Article and photos by Josette King
This was la dolce vita at its best. Not the Fellini kind with dark-of-night Vespa races through the streets of Rome and impromptu dips in Bernini fountains but a leisurely discovery of the famed cultural and natural wonders of Tuscany. Our recent journey into the sweet life began in Florence where we lingered for a week, taking in the flavor of the city and its lesser frequented artistic gems as well as the world-renowned guidebook “must” sites.
We then headed south to the province of Siena and our base for the second week of our Tuscan holiday at Le Capanne, a luxury villa near the ancient hamlet of Camporsevoli on the border with Umbria, the neighboring state. From there we motored along back roads of the Chianti and Val d’Orcia, our daily explorations taking us to famed medieval cities such as Siena, Montepulciano and Bagno Vignoni, feasting our eyes along the way on rolling hills covered with quilts of vineyards, meadows and olive groves.
While we could have planned a satisfying trip using the extensive material available to potential tourists, a truly memorable escapade required the assistance of a local whose help and suggestions ensured that we experienced not only the sites but the very essence of Tuscany. Valentina Grossi, founder and manager of One Step Closer, a customized luxury tour company in Florence, was our local contact. She focused on our special areas of interests to create memorable adventures.
When I confessed my addiction to gelato, the decadently rich semi-soft Italian ice cream, Valentina was not content to recommend a visit to Vivoli (considered for several decades one the best gelaterias in Florence). Rather she arranged a visit with Silvana Vivoli, the grand-daughter of founder Raffaello Vivoli and current owner. We met in her laboratory where I spent a blissful hour discussing with her the finer points of gelato-making and sampling the elegant flavors that emerged from her slow-churning stainless steel centrifuges.
Personal friendships dating back several generations between Valentina’s family and the owners of private art collections, landmark palazzi and exclusive wineries opened doors to experiences usually unknown to tourists. In Valentina’s company, we were welcomed by Maria Vittoria Corti Grazzi, current owner of Palazzo Peruzzi. The palace, located a few steps away from the Piazza Santa Croce, is the last privately owned palace of the Peruzzi family, a Florentine dynasty reaching back to the 14th century. In addition to a private viewing of her eclectic art collection ranging from Roman sarcophagi and Byzantine icons to a number of Florentine 17th century paintings, Maria Vittoria graciously led us on a tour of the beautifully decorated reception rooms of her palazzo.
The following week, aware of my keen interest in enology, Valentina arranged a private visit of Altesino, an esteemed boutique winery in Montalcino, where Managing Director Guido Orzalesi guided us through the entire production cycle of their superb Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino wines before treating us to a sumptuous luncheon and tasting of Altesino’s prized vintages. Even in Italy, life doesn’t get any sweeter! Click here for more about my visit to Tuscany and stay at Le Capanne at Camporsevoli.