Your New Home Away From Home
We're very lucky to have made incredible friends over the years that give us access to their amazing properties to host our retreats. Both locations are unique and have their individual perks and charms. Both locations are also very home-y since we have American friends on the ground that stock them with amenities (hello air-conditioning!) to keep them modern and accessible.
During our Villa Retreat, we get to call the idyllic Villa La Guardata home for the week. This small villa is tucked up on the hills overlooking Castiglion Fiorentino and the Val di Chio. It's owned by our friends, the Buccelletti Family. The Buccellettis have been in the region for generations and have built up an incredible women-run wine and olive oil making business, as well as curating gorgeous properties for destination weddings and retreats like ours!
Our villa is quiet. Very quiet, with the exception of the occasional pheasant cruising through the surrounding olive trees. Located about 2 miles from the center of Castiglion Fiorentino, we can still drive into town for a morning cappuccino OR enjoy a home brewed espresso next to our private pool. The quiet and isolation is wonderful, but we're less than 10 minutes from town if we want to grab a pizza to-go or an evening gelato.
In the evenings we're often treated to an incredible sunset and visited by fireflies. Every now and then we'll hear a hedgehog or cingale (wild boar) cruising through the olive groves too.
By comparison, our Lucca Retreat has a very different location. But with some more ease and convenience.
Our apartments are located right in the historic center of Lucca in a building that dates back 7 centuries. While it may be an old building, we can easily climb the stairs, or take our elevator, up to our apartments and enjoy the hum of the town below (if we can hear it over the air-conditioning). These charming apartments are managed by our dear friend (and very talented musician), Vanessa. She's thought of everything to keep these apartments comfortable with modern amenities while retaining their Tuscan charm that you come to expect from a town that hosts monthly antique festivals!
Since we're centrally located, we can easily grab a morning pastry fresh out of the oven at a bakery nearby, pop back to the apartments for an afternoon nap or head out in the evening for a second gelato and a walk around the walls.
Location, Location, Location...
Our villa overlooks the Tuscan hill town Castiglion Fiorentino. Your host, Chelsea, called this town home during her study abroad and after college for 2 years (read more on that here). While it doesn't seem like a likely location to host a retreat, Castiglion offers a lot of charm and comforts without the big crowds.
For how small our town may feel, there's quite a few restaurants, bars and coffee shops (5 coffee shops just along the main street through town). Fresh focaccia made by Carmen is always a perk when cruising through town early in the morning and a pastry from our friends at La Sfizzeria or La Perla are great ways to start your day.
While nearby Cortona (famous from Under the Tuscan Sun) and Arezzo (from Life is Beautiful) get larger crowds of tourists, Castiglion retains its local and quiet charm. It hosts many big events throughout the year, including a Medieval Festival in the shadow of our medieval tower at the top of the hill and a Palio (a smaller, family friendly version of the famed horse race in Siena). These events bring tourists and folks from the surrounding areas but there's plenty of local nightlife even without those visiting crowds. Castiglion Fiorentino is also along the main train route between Rome and Florence so it's easily accessible by train if you fly into either city!
In comparison to Castiglion, Lucca will feel like a large city. But! It's nothing compared the overwhelming crowds of Florence and Rome. Lucca is often a day trip for tourists so the days can be semi crowded but the evenings are peaceful and perfect for roaming the walls with a gelato in hand like the rest of the locals.
Besides having the historic walls that encircle the historic city, Lucca has a LOT. Everything from churches and towers with trees on top, to gorgeous antique and leather shops and even brands you'll recognize. There's small Tuscan charm and the convenience of big brands that makes shopping in Lucca a treat.
Lucca is also a destination for the region for multiple events. Throughout the year, there's a monthly antique festival that pops up in the main piazzas during the 3rd weekend of the month. It's a huge event and it's hard to leave empty handed.
In the summer months we have the treat of the Lucca Summer Festival which brings in huge bands (Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, etc) for concerts during the month of July. They build a stage and seating in Piazza Napoleone and the whole city feels like a concert venue. It's quite a sight! In the fall, Lucca hosts a giant comic festival that takes over the city as well. There's so much happening in this hidden jewel of Tuscany!
Both of our weeks have wine tastings, olive oil tastings, cooking classes and art instruction built into the itineraries. But what really sets apart the two weeks are the different day trips.
During our Villa Retreat in 2020, we'll be venturing into the hill towns! On one day trip, we'll cruise South to our neighboring Cortona to visit our friends at Del Brenna Jewelry and meander these famous (and kinda crowded) streets. There's some really delicious food to eat there too!
The real treat during the week will be our day trip to Pienza. We'll hop into our car and meander through the hills to reach Pienza, a picturesque, ideally planned Renaissance town that's hard to access without a car. We can take our time and stop at Montepulciano on our way home or even take a break for a wine tasting. It's a leisurely day to explore these adorable and hard to access hill towns.
On our free day during the week, we can even head into Florence, or down to Orvieto. Castiglion may be a hill town but it's just a quick train ride away from the famous larger cities nearby. Or just hang out by the pool and catch up on your reading that you never seem to get to do when you're back home in the states.
During the Lucca Retreat, we're going to Firenze! We'll take an early train from Lucca so we can spend the whole day exploring this famous town. Chelsea has a really fun tour through town that takes you to famous monuments and sights while also catching the unique things most people miss. And the food. Chelsea loves the food in Florence so there will be plenty of food stops along the way to keep us energized. With a flexible return time, we can stay for dinner or head back to Lucca to make our own dinner at the apartments or hit a favorite restaurant we've discovered during the week.
We'll also head North of Lucca on our 2nd day trip to visit Ponte della Madalena (aka the Devil's Bridge) and up to Garfagnana. There's a bit of a climb to the top of the town but we promise the view is worth it. After lunch, how about we stop for another wine tasting? This area is hard to access without a car and we don't want to miss out on any of the local treats!
If you're feeling ambitious on the free day, the famous Cinque Terre towns area a couple train rides away to the North. Or, Pisa is a quick train ride away as well. Or you can stay put in Lucca! There's so many churches, museums, antique shops and gardens to visit while you're in town.
Well...which week will you pick?
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats