Tour leader Ania Grebosz leads our new Tuscany - Wine and Walking holiday. Here she shares stories from the first departure of the trip.
“Walking and wine...hmmm…is that a good combination”? – asked my friends when I told them about a new Explore tour I was due to lead in the spring this year in Tuscany. Well, we would see!
After meeting my 12 'explorers' at Pisa airport, we packed ourselves and our bags into the bus leaving the city and its leaning tower behind, heading towards our first destination for the week, the city of Lucca.
As we approached, all we could see from the distance was an eight metre-high wall stretching for miles in both directions. The wall has a wide avenue on the top and is where the locals stroll throughout the day and especially in the evenings. It's fundamental to the atmosphere that makes Lucca unique. We eventually found the gateway into this amazing walled city, and as we drove through it, were taken aback by such an immediate change of scenery – on the other side of the wall was a large network of narrow cobbled lanes, courtyards, piazzas, shops and the sweet fragrance of vanilla cakes filled the air.
During our three night stay there, we explored not just the town, but also the area around. We took a gentle walk in the countryside nearby, passing through the area of the Hills of Lucca, filled with vineyards and stunning villas dating back to the 1500s. We enjoyed a leisurely picnic under some olive trees and ended up at a winery (what could be better!), where we had our first taste of the famous Tuscan Sangiovese grapes. While in Lucca we also enjoyed a very special wine tasting in the underground cellars of one of the oldest wine stores in Lucca, Vanni Enotecca.
The following morning we drove to Florence where we were astonished by the dynamic ambience of the city, its countless palaces, galleries, museums, villas and the ice cream shops! We spent the afternoon wandering around the centre, soaking up its charismatic atmosphere and experiencing the absolute quintessence of the Renaissance.
On a day out from the city we drove into the heart of Chianti and enjoyed a ramble through forest, vineyards, small villages and hamlets to the vinery of Vignamaggio, the Mona Lisa’s birthplace. We took a rest under an olive tree and ate our picnic lunch followed by a glass of limoncello to celebrate birthdays of two group members. Our walk ended in the charming little town of Greve in Chianti for a tasting of the best of the Chianti Classico wines.
Returning to Florence for the evening, we gathered at the famous Ponte Vecchio to watch the sun setting over the river Arno and see the city change colour. We joined the locals in a spot of people watching while indulging in some of the best local gelato.
Sad to leave Florence, but excited for our next destination, we continued our adventure further south into the area of Montepulciano to stay at a vineyard producing the famous ’Vino Nobile’ of Montepulciano. Our days were made up of strolling through a classic Tuscan landscape of rolling hills and open views with a skyline dotted with rows of cypress trees and hill-top villages. We passed through Pienza, a beautiful town, known for its Pecorino, a Tuscan ewe’s milk cheese. In the hill-top town of Montalcino we enjoyed a chance to sample one of best wines in Italy, Brunello di Montalcino, while enjoying a view from the town over the whole of the Val D’Orcia.
Our evenings were spent dining al fresco at the vineyard indulging in an Italian cuisine that never failed to impress. On our last night of the tour while having an ‘aperitivo’ and chatting with the group about the past week, we came to the conclusion that what we will all remember the most was the different fragrances we encountered during the walks – velvet flowers, cherry trees in blossom, jasmine, freshly cut grass, damp earth by the mountain streams and forest fruit. We also agreed that all of those flavours could be found in the wines we sampled. We raised our glasses to celebrate a great holiday and that was the moment I realised that walking and wine is, no doubt, an excellent combination!"
You can experience this all for yourself on our Tuscany - Wine and Walks holiday. Or, for similar trips combining walking and wine, try Walks and Wine-tasting in Spain and Portugal.