Greetings from La Solaia! We’ve spent a fun, busy week in Tuscany museum-hopping in Florence (free admission and no waiting in line, thanks to the Firenze Card), visiting the brand new Antinori Winery, and day tripping by train from Certaldo, our convenient home base 40 km southwest of Florence. While in the city we also took a special walking tour of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor—plus enjoyed the special treat of three dinners prepared by Tuscan chefs who partner with RentVillas. Best of all, we’ve spent a couple of lovely days by the shared pool at La Solaia, simply relaxing, swimming, and preparing simple meals. Here are some highlights from my week, plus travel tips:
Out and About in Florence
- One week before we left, we purchased our Firenze Cards online. The cards are 72 Euros each and are good for a period of 72 hours. With the card, we gained free access to most of the museums in the city, were guaranteed a spot at the front of the line, and received free passes for public transportation. This really makes a difference for places like the Accademia and the Uffizi! There is a Firenze Card office (one of many located throughout the city) across the street from the train station. We popped in as soon as we got into town on the train from Certaldo, and within minutes were equipped with our cards, maps, and WiFi information.
- On our first day with the cards, we headed straight to the Accademia Gallery (home of Michelangelo’s David), and then to the Ferragamo Museum. Afterwards, we took a Viator walking tour of the Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor. It was EXCELLENT! Our guide was engaging, personable, and educated. It was impossible to let your mind drift, since he immediately learned everyone’s name, and would call upon each of us individually! The tour took 3 hours. Highly recommend!
- On day two, we went to the Palazzo Davanzati, a palazzo that has been under restoration for the past several years. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried unsuccessfully to enter this building! If you love peeking into the lives of people who lived in the 14th to 16th centuries, this 4-story palazzo is a must. Bear in mind that it has restricted hours (10:00 AM – 1:30 PM), and that in order to visit the two top floors, you must ask the custodian on the first floor to be placed on the list. The access is only available at 10:00am, 11:00am and noon. I highly recommend doing this! Next we were on to the Museo Galileo, the Bargello Museum, Gucci Museo, and the Jewish Synagogue and Museum (a little out of the way, but worthwhile).
- On the 2nd day of our stay at La Solaia we drove to Bargino to visit the newly opened Antinori Winery, begun in 2005 and finished just this past March. It was quite a WOW experience! We made reservations online; click on “Book a Visit”. The visit costs 20 Euros per person for an hour-long tour and tasting of 3 wines. The building’s design and architecture are out-of-this-world! After the cellar tour and tasting, we had a memorable lunch in the restaurant. Makes for a perfect day trip!
La Solaia and Certaldo
- La Solaia is truly lovely. It was constructed out of an old wine cantina that was used before WWII by the family. We love that the villa is all on one floor (so unusual for Italy) and the open-plan design that encompasses the living room, dining room and kitchen. There is wonderful art on the walls as well as comfortable, tasteful décor. The owner, Elizabeth, is an American married to an Italian. As is the case with all her villas (Villa Certaldo and Villa Sella—also on the same estate) La Solaia is fully-equipped with every possible amenity and comfort. There’s a big PAM supermarket just 10 minutes away. The shared pool (16 m) is great for swimming and is the ultimate jet lag cure! This place is perfect for a large family/families or group of couples, since the three villas (soon to be 4, when the house below La Solaia is furnished) are far enough away from each other for privacy, but close enough for visiting back and forth. They all share the same parking area.
- We drove into Certaldo and took the funicular up to Certaldo Alto, the medieval historic center. It’s a great spot of a gelato and a stroll. I had the best limone gelato of my life—and I’ve tried it everywhere!
- Getting into Florence from La Solaia was a snap. We drove the 10 minutes from the villa to the Certaldo train station and parked our car in the lot right next to the station. A quick ticket validation (we’d purchased tickets the night before at the automated machine, but this is not really necessary, as it is easy to do right before catching the train), and we were ready for the train, which runs, in general, about once an hour at 10 minutes after the hour, and takes 45 – 52 minutes. During “rush hours” there are more trains. The train is Siena – Florence; Florence – Siena.
Three Dinners, Three Chefs
Elisa Porciati has been a chef for 12 years, running a tavola calda with her mother, and working as a private villa chef for 4 years. She prepared an amazing, beautifully presented dinner, including eggplant timbale (my favorite!); saffron risotto with vegetables; roasted rabbit with a tomato, bread and herb gratin; and finally a pudding with herb-roasted peaches.
Cinzia Malgeri manages a group of 10 chefs who cook all over Tuscany. From the time she and her assistant arrived at the villa, I was very impressed by her organization and the incredible aromas of garlic, onions, and truffles that wafted into the living room. We dined on bruschette miste with tomatoes and pate’ (including gluten-free bread for me!); carpaccio wrapped around goat cheese and capers topped with minced garlic and onions; a risotto with truffles, onions, garlic, and parsley; and glazed citrus chicken with sautéed zucchini. For dessert there were sliced peaches in wine and liqueur, as well as a gorgeous torta di cioccolato (none for me!)
Mattisse, a veteran chef and longtime RentVillas partner, prepared a beautiful meal of bruschetta with sautéed mushrooms; a risotto with fish, parsley, and onion; flambéed chicken breasts with lots of herbs, served with grilled zucchini; and panna cotta. Wonderful! Mattisse has developed several types of new menus, including organic, health-wise options.