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Italy - Tuscany & Venice    September/October 2011

Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is known for its landscapes, picturesque hill towns, art (it is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance) delicious food and wine.

It is the perfect destination for a 'slow travel' experience. Rent a condo, rent a car and get ready to explore.

Our condo in Tuscany was in Loro Ciuffenna, a little town situated on both sides of a magnificent gorge.
Each morning, over delicious coffee and breakfast, we would plan our day.

One day we selected Cortona. We could see this hilltop village from miles away. The road wound up, round and round the hill, ending at the summit in the old town centre.

We marvelled at the medieval architecture as we climbed up and down the steep, narrow streets. We could fully understand its selection as the setting for the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun".

Another day we drove to Siena. We parked our car in a public lot and simply strolled along the cobbled streets, taking in the beauty of the ancient city centre, which has been designated a World Heritage site.

We visited the cathedral whose tower dominates the skyline.

Deciding to return to our car, we realized we had no idea where it was. Fortunately we had taken a picture of the name of the lot, which we showed to one of the many university students walking in the area. She took us to her car, which was in the same lot.

For several days, we journeyed over hilly, winding roads, past olive groves, through vineyards, to villages with names like Perugia and Montepulciano.

We visited beautiful Florence with its magnificent churches, its famous paintings and monuments, its leather markets, and its shops.

In each town and city, we wandered the ancient narrow streets, ate delicious homemade pasta and sipped fine wines at outdoor cafés.

Leaving Tuscany, we journey northeast on major highways, to our spa hotel near Venice. Italian drivers are fast and efficient. Being passed by a Ferrari, Maserati or Alfa Romero is quite thrilling. The scenery in this area is different from Tuscany. There are more cities, more trees and rocks, and fewer farms and vineyards.

Again, we planned each day's itinerary from behind a coffee cup. We visited Europe's oldest Botanical Gardens in Padua. We visited Verona, the Florence of the North, famous for an ancient Roman Arena and Juliet's balcony made famous by Shakespeare.

We visited walled cities with names like Treviso and Bologna. We strolled past market stalls laden with colourful fresh food.

We marvelled at historic mansions, museums housing priceless treasures, majestic cathedrals and romantic canals.

One morning we decided to visit the islands of the Venetian lagoon. We boarded a train and then transferred to a water taxi.
First stop was the glass and crystal island of Murano where we were treated to a glass-blowing demonstration.
Next stop was the lace making island of Burano. Both islands have extremely colourful homes built along picturesque canals.

And finally we visited Venice, a city like no other. While my companions shopped, I wandered the city. Venice is winding streets and unexpected courtyards. It is outdoor cafés, busy squares and magnificent churches. And of course, its canals teeming with boats and gondolas,

TIPS for this type of trip:

1. Pack Light. One bag, that's it. To enjoy independent travel you need mobility and freedom. You will walk with your luggage more than you anticipate, so make it either a sturdy carry-on size or a backpack/wheeled bag combination piece. This allows you to be in control of it if there are last minute changes or rushes to catch trains or buses.

2. Bring two pairs of shoes and enough mix and match clothing for one week and be prepared to do hand washes every couple of days. Pack only clothing that will dry quickly and wrinkle-free.