We are Jeff & Susan from Boston USA and are in our mid 50's... but we live like we're in our 30's.
Our trip began November 4th and ended on the 8th in 2009. The weather was cloudy with a little rain and the temps were in the mid 60's. We researched Tuscany well before visiting last week and found all the wonderful reviews about Franco and Stefano, owners of Tuscan Sunshine Tours.
Languages: English, German, French, Italian
I emailed Franco a week before arriving to arrange a modest tour of the Chianti region and he promptly replied (within hours) with several general options and prices... any of which could be altered according to our desires. His emails were so very nice. We could tell right off the bat that he was the consumate professional... so charming and personable.
We chose a tour for 250 Euros which included the Chianti region... and that alone would have been a bargain. But, because it was foggy early in the morning, Franco brought us first to Sam Gimignano to spend some time before the fog lifted. Oh my, that medievil city is AMAZING - you MUST visit it!! That's the kind of guy Franco is... passionate about his country. He will do whatever he can to make your trip unforgettable. Not only that, but he made a stop at a city called Greve which has a butcher shop (he knew I love cooking) that is incredible - Parma-type hams and cheese cellar you would not believe!
Consider this: Franco and Stefano were employeed by a FIVE STAR hotel in Florence for many years before forming their company. Have you ever had the good fortune of being treated by these kinds of service people? They WOW you with their expertise! Well, this is what you get with these men - the highest level of service, knowledge, and experience in the field - bar none. Plus, they have the uncanniny ability of becoming your friends during the day... you will feel so comfortable with them.
When you book a tour with them, especially if this is your first time visiting, allow them to plan your stops - they are natives so they really know what you what to to see. But, they'll be accomodating to whatever you want to do or see... with good humor. Their personal guide service will generally cost between 250 and 350 Euros (full day with hotel pick-up service), but you can arrange anything you want.
And, I suggest you tour with them EARLY on your visit so you can 'pick their brains' about all the stuff you should do and see for the rest of your stay... believe me, that's important. The info they can give you is SO valuable because your time is short.
Their vehicles are top notch - recent editions of Mercedes... very nice indeed!! If you are travelling during the hot months, the AC is a godsend!! See attached pictures. We travelled in early November.
Italian drivers are nuts.. and very scary. You will not find that the case with Franco (nor I presume, from other comments, Stefano). He is a careful, concerned driver and will not scare you in the least!
I know this sounds like Franco and Stefano are my brothers (!) but trust me, I have never met them before in my life prior to last week!
Damn, I nearly forgot to mention the wine tasting and lunch we had at the Montagliani vinyard... amazing experience. My wife had a simple Tuscan pasta dish and I had rabbit, which was incredible... never had rabbit before but if it's always prepared the way they did it, I'll have it every day!
The winery is a family run business and the owner, David, is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. The family also operate the tratoria (means casual or family style) restaurant - our waitress was their daughter who is lovely and charming. Buy a small bottle of their 22 year old balsamic vinegar! The smell and taste will put you in the clouds. It's 25 Euros but will last a long time. Franco will explain the process of making this rare vinegar and show you the room where it's aging. We also bought 3 bottles of Chianti Classico wine (about 10 Euros each) and 2 small bottles of olive oil (5 Euros each). The tour of their small operation was thrilling, to say the least... it's been in existance for some 300 years and the buildings date back to the 1500's... exciting!
If I've left anything out or you want my take on anything else we experienced, just email me at email@example.com
I know, 250-350 Euros is a lot of money (US 350-400), but these tours are actually less expensive than most. You will only do this once, maybe, in your lifetime (like us) and it will make memories you will never forget. Save up for this - you will not regret it.
By the way, because a lot of people ask about tipping guides, it is probably not necessary to tip an owner - like Franco and Stefano - but Franco went so far out of his way to make our trip perfect, we gave him about 30 Euros extra. He used a lot of extra gasoline bringing us to places he hadn't originally intended on going to. Franco has such passion for his homeland - he truly does this work because it makes him feel great to teach people about Tuscany - and other regions close to his heart. You will learn more about Italy in one day with Franco than if you spent a year there without him!
Enjoy Italy and relish your time with Tuscan Sunshine Tours!
Jeff & Susan Lipsitt
(--)call us anytime and we'll be glad to tell you anything we know.
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