Spectacular festivals in Tuscany

April 13, 2013 at 5:07 AM

Tuscany has a rich and diverse cultural heritage and is well known for its traditions, history, music, artistic legacy and its continued influence on high culture. It was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and has been home to many artists, writers and thinkers throughout history. Its fertile lands are the source of a range of produce and it is famous for its food, wine, mineral resources including marble and textiles and fashion. With such a rich and varied background, it is of course inevitable that the region is host to dozens of festivals throughout the year celebrating everything from their history to agricultural produce to art, usually with an exciting competitive element involved. The following is just a sample of the range of spectacular and unique festivals that can be discovered in the villages, towns and cities of Tuscany.

CIMG1596 (Photo: marco.ziero)

View of Pescia (Photo: marco.ziero)

Pinnochio’s Birthday

The Adventures of Pinnochio was written in the Tuscan capital of Florence between 1881 and 1883 by Italian author Carlo Collodi. Set in Tuscany, the city of Pescia celebrates the little wooden boy’s birthday every year at the end of May. Collodi, a traditional medieval village and part of Pescia, is home to the Park of Pinocchio. Different from typical amusement parks, this is more of a nature trail filled with sights from the children’s novel. During the birthday celebrations, visitors to the park will enjoy live music, puppet shows (naturally) and a massive birthday cake.

The world’s best wine regions

February 4, 2013 at 8:29 AM

Tuscan grapesFor some travellers, one of the best ways to experience new countries and cultures is by indulging in local food and wines. Some of the most memorable holiday experiences are created around local cuisine and wine. Gastronomic tourism allows you to experience local culture through great food and wine, all the while enjoying beautiful surroundings and creating memorable holiday experiences. More specifically, vinitourism allows travellers to combine the pleasures of travel with the joys of fine wine, so if your idea of the perfect holidays is touring wineries in Bordeaux or Napa Valley, read on. For those vinitourism enthusiasts, here is a list of my favourite wine-producing regions around the world.

10 secluded beaches in Italy

June 29, 2012 at 2:50 AM

Travelers come from around the world to experience the extraordinary beauty of the Italian coastline. Italians have been blessed with some of the Mediterranean’s best beaches, but they aren’t all crowds and colourful sunbeds. There are some secluded beaches where people can leave behind the stress of everyday life and relax in unspoilt natural beauty. Here are our favourite 10 secluded beaches in Italy.

Bidderosa Beach, Sardinia

This secluded beach is located in Orosei, Sardinia, and is part of a nature reserve. In order to go to the beach you need to buy a ticket from the Forest Station of Orosei, as daily admission is restricted. The beach here is made up of five coves where crystal clear water laps at the silver white sand. To reach Bidderosa Beach you walk down a beautiful path lined with junipers and pine trees. The 4km walk ends with possibly the most beautiful beach in Italy.

Bagni della Regina Giovanna, Campania

Beach in Campania

Located near Sorrento, in the Campania region of southern Italy, is the beautiful hidden cove of Bagni della Regina Giovanna. The rocky slopes that surround Bagni della Regina Giovanna make reaching this beautiful spot a bit tricky, but the rock pools, turquoise water and archway that joins this lagoon to the sea make it well worth the effort. The lagoon can also be reached by boat.

Laurito, Amalfi Coast

The restaurant punt by Tim Lumsdaine

Photo by Tim Lumsdaine (Flickr)

The Amalfi Coast is well known for its selection of gorgeous beaches, which are buzzing with activity during the summer months. But there are a few beaches along the Amalfi Coast that the locals like to keep secret. One of these lovely spots is Laurito. Here you can stretch out on deck chairs and watch as the turquoise water laps at the dark sand and pebbles. Although it’s a popular spot with the locals, it isn’t overrun with tourists and is a pleasant change from busier Amalfi Coast beaches. There’s a bus stop above the steep path that climbs down to Laurito, but shuttle boats that leave from Positano’s main jetty are a more popular option when it comes to reaching this secluded beach, just look for the boat with the red fish on the mast.

Cala Luna, Sardinia

Cala Luna

Cala Luna is another gorgeous secluded beach that can be found in Sardinia, on the northwestern coast near Dorgali. The crescent shaped beach is surrounded by lush green hills and overlooks the Gulf of Orosei. Cala Luna is ideal if you’re traveling with small children, as the water is shallow and crystal clear. The warm water temperature also makes Cala Luna a great sport for snorkeling and scuba diving. If you’re feeling adventurous you can explore six small caves nearby, as well as Del Bue Marino grotto, which can be reached by boat.

To reach Cala Luna, follow the footpath from Cala Fuili or Balnei, but be warned, it’s a strenuous hike, so if you’re not up to it, or if you are traveling with young children, then reaching Cala Luna by boat is a better option. Boats leave from Cala Gonone port or Marina di Orosei.

Dino Island, Praia a Mare, Calabria

Dino Island

Photo by Diluvienne (Flickr)

Approximately 100 m from the beach at Praia a Mare sits a rock outcrop called Dino Island. It’s here that you’ll find gorgeous hidden coves and impressive sea caves that are accessible by small craft and paddle boats. Scuba diving is also popular here. If you want to get your adrenalin pumping when you’re visiting Praia a Mare, you can cliff jump off Arcomagno Rock, a 22 metre (67 feet) natural bridge over a hidden bay, or go paragliding.

Tordigliano Beach, Amalfi Coast

Sorrento beach

Another one of the Amalfi Coast’s gems is Tordigliano Beach, which is located 15km from Sorrento. It is comprised of 3 pebble beaches and is one of the most beautiful, unspoilt spots along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. From the beach, you can enjoy a splendid view of the Li Galli islands. Most travelers arrive here by boat, but it is possible to reach this beach on foot. There is a rough trail that begins at SS road Amalfitana no. 163, and leads 2km down to the beach.

Cala Mariolu, Sardinia

Cala Mariolu in Sardinia

The splendid Cala Mariolu beach is located in Sardinia. Here azure blue water and pink pebbles create a beach of incomparable beauty. The shallow, calm water is ideal for families with small children. The water is also ideal for snorkeling. Although Cala Mariolus can be reached on foot, it’s an arduous trek, so the best way to reach it is by boat leaving from Cala Gonone, Arbatax or Santa Maria Navarrese.

Riserva Dello Zingaro, Sicily

Riserva Dello Zingaro in Sicily

Located in Sicily, Riserva Dello Zingaro beach is set in a beautifully rugged and protected area of the island. When you’re staying in a Sicily holiday rental you’ll have your pick of coves along the coast, with magnificent white sand and astoundingly clear water. It’s the perfect place to relax.

Macarro Beach, Basilicata

Basilicata beach

Macarro beach is a favourite with local residents. The small beach is set in a delightful little bay overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Relax in the sunshine or enjoy the warm water that is ideal for swimming and snorkeling. To get to the black sand beach, there is short hike down a steep path from the Macarro Beach car park.

Santa Croce Beach, Amalfi Coast

Santa Croce beach

Photo by Titus Plattner (Flickr)

The Amalfi Coast beach of Santa Croce may be busy during July and August, but for the rest of the year it’s one of the most beautiful little secluded spots along the Amalfi Coast. The water is a gorgeous shade of turquoise blue and there are beachside restaurants where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch. You can reach Santa Croce via boat or via a steep flight of stairs from the Amalfi Coast Road.

Fabulous Florence

March 8, 2012 at 3:49 AM

There are some cities in the world that have a feeling of timeless beauty about them, where the old blends seamlessly and stylishly with the new, and Florence is one of those. As the cradle of the Renaissance the city has a legendary artistic and cultural heritage, with world-famous paintings, monuments, museums and buildings.

Renaissance cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

Florentine artists and sculptors like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, Giotto, the Lippis, Masaccio, Botticelli and Pontormo left their mark on the city and gave the rest of the world a new style of art and architecture. It is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, the jewel in Tuscany‘s crown. It is an open-air museum that every person should visit at least once in his or her lifetime. In a word, Florence is fabulous.

Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour of Florence

The historic city center is relatively small and easily explored on foot. Tourist information offices throughout the city offer detailed maps of attractions so you can plan your route around the city, or you can download a self-guided walking tour app if you own a smartphone. The city is flat so another great option for sightseeing is to hire a bicycle. You’ll have time to visit all the famous monuments, museums and churches and still have plenty of time to sit down and enjoy a great Italian meal.

If you are planning your own route, a great place to start is Pitti Palace, a Renaissance palace that used to be home to the powerful and wealthy Medici family. From Pitti Palace make your way across Ponte Vecchio, the city’s oldest bridge, and you’ll find yourself in the historic city center. In the old town center you’ll find the main tourist attractions like the Duomo, Giotto’s Tower and the famous Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, as well as dozens of delightful little alleyways that lead onto bustling piazzas.

The down side to such a beautiful city is that it’s very crowded during high season. When you are visiting popular attractions like Accademia Gallery, or the Uffizi, make sure you purchase your ticket online in advance to avoid standing in a ticket queue for 2 hours. Both museums are pricey but well worth the cost when you see the amazing collection of artwork. The Accademia Gallery has a world-renowned collection of artistic masterpieces, including the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo’s David. The Uffizi, one of the world’s most visited museums, houses treasures like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera, Raphael’s Madonna and Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child.

One of the most popular attractions in Florence is the Duomo di Firenze. This beautiful Renaissance cathedral, also known as Santa Maria del Fiore, has a Dome that offers panoramic city views. Adjacent to the Duomo is Giotto’s Tower, which can also be climbed. Other attractions to include on a self-guided walking tour of Florence are Bargello museum, the Baptistery, Santa Croce Basillica, which contains monumental tombs of the cities greatest artists and philosophers, Basilica of San Lorenzo, and San Marco Convent and museum, with it’s large library and a wonderful “Last Supper” fresco.

The city also has bustling squares like Piazzale Michelangelo, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Santa Croce. These are great places to sit down for a drink or to just enjoy people watching. There are also dozens of great and inexpensive places to eat in Florence. You can get a breakfast on the run, like a dolce con crema (croissant with custard filling), from the food stalls in San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale. If you cross the Arno River on Ponte Vespucci, make your way to Via Pisana, where you’ll find the delightful Trattoria Sabatino. It’s the perfect place for an inexpensive lunch.

Venturing Further Out

Venturing outside of the city brings its own rewards as you explore the Chianti countryside. Cycle through vineyards on a wine-tasting tour, or hike through the picturesque hills. If you stay in a Val d’Elsa villa you’ll find yourself perfectly situated to enjoy the best of the rolling green Tuscan hills, whilst still being close enough to explore all the treasures of Florence. Villas in the Florentine Hills and Mugello also make a great base from which to explore the cities of Siena, Pisa, Lucca and San Gimignano.

The whole area is magnificent. The beautiful countryside has made Tuscany famous, and the city itself offers endless opportunities to enjoy the artistic and architectural splendor of Florence. Florence and its magnificent treasures await!

10 lakeside holiday rentals

March 5, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Wherever there are mountains you will also find lakes… and holiday rentals! Lake holidays in a self catering accommodation give you the opportunity to enjoy the stunning landscape of the countryside but also relax while taking advantage of the wide range of facilities that you can’t find in over-priced hotels.

Have a look at this selection of lakeside holiday rentals in Europe and North America.

A top notch townhome style lodge in an exclusive lakefront community. Lake Tahoe, California. Property 275917.
Close to Tremezzo you can find this splendid bright and spacious duplex. Lake Como, Italy. Property 873541.
This five star villa is built on two levels and includes jacuzzi bath and fireplace. Haute Savoie, France. Property 632310.
A stunning apartment with modern furniture and top-of the range fittings. Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Property 1001709.
Enjoy superb walks around Lake Zell just five minute walk from this catered chalet. Salzburg, Austria. Property 80297.
Sleep in this abbey with private garden and sports facilities nearby Loch Ness. Scotland. Property 500964.
This house has been recently renovated respecting its original stone. Lake Ullswater, England. Property 464385.
This chalet with excellent facilities is located by the shores of Lake Bohinj. Upper Carniola, Slovenia. Property 819324.
Lakeview House and Estate is a luxurious mansion directly on the Lakes of Killarney. Ireland. Property 841200.
This wooden construction house sits on Robinson Lake, ideal for water-sports. British Columbia, Canada. Property 937302.

Have you found any amazing lakeside accommodation while browsing around HomeAway.co.uk? Do you own a property with lake access? Please share them by leaving a comment below.