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Discover Tuscany!, Issue #003 -- FREE Wine & Easter eggs
April 03, 2003
Discover Tuscany! is a FREE monthly Newsletter by award winning staff writer Justin Tatopoulos dedicated to helping you get the best from your holiday in Tuscany.
Hope you’re all well and keeping warm. Firstly, heartfelt thanks to one of our ever-growing number of avid readers in Canada who said last month’s newsletter was like “a ray of sunshine” (Think maybe you should get out more Helen!.
Here in downtown “Chianti shire” we’re just about coming out of winter hibernation.
The pink fairy outfit has been neatly packed away until next carnival season (I think it quite suited me actually). Finally, Spring is in the air, the shops are starting to fill up with fantastic 4 foot high Easter eggs and everyone is stocking up with this seasons coolest sunglasses (to be worn in night clubs, supermarkets etc). We went for a boat trip round Lake Trasimeno last weekend. It’s one of the few lakes in Central Italy and well worth a day trip out to the islands and to sample the lake fish. Since I wrote that we’ve also built a snowman and been to the beach! Let’s just say it’s a tad changeable but looking hopeful for a bit of toasty weather soon.
Discover Tuscany! This month is packed full of useful info on such things as artichoke juice, Tuscan castles with four poster beds, boiled egg festivals and why old men walk around holding small radios to their ears on Sunday afternoons. All to help you enjoy your holiday in Tuscany.
1) Hi, it’s our 3rd issue
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To “DISCOVER TUSCANY!” the www.rent-a-villa-in-tuscany.com Newsletter. We hope you enjoy reading it and find the information and advice useful when planning your holiday in Tuscany. We have lots of great ideas for the content but if have any ideas, comments or suggestions, please feel free to get in touch. We’d love to hear from you, just email us. Maybe there is something you need to know before you arrive or a great tip you’d like to pass on after your holiday, (when you get home don’t forget to sign our guest book on the site to tell us about your holiday).
It’s Easter time
Easter in Italy is considered second only to Christmas in importance. Although it is first and foremost a religious festival, as with all celebrations in Italy good food and wine are also to be found in abundance.
Some important events worth checking out in Tuscany around Easter include –
The “Scoppio del Carro” which takes place outside the cathedral in Florence on Easter Sunday (20th April this year). The origins of this ceremony can be traced back to the 11th Century Crusades. Some pieces of stone allegedly from the Holy Sepulchre are housed in a three storey “Float” which sits outside the cathedral. A mechanical dove “Flies” along a wire from high up inside the cathedral and hits the “Float” which them explodes setting off a spectacular fireworks display. If all goes well it is taken as a good luck sign for the following harvest. Get there early, the square will be crammed. Lots of local restaurants do special Easter Sunday lunches.
Down at the coast in Argentario at Porto S. Stefano a colourful parade celebrates the resurrection with decorated boats, which sound their sirens. Good fish restaurants!
At Grassina just outside Florence a “Passion Play” with actors in costume takes place on 18th April.
At Castiglion Fiorentino near Arezzo there is a torchlit parade on Good Friday involving hundreds of hooded figures who parade through the streets chanting. Eerie, looks a bit like a Ku Klux Klan convention.
April also sees the start of one of my favourite Tuscan traditions “Food Festivals” This month in various towns and villages throughout the area there are festivals dedicated to Beans, Trout, Snails, Boiled Eggs, Wild Boar, Figs and Salted Cod. Yummy!
Easter egg design and decoration has been elevated to the level of an artform here. Eggs are wrapped in huge pieces of shiny paper or some are hand decorated. Most bars have an Easter raffle where you can win a 4 foot high decorated chocolate egg. Some people have special eggs made with expensive gifts inside to give as presents.
Sometimes it’s just like being in a foreign country - Spaghetti spy movies!
Ah!… Tuscany…. So relaxing… but go for a stroll on any Sunday afternoon and you may witness a seemingly sinister phenomenon taking place in a myriad of local parks and assorted public places all over the country. Picture a scene a bit like something from a 50’s B movie (let’s say for arguments sake a spaghetti western only about spies!), little old Italian couples can be seen shuffling along, Maria (not her real name) is wearing what resembles a floral marquee, whilst Giovanni (not his real name) is totally ignoring her and has a little miniature radio pressed tightly to his ear (secret agent style with a 2 foot aerial sticking up into the air). Every now and then he mutters to himself or curses in local dialect as if talking to the Italian version of “M”.
For those of a nervous disposition, please BE WARNED – at any moment and totally without warning, Giovanni (not his real name) may leap up into the air, gesticulating wildly and screaming the Italian equivalent of “Go on my son” or “ere we go, ere we go, ere we go” or “there’s only one Roberto Biaggio (his real name) na na na etc” Giovanni (not his real name) will most probably get all emotional, weep uncontrollably, he may even end up beating the ground with his fists, Maria (not her real name ) will continue shuffling along totally ignoring him, she’s seen it all before!
Yes, it’s Sunday afternoon football on the radio. In Italy, football games are all played on Sundays, (except the ones that are played on Wednesdays and special holidays in honour of some obscure saint) and any self respecting Inter or Juve fan wouldn’t miss a second of the action!!
Anyone who has booked one of our villas and can tell me who actually said “sometimes it’s just like being in a foreign country” (or something like it) will find a crate of “fine wines” totally “on the house” when they arrive. Can’t say fairer than that guv. The piece of cutting edge journalism above should give you a clue. As you may have guessed by now this neck of the woods is awash with wine, we brush our teeth with it, we wash the car with it, we even bath the baby in it! Give me any old excuse and if it amuses me I’ll probably throw in a few bottles of plonk.
NEW Car Hire Link – simple, fast and great prices!
As most of our Villas, Farmhouses and Castles are in the country, unless you drive from home (probably get lost if you come from New Zealand anyway) A HIRE CAR is essential. We’ve had lots of requests for advice on car hire. Firstly, we always recommend sorting things out before arriving. An Italian version of Charades with you trying to mime a blue VW hatch back with baby seat is not the best way to start your holiday. In high season it can be very difficult getting availability if you turn up unannounced and we’ve found prices are normally much better if you book in advance, online or from outside the country.
We now have a link on the site which allows you to book your hire car online from our partners “HOLIDAY AUTOS” We’ve used them a lot both in Italy and the UK and found them friendly, efficient and have very competitive prices. As well as car hire you can also save on airport parking, airport lounges and airport hotels.
When booking your car you can choose to pick it up at the airport, pick it up locally or have it delivered to your villa. There are pros and cons to each. Picking it up immediately is convenient, no carrying heavy bags etc. and you drop it off at the end of your holiday. However, if you haven’t driven in Italy before it could be a bit of a shock to the system, stepping right off the plane one moment and onto the Rome ring road (for ring road read race track) at rush hour the next.
If you prefer we have arrangements with a couple of local companies who can pick you up at the airport and take you to your villa. You can then either pick up your car locally or have it delivered to your villa, hassle free, you could also travel by public transport to the local car hire office (only an option from certain airports and can mean changing trains/buses with heavy bags). If you reckon you’ll only use a car for short local journeys or you don’t feel you want to tackle Italian motorway driving, this may be an option worth considering. Costs for airport pickups depend on the distance to the airport but work out more economical for larger groups who can split the cost. If you’re interested contact us for more details.
For a (tongue in cheek) idea of what driving in Italy is like see the article on the site “Car Hire” page “All roads lead to Rome – even if they’re one way” by American writer Dave Barry. Made me laugh, it’s not quite like he says but…….
Artichoke Juice – Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask
Tuscans, being some of the most civilised people on the planet (so they tell me) do everything in moderation. They don’t just eat, they dine! In keeping with this civilised behaviour, particular dishes and drinks are often combined (as in the Scottish combo - Irn Bru and Pot Noodle for example) and some drinks are only consumed before or after dinner. A bit like a Continental equivalent of the British habit of consuming 6 pints of Guinness before a Doner Kebab with extra curry sauce, only difference being the Italians don’t throw up in the back of a taxi after, but I’m sure you get my general gastronomic drift.
The after dinner drinks are called “digestivi” and are intended to aid the digestion after a modest 6 course lunch, even though a stomach pump would be more appropriate in my opinion, but then again us foreigners can’t talk, we order hot milky drinks after dinner. These drinks are served in little doll’s house glasses (do dolls drink hard liquor? can’t say I’ve seen a Barbie hip flask on sale recently) and are made from a subtle blend of oriental herbs and spices (or is that HP sauce?). They usually taste a bit like mouth-wash or the kind of cough mixture you hated as a kid and burn all the way down. This means they are very good for you and help the enormous plate of wild boar and chips you’ve just scoffed, go down a treat. As part of our policy of helping you successfully negotiate the minefield of Tuscan etiquette I have personally sampled a wide selection of the most popular “Digestivi”, I know it’s a tough job but someones got to do it. I’m sure some of you would make the same sacrifice for any Tuscans visiting your country.
The most popular “digestivi” –
Ramazzotti – some say it’s made from distilled Milanese smog. Tastes a bit like cough mixture. Quite pleasant in a medicinal sort of way.
Averna – made from artichokes, sounds revolting but it’s really quite pleasant.
Unicum – Made in Hungary and comes in a Globe shaped bottle with a cross on, kind of stuff enterprising monks flog to gullible tourists.
Branca Menta – after dinner mouth wash, revolting!
Barbarano???… -made from rhubarb, designed to clean out the tanks and it does what it says on the bottle.
Sambuca – Aniseed flavour, kind of thing you like if you like that kind of thing, smell of it makes me feel sick but….
Jeigermeister – Of German origin, quite tasty really.
Go on, try them if you think you’re hard enough!
Tell a friend
Word of mouth is always the best publicity. If you like our web site don’t keep it to yourself! Tell all your friends. If they book, tell them to mention your name (we’ll find a way to say thanks!)
Flight update – who’s doing what and for how much!
News from the low cost airlines this month.
URGENT – Ryanair have a fantastic 2day sale of flights to Italy BUT you MUST book by midnight Fri 4th April. They have flights to Italy for less than £5 (one way + taxes). Conditions are – book by Fri 4 April, Travel period 23 April – 5 June, 12 am Mon – 13.00 Thurs + Sat after 12.00, Flights to Bologna Forli, Venice Treviso, Rome Ciampino, Bergamo, Brescia. Pisa is also possible for £9.99.
Even after adding taxes this is a superb offer. Check it out!
Easyjet fares for this period cost around £100
New Scottish low cost airline
has some good prices on its Prestwick – Rome direct route (if you’re coming from Scotland the direct flight can save you a lot of travel time, leave at 7 in the morning be in Rome before lunchtime, almost like adding 2 days to your holiday) They are also offering FREE railtravel from anywhere in Scotland to Prestwick airport until Sept 2003.
The Irish airline Aerlingus
has a good, clear easy to use website. They are offering Dublin – Rome £85 one way (+ taxes) Also good prices if you’re thinking of travelling to N. America.
Sometimes it’s just like being in a foreign country! - Butter
MMMMM hot buttered toast, Yummy!
Not here you don’t.
Asking for butter on your bread is almost (but not quite) as bad as that after dinner cappuccino (see last month’s handy, pocket sized guide to the coffee jungle).
Tuscans eat lots of bread, but never with butter. At dinner you will get Tuscan unsalted bread as standard and each area and town has its own varieties of delicious breads, some unsalted, some with oil. Look out for “cotto a legna” which means baked in a wood oven. If you really crave “Mothers Pride” type, sliced white bread you can find it hidden away in the “Ethnic foods” section of some supermarkets.
NEW order your travel money online.
As part of our policy to make things as simple, hassle free and most importantly as cost effective as possible for anyone planning a holiday in Tuscany we have added a CURRENCY EXCHANGE SERVICE to the site this month in conjunction with our partners ONLINEFX, the UK’s leading internet foreign exchange company.
NEW Properties –
We are really excited about the new properties we have coming online in the next few days. They all have that important WOW factor and allow us to offer a wide range of properties to suit all tastes. We have a number of fantastic TUSCAN CASTLES with frescoed banqueting halls, four-poster beds and some of the most breathtaking views in the world. We’re also adding a few hotels and residences in or near some of the major Tuscan art cities, which will allow our guests to choose between culture and tranquillity (or even mix the two as it’s possible to rent rooms by the night).
Online booking with fantastic savings on - airport parking, pre flight airport lounges, airport hotels. Airport pick up service, phone & laptop hire, Italian products shop and lots more.
Well, that’s all folks! Hope you found some of the info useful and maybe even entertaining. Let us know what you’d like to see, we’ll be adding lots more in the coming months.
Ciao, a presto
(Award winning Staff writer)
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