Our Tuscany adventure started in Florence at the beautiful Villa Cora. We arrived quite late so we decided on room service where we had our first Italian pizza and it didn't disappoint :)
Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day so I wasn't about to let up on an opportunity to go full out and Villa Cora presented the most incredible buffet of hot and cold food - plenty for the health conscious and plenty if you want to indulge. Personally I tried to keep my breakfast reasonably healthy as I knew I wouldn't have the will power during lunch or dinner :p
As we'd done Florence a few years ago we hired a car so we could explore the other towns and cities and started Day 1 by visiting Siena and San Gimignano.
Our first stop was Siena where we explored the city and visited the duomo which was beautiful. We were lucky because coming slightly out of season meant there were no queues and although atmospheric it wasn't crowded with tourists.
I preferred San Gimignano to Siena as it was quainter and more authentic. Plus we arrived late afternoon when the light was just stunning and we enjoyed a sweet wine whilst taking in the breath taking views.
I wanted to get a feel of the 'real' Tuscany so whenever possible we took the backroads. Note : the roads in Tuscany are terrible but unavoidable and totally worth it for the sights you'll see between your A and B. Driving through the small towns and villages was one of my favourite parts of the holiday.
On our first visit to Florence 4 years ago, a local recommended a gem of a restaurant called Boccanegra and after one of the best meals of my life I decided we had to go back on this trip! For those who want to skip the tourist crap and have a taste of real Italian cooking then Boccanegra is the place to head to. The bistecca alla fiorentina will blow your mind and if you have room then I recommend going for the tiramisu for dessert! You won't regret it :)
On our second day we drove to the small town of Lucca, whose historic city centre and cobblestone streets added to the charm. After a light lunch of Luccan Farro soup and of course a glass of wine we climbed up the Torre Guinigi, famous for its 'garden in the sky' on the roof.
Of course we had to visit Pisa and tucked into gelato in the Piazza del Duomo.
For our last night in Florence we had dinner in Le Bistrot at Villa Cora where we were staying - which from April to October is moved to the winter garden by the pool which creates a summery buzz.
Another incredible dinner bursting with flavours and textures that melt in your mouth. For a foodie I was in food heaven. Among the various dishes I enjoyed rabbit, homemade cannelloni and for dessert I couldn't help but order another tiramisu - for research purposes of course :)
Throughout our stay at Villa Cora we were treated like royalty and everything was perfect from the warm welcome as we arrived to the fond good bye on our departure but just to make it even more special I was surprised at breakfast with an Italian choir comprising of all the waiting staff who sang Happy Birthday with a slightly embarrassingly large sparkler that didn't want to burn out.
On route to our next hotel we decided to try some wine tasting in the Chianti region and after some fun and a little tipsiness finding our favourites in the recommended Enoteca Falorni we found Antica Macelleria Falorini in the piazza - the oldest butcher shop in Italy.
We had a platter of cured meats with fennel and cheese with fig honey and a glass of chianti.
When I thought we couldn't possibly get better than Villa Cora, we arrived to Hotel Castello di Casole in the Siena region. Just driving up the hill towards the converted castle I was slightly shell-shocked. The beauty of it's surroundings and the hotel itself was utterly unique and I'm short of words to describe just how wonderful it is.
Upon arrival we were greeted with prosecco and the manager made a special effort to congratulate me on my birthday and told us a bit of history about the hotel.
We were then shown around the grounds and although we didn't use them on this trip the spa and fitness facilities were A-mazing!
We did however make use of the heated infinity pool which in the early evening light was showing us the most exquisite views scanning the Tuscan hills below us.
For our last dinner in Tuscany we didn't hold back, going for antipasti, primi and secondi! We were even spoilt with extra courses and a basket of different homemade breads.
We even ordered dessert - yes more tiramisu :p Although I never actually had it because I was surprised by the staff with a birthday cake!
And another surprise...
A birthday, a proposal and the most wonderful memories that I will cherish forever. I left Tuscany feeling rejuvenated, rested and a little bit heavier!
I just want to thank the staff at Villa Cora and Hotel Castello di Casole for making such a tremendous effort to make our stay so special. We will be back!
And for anyone planning their Tuscan adventure I recommend all the places and restaurants named and get in touch if you have any questions.