A group of 7 friends and I took a trip to Italy during the summer. The group -- which included folks from Columbia, South Carolina, Cleveland, Lafayette, Indiana , Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C.-- met in Rome's airport and jumped into 2 rental cars for our trip to Tuscany.
We rented a villa in Fiano, a very small town near San Gimignano. The plan was to use the villa as our base of operations and to take day trips to the various sites throughout Tuscany. The town and the villa were lovely. The villa was located on a large, beautiful, family-owned vineyard. We had a large balcony which looked out on the Tuscan hills and San Gimignano in the distance.
Our hosts sold excellent Tuscan red to their guests at the outrageous sum of $2.00 - $3.00 a bottle. Let's just say that we took advantage of our good fortune and consumed copious amounts of Fiano's Tuscan red. We did, after all, take our mission of helping to sustain the Tuscan economy very seriously. The first three days in Tuscany were spent in Florence. As one can imagine, Florence was a big hit.
The fourth day found the group in Siena. A highlight of the Siena trip was having lunch in the large square in the center of town, the scene of Siena's famous annual horse races. We stopped for dinner in San Gimignano on the return trip to Fiano. It is well worth the effort to take the funicular to the hilltop to visit the old, walled city of San Gimignano. The view is beautiful and the narrow, cobblestone streets and homes are charming.
The fifth day was spent by some exploring the back roads of Tuscany and visiting various vineyards. Others went to Pisa to sightsee and enjoy a day at a spa.
Day 6 brought a trip to the Isle of Elba, the site of Napoleon's exile. Some thoughts -- taking the most direct route through the hilly Tuscan countryside is not the most expeditious route. The more modern highway which runs towards Pisa is much more tame. I also would not recommend tackling the Tuscan hills in the back seat of an aging rental car while sporting a bad hangover. Although the adventure did lead to the discovery of the the wonders of TravelGum, (an Italian motion sickness pill). I would further recommend, upon arrival in Elba, leaving the port city of Elba and exploring the outer regions of the island. The island is quite beautiful and the deep, blue waters pristine.
We packed up the rental cars on Day 7 and returned to Rome. Those from South Carolina flew back to the States on Day 8 and the rest of the group spent the second week in Rome. Highlights of the week in Rome included the Catacombs, the Coliseum, the Vatican tour (conducted by Penny, a local legend), and, of course, the Sistine Chapel.