Saturday, October 21, 2017

Tuscany Review

It seems like a year ago when my mother and I posed for this picture at Pittsburgh International. We hoped the next four weeks would bring wonderful new people and places into our lives. And they did!

Me and my mother, Saundra, ready for another travel adventure!

We were keeping our fingers crossed that there wouldn't be any disasters, that we wouldn't get sick or sprain an ankle or get stranded in some out-of-the-way place. And we didn't!

We hoped to be amazed and awed and changed by the experiences that lay ahead. And we were!

From the moment we settled into our seats on the flight from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, everything went as planned. Do you know how rare that is? I've come to expect the unexpected on my European trips - late flights, missed connections, delays, long lines, disappointing hotels, bad weather - they're the norm. But on this trip everything flowed smoothly from one day to the next. It was WONDERFUL!

In case you missed all my picture posts on Facebook, here's a recap of the past few weeks...

Approach into Rome

We flew out of Pittsburgh on September 20, arriving in Rome the morning of the 21st. The flight over was tolerable, but, try as I might, I can never sleep on an airplane, so by the time we caught our flight for Florence and checked into our hotel, we were pretty tuckered out. But I'm a firm believer in getting out into the sunshine when I arrive in Europe. It seems to help reset my internal clock and get me settled into Italy time.

Our hotel was in a great location, just a few blocks from the cathedral and close to restaurants, shops. and the market. This was the view from our room as the sun was going down that first evening. What a change from western Pennsylvania!

View from our room in Hotel Mia Cara

The next morning when we went down for breakfast, I noticed that all the walls in the public areas of the hotel were covered with framed original paintings of scenes from Florence and other parts of Italy. And in the courtyard behind the hotel, we saw an open air art studio set up. Cool!

Lobby of Hotel Mia Cara

We spent our one full day in Florence walking...and walking...and walking (almost 6 miles total) from our hotel to the market and then on to the duomo (cathedral)...

Florence duomo

From there we meandered past galleries, shops, churches, and the Ponte Vecchio, but the best thing we found was this....

Heaven on earth for celiac folks like me!

the Starbene gluten-free bakery where EVERYTHING is gluten-free! Doughnuts, apple strudel, pizza, calzone, cookies, cakes - sure wish we had one of these in Prosperity, PA!

The next day was our last in Florence, and we were scheduled to meet up with my workshop participants at 3:00, so I went out for a walk in the morning...

Via Faenza, where our hotel was located

and headed for the duomo where I visited the museum then toured the cathedral and the Baptistery of Saint John.

The baptistery

Love this marble floor!

Floor of the baptistery

In the afternoon, my mom and I met our group and we were whisked away to beautiful Fattoria Bacio! This was my third time to teach at the villa, so it felt almost like coming home.

The historic chapel at Fattoria Bacio

We unpacked and settled into our rooms, then had introductions and aperitifs on the patio. I also did the big reveal and gave the ladies their workshop handouts (55 pages jam-packed with information!)

New friends

Our welcome dinner, cooked by Patrizia (co-owner of the villa), was just the first of many mouthwatering meals we enjoyed throughout the week.

The next day was a laid back day at Fattoria Bacio. I started everyone off with a blind contour drawing lesson and had them draw each other, which elicited a lot of giggles. :) Their "portraits" looked like they were channeling Picasso.

Blind contour drawing each other

Then we did some plein air painting around the villa, had a wine tasting party for lunch, and did some step-by-step watercolor lessons in the afternoon. It was a productive day, but one that also gave everyone a chance to recover from jet lag and relax a bit.

Monday, September 25th, brought a visit to the tiny medieval hilltown of Certaldo Alto. I always love the quiet peace of our time there. We take pictures, sketch, maybe visit one of the two small museums in town, climb the tower at Boccaccio's house for a view of the countryside, sit at a cafe, sketch some more, have a cappuccino...

Certaldo Alto

There are no must-sees here. There are only little things, small moments that all add up to a perfect travel day.

Cafe in Certaldo

I drew this scene with its climbing roses and lace curtains in my sketchbook, but I'll wait to show it to you till after I have a chance to paint it.

This was the view from the Hotel Il Castello, where we met the gang for lunch...

View from Il Castello

The next day we took the train to Siena and had a guided tour of the Piazza del Campo and the cathedral.

Siena's Duomo

The interior was spectacular!

Interior of the Duomo

After a delicious pasta lunch, most of us converged on Gelateria Grom, which, we've been told in no uncertain terms, has the very best gelato in Siena.

Susi and Julene do a taste test

After a busy day of touring, shopping, and sketching in Siena, it was nice to have some quiet time the next day at the villa.

Early morning at the villa

We worked through some more painting lessons, did some sketching, then in the afternoon we visited the nearby La Meridiana International School of Ceramics.

La Meridiana

We met ceramic students from around the world, saw some lovely pieces of pottery and ceramic art, and enjoyed appetizers and drinks on the terrace as the sun went down.

Sculpture at La Meridiana

View from the terrace at La Meridiana

And then the day finally arrived that all the ladies had been waiting for - market day in San Gimignano! You can find just about anything at an Italian market, everything from flowers to sausages, with a whole lot of leather goods and clothing in between.

Flower stall at San G's market

My students' sketchbooks were temporarily forgotten - they had market stalls to check out! They managed to snatch up quite a few good deals on purses...

Lisa, Milla & Linda shop for purses at the market in San Gimignano

The market closed around 12:30, but there were more shops to visit in town afterwards - don't you just love this one?

Lavender shop in San Gimignano

I always enjoy getting off the main drag and wandering down some of the side streets, where I find the prettiest scenes...

We stopped on the way home for a group picture with the towers of San Gimignano in the distance.

Trisha, Stacey, Julene, Heidi, Tessa, Michelle, me, Linda, Milla, Susi, Saundra, & Lisa

Friday was our last day at the villa, and Patrizia and her husband, Alberto, gave us a winery tour and told us all about the process they use to make their fine wines.

As we made our way to the wine cellar, Anita the goat decided to do the macarena with Heidi...

Heidi and Anita, dancing

Before dinner we took some time for a final wrap-up of the week. Everyone shared their sketchbooks and talked about how our week together had changed them.

Michelle shares a page from her travel journal

Then it was time for our final dinner together. We gave Maria, Patrizia, and Alberto a handmade card that featured all of us on the front. Inside, we each thanked them for all they had done to make our Tuscany experience one that we'll never forget.

Maria, Patrizia, and Alberto

It had been a perfect week - beautiful weather, fantastic food, day trips to wonderful places, and a real home to come back to each night. We all learned a lot, made some new friends, and experienced the best of a culture that's so very different from our own. As we work on finishing up our travel journals this fall and winter, I know that they, like me, will be remembering those clear autumn days when we had nothing more to do than soak up all the beauty and happiness that Tuscany had to offer.

"Once you have traveled, 
the voyage never ends. 
The mind can never break off 
from the journey."
-Pat Conroy

PS - Next year I'll be changing things up a bit and offering a sketching workshop in Sicily instead of Tuscany. Dates are September 15-22, 2018. Complete information will be posted soon!

PPS - Check back again in a few days when I'll be continuing this post with pictures and commentary from my 12-day workshop in the Greek Isles.


  1. Looks like an amazing time Leslie! Thank you for sharing it.

  2. How beautiful! Thank you for sharing your photos, memories and art with us.

    1. You're welcome, Laura, and thanks for stopping by.

  3. I always enjoy reading your posts and seeing the photos of your travels! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Annie. Wish you could come along sometime. :)

  4. Welcome home, Leslie! Sounds like another wonderful trip with an amazing group of artists. I recognize a couple faces from your Cheap Joe’s workshop! I love the history and majesty of the more famous attractions, but here I am so drawn to the lobby of the Hotel Mia Cara and to the cafe in Certaldo. Oh, that light! And those colors! I want to walk right into that photo and sit in the shade of one of those umbrellas. I hope that cafe will be one of the sketches you reveal from your sketchbook.

    1. Certaldo is such a magical place, like stepping back in time. The day we spend there during the workshop is always one of my favorites. I think I should definitely add that cafe image to my sketchbook. The day we were there, I drew the L'Antica Fonte restaurant doorway with its pots of roses. There are so many cute cafes that I think I could fill an entire sketchbook with nothing but those!


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