MrsMJ and I have just returned from a wonderful day touring some great parts of Tuscany. Specifically, we visited San Gimignano and Siena. Enjoyed lunch in Siena, and capped our day with a wine tasting. I arranged this tour a few months ago through our travel agent, Michelle Bemis, at McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia. McCabe is a Virtuoso agency and has contacts throughout the world to help you arrange special experiences. Today’s tour was truly special, and also my birthday present to MrsMJ.

Our day began at 9:30am with a pickup by our driver and guide for the day, Matteo. As we drove through Florence, enroute to San Gimignano, Matteo took the time to explain all the sites of historical significance. His knowledge of the areas history was impressive, and made the drive fly by. Upon arriving at San Gimignano, Matteo thoroughly briefed us on the sites to see, and then we were on our own to explore at our own pace. The architecture was fascinating, and MrsMJ was quick to remind me to just think about my complaining about our 100 year old home as we walked by homes closer to 500 years old!

After San Gimignano, we drove over to Siena, one of Italy’s most visited attractions. It is a Medieval city with beautiful architecture, and wonderful food. Once again, we were educated by our professional guide on the history of the city. Interestingly, we learned that one of the most popular activities in the city is a horse race held twice during the summer which has been going on for hundreds of years. There is lots of shopping available in Siena if you’re in the mood for that. We just walked around admiring the city prior to lunch.

Following our time to explore, our driver transported us to La Chiacchiera for lunch. Our guide had prearranged reservations for us, which was a good thing as the restaurant was small, and quite busy. Further, the preponderance of native Italian diners led me to think that we may be in for a great meal. I guessed correctly. Lunch was amazing. I enjoyed the Penne Arrabbiatta, while MrsMJ dined on Spaghetti Ragu. I tried hers, it was phenomenal. Meals were obviously prepared with the freshest ingredients. Of course, I find all food to be excellent in Italy! :)

Following lunch, we were driven to the beautiful Casa Emma winery for a tasting. During the drive, Matteo steered the conversation towards wine, and educated us about the various wines the region is known for. I am by no means an expert on wine, and don’t even pretend to be. I know what I like, and I loved the Chianti Classico Reserva we tried at Casa Emma, and so did MrsMJ, an unapologetic white wine lover. That’s one thing I love about Italy, MrsMJ will drink the reds! We like the Chianti Classic Reserva so much we bought some to be shipped home.

After a drive back to our hotel, we parted ways with Matteo and can now reflect on a truly fabulous day, only a taste of which I have been able to share here. With a lot of work I might have been able to put together a day almost like this on my own, but that would likely have included hospitalization or jail because I would have had to do the driving. Instead, we invested in a private tour, arranged by a professional travel agent, so we could focus on enjoying ourselves. I would not have had it any other way.

You might remember that MrsMJonTravel and I are departing for Italy in late October. The ultimate goal of our trip is to arrive in Venice by November 4th, so we can board Celebrity Cruises latest beauty, Celebrity Reflection. But we have a few days to play with. We’ll spend one day in Rome, and then board a train for Florence. And from there….. we will explore as much of Tuscany as we can in the time we have. I really do not want to drive in Italy, but it looks like we may need to rent a car to really maximize our experience. On the other hand….the only reason to go is to drink wine. You get my drift? I’m considering hoteling in Florence and looking into a professional driver/tour guide (not cheap, but safer for all of us).

Now… to be sure, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if this trip were planned for the summer. I’d have the planning done already because there wouldn’t be anywhere to stay during the summer this late in the game (probably). Crowding won’t be such an issue in November. For those of you more versed in Italy, what would you do? Bite the bullet and rent a car? Or try to hub in Florence and set up a tour of some sort just to play it safe? I’ve been to Rome, Milan, and Naples, but not the Tuscan region, and with all the move logistics, I just haven’t had time to go camp out at Barnes and Noble (believe me, that’s coming soon) and do a little reading. I’d love to hear your ideas on how to take on Tuscany in a short amount of time.

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