This trip was with my cousin, his wife, and a friend of theirs who had used Tuscan Sunshine Tours two years ago. They raved about Franco so we booked them to pick us up at the Rome airport on a Sunday and take us to Florence. On Monday we had Stefano, Franco's partner, for a tour through the Chianti area with a light snack at a winery (see separate review of Castello Monterinaldi). Only a light snack because we had arranged for a dinner in Stefano's home, cooked by his wife, Simonetta. Then on Tuesday Stefano picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Venice with stops in Bologna and Verona.
By the time he dropped us in Venice, I felt that I was saying good-bye to a dear friend.
Our driver from Rome to Florence was a colleague of theirs: Marco. He was right on time and very helpful at the airport as well as being an excellent driver. He answered our questions when we had them on the 3 hour drive to Florence, but also was quiet when we gave in to jet lag and napped.
The next morning Stefano was at our hotel a few minutes early to get us on our way. Even though their web site shows a sedan for 4 people, he was in a medium size van so we were very comfortable. He is so enthusiastic about the region and very knowledgeable about the grapes and olives. He grows his own grapes and has olive trees so you trust that he knows what he is talking about. We had a delightful day! He took us to a meat shop in Creve in Chianti and walked with us explaining all the different food items and took us down to the storage cellars. We stopped at another little village that was very quiet and picturesque with few tourists before taking us to the winery. After the winery we stopped at Castello Vicchiomaggio where Michelangelo painted the Mona Lisa. It is now a hotel with beautiful views of the Tuscan landscape. We then drove back to Florence where Stefano dropped us at our hotel to rest for an hour or so before he picked us up for dinner.
He drove us to his home via a very scenic route and showed us his olive groves. His home very comfortable and even though we were paying customers, he and his wife Simonetta treated us as guests. Simonetta is as warm and friendly as Stefano and a wonderful chef! We started with prosecco in the living room before we moved to a beautifully set table. We had delicious appetizers of flash fried zucchini blossoms and other veggies, olives from their trees, beef rolled around cheese and lemon, the best pate I have ever had, etc. Then we had fresh pasta with pink and green tomatoes and olive oil (again from their own trees). The main course was veal with mushrooms. For dessert she made a special lemon "cake" for my cousin's birthday (we had told Franco in advance) that was heavenly. Stefano served his own wine that was delicious. Just one of the most wonderful experiences (and really good food) I have ever had in my travels.
The next day Stefano picked us up at our hotel early to drive us to Venice. Franco had suggested stops in Bologna and Verona on the way which we did. Stefano was very good about telling us exactly when and where he would pick us up in each city. But the best experience was when we got to Venice. I had worried for months about how we were going to get ourselves and considerable luggage (we were going on a cruise out of Venice) to the water taxi to get to the hotel. It didn't appear that cars could get very close to the water taxi stand, but Stefano had it all under control! He knew exactly where to go, he got very close, he took our luggage and negotiated our taxi for us in Italian and then helped get us and our luggage onto the taxi. It was so sad to say "arrivederci" to him. I can't recommend this company highly enough! They are wonderful.
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