Fine food is highlight of 'A Taste of Tuscany' trip

January 13, 2003|by ART RICHARDS

In my search for a tour of Italy with an unusual touch, I came across the American Express Tour appropriately named "A Taste of Tuscany!"

The idea of staying in villas fascinated me, and although I'm not a connoisseur of Italian food, learning the fine art of Italian cooking sounded interesting.

Another attraction was the features and number of meals. The Italian wines, for which the Tuscany area is known, was the highlight of many meals.

Last year, I indulged with a group from Hagerstown. On arrival in Milan, we were met by our tour manager. Much to my delight, we had met previously in Hagerstown when he toured the United States on behalf of American Express.


We overnighted in Milan and had a wonderful opportunity to see the many sights of the city. The stunning Duomo (cathedral) and the famous Scaler Museum and theater were special treats.

Our first dinner, a welcome Milanese buffet party outside of town, was excellent and we could tell it was going to be a good experience for the rest of the trip.

The next day, we traveled south via Bologna, the gastronomic center of Italy, before arriving at our home for the next four nights, the Villa Pitiana.

This 18th-century Patrician Villa in a rural area near Florence offers rooms in a converted 12th-century convent.

The charm and service were impeccable and the scenery, flower gardens and food were beyond expectations.

Speaking of food, we enjoyed two three-hour sessions with the chef, who taught us how to prepare local specialties. Then we had the pleasure of sampling our creations for dinner.

We prepared homemade pasta with wild boar ragout. My favorite was the Breast of Guinea Fowl "Tuscany Style." The puff pastry with pears and rosemary in vanilla sauce and the local wine were superb and inexpensive.

We were able to unpack and enjoy day trips to Florence for sightseeing and shopping as well as Sienna, a medieval town in the Chianti hills that is famous for wines.

Our lunch stop was a Tuscan winery where we had a farmhouse lunch of local specialties and a selection of top-class regional Italian wines.

Our next stop was San Gimignano with the medieval spires and towers and quaint cobbled streets. I don't know when I have enjoyed a stay more than the Villa Pitiana in Donnini.

After a superb stay in Tuscany we headed north, passing Bologna for a stop at the Ferrari headquarters where we toured the museum.

We had lunch at Parma, famous for the Parma Ham, Tortellini and Parmesan cheese.

We arrived at our home for the next three nights - the Relais Villa Pomela, which is about 90 minutes from Milan airport. The Villa consisted of 42 bedrooms as large as junior suites and five suites as large as apartments.

The charm and elegance, antique furnishings and location on a hillside overlooking the valley were simply breathtaking. Once again, we found the food to be gourmet and plentiful, a true pleasure and luxury.

From our villa, we toured Barolo Castle for wine tasting and sampling of Asti Spumanti - also produced in this region of Italy. Another day found us on an excursion to Portofina and the fashionable Italian Riviera.

I have traveled extensively over the 40 years I have been in the travel business, and I can honestly say this trip was one of my favorites.

Art Richards owns Richards World Travel Inc. in Hagerstown.

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