Tuscany Wine Tour

 

My favorite part of our trip to Tuscany (read recaps of Lucca, Pisa and Florence) hands down was our wine tour with Fun in Tuscany. We had the most amazing time seeing two vineyards, walking around the historic town of San Gimignano, eating gelato from one of the oldest shops and having lunch at the final vineyard. We left sufficiently full, a little toasted and ready for a nap.

A wine tour is an absolute must when visiting Tuscany, I mean that’s why people visit the region, wine, especially Chianti. Vinn and I visited the Chianti region when we went with my family in 2012 and knew we had to visit again on this trip.

We chose Fun in Tuscany because it wasn’t an astronomical price (it was 300 Euro for the four of us), allowed dogs, included lunch and transportation and wasn’t a huge group of people. It was an all-day excursion and we learned so much about wine and the history of the area. If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, I highly recommend this tour.

We started our journey early in the morning, at about 9:15 AM, where we met, signed waivers and met the other participants. As we drove, our driver gave us the run down of the day, the history and the different wines that are made in Tuscany.

Our first stop brought us to Fattoria Poggio Alloro where we had a gorgeous view of the old town, San Gimignano, got a tour of the vineyard and had a wine tasting. We spent the first few minutes snapping pictures. I mean, obviously.

The perfect wine tour in Tuscany

Look at those hills! This picture doesn’t even do it justice. It’s absolutely stunning. You can see San Gimignano off in the distance.

The hills of Tuscany are absolutely gorgeous and should make your bucket list

We stared at this view for quite a while and then we were given a tour of the vineyard and farm. Poggio Alloro means bay leaf hill and there are bay leaves around the property. The farm is totally organic where the family that owns the property grows barley, oats, lettuce, kale, grapes for wine and more. They even have their own cows.

Vineyards in Tuscany even have their own cows

After our tour, we had a wine tasting with cheese and bread with olive oil. We were able to try a white and two reds, including a chianti. We chatted with our friends and the other couples on the tour, talking about life, what brought them to Tuscany (one couple was on their honeymoon) and other general topics. It was easy to have the best time with the most incredible views and delicious wine.

Wine Tasting in Tuscany, What to Expect

We spent some time shopping for wine (we bought 2 bottles of the white and two bottles of port) before heading out for a quick tour of the ancient city, San Gimigniano, before our next wine stop.

Unfortunately, it was raining during our time in the city but we definitely had time to stop for gelato.

Wine and Gelato, Things to do In Tuscany

The Gelateria Dondoli is a world-champion gelateria and has won for several years. It was quite delicious gelato and I do consider myself an expert. Although, it doesn’t quite beat Giolitti in Rome.

Our tour guide walked us all through San Gimignano where we learned that the city has been around since the 3rd Century B.C and became a popular town because it is smack dab in the middle of the route from Florence to Rome. Popes would stop in the city while they would travel between the two cities. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a walled city with many towers that were once built for the wealthy. My favorite part is the lookout point that faces the direction of Siena and Rome.

San Gimignano, the small town in Tuscany, and worth a stop between Florence and Siena

One happy family. Fun fact: we have this fact same picture with my parents and sister from when we visited in 2012. I wish I could find it but it’s on an external hard drive and will take some digging!

After our time in the city, we made our way to our last stop, Tenuta Torciano Winery. Wow is this place gorgeous. It is a family-owned vineyard and winery that has been around for generations. The woman who presented the wines to us knew so much and you could tell she was so passionate about everything. She even will come to your home for a private tasting if you have 20 or more people!

The Tenuta Torciano Winery also has a restaurant and we had a traditional Tuscan lunch during our tasting. All the recipes are family recipes and exceeded all expectations. Our tasting included 8 different types of wine, including white and red.

Tuscan Wine Tour

We had a cheat sheet where we had the wines in the order we tasted them and the price was listed, as well. It was an awesome way to keep track of which wines we liked over others as we drank them.

The food was absolutely outstanding (the family even has a cookbook) and we just had the best time. We actually sat across from a girl and her boyfriend and the girl was studying abroad at the same school where I studied in college. It made me feel super old to say how long ago I was there but it was really fun to hear where the students go now and where she lives.

The main course was lasagna topped with truffle oil and it was one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever had! Can you tell?

A Tuscan lunch during a wine tasting is a must-do

Sorry, Stephanie!

We kept eating and drinking, talking to people and just loving it! Can you see little Copley on my lap in the picture above? I have to give Copley a huge shout out because she did awesome during our wine tour and our entire trip! She sat on my lap in the car to and from everywhere and hardly made a sound while we ate. She’s such a good girl.

We were able to try some port as our final tasting, which is never my favorite. Vinn convinced me to have someone take my picture to capture my “iconic” look of distaste.

A Tuscan Wine Tour

No disrespect but port is not delicious and actually makes me want to scrape my tongue to get the taste out. But, I can laugh at myself and know that this picture is funny and I thought I’d share.

Overall, the meal and the tasting were absolutely fantastic. We left with a case of Torciano wine and consider it our anniversary gift to each other. We haven’t opened any yet but we will certainly be doing that soon.

We made our way back to our hotel, said goodbye to our guide and took a much-needed walk around Florence to build up an appetite for dinner. If you’re going to Tuscany and love wine, I definitely recommend a wine tour with Fun In Tuscany. It really was, as the name suggests, fun and classic Tuscan. It was the highlight of our trip for me.

Have you ever gone on a wine tour? What’s your favorite wine?

What to Expect from a Tuscan Wine Tour

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Happy 30th Birthday to the Best Friend There Is

 

Today is my best friend, Megan’s, 30th birthday. You may remember her from her trip to Germany last year, her wedding in May and our girls trip to Amsterdam in September. I never forget her birthday because duh but also because she would write it in my college planner on January 1st every year for four years. She would even put in a countdown on each month’s 15th day. Megan also recently started a blog called Capsule that you should definitely check out. Her writing sounds just like her if you’re having a conversation with her over a cafe au lait, which is the testament to a good writer.

To say that Megan loves her birthday is an understatement. Just this year I got a text on November 1st saying, “Welcome to the best month of the year.” So in honor of Megan’s birthday, here are 30 things that make her the best friend in the world, most things are going to housewives related or a GIF.

  1. Her Wit. If you want to laugh, hang out with Megan. She is quite quick to pull the trigger on a joke, most likely poking fun at me, so it’s best to be on your toes!
  2. Her love of all things Carrie Bradshaw. In college, we were roommates sophomore year and had a die that we would throw to decide what season of Sex and the City or Friends we would watch before going to bed.
  3. That we can get through anything. We’ve been best friends for 11 years and we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve never really had a fight per se but we’ve been through loves, loves lost, first jobs, buying homes, the long waiting period when you’re ready for your boyfriend to propose and yet he still hasn’t, a move 6 hours away and then an international move, wedding planning, marriages, the “when should we have kids” conversations and all the little moments in between. The fact that we have gone through so many life changes together & we’re still friends is just a testament to our friendship.
  4. Her ability to quote anything housewives on demand.
  5. Her fashion sense. She is always the best dressed.
  6. Her hair. Even though she thinks it doesn’t translate into photos, she is wrong and I’m jealous of her perfect curls.
  7. That we send funny texts to each other. Like when she texted me in the middle of the night, “Shannon and David are getting divorced. WAKE UP THIS IS REAL LIFE.” I laughed out loud when I woke up and saw that! (In case you don’t know, Shannon and David are from the Real Housewives.)
  8. The advice conversations. Like number 3, we have gone from studying together and being on team projects together to discussing money, real-world working dynamics and other adult things. For the past three years or so, I would say our conversations have gone towards the advice area. She gives me such a great perspective on things and thinks of situations differently than I do, which helps me so much. Plus, she can be pretty blunt, especially when I need it.
  9. The fact that we can just sit and watch TV and still have fun.
  10. Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
  11. Dancing. And usually the dice moves from Knocked Up.
    (Source)
  12. Her uncanny ability to eat whatever she wants and still look fabulous. We would get up early (sometimes) on Saturdays in college and go to Dunkin’ Donuts for an egg and sausage croissant and a French vanilla coffee and then just veg on our extra long twins for the rest of the day. I would be a bloated mess and she would be fine.
  13. Her money management skills. This may seem weird but now that we’re both in the stage of life where we are saving for a house down payment, I am in awe of how amazing she is at money management.
  14. The fact that we are besties because our first night out in college she spiked my drink (I was drinking a Mike’s Hard Lemonade as one does as a college freshman and she spiked it with a few shots of vodka) and we had the best night ever!
  15. That we are telepathic. We basically have the same mind and during conversations will say the same housewives, SATC, Friends or some other super random quote at the exact same time. It can be annoying to others but I love it.
  16. “Did you canuber here?” This one is to make her laugh.
  17. That we travel so well together. We have been on some amazing adventures together and it all started with a trip to NYC senior year of college where we stayed with some French guys whom Megan met while studying abroad in Spain. They were studying abroad at St. John’s in Brooklyn, so we crashed on their couch for a few days. Looking back, that probably wasn’t the smartest decision, but, hey, we’re alive and we had a blast.
  18. The memory of said French guys saying they wanted to take us to the best restaurant in New York…and they took us to Bubba Gump Shrimp in Times Square. And didn’t make a reservation.
  19. Her gift giving skills.
  20. The fact that she can speak Spanish and some French. She is one smart cookie.
  21. That our husbands have to explicitly tell us when we can’t tell each other something.
  22. Her ability to write the most hilarious haiku at the drop of a hat. In college, I would get a page (front & back) filled with the musings from Megan. I would inevitably die of laughter and still quote them to this day.
  23. How she will anticipate a great meal, or in today’s case, a birthday donut with a countdown and heavy workouts ahead of time to “compensate.”
  24. Oh, and her love for all things funfetti.
  25. That she kicks ass in a Soulcycle class.
  26. And then will immediately go to Starbucks.
  27. How much she loves dogs, probably more than most humans. And her dog growing up, Kelly, will always be number one.
  28. That her book recommendations never fail. She is always honest and will tell you if you should or should not read a book. I haven’t been disappointed yet!
  29. She’s a great running “partner.” I put partner in quotes because we have run three half marathons together but only at the beginning. She is pretty fast and has beat me several times. But it’s fun to train together.
  30. That she really is the best friend I could ever hope to have. We just have the best time together doing absolutely everything. And even though we have grown apart in distance, we’ve never been closer at heart. Love you to the moon & back!

 

(Source)

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3 Days in Florence

 

Oh, Florence, how I love thee. I’ve been to Florence twice but only for one day each time. I went once in college and all we did was the Hop On, Hop Off bus (fun fact: a group of girlfriends and I stayed at a hostel that didn’t have any towels, so we used the pillow cases & then put them back! Oh college!) and then again with my family during a European trip in 2012. That time it was pouring rain and we only did the Accademia Museum.

This time, Vinn, Copley and I and another couple spent 3 nights in Florence and finally got to be able to experience everything this great city has to offer. We used our time wisely, seeing all of the amazing sites Florence has to offer, eating delicious meals, drinking (probably) too much wine and loving every minute of it. Here’s a recap of our time in Florence.

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Where we stayed

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Thanks to my sister (shout out, Laura!), we were able to stay at the Westin Excelsior Florence. This is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It has a beautiful lobby, a gym that I took advantage of and the most heavenly bed! Even heavenly dog beds.

dogs_of_instagram_hotels

My mom bought Copley that toy and she loves it. She’s a very fancy dog. In case you want to spoil your dog, here’s a similar toy!

The Westin is also in an ideal location right in the middle of the city and was easy for us to walk everywhere!

What to see

Oh my! There are so many things to see in Florence. If you’re a museum person, the Uffizi Museum and Galleria Academia are must-sees. They both offer art and quite a cultural experience. We didn’t do any museums on this trip because wine is much more important but I do recommend both of them. The Academia has the statue of David.

The Duomo, a Must See in Florence, Italy

Obviously the Duomo should make it on your list. It is the largest church I have ever seen and is just so stunning in person. None of the photos do it justice. We didn’t climb to the top of it because we had Copley with us and the lines were quite long but it is an option and one that looks really fun. You can buy tickets ahead of time here. Did you know that the dome was built in the 14 Century and without any scaffolding? Crazy!

Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence Must See

Another must-see is the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It is also known as the bridge of houses because, well, obviously it has houses. The bridge itself has jewelry stores and is always packed with people. Seeing it at night is pretty spectacular, too.

Ponte Vecchio Bridge at Night

Walking in Florence

I would like to add just walking around to the list of things to do in Florence. There are so many amazing things to see and just walking around, snapping pictures, stopping when you see a cute store or wine bar, there’s nothing better.

This was our first trip with our friends Ross and Stephanie and we just had the best time! We hang out a lot in Stuttgart and it was so fun to explore another city together.

Walking Around in Florence is the Most fun

The views aren’t bad either!

Piazza Michelangelo in Florence

And speaking of views, going to Piazza Michelangelo should definitely happen! It offers the most amazing views of the entire city of Florence and has a replica statue of David. We went at night, too, which was also amazing.

Going on a wine tour is also a great idea while you’re in Florence since you’re one of the best wine districts in the world. We did just that and I’ll be sharing all that info. in another post!

Where to eat & drink

Now onto the best part of any trip, where to eat and drink. We had some truly incredible meals and wine during our time in Florence. And if happy hour wasn’t already a favorite, they certainly are now.

Trattoria Za Za – Known for its Tuscan style dishes, this place has one of the biggest menus I’ve ever seen and we all had such a hard time deciding what to order. The menu has an entire page with dishes made with truffle, so that’s what I did, truffle gnocchi! So delicious! When we walked in, I was a little concerned at first because it looks super touristy and there are people outside trying to lure you in. But it’s totally delicious and not as touristy as I thought.

Trattoria Gargani – We ate here our first night based on a recommendation by our concierge. The wine menu here is incredible and we all enjoyed some pasta and a main course. It’s within walking distance to the hotel and their chocolate coconut cake was to die!

La Cova Tapas – If you want to branch out from Italian food, this is a great tapas bar. We ordered some sangria and about half of the menu. It’s a small place but was perfect for an early dinner after a long day of walking and drinking.

Art Bar – This is the place to go for wine or cocktails. The bartender was so knowledgeable and we had a great time chatting with him, learning about wines and drinking quite a bit!

Art Bar in Florence, Italy

That’s a wrap on Florence. It was an epic trip with great friends. If you are visiting Italy, Florence should definitely make it to the top of your list. More pictures of of our wine tour will be coming this week, so come back for that and check out my travel page for even more cities!

Where to Stay, What to See, Where to Eat & Drink in Florence, Italy, your complete guide

Where did you have a great friends trip? 

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An Afternoon in Pisa

 

During our visit to Lucca, we decided to take the twenty minute drive to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was skeptical to visit it because I heard there’s nothing to do there besides get out of your car, see the tower and leave. While that is not entirely false, I’m so glad we went to see it. If you’re on the fence about going, if you’re close by, definitely go. And if you need more convincing, here are too many photos of the cutest dog in the world.

Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Parking is quite easy in Pisa and we were able to find a spot in a lot across from the tower. Hint if you’re paying for parking at a meter, you enter the first three numbers of your car’s license plate into the machine first. We stood there like idiots for 15 minutes trying to figure it out before someone gave us that tip!

The tower of Pisa is a clock tower that is actually the third oldest building the square, Piazza del Duomo, behind the Pisa Cathedral and Baptistry. Did you know that the tower wasn’t supposed to lean? It was an architectural nightmare while the tower was being built in the 12th Century. It leans because the foundation was too soft on one side to support the weight.  The tower continued to lean until the late 20th Century and early 21st Century when efforts were made to get the structure stabilized. It is quite a sight to see.

Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a few hours

We got very lucky with the weather and it was absolutely perfect. We didn’t need jackets or even the long sleeves we were wearing. In this picture, Copley was OVER being held as we tried to get her to hold up the tower.

Leaning Tower of Pisa in a Few Hours

Leaning Tower of Pisa with Dog

We had a little too much fun and I realize we’re not really holding the tower but more like pushing it down but it’ll do. There are a lot less people on this side of the tower, so we used that opportunity to snap some pictures.

You can climb to the top of the tower and purchase tickets while you’re there. Your ticket can include visiting the cathedral and baptistery.

There's More to Pisa than the Tower

To get the iconic picture of you holding the tower, it’s surprisingly difficult. There are people everywhere and you just have to be quick. It took a little too long to snap the “perfect” picture but it’s worth it. I went the, “I’m holding this up like a cake,” route. I’m pretty pleased.

Getting the Tower of Pisa Picture

We grabbed some OK lunch and then hit the road back to Lucca. I was pleasantly surprised about how beautiful the tower is and the piazza itself. My expectations were super low, so that has something to do with it. I’m glad we went.

Spending an afternoon in Pisa, How it's Worth It

Have you ever visited a “tourist trap” but liked it? Or maybe not liked it?

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Lucca, Italy Travel Guide

 

Tuscany is the perfect location for an anniversary trip or honeymoon. Or even just for anyone who loves wine and beautiful, rolling hills. Tuscany is the a region in Italy that is known for Chianti wine production and views that you won’t believe are real. When I started researching where to go, I knew we wanted to go to Florence to experience the city life and also a small town outside of a big city so we could relax and stay in a villa.

Enter Lucca.

It is an incredible city, relatively small and many villas on the outskirts of town that are charming and not insanely expensive. Lucca as a city is gorgeous and very old, as it became a Roman colony in 180 BC. BC! Wow. A wall surrounds the old city and was initially used for military defense purposes and is now used as a pedestrian walk path. Lucca is about an hour drive from Florence and 30 minutes from Pisa.

Lucca Italy as an Anniversary Getaway

I ended up finding the most perfect villa, Villa Michaela, about a 15 drive outside of the city of Lucca, that offers gorgeous grounds, its own chapel and breakfast included. The grounds have over 50 acres of olive trees and they make their own olive oil. Many aspects are original from the 18th Century but the decor has been updated.

When we drove up to the villa, there was a beautiful gate, a porcelain sign and a rock pathway. Millie greeted us after we rang the doorbell and was the most welcoming person in the entire world. She gave us a tour of the property and told us that we were actually the only guests for the duration of our stay! Talk about romantic!  Millie even had a bottle of Prosecco for us as a celebration for our anniversary.

 

Romantic Villa in Tuscany, Italy

 

Romantic Villa in Tuscany

 

Villa in Tuscany for Romance & Weddings

One of my favorite parts of the stay was breakfast. The room was converted to a kitchen from a storage room for lemon trees in the winter. A lovely woman named Sandra cooked us eggs, Copley included, and coffee every morning. She had  fresh croissants and fruit, too. It was just the most divine way to start the morning.

Romantic Spot for Breakfast

What to Do in Lucca

Our days in Lucca were quiet, filled with walking, happy hours and just aweing at the beautiful old city. We did bring our dog, Copley, along and she loved it. Here are some of the things we did that will make you want to hop on a plane and visit now.

Go to the top of the clock tower

Best Views of Lucca Italy

The Torre delle Ore was built in the 13th Century. You can climb to the top of it, and bring your dog if you can hold it, and you will get spectacular views of the city. We stayed at the top for a few minutes just enjoying the views and the colors.

View of Lucca

 

View of Lucca, Italy

 

Gorgeous Views of Lucca from Clock Tower

 

Walk the Wall, Le Mura di Lucca

Lucca, Italy Wall

The wall was built originally for military purposes and there used to be a huge moat, too. Now it’s basically a walking or running path. It’s mostly gravel and tree-lined. To walk the entire thing was about 2 miles and was the perfect way to help digest our food.

Lucca, Italy Walking Trails

 

Check out the Duomo

(Source)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good picture of the Duomo but it was quite impressive. It looks like a smaller version of the Duomo in Florence. And I didn’t get a good picture because the city of Lucca was setting up for a comic can. Yes, a comics convention in a historical city. It was so funny to see these buildings built before Christ and then a sign for Call of Duty video game!

Lucca is a small town and you can definitely do it in a day or two. It’s a great getaway from the busy city of Florence and has beautiful views to boot.

Best Restaurants in Lucca

Oh man, the food in Lucca was out of this world. Millie from the villa gave us great recommendations and none of them disappointed.

Cucina dello Scompiglio

Now this restaurant was the first dinner we had in Lucca and it definitely set the bar quite high. Translated this restaurant means Kitchen of Torture, which is silly and quite scary, and nothing like the inside. The dishes are unique, I had a pasta dish with pears and Vinn had one with apples, and they use their own vegetables and make their own wine. I recommend the Madre wine, it’s dry and perfect. The restaurant is a little out of the way if you’re staying in Lucca, but is a 5 minute drive from Villa Michaela. Don’t walk there like we did because there aren’t sidewalks!

Restaurant San Colombano

This restaurant is in the wall. There are parts of the floor that are glass and you can see the wall. The food is quite good, too. I ordered black spaghetti with lobster and make are you get the fried pecorino cheese with pear as an appetizer. I fell in love with pecorino cheese after that! San Colombano has a great terrace and a terrific wine list that is actually on a tablet where you can pick the wine based on the region.

Ristorante da Gherardo

We stopped here for lunch our first day and ate some pretty good pizza. They even had gluten free options available. It wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had but it’s in the perfect location for people watching while drinking a glass of wine. Anywhere in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is a good bet.

Everything about Lucca was magical. The city is charming and definitely worth a visit. Next up, our day trip to Pisa!

Would you want to visit Lucca? Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever eaten dinner?

A Guide to Lucca, Italy; Restaurants, What to Do 

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