Review by Anna Marie Palercio July 2014
Let us just start by saying ... we didn't want to come home! We are not sure we would even call it a "tour", but rather a TRULY AMAZING AND WONDERFUL VISIT to Tuscany Italy. As we both have Italian grandparents, Italy was a place we have longed to visit. Our grandparents traveled to America by different ships, entering through Ellis Island. Both families ended up changing their names, dropping the final consonant or changing the last name completely to hide their Italian heritage because they thought it would be easier to establish themselves and find jobs. Our families left Italy, their homes, and it's hard for us to comprehend this concept after seeing this beautiful country. But yes, we know ... to pursue a better life in the late 1800s ... to go to America, the land of opportunity.
We wanted to return to their homeland and see what they left behind. Get a sense of our heritage. Learn more about our family's country and culture. Although we didn't visit the exact towns and villages where our grandparents once lived, we definitely got a feeling of their country.
There were six of us who traveled under the guiding eyes of Russ and Elke. We were long-time good friends and some were family. But by the end of the week, we all became a new family.
Every time we opened my eyes, we SAW more and more beauty -- the landscapes, the flowers, the grapevines, the olive trees, the castles, the wineries, the churches and their unbelievable stained glass windows, paintings, frescos, statues and tombs, the small roadside religious shrines, the piazzas and the many statues, the poppies, the sunflowers, the shopping in small boutiques, the cobblestone streets, the doors, the windows, the flower boxes, nonnos and nonnas carrying their groceries, the animals, and so much more of the grandeur of Tuscany, Italy. We TASTED and SAVORED every bite of the many, many delicious meals that were prepared and served to us ... the many varieties of white and red wines that were presented, the espresso and cappuccino, gelato and other desserts, meats and cheese, salads, vegetables, bread, and more. We can close our eyes and SMELL the lavender, the mustiness of the old parts of some of the wineries and wine cellars, the cheeses, meats, the wine, breads, salads, fresh vegetables and fruits, the wood burning at the villa that was used to heat the water, homemade cakes and desserts, gelato, leather, and the aroma of each meal ... and more! We TOUCHED the earth, the vines, the trees, ancient walls, flowers, pottery, the farm animals, alabaster and leather, and felt the coolness of the water in the pool at the villa. We HEARD the voices of the Italian people speak their romantic and beautiful language, the hustle and bustle of the crowds, the church bells, the laughter of children, the cars, the wonderful tour guides we had, trucks and busses zipping by, the birds chirping each morning, the barking of dog (Donna) at the villa, and more! One night at the villa, we were treated to a cooking class led by chefs Kalinka and Simonetta, at which each of us took part in making a four-course dinner for us and the other villa guests--crustina, homemade pasta with bolognaise sauce, ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese, and strawberry tiramisu, served with several bottles of Chianti!
Russ and Elke planned and prepared EVERY step of the way and shared their many years of experience with us. We didn't have to worry about ANYTHING ... flight tickets, car rental, road maps, travel, accommodations, meals, and reservations ... EVERYTHING was taken care of in advance. The villa, Le Cetinelle in Greve Chianti and owned Simonetta and Lucca, was more than charming and very accommodating - and it had a spectacular view! If necessary, they adjusted the schedule and added a couple of places (Florence being one) that were not on the original itinerary. They brought us only to places they had experienced before and it wasn't boring for them because they witnessed our enjoyment, which made it fun for them and in turn, fun for us. Although we traveled together, we also had free time to explore and shop on our own, relax by the pool, take a nap, or sit outside and read, write, sketch. And morning start time was somewhat flexible as well.
We kept a journal of our trip - SO much to write about. We took over 2200 pictures, each one capturing a new moment. We could go on and on and on talking about our week in Tuscany. It is truly a vacation we will never, ever, ever forget. GRAZIE, GRAZIE, GRAZIE to Russ and Elke for providing us with such an unforgettable experience. They are two amazing people, who shared their love of Italy with us, who took great care and concern to make it extra special and unforgettable in every way, all so expertly planned and executed!
This trip was FANTASTIC, filled with so many sites, sounds, smells, and tastes, which will stay with us for as long as we live!