Subject: Just back from three weeks in Tuscany
We had a fabulous time visiting Tuscany (with a day trip to the Cinque Terre) using a three centre approach. We rented two bedroom apartment / houses for one week each in San Gimignano, Lucignano near Monte San Savino, and in Lucca. Each location was different and offered new day trip possibilities as well as being interesting locations in themselves.

We rented a car through AutoEurope (Avis) but took the train from La Spezia to visit Cinque Terre area and from Lucca to Firenze for the day (that was amazingly cheap - 41600 return for four people with a small group discount). Considering the cost of tolls, parking, and gasoline, the price is incredibly low. On our first day trip in to Firenze, we ended up parking the car in the north end of the city (free parking) and getting a taxi to the Uffizi in time for our reserved visit. After all the twists and turns, we didn't even know where we were and we needed to buy a better city map to find it at the end of the day!

We cooked a lot of the time and took picnic lunches but we did have some memorable meals. I have a record of costs because we were travelling with my brother and his wife so if anyone is interested, please ask.

Highlights included visiting a small winery near Sant Antimo, visiting abbeys such as Sant Antimo, Monte Maggiore, and San Galgano, seeing the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa, day trips in Chianti and southern Tuscany near Montalcino. We enjoyed finding interesting nooks, such as the communal laundry at San Gusme. Surprises were Cortona and the town of Pisa itself with its vibrant student life. And San Gimignano is different when the day trippers have left - very atmospheric and lovely to wander in the dark after dinner.

Another thing I will remember is the wonderful smell in food shops, even in supermarkets! And the smell of wine and fermenting grapes in little streets of small towns.

We would recommend renting houses or apartments and these specific houses. They were fairly well equipped but not geared to North Americans - for example, they all had coffee making equipment, colander, and big pot for pasta but no toaster.

We found our accommodation through the web. When we do it again, we would try to deal directly with an agency that quoted in lira or in euros, not American dollars (as Canadians, we would have benefited from the fluctuations from the time of reserving and the time of payment).

And now back to normal!