Tuscan castle. You will get to live like a Florentine as well as seeing some of Florence's classic sights including the Duomo and the Uffizi.

What is the accommodation like in Italy?

Using local knowledge, we have carefully selected the best accommodation for you. During your time in Florence, you will be staying at the stunning Continentale Hotel. Owned by Florentine fashion label Ferragamo, it is themed to recall Italy's glamorous 1950's era. Enjoy a cocktail in La Terrazza, the hotel's rooftop bar offering panoramic views of the Ponte Vecchio and River Arno.

When escaping the city to the Tuscan hills, you will be staying at a stunning Tuscan castle in the Chianti region, where you will be treated as a guest of the family.

What is food like in Italy?

Italy is renowned for its cuisine and food is very much at the heart of this itinerary. Shop in local markets, meet with local artisans and take part in an authentic Tuscan cooking lesson. All meals are included on an a la carte basis, dining in local trattorias. Menus will typically include pasta, grilled/ cured meats, fish and fresh vegetables.

What will the weather be like in Italy in September?

After the hot summer months of July and August, the weather in Tuscany starts to cool down in September, although average temperatures remain at around 23 degrees centigrade during the day, with lows of 17 degrees after dark. Weather in Florence is generally pretty mild. Loose comfortable clothing for walking during the day and a light jumper/jacket for the evenings will suffice.

Is this group tour suitable for solo travellers?

Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places does provide security and peace of mind. We handle all of the arrangements for you and there will be a local tour guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed, as well as the expertise of a Tour Lecturer.

If you are willing to share, we will always do our best to match you up with another solo traveller of the same sex so that you do not have to pay for a single room.

If you would prefer the privacy of your own room and would like this guaranteed, then the single room price supplement will apply.

How fit should I be to enjoy this tour?

This tour is open to anyone who enjoys walking and can walk comfortably for up to eight hours a day including rest stops.

Start your journey

Departing on 11 May 2019

Group size: Min 6 / Max 15

Tour expert: Kamin Mohammadi

WHAT IS INCLUDED

  • Accompanied by an English speaking local guide throughout
  • Accompanied by Kamin Mohammadi throughout
  • Airport arrival and departure transfer in a private coach
  • All meals, except for dinner on day five.
  • Cooking class in Tuscany, including a visit to a local market to buy all fresh produce
  • Drinks with meals
  • Entrance tickets to sites mentioned in the itinerary
  • Five nights accommodation at the Hotel Continentale
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers and hotel porters
  • Two nights accommodation at a private castle in Tuscany
  • Wine tasting at Badia di Passignano and Badia di Coltibuono

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