Plan your cultural fix using our easy guides

TIP: find all our favourites on our interactive map on the Home page

Gelato Pescia

The best restaurants on our doorstep

There are four exceptional restaurants only 5-10 mins drive away (or a leisurely stroll) and the village bar is only a few steps from the house. The best gelato in Tuscany can be found at La Baraccino in local town, Pescia.

The local bar (circolo) is the hub of village life – locals come here to
chat, to argue, to exchange views and there is always a game of cards
on the go. The terrace has fabulous views over the valley and we can’t
think of a better place for an aperitivo. Barbara and her wonderful
daughters run the circolo and she has a smile for everyone – you will be
greeted like a local and we can guarantee it will become part of your
evening ritual. If you can drag yourself away from the house and village
there are four excellent restaurants within 5-10 minutes drive (or a
leisurely stroll) where you can savour Tuscan gastronomy at its’ best –
after all this is the birthplace of the slow food movement:

Da Sandrino’s – Tripadvisor’s current number 1 of 68 restaurants, this trattoria attracts visitors from as far as Lucca and Montecatini. Famed for it’s extraordinary home-cooked and affordable local dishes:- cinghiale (wild boar), pappardelle con lepre (hare) and melt-in-the-mouth gnocchi. Essential to book, even for a table midweek. A separate bar/cafe during the summer months is a convenient stop for coffee or lunch, and customers can wander down to the river with purchased refreshments. During the summer months, there is a weekly apericena buffet with live music (book/pay in the bar) on Sundays Contact by phone only (some staff speak English) +39 572 407014 (Please note closed Mondays)

Da Carla’s – Sublime pasta and unmissable Bistecca alla fiorentina, with the house speciality, Sorana beans, cooked in a traditional flask overnight over coals. An outdoor terrace for balmy evenings and wood-fired pizza oven (also available as a takeaway); booking essential in high season. Contact by email info@ristorantedacarla.it

La Pieve -Wood fired homemade pizza to rival the best in Naples. The antipasti della case is unmissable (come with an appetite) – book a table on the terrace and spend the evening hypnotised by the lights across the valley in Sorana. Also offering takeaway pizza and an incredibly good value set lunch menu. Booking essential in high season. Call to book +39 572 412001 (Please note closed Mondays)

Agriturismo Montaione – the only way to experience Montaione is to abstain from all sustenance for at least 24 hours beforehand- the courses are legendary, entirely homemade and truly unforgettable. Booking essential fccannes@gmail.com

Walking trail Tuscany

Picture postcard perfect Sorana

The castella of Sorana, nestled on the slopes of Mount Petritulo, takes its’ name from the original fortress, ‘sovrana’ (sovereign) – referencing its’ commanding location overlooking the valley. Today only a few ruins of the fortress remain, evident in the steep walls seemingly hewn from the rock itself. The fortress evolved into the elliptical shaped village culminating in the square and church.

Sorana is one of ten fortified medieval villages;- during the dark centuries of the Middle Ages, these isolated and difficult to reach villages were self-governing, defended by high walls, towers and fortresses that offer a rich historical testimony to their past import in the wars between the Lucchese and Florentines. Each has its’ own captivating charm; all are worth taking time to explore. A network of trails (Valleriana trekking network) connecting the villages offer a exploration of the area at a slower pace (maps available in the house) – some of these trails are rumoured to be Etruscan in origin. Just as pleasurable however is a meandering tour by car, stopping at the local bars for an aperativo or two.

From the house the two villages in direct line of site are San Quirico and Castelvecchio. The latter is well known for its beautiful authentic Romanesque church, one of seven founded by the Bishop Frediano in the sixth century. In the centre of the village beneath the church lies the Oratory of SS. Rosario, entirely decorated with the Stories of the Virgin and Christ. The frescoes are by an unknown Florentine master, dating from around the 16th century and restored after being discovered this century and rescued from its’ rather humble former incarnation as a shelter for sheep!

Driving through the valley, the magnificent ruins of paper mills give a nod to the heritage that gave this area it’s single most important commodity; among these still stands Carta Magnani, in operation since 1404 and chosen by Napoleon for his wedding stationary to Maria Luisa of Austria.
Saturday morning market in Pescia

Explore our local town, Pescia

Piazza Mazzini is lined with numerous bars, cafes and upmarket boutiques and Saturday morning the Piazza hosts a large weekly market. The smaller Piazza hosts the food market, with everything from locally foraged porcini to baccala (salt dried cod).

Pescia hosts a rich cultural heritage, with ancient medieval and gothic churches and the second oldest theatre in Tuscany . The town still retains many medieval villas, and the original historical street plan. A bridge spans the two original settlements, on the left the monastic and religious accessed through the magnificent Medici gate, and on the other the commercial and public centre.

Slightly out of the historic centre are a number of large supermarkets and all other main conveniences.

Closer to home (about 10 minutes), in Pietrabuona, you can find basic supplies (alimentari, butchers, post office etc), and one of our favourites, Amanda, who produces homemade meals to pop in the oven. (Please don’t forget that you will be unlikely to find anything open between midday and 3pm).

Montecatini Terme

Beautiful spa town, Montecatini

The beautiful spa town of Montecatini (40 mins) plays host to large tree-lined boulevards, stately homes and sophisticated shopping and restaurants. In its’ heyday at the turn of the century, the rich and famous flocked here for the restorative thermal waters that can still be sampled in the glorious open-air Art Noveau Terme Tettuccio. Visitors are welcome to feast on the spectacular architecture and lavish fountains, and the gardens are a delight and an oasis on a hot summers’ day (small entrance fee)

Not far from the spa is a fenicular railway, constructed in the 1800’s which still transports visitors to Montecatini Alto, a medieval village dominating Montecatini Terme (trains run every half hour). The village is delight, with a packed square of restaurants and cafes and romanesque churches to explore.  Climb to the top of the village and you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the entire Valdinievole valley

Only a 15 minute train journey from Pescia or half hour by car – with a convenient carpark next to the Terme Tettuccio

 

Beach at Versilia

Grab your swimming trunks!

Local swimming hole – the most glorious way to cool down, and a little walk; it is a local treasure so we can only share information with our guests once they have booked!

Hotel Lorenzo (10 minutes drive) where non-guests can rent a deckchair and access to the swimming pool for the day

Hotel Country Club – about half an hour away where paying non-guests are welcome and have access to two swimming pools, sun loungers and parasols and poolside bar

The med – The coastal town of Viarreggio is an hour away, where beautiful Liberty-style buildings line the 3km La Passiaggata. Beaches are predominantly commercially owned, but entry fee affords the visitor free covered parking, sun loungers, parasols and an on-site cafe and toilet. The charge for 2 is normally around 25 euros per day. The beach at Pietrasanta is the easiest to reach, with numerous establishments to select from.

Sunflowers summer in Tuscany

Step into your walking shoes

The area is a walkers’ paradise – with panoramic views and a network of trails you will be spoilt for choice. There are a number of trails from the village, and many of them are rumoured to be Etruscan in origin. Spring and Autumn are perfect for spending the day on foot, and for extra convenience we provide a backpack and picnic blanket for guests’ use.

There are a large number of guides in the house and local walking maps. A trail links the ten medieval villages for the more adventurous or if you’re after a more leisurely amble we can highly recommend the trail linking Pescia to Collodi (birthplace of the creator of Pinocchio). We highly recommend experienced and qualified Danilo of agirotrek who organises regular walking excursions. He is also able to put together a personalised walking itinerary for guests.

And of course the jewel in the crown, the Cinque terre. Medieval villages clinging to the rockface, agains the backdrop of the Meditteranean. Head for the section on this page to get the lowdown.

Tuscan vineyards

Winetasting at it’s finest

For any self-respecting wine afficianado, the Strada del vino e dell-olio has to feature high on the list of unmissables. The trail meanders around the hills north of Lucca, through olive groves and wine estates, with growers selling direct to the public. Most offer the opportunity to sample the produce, often accompanied by a little antipasti. But the highlight has to be those tucked-away ancient towns where culture and food remain central.

A pretty medieval town only about half an hour from Sorana, Montecarlo is the centre of winemaking in the region. This is where we send our guests to stock up with outstanding vintages at modest prices. The central medieval  street is lined with all manner of wine merchants selling directly to the public. With ample opportunity to try before you buy, there are also several who will gladly ship to anywhere in the world.

The town is surrounded by vast estates with row upon row of vineyards. Take a moment to survey the epic landscape from the walls encompassing the town and fantastical fortress. For a truly memorable day, book a winetasting accompanied by a fabulous lunch/evening meal. With so many to choose from it’s hard to pick our favourite, but Buonamico stands out for the quality of it’s tour and the extraordinary views from the restaurant and terrace.

 

‘Fall in love at first sight’ Lucca

Lucca’s remarkably preserved walls embrace the city and are are perfect for an al fresco picnic. Stroll along the tree-lined walls to complete a perfect circumnavigation of the city. Alternatively, rent a bicycle from the numerous rental points, taking a leisurely tour  to enjoy the city from every angle culminating in the jewel:-  Piazza antiteatro, an eliptical square where medieval houses cling to each other on the original foundations of a Roman amphitheatre

By car: 35 mins. On approaching the city on the SR435, enter the city inside the walls via the large gate and turn right; continue down the ‘ring road’ for about 300m – the underground carpark is on the left  – a godsend when the temperatures spike. Alternatively there are many pay and display spaces (BLUE only for visitors)

By train: Easy 15 min journey from Pescia. Purchase a ticket from the machines on the platform:- you MUST validate your ticket in the yellow machines on the platform  or face heavy penalties.


Capital of Culture 2017, Pistoia

Italys’ Capital of Culture 2017 escapes those on the cliched Grand Tour, but its’ tranquil and unassuming character quickly captures the attention of the more discerning traveller. The piazza del Duomo is the focal point of the city, with the extraordinary octagonal baptistry and several palazzi surrounding it.

The bell tower of the Duomo is open to the public (with a guide; pre-booking essential in the baptistry) and offers spectacular vistas – although the narrow and steep climb is not for the fainthearted. Somewhat unusually, the piazza is not lined with the ubiquitous cafes which affords it a certain grace and air of serenity.
Behind the square however is a large and thriving artisan market, with numerous shops, stalls and restaurants to distract and entertain for more than a few hours.

By car: 45 minutes, with large carparks on the periphery

Pisa

Pisa and her iconic tower

The Leaning Tower engages the traveller like no other iconic building, and despite the appeal of the ubiquitous selfie, the scale (and lean) are still somehow quite breathtaking at first site. Yet the tower makes up only a small part of the larger Pizza dei Miracoli – the Cathedral and Baptistry are spectacular in their own right, especially once the crowds have dispersed.

Exploring the city further along the Arno throws up numerous cultural gems, often unexplored and all the more appealing as a result.
Parking areas are reasonably close to the key landmarks and relatively inexpensive.

It is only a short drive from here to the airport and despite making the trip numerous times we still add it as a quick detour en-route.

 

Italian restaurant

Birthplace of the master scientist, Vinci

Less than an hour from the house lies the small village of Vinci, dedicated to the one of the greatest scientific minds history has witnessed. The museum is split into two sights and included in the museum ticket is entry to the house where da Vinci was born – this is a little way out of the town, and whilst the house is quite simple the views across olive groves are impressive. The town is small but not overrun with tourists, even in the height of summer, which makes it a pleasant afternoon destination. The scenery on the drive is magnificent and takes one very much off the beaten track.

By car: a leisurely hours’ drive

Tuscany villas

Fabulous Medici gardens and villas

The hills between Lucca and Florence are littered with majestic country retreats bearing witness to the influence of the Medici and we can think of no better way to spend a leisurely afternoon.

We can highly recommended:
Villa Torrigiani (35 minutes) has an opulent facade that hides the most extraordinarily preserved frescoed ceilings. Entrance to the estate includes a guided tour of the house (entry only permissable with guide), and the grounds with fantastical grotto and naturally fed swimming pool

Recently rated number 2 out of Italy’s top 10 gardens by The Guardian, Villa Reale di Marlia, situated not far from Villa Torrigiani, is a feast of sumptuous architecture against a backdrop of verdant green lawns, water theatre and grotto. The gardens have recently been restored and offer two itineraries. Please note that the villa itself is currently under renovation and not open to the public.

Villa Mansi – in some respects the extraordinary baroque facade of the Villa is the perfect backdrop for the many legends that it has spawned. But the villa houses some of the most significant artworks in Italy, said to be the object of much envy by Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Elisa. The gardens are extensive and house real botanic gems.

Florence duomo

Birthplace of the renaissance, Florence

By car: under an hour. The ZTL (Zona Trafico Limitato) operates in the centre and you will be heavily fined if you accidentally slip into the zone. The underground car park near Santa Maria Novella train station is convenient for both access by car and proximity to the centre of Florence, and reasonably priced. Alternatively, park at the airport where shuttle buses operate frequently to the train station and are approximately 5 euros each way

By train:- from Pescia the train journey is under an hour and very reasonable (approx 6.50 euros one way). Purchase a ticket from the machines on the platform:- you MUST validate your ticket in the yellow machines on the platform  or face heavy penalties.

In Florence buses now accept contactless payment and jouneys cost 1.50 euro for 90 minutes duration.

Florence is a foodie’s paradise, but our fallback option is the Mercato Centrale. (PS the toilets upstairs are free and quite good!)

Fiesole Tuscany amphitheatre

Discover Florence’s little sister, Fiesole

Often overlooked by the tourists that flock to Florence, Fiesole is only a short bus or car journey from the outskirts. Here you will find a treasure trove of archeological gems, with ancient amphitheatre, Roman baths and original Etruscan walls.

Explore further up towards the San Francesco monastery and you will be rewarded with picture-postcard views of Florence. Legend has it that the summit was Da Vinci’s favoured spot for demonstrating the art of flight to his assistant.

Getting there:- Fiesole can be reached by car, or by bus ATAF Bus no 7 from the Santa Maria Novella Station or San Marco square

Siena piazza

Siena and it’s magnificent piazza

The Piazza del Campo needs no introduction as the host of the famous palio in early August. But head there any other time of the year and the piazza is the perfect place to soak up Siena’s medieval atmosphere. Explore the city on foot, following steep alleyways leading to tucked-away piazzas.

Head to the duomo and it’s walkway for incredible views then take time out for a leisurely lunch al-fresco

By car: just under a couple of hours along motorways or take the much more scenic route (2hrs) across country with magnificent views. The ZTL (Zona Trafico Limitato) operates in the centre and you will be heavily fined if you accidentally slip into the zone but there are large and well-organised carparks surrounding the town.

 

San Gimignano Tuscany

San Gimignano, the ‘medieval Manhattan’

If you’ve heard of San Gimignano you know its’ real claim to fame are the towers liberally sprinkled around the town like confetti – a symbol of power and wealth in the middle ages. What they offer the traveller is one of the most unforgettable approaches to any town you are likely to encounter: rolling fields punctured with ancient medieval colonnades which announce ‘I’m here’.

Although the towers dominate, don’t miss the Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta Duomo (Cathedral). If you’re going to visit a church anywhere in tuscany let it be this one! Whilst not overwhelmingly vast, the church is covered floor to ceiling in frescoes that look almost as good as the day they were etched. Then head up out of the town for the best views over the town and olive groves and an epic spot for luncheon (and let’s be honest a siesta is probably in order!)
If you’re after the best gelato don’t miss world award-winning Dondoli – chances are you wont get the opportunity to browse the flavours as trade is brisk…but at least you’ll have an excuse to go back for seconds.

By car: San Gimignano is just over an hour and a half through stunning landscapes. The centre is pedestrianised so all cars are directed to the well-organised car parks on the outer edges, and the two you are likely to find first are P3 Bagnaia Superiore and P4 Bagnaia Inferiore. The town is relatively small and easy to access from all the carparks.

Cinqe Terre

UNESCO site, Cinque Terre

It is difficult to know quite how to describe the Cinque Terre – five spectacular medieval villages clinging to the rock face with seemingly inaccessible terraces. All are connected by a railway line carved out of the rock face which appears at times to be suspended over breaking waves.

By far the most impressive way to explore the villages is to walk the trail (Sentiere Azzuro) through the national park and UNESCO site with sweeping sea vistas. The trail can be challenging at times however the distance between villages is not particularly daunting and the views invite frequent interruptions. There is a small rucksack, picnic blanket, cool bag and swimming towels available in the house for day hiking.

How to get there:- Vehicles are largely prohibited in the villages; the most straightforward way to access the area is to catch the train from La Spezia (an hour and a half from Casa Castagna). Fortunately there is a reasonably priced underground car park directly below the train station in La Spezia. There are two tourist information points on the station platform which are excellent sources of information and the easiest way to purchase tickets

Volterra duomo

Ancient Etruscan city, Volterra

It’s not often you visit an Italian town without some magnificent Roman artifact tucked into a corner and Volterra is no different. What makes it unique however is that it is home to one of italy’s finest and best preserved amphitheatres. It’s possible you’ll literally just stumble across it as it isn’t overrun with tourists. Small enough to be almost entirely traffic free, but with fabulous restaurants, the town is made for the pedestrian and the open workshops of the world-famous alabaster artists encourage you to take your time on a leisurely stroll along the main entranceway.

Heading through the gate Porto San Francesco, take a moment to view the ancient artwork – it’s not often you will see frescoes in their original location. You’re now inside the walls of the ancient city, Etruscan in origin and it’s clear to see why the town was fortified – sitting atop a ridge with stunning views in every direction. The open air Etruscan museum is not to be missed – one of the oldest public museums in all of Europe.

By car: 1hr 45 – the town is pedestrianised but surrounded by plenty of carparks.

Leaving so soon?

Would you like to join our VIP list and be the first to hear about our special offers?

What am I signing up to? We only send our newsletters about once a month and you can unsubscribe at any time. No spam ever we promise!