Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Experience Tuscany Tour - September 19-26, 2015

Joanne Heaviland Photography and New Tuscan Experience
are proud to present:

Experience Tuscany: A Cultural and Culinary Journey

September 19-26, 2015

Join us on this fabulous journey where you will discover 
the best things Tuscany has to offer: incredible scenery, fabulous food and wine,
history, art, architecture and warm friendly people. 
See first hand why so many choose this destination for a relaxing and inspiring vacation.

This is so much more than a tour. 

You will travel at an easy pace, with a small group, so that you can truly 
experience the most authentic aspects of sophisticated Tuscan Living. 

You’ll enjoy luxury accommodations and transportation, fine dining, private tours with 
highly-rated certified guides and sommeliers, exclusive cellar visits and tastings 
at award-winning wineries, a fun cooking class, and also free time 
to shop and explore independently...  

Please, view our itinerary to see what we have planned!

About this trip

Joanne Heaviland is a successful American fine-art photographer with a passion for travel. Her Italian heritage and frequent visits to Italy have led her to develop a special relationship with this incredible country. 

Last year Joanne began working with travel planner Kathy Perunic, owner of  New Tuscan Experience, who specializes in designing custom vacations. Together they have created a unique trip to Tuscany, specifically tailored to Joanne’s request not to offer just another tour, but rather an authentic, upscale Tuscan Experience .

Joanne’s collaboration with some of California’s most illustrious publications led her to propose this exclusive itinerary to their publishers who were immediately enthusiastic to participate in the trip.

As a result, 2015 marks the launch of an exciting new tour which will unite the forces of this group of  passionate, professional women to show you the BEST of Tuscan Living!  

We look forward to having you as our guests! Feel free to contact us with your inquires or to
sign up for the trip. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ponte Vecchio

Florence’s Ponte Vecchio is certainly one of the city’s architectural symbols. The name means “Old Bridge”, which indeed it is. The first one was constructed during Roman times from wood and stone, but during the centuries it was destroyed repeatedly by the flooding of the Arno River and in 1333 it was washed away to be replaced finally by a new type of construction in 1345.

This bridge, built by Taddeo Gaddi, was the first to use segmental arches and it is still the same one you see today. The new design reduced the number of arches, and widened the space between them to allow the rising water (and any debris associated with the flooding) to pass under it more easily. Over the centuries the bridge has been repaired and reinforced many times, but it has remained standing – even after the terrible flood of 1966.

photo credits: Enrico Villani
The history of the bridge is rather interesting. Since the 14th century it was seen as a continuation of the main road that runs through the heart of Florence’s center, from the Duomo past the Piazza della Signoria (where the Palazzo Vecchio is), and across the river to the Pitti Palace, thereby linking the two banks of the city. 

Initially the bridge was a marketplace, primarily for butchers and vegetable grocers who would use the river to dispose of their waste. However, in 1565, when Cosimo de’Medici decided to commission Giorgio Vasari to build a secret elevated passageway that was to connect the Palazzo Vecchio (the seat of the government) and the Pitti Palace (the Medici residence), the need to cross over the Ponte Vecchio made the presence of the unsightly market with its acrid odors unacceptable to the nobles. 

Subsequently, these merchants were forced to relocate and the bridge was taken over by goldsmiths and jewelers whose shops were much more pleasing to the eye (and nose).

The monumental importance of the Ponte Vecchio was even recognized by Mussolini, who had larger windows built along the passageway above the bridge so that he could show Hitler the impressive views from this vantage point. It is said that thanks to this visit in 1938 by the German dictator, the Ponte Vecchio was spared during the Nazi's retreat from the occupied city in 1944, when they blew up all of Florence’s bridges and reduced the entire area around the Ponte Vecchio, including a part of the Vasari Corridor to rubble. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Although most people have heard of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, some might not really know exactly what this distinction means. Let’s start with UNESCO itself, which is considered the "intellectual" agency of the United Nations. Their premise is that “at a time when the world is looking for new ways to build peace and sustainable development, people must rely on the power of intelligence to innovate, expand their horizons and sustain the hope of a new humanism. UNESCO exists to bring this creative intelligence to life; for it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace and the conditions for sustainable development must be built.”

San Gimignano

The World Heritage Sites were created to distinguish and protect those areas or monuments that have an outstanding universal value, which can be either cultural and/or natural. The goal is to foster intercultural understanding, by safeguarding heritage and cultural diversity. According to UNESCO, “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”


Clearly, the honor of being designated a World Heritage Site also includes the right to receive special funding for the preservation of the site. The distinction calls attention to the place and helps to boost tourism and even local interest in the area. There are presently 981 World Heritage Sites, 49 of which can be found in Italy – making it the country with the most sites.

In Tuscany there are 7 World Heritage Sites (more than in any other Italian region). So when you visit, make sure to include at least a few:

  • The Historic Center of Florence
  • Piazza del Duomo of Pisa
  • The Historic Center of San Gimignano
  • The Historic Center of Siena
  • The Historic Center of Pienza
  • The Val d’Orcia
  • Medici Villas and Gardens
Tuscany's Val d'Orcia is an example of a geographic area denominated a World Heritage Site.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Origins of Gelato Can Be Found in Florence

Did you know that gelato was invented in Florence? There is probably no one who visits Italy without trying this delicious version of ice cream. The unique creamy texture and myriad of flavors have made this one of the most popular desserts in the world. Whether eaten simply in a cup (coppetta), on a cone, or in an elaborate creation by a renowned chef, gelato is a treat.

The history of gelato can be traced back to Florence in the early 16th century, when the Medici family organized a culinary contest to create “the most unique dish ever seen”. A humble cook (previously a poultry butcher) named Ruggeri presented his “sweet and flavored frozen water” which so impressed Catherine de’Medici that she took both Ruggeri and his creation with her to France, to beguile her subjects.

Bernardo Buontalenti
In Florence, the tradition was carried on by one of the city’s most famous architects at the time, Bernardo Buontalenti. To impress a delegation of Spanish ambassadors during their official visit at the Medici court, he invented a “strange container” in which the ingredients: snow, salt, lemon, sugar, egg whites and milk were introduced to magically produce gelato. Its success was immediate and this new form of dessert became a symbol of Florence

Today the city’s tradition of fine gelato is as strong as ever, with historic and new gelaterie (shops) constantly striving to offer the finest ingredients and the most innovative flavors to impress their customers. So, the best way to decide which gelato is your favorite is to 
try as many as you can while you are visiting! 

Some of the most well-known shops in the historic center include:

Carapina - Via Lambertesca 18 - Excellent artisan gelato with the most wonderful original flavors! (Notice it is at the top of the list!)

Gelateria La Carraia – Piazza Carraia 25/r – famous also for their very fair prices!

Gelateria de’Neri – Via Dei Neri 20-22/r

Grom – Via delle Oche – Although it is a national chain, the ingredients are genuine and its popularity is enormous, as you’ll see by the long line that forms out the door of the small shop!

Carabè – Via Ricasoli 60/r

Venchi – Vicolo Calimaruzza (across from the Mercato Nuovo) – new to Florence, this is a famous chocolate company from Torino. So if you are a chocolate lover, it’s a good place to start!

Vestri – Borgo degli Albizi –  great chocolate

Ermini – Via Gioberti

Re del Gelato – Via Strozzi
Vivoli – Via Isole delle Stinche 7/r - among the most famous and well-known by tourists, but perhaps overrated and overpriced… (personally, I also find it too sweet).

Beyond the historic center, try:

Badiani – Viale dei Mille 20/r

Gelateria Roberto – Via Mariti

L’Arte del Gelato – Via Torcicoda 97/r

Gelateria de’ Medici – Via dello Statuto


Thursday, April 24, 2014

What Italy Can Teach Us About Family Ties

One very admirable characteristic of Italian society is the value of keeping family close. Although criticized at times for not allowing their children to “grow up” and gain independence, the truth is that Italians truly cherish the strong bond they have with their families, and this can certainly be a good thing. Sunday lunches (and not only) prepared by “nonna” (grandma); extended families living in the same town (if not in the same house); grandparents babysitting to help carry the burden for working parents. This tight network of family has always been the fabric of Italian culture and the safety net for weathering economic and social hardships, as well as the nation’s shortcomings.

Yet today, the serious lack of jobs in Italy is forcing many young Italians to move away from home (and often out of Italy) in order to find work. In other Western cultures, especially in the US, the mobile economy has made living far from family a normal part of society for years. In Italy, it hasn’t happened on such a vast scale since post-World War II – and it is definitely adding to the general pessimism of the population. In a country which has always sought to keep families united, the thought that children will have no choice but to leave home is devastating - and it might just be the catalyst to trigger the reaction Italy needs to make some drastic political and economic changes. Investing in its youth and looking out for the future generations has finally climbed to the top of the country’s priority list.

In the meantime, across the Atlantic, where it has long been the norm for teens to go off to college and move away from home at an early age, there seems to be a cultural shift in progress. A growing sentiment that the dispersion of family might not be the ideal scenario after all has many Americans rediscovering the benefits of keeping the clan united, or at least of getting together at more regular intervals. As a result, there has been a significant increase in organizing family reunions and generational travel in the US – making this one of the tourist industry’s most promising new markets.

Although I hadn’t intentionally set out to exploit this segment, the fact is that I have witnessed it to be true. A great number of my clients are American families seeking to reunite all their members, who are often scattered around the US (and beyond), to spend a group vacation together and rekindle family ties. They are particularly drawn to Tuscany for all the obvious reasons, but perhaps selecting Italy in general for this kind of a trip has an additional advantage, since it is clearly a place where society views family as a fundamental part of the local culture. The slower-paced lifestyle, centered around the pleasures of good food and wine, a beautiful setting and old-world traditions, makes it an ideal location to enjoy a family vacation.

In the end, both cultures can learn from each other. Italians can get better at letting their children become independent and the other Western countries can work on keeping families more tightly knit to provide that sense of security and belonging which helps people to thrive. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Visit to the New Antinori Winery in Chianti

Yesterday I finally got the chance to visit the new Antinori cellars in Bargino. I had of course heard quite a bit about this imposing, state-of-the-art winery that belongs to one of Italy's (and the world's) foremost winemakers. As with all new constructions (especially in this part of the world) it has elicited plenty of mixed opinions, but one thing is sure, you will be hard pressed to remain indifferent after a visit here. 

You can sense the "weight" of the Antinori name from the moment you enter the gates. The attendant explains in detail how to reach the parking lot… and already you begin to feel overwhelmed. Following the wide and curving driveway you reach the first parking area and if you are lucky, you find a spot. There is a huge spiral staircase leading up to the reception area (or is it to the sky?) The building is architecturally impressive, with its massive cellars built inside an excavated hill and the wide panoramic terraces overlooking the Chianti countryside. Modern and minimalist, the design is all about forms (especially curves) and materials (like the rust covered steel and copper alloy that makes up most of the structures). Innovative in the way the cellars are kept at ideal temperature naturally, year round, without any air conditioning or machinery, thanks to hollow vaults and terracotta tiles held together by being lined up in steel tracks one by one, rather than cemented.


The impact is clean – both in terms of visual lines and hygiene. It’s new and everything looks and feels new, something odd for Tuscany. Usually we are used to conservative renovations of the historic. So even the most modern elements are almost always juxtaposed with the antique. Here there was nothing before, other than some vineyards, which now are just rows of seedlings that will take years to become vineyards again – at which point the exterior will certainly take on a totally different dimension. Today it is bare (not because it’s February, but because it has just been planted).

I definitely do think it is worth the visit, as it represents one of the newest and most modern wineries in Italy. However, I would agree with those who have told me that it doesn't feel "typically Tuscan" – because in so many ways it isn't. Here, the history is in the family name and their long legacy of wine-making in Tuscany, not in these cellars which have been opened for just over a year. This is the Italian wine-making industry at its best. The Antinori family deeply desired to create a monument dedicated to their empire, and they have done just that.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Renovating Tuscany


Stories of affluent foreigners buying up Tuscany’s abandoned castles and estates are commonplace. Over the past 15 years there have been many significant acquisitions made, especially by wealthy Americans and Brits, which have resulted not only in luxurious private homes, but also in fabulous resorts and award-winning wineries. Celebrity names like Sting,  Lydia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Frances Mayes might ring a bell, and one of the most famous Brunello wineries is the American-owned Castello di Banfi. 

More than once, what started out as a house hunting expedition led to the purchase of an entire village! Usually the buyers ended up being blown away by the place – despite finding it in ruins – and the subsequent restoration project turned into a life mission, which inevitably became far more complex than what they had originally imagined. The result, however, can be truly stunning. Just take a look at: Castello di Casole, Monteverdi, Borgo Finocchieto and Castelfalfi to get an idea.

Castello di Casole

A villa at Castello di Casole

Monteverdi Tuscany
interiors at Castello di Casole

Italy’s historic architecture conservation laws are very strict, and when coupled with the exasperatingly slow and complex bureaucracy, reaching the finish line becomes quite a struggle. However, in most cases the foreign owners have demonstrated extraordinary vision and commitment to the preservation of the historic origins of the properties, turning to local experts for guidance and using traditional materials, many of which have been reclaimed from the original structure. The resulting restorations have been beautifully integrated into the surrounding landscape, showing a great respect for the territory. The levels of luxury can vary, but one thing tends to unite most of the projects – an understated country elegance that reflects the best Tuscan traditions.
interiors at Monteverdi

As a foreigner living in Italy, it is especially gratifying to see that so many of my counterparts have been driven by the same passion to become a part of this beautiful country, and that they have done so with integrity and class. 
Many times I have encountered Italians who have commented on these restorations made by foreign owners, saying that they have shown a greater respect for nature and history than many of the Italians who have undertaken similar endeavorsThis is not to say that there aren’t locals who have dedicated great effort and investment to preserve and restore the extraordinary patrimony of this land – but it is noteworthy to mention that often the foreigners are even more concerned with this aspect – as it is precisely what drew them here in the first place.

Borgo Finocchiet

As this market continues to expand, with a growing number of investors now coming from Russia and the developing world, we can only hope that they too will continue the trend of keeping local traditions alive and being respectful of the long heritage behind these extraordinary estates. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why You SHOULD Visit Tuscany in the Fall and Winter

Clients often ask me, “When is the best time to visit Tuscany?” Clearly, an easy answer is from May through September, and when you see the statistics, that’s exactly when most people do come to Tuscany. However, this could also be the first good reason NOT to come then. If you are looking for the chance to discover a more authentic Tuscany, then you should start looking at the other months, from October through April, when for the most part you’ll find mainly the locals here.

I won’t deny that the climate is better in the Spring and Summer – but even then, you can get rain in Spring and in the heart of summer the heat can present a real challenge, especially if you came to sightsee and travel around the region. Fortunately, the Fall and Winter are relatively mild and there is rarely a real problem with snow. Although it's true that during the past few years we have seen some (which at first was considered “an exceptional event” in many places) – compared to places where snow is an integral part of Winter, here it’s more like an occasional decorative feature which lasts a day or two and makes everything look even prettier.

Tuscany also has the characteristic of being very green, even during the Winter. Many of its trees, like the ever famous cypresses and olive trees, are evergreens – so whether you see them in July or in January, it makes no real difference. It's also worth noting that there are varied types of landscapes throughout the region, many of which change dramatically even during the same season. In late summer, areas like the Val d’Orcia, which were bursting with green in May, are predominantly grey and beige. The gently rolling hills south of Siena, called the Crete Senesi, have an almost lunar look and in the winter the landscape pretty much looks the same.

The Crete Senesi - photo by Auro Giotti

One of the things people come to Tuscany for is the wine and the food. Well, here’s the biggest plus for the colder months – both Tuscany's wine and its cuisine were really born for the cooler climate. The Fall and Winter bring a wide array of festivals and seasonal products like olives, porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and wild game – the staples of the Tuscan cuisine, guaranteeing that you’ll eat them fresh and not frozen. It’s no secret that the region's full-bodied red wines and typical hearty meat sauces and soups are best enjoyed with lower temperatures. As much as I love my red wine, I am always hard pressed to drink Brunello or Chianti when its 34°C (93°F) outside! So for serious foodies, the period from October to April holds a real advantage.

All of this without mentioning that “low season” implies lower prices, especially for airfare and accommodations. Add to that fewer crowds (and in some places none at all) - meaning you can visit even the most popular attractions and towns, which are literally overflowing with people during the peak months, in relative solitude. You’ll also find restaurants full of locals, something unlikely in the height of summer, especially in the cities. This makes it a great opportunity to feel the real pulse of life here, when things resume their “winter normalcy” – especially in the most touristy areas.  And since the art and architecture are exactly the same as what you’ll find in the Spring and Summer - coming off season is definitely worth a try!