Posts Tagged ‘Kept’

Best Kept Secret Under the Tuscan Sun

Once upon a time there were 5 small fishing villages completely isolated from the world on a remote Mediterranean coast. Slowly over the centuries, it was encroached by an influx of European tourists. Few Americans have yet to discover it and we felt most fortunate now to have a guided visit to Cinque Terre.

No words can capture the breathtaking beauty of these sunlit villages clinging to sheer rock cliffs with a backdrop of a turquoise sea. It is simply dramatic. This is a land of chestnuts, lemons, olives, anchovies, cheese, honey and grapes. It was harvest time on our arrival when everything bloomed with a profusion of color.

We began with a visit to Groppo, a winery that produces the rare sweet raisin white wine native only to Cinque Terre. We tasted the sweet crisp vintage fresh from the harvest that runs a bottle. Groppo is also a coop where nearly 200 local farmers have come this week to deliver their bushels of green grapes. It’s extremely arduous and heroic work set in the most unique landscape of the world. Some must tether themselves by ropes to avoid a tumble down the thousand foot cliffs.

Over the centuries, generations of families have built 8 million cubic meters of stone walls, stacking rocks without ant cohesive material to create the terraces that will support their vineyards. A myriad of cliff-side paths connect the villages for a hikers dream.

We hiked down into the isolated town of Manarola which was beyond charming with no cars, but only boats parked in its streets. Tiny stores sold a hundred different shapes of packaged pastas. I lunched on a mountain of artichokes and salami and then walked along the famed Via del Armoe. This is the ancient “lover’s lane”, nearly a mile that follows the rocky coast and crystal water to the town of Riomaggiore. Not as impressive there, we took a train through the tunnels to my favorite town of Vernazza.

Here I discovered the quintessential Italy of my imagination. Approaching the waterfront was like a virtual walk into a sweeping watercolor painting, far more vivid than a postcard. My brief time there was spent hunting hotel rooms for an obligatory return visit to linger longer in this hidden and tranquil Shangri La.

The rest of our time was spent in the regions of Tuscany, known for its art treasures, architecture, stone farm houses and hilly landscapes spilling over with colorful vineyards. On this “hub and spoke tour”, we only had to unpack once at our base in Montecatini Terme, a spa town dating back to the 14th century.

We toured Floence, cradle of the Renaissance and Mother to the arts. In the gothic city of Siena, we strolled through cobbled streets into magnificent cathedrals. In San Gimignano, we stepped back in time to photograph its feudal towers with spectacular vista views.

A highlight for me was stomping grapes at San Donato Farm. The juices squished between my toes. The family owners here welcomed us as friends with hospitality as warm and traditional as the fine Chianti they served us. The annual grape harvest only lasts 10 days in September. It’s called “Le Vendemmia” and the locals celebrate it with passion.

Free time was provided for independent exploration. Some visited the spas of Terme, others rode bicycles through town. Most people scattered to the nearby towns of artistic Lucca, Pisa with its iconic leaning tower, Greve and Montecatini Alto, each distinct in character and timeless. I licked enough different gelato flavors to last a lifetime.

On our last night, we all boarded the funicular for a ride up to a medieval village. There we celebrated a journey well done over a 5 course gourmet farewell dinner. This was a laissez-faire vacation to a land where the pace of life slows down enough to enjoy it, truly the land of la dolce vita.

Since 1990 when Suzy Davis founded Adventures For Singles, she has shared her love of travel with others by leading thousands of singles around the world visiting over 100 countries.

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