Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wine tours in many wineries in a day?

Wine tours in Tuscany are a little different from the US and generally you can't walk in, take a drink and walk out. The larger wineries sometimes deal with walk-up tours, but I don't take my guests to bus tour wineries. The smaller wineries have limited staff, and often require advance booking. However they care about their wines, and will dedicate ample time to your experience. A tour & tasting will take an hour and a half,and even without a tour, you'll end up staying about 45 minutes at least. Also remember that wineries in Chianti are not conveniently lined up along main roads. They're scattered around a large hilly area at the end of dirt tracks, so moving from one to another takes time.

Another "time limiting" factor is the gorgeous countryside. You'll be hard pressed not to want stop and take photos, and there's one on every turn of the meandering roads. My itineraries are the result of years of experience in touring Tuscany, and I'll give you great photo opportunities. Take a look at my Facebook page and I hope you'll agree.

Then what about lunch? Do you really want to have a sandwich to go, when you're in one of the world's best places for food. Sit down for an hour or maybe more, and enjoy at least one course of Tuscan peasant cuisine, such as Ribollita, Panzanella, or Fagioli all'Uccelleto.

The wines of I Selvatecci winery makers of a fine Super Tuscan

So the answer to how many wineries for a day's touring in Tuscany is? Two. This is the perfect number, and you'll also have time to enjoy the fantastic scenery, take photos, and sit down to Tuscan lunch. Check out my Chianti tour and wine tasting for an idea.

However, if you're not interested in scenery or photos, and would rather take in more wineries, this can be done. I'd suggest a maximum of four, limiting cellar tours to just one. However let me know in advance, in order to make necessary reservations, and changes to the itinerary.

Sergio Ceccherini

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A driver guide in Tuscany and how to get the best from him.

Part 1. So you've hired a driver guide for your Chianti tour wine tasting. A great idea, you'll get closer to the people, the region, and the wine than with any other form of travel. Sure it's expensive, but you'll get you to see and do so much more.
my comfortable seven seater minivan with AC

However ensuring you get exactly what you desire, requires a little attention on your behalf too. Your driver guide guide in Tuscany wants to give you the best experience possible, and for me it's a question of pride. It's also good business practice to supply a great service; this may be your first and only visit, but next year your friends will be coming, and your guide hopes you will recommend him. So if your driver is so keen on giving a great day, why should this require extra attention on your behalf? You've paid the fee, you didn't ask for discount, it's only natural you get the best possible service…right?

Well things things aren't that obvious. When we hire a Tuscan wine tour guide, it's natural to assume he's a local, he's knowledgeable and therefore he can get things done. Well this is true, your guide does knows places and people, and he can open many doors, but a little perspective is necessary.

Your guide's biggest problem in giving you the best experience possible is that Italians are sometimes not as business minded as you'd expect. Some commercial practices seem more concerned with closing, rather than opening times. A second problem he may have is the mind staggering bureaucracy on behalf of the authorities, and anything that's state run. Things can be annoyingly illogical and sometimes impossible for your guide, even if he is a local.

Landscape photo from my Chianti wine tasting tour

Sergio Ceccherini

A driver guide in Tuscany and how to get the best from him.

Part 2. You can find a plate of fettuccini with Genovese pesto sauce at 3:00 in the morning in New York. Don't expect a driver guide in Tuscany to be able to do the same, even if you're in Genoa where the dish comes from. The first thing to bear in mind is; don't assume anything will be open or available on the day you require, even during normal business hours. Museums are often closed on Mondays, and wineries are often closed on Sundays, and some on weekdays too.

My comfortable minivan with AC
I had clients who had booked a Val d'Orcia Tuscan photography tour, for a day in October. They told me well into the tour on a Saturday, that the only reason they had booked the tour, was to visit wineries in Montalcino and do tastings of Brunello. The tour was a disaster! As of October, wineries in the Montalcino area close on Saturdays, and despite my knowledge, I couldn't find anyone willing to open for "just two" customers. If you have a winery, museum, restaurant or shop you really want to visit, ask your driver to check it will be open in advance.

Photo from my Val d'Orcia photography tour
Another common assumption that can put your guide in difficulty, is your perception of time and distance. You've been studying your map of Tuscany at home, and you've decided you'd like to go on a Siena and Chianti Tour then finish your day with a visit to Pisa. Unless you want to spend most of the in the van, and a tour lasting upwards of twelve hours, this isn't advisable. (Some tour companies do offer this type of tour…I don't).

Italy is about the size of Arizona, so compared to the states it's tiny. Tuscany is only a twentieth of Italy, so it's easy to be mislead into thinking it can be seen in a day. However it's still 8,900 square miles, which is much the same as new Jersey. Another mistake that can be made when considering travel times, is assuming there are fast road connections. With few exceptions roads are busy if not very busy, and most of the places you will want to see are on winding country roads. Your driver can probably drive them like the Indianapolis 500, but you won't thank him if he does. Ask your driver to advise you on travel times.

And finally...when proposing a tour, your guide has used his knowledge and experience to give you the best in terms of sites and activities, and he will have optimized times. Read the tour description carefully and ask yourself if you really need to make variations? If you do that's fine, but ask for custom Tuscan tour.

Last minute requests may give your guide problems that he may not be able to deal with on short notice. Give him as much up front information possible, and put him in the condition to give you a great day.

Sergio Ceccherini