Tales from a Special Family Trip to Tuscany

This is a guest post from Carole Yu, one of our Italy giveaway winners. Carole offered to share a bit about her trip, as her story touched us all.

Thanks for sharing tidbits from your travels with us Carole. Reading your story makes me want to get back to Tuscany!

In March 2010, I was estatic to find out that our family jointly won the Ciao Bambino Family Vacation Photo Contest. The grand prize was a week-long stay at Casa Cornacchi, an upscale, gorgeous country house in Central Tuscany located 1.5 hours from Florence and 30 minutes away from Siena.

Family Photo in Florence Italy

Our Italy: Home Away From Home

Our family previously had both lived and traveled to Italy numerous times. We were first there in 2000, when my oldest daughter attended first grade at the public Scuola Elementare.

We came back in 2002, and 2004. By that time, my husband had been diagnosed with a rare form of non-smoker’s lung cancer, and so our last trip as a family to Italy was in 2006, when he was asked to be the keynote speaker at an architectural conference in Cosenza, in Southern Italy. George passed away in July 2007.

Grief Journey

So last year, when we found out we had won the Ciao Bambino contest, my daughters and I had very mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness. We love Italy so much, but we knew when we went back it would be an emotional trip, as our memories of George are so strongly tied to our lives there with him.

But, I knew that enough time had passed that the trip would be one that would help us travel further along the grief path.We took a twenty-one day trip spending two days traveling back and forth to Italy, five days in Rome, two in Milan, five in Venice, ending with our stay in Tuscany at Casa Cornacchi.

Casa Cornacchi Tuscany Italy

Casa Cornacchi

After traveling and moving around Italy for two weeks, we were happy to finally land at Casa Cornacchi.

The view from the top of the hill where the resort sits extends out to rolling green hills of olive trees overlooking other former palazzos, and guard houses situated along a former trade path to Siena and Florence. Giacomo, the property manager, gave us the entire Casa and area history, and was very helpful in regards to suggestions for day trips. At the bottom of the residential property is the pool and jacuzzi.

Our beautiful “Appartamento Niccolo” was located in the main building. We had a bi-level apartment with kitchen that would have been a perfect party space as the large table seats eight people. The furnishings in the apartment are rustic and comfortable, the living room contains an old church pew, and a lithograph of the local wild boar that we were told to watch out for. The two bathroom facilities are modern, clean and equipped with rain showers.

View from Climb in Siena Tuscany

Day Trips in Tuscany from Casa Cornacchi

With seven days at our home-base in Tuscany, we had plenty of time to explore the numerous small villages within an easy drive of the villa. Highlights on our trip included:

Siena and Monteriggioni

Only twenty minutes to the west from Casa Cornacchi is the beautiful piazza in Siena where the bi-annual Palio takes place, a bareback horse race where the seventeen “sections ” of the town compete for top rider. We climbed the Torre del Mangia and saw the decapitated head of Saint Catherine, whose body is in another church in Rome.

We drove to Monteriggioni for dinner. It is a small walled city with only thirty occupants. It takes only about two minutes to traverse the town from wall-to-wall.

Montevarchi

Halfway between the Casa and Florence lies Montevarchi, a town with the only modern architecture that was evident in our three weeks’ travel. It is the home of the Prada Outlet “SPACE.”

Bonci Chocolate Factory Display Tuscany Italy

Bonci Chocolate Factory

We drove the ninety minutes to Florence through Montevarchi, where we stopped at the Bonci chocolate factory with hopes of seeing artisan chocolatiers in action. The free samples made up for the fact that the factory was in an Easter rush, and couldn’t accommodate visitors.

San Gimignano and Rapolano Terme

San Gimignano dates back to the 11th century and was one of the oldest towns we visited. On the way back after a lunch in Piazza Cisterna, we stopped at Rapolano Terme, a modern hot springs spa. There are three hot springs and the warm heat paired with watching the local Italians enjoying themselves was in itself worth the reek of sulphur.

Orvieto

The site of Orvieto is one of the dramatic in Europe. It rises above almost-vertical faces of cliffs that are finished defensive walls built of the same stone. There are areas of artisans that can be found wandering the streets, along with the Well of St. Patrick described earlier.

Climbing Towers in Italy

Kids love climbing. We hadn’t planned on ascending every tower possible in every town or village that we visited, but we did.

Duomo in Florence (463 steps): This climb includes views of the river, and the city, and and a close up look at the impressive painting in the dome of The Last Judgement.

Tower at Chiesa San Giorgio de Maggiore in Venice: This climb provides beautiful views of the islands of Venice  and the Doges Palace and Piazza San Marco

Torre del Mangia in Siena (500+ steps): This winding staircase was the most narrow pathway, perhaps about two feet wide.

I thought the view from the top of this tower was the most spectacular of all the climbs, overlooking the beautiful curved streets and rooftops. The girls got a kick out of the fact that the bell rang, and made all of us jump, while we were at the top platform.

Torre Grossa in San Gimignano – This view down on the city shows a town much older than any of the others. (10th century) It is small and organized in straight rows. At one time, there existed seventy-two towers.

Duomo in Milan – This climb to the first roof provides a close-up view of the amazing gothic architecture, 135 spires, and 3400 statues. Then, you climb up a very steep and narrow path to the very top gable of the pitched roof. On the last staircase to the top, you can view down to the pigeon filled piazza and see people the size of ants, enjoying the sun, and watch the matchbox cable cars run through the square.

Pozzo di San Patrizio in Orvieto – Although not a climb up, but down, this was one of the most  interesting places in Italy. A well that was constructed in 1527 goes down  53 meters and is 13 meters wide, with 248 steps large enough to accommodate donkeys who were used to carry water to the surface.

Favorite Meals

A few of our most memorable meals in the area around Casa Cornacchi …

Alla Corte di Bacco: This restaurant in Ambra serves wonderful homemade garganelli with artichokes and zucchini, and pici pasta with duck breast sauce.

Osteria al Prato: This restaurant in Castelnuovo Berardgna servesa wonderful chef with Naples-style grilled meats and battered fried vegetables, polenta with wild funghi sauce, and vegetable souffle

Carole Yu owns BAOStyle, an accessories company that uses vintage kimono in our one-of-a-kind designs; purses, home décor, and custom clothing. Her daughters, ages 10 and 16, love exploring the globe, and they travel together as as a family as much as school allows.

Relevant Links:

Most popular family-friendly itinerary in Italy

52 things to know before traveling to Italy with kids

Things to do in Florence with kids

Kid-friendly tour guides in Italy 

Climbing the Duomo in Florence

Fantastic personal chef for villa and apartment rentals in Tuscany

72 hours in Rome with kids

Need to know facts about Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera for families

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