Russ and Elke's European Travel

It's not only what you see, it's how you see it

Russ and Elke's European Travel is a small company run by husband and wife team Russ and Elke Beck, a professional travel agent.

Over the years we have experienced some fantastic places, people, food and wine.  Out of our love for travel developed the idea to create very exclusive, intimate and interesting itineraries and let our clients experience, taste, smell, touch and hear what has given us so much joy in our travels. 

The Bella Toscana Tour 2013 - What you missed

We recently arrived home from the inaugural Bella Toscana Tour and we couldn't be more pleased with how it went.  Our guests were kind and eager to explore and all of our various hosts bent over backwards to make our trip memorable.  Here is a top 10 list of what you missed:


Tartufo Nero

1. Truffles - Many in our tour were not fully aware of the true joy that truffles bring.  Most folks in America think of truffles as a chocolate, however the chocolate is named that because it looks like a truffle, a tuber that grows in the ground that exudes an earthy, almost sensuous smell and, when put in or on food, elevates it to a whole new level.  Truffles don't taste like much on the tongue, the joy of a truffle is how it tingles your olfactory where 90% of your taste happens.  Once fully introduced our travel companions began to hunt out the truffle infused menu items at each meal.


  French Oak at Viticcio    

French Oak at Viticcio

 

2. Wine - Not a big shock to anyone I am sure, but wine factored heavily into our meals and down-time.  Because the Chianti region is so huge, we drank primarily Chianti wines but we also enjoyed Brunello, Vino Nobile and even a few Cabernet Sauvignons.  We toured a number of different vinyards and wine productions.  Barbi, Verrazzano, Viticcio, Brolio, Contucci...Names synonymous with Italian wine making royalty.


  The Group at Castello Di Brolio    

The Group at Castello Di Brolio

 

3. Views - The one part of the tour that was disheartening at times was the weather.  A normal May day in Tuscany runs around 75 - 80 degrees.  Our temperatures never went above 65 and we had a few days of off and on showers.  While this put a damper on some of the outdoor activities at the villa such as the pool, the constant presence of big fluffy clouds made all of the views that much more dramatic.  


Gelato

4. Gelato - The difference between gelato and ice cream is that ice cream is made from heavy cream and gelato is made from milk.  This means that the flavors in gelatto are more pronounced because they aren't cloaked by the cream.  In San Gimignano there is a wonderful Gelateria off of the main square and in Montiriggioni our clients enjoyed the gelato made with local and organic ingredients.


Cappuccino 

5. Cappuccino - To truly enjoy a cappuccino or espresso one must give themselves over to enjoying it in the way of the Italian people, sweetened, they invented it, they know how to drink it.  Folks who enjoy black coffee here WILL NOT enjoy a black espresso and may only slightly enjoy a cappuccino.  Our guests all experienced a revelation once we were able to convince them that to truly enjoy an espresso or cappuccino one must use a volume of sugar that seems inappropriate for such a small beverage.  Once properly tutored on using the sugar, our intrepid band of travelers enjoyed a cappuccino at every cafe they encountered.


Our villa

6. Off Road Adventures - Our villa was extremely private and secluded, so much so that to reach it we had to drive our large van down a very narrow dirt road.  Couple this with the weather being wet and our drive into the villa each night was always an adventure.  Our drive in was always very slow, careful and deliberate.  One day as we were returning home the edge of the road simply crumbled away and we slid, ever so slowly and gently, into the ditch, no one even realized what had happened until we told them they had to walk the rest of the way while Russ arranged a tow.  The next morning a local farmer used his tractor to haul the van back up to the road. All was well and we continued on our tour!


Mercato Centrale

7. Shopping - We love shopping on the Ponte Vecchio and in San Lorenzo while in Firenze and were thrilled to get to experience our clients excitement while shopping there.  While Elke took one client to the Ponte Vecchio to buy some jewlery, Russ escorted the remaning group through San Lorenzo to pick up scarves, wallets, belts and purses.  Food shopping in Tuscany is a treat for all senses, the smells and sights are nearly overwhelming.  Fresh produce piled high that seems made for a movie set.  Simply amazing.


A 45 minute egg at Lamole

8. Amazing Meals - We love food, good food.  We have eaten at every restaurant we chose for this tour and we slected them due to their high quality, location and the sense of pride the owners take in serving delicious, local and hand made foods.  In particular, in Siena, DaDivo and, in Greve, Lamole. These two restaurants take the dining experience to a whole new level by combining spectacular food with a setting that can't be matched.  DaDivo sits atop ancient Etruscan tombs and Lamole clings to the side of a mountain where one can watch the sun set over the vinyards of Chianti.  At DaDivo, our friend Pino, the owner, assisted each of our guests with selecting the food and wines.  When we reached Lamole, Fillipe, also an owner, had personally selected the entire menu and wines.


Our Group in Lucca

9. Great companionship - We could not have asked for a better set of traveling companions.  Each member of our tour contributed in some way.  We had wonderful sing-a-longs in the van and told jokes and stories as we rolled with laughter. Some of our favorite moments were the conversations in the van on the way to our next destination.


A View of Montefiorale

10. Bella Toscana - Tuscany, as a destination, cannot be matched.  The views, the food, the wine, it is all there, in one spot, just waiting to be discovered by the next band of travelers.  Our hosts, Pino, Sylvia, Phillipe, Susanne, Sarah and many others can't wait to meet you and proudly show you this special place on the earth that they are lucky enough to call home, so come with us!

 

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