TUSCANY off the Beaten Path

May 2 - 13, 2017

Join us in the spring for a unique sojourn in southern Tuscany, where iconic views await you!

And we know exactly where to find them!!

Our unrushed, carefree trip is perfect for active individuals who wish to experience — well below the surface — the heritage, incomparable landscapes, hearty cuisine and fine wines of Toscana, at the moment of the year when the landscape is at its most beautiful.


Tuscany's famous blue iris - one of the delights of May!

In recognition of the valley's pristine countryside,
working farms, and historic towns and villages,
in 2004, UNESCO awarded the Val d'Orcia the
coveted designation of World Heritage Site

Blissfully isolated from Italy's main north-south super highways by an extinct volcano to the west and a ridge of mountains to the east, the sublime valley of the Orcia River is little changed from its appearance hundreds of years ago: landscapes immortalized by Renaissance painters—and today by art photographers.

Discovering Tuscany off the beaten path cannot be done in a hurry; nor can it be accomplished with a large group.

From a delightful and welcoming small hotel ideally located for excursions in every direction — and in the luxury of a small group — we'll explore medieval villages, walk in the unblemished countryside, savor Tuscan cuisine at its best, and enjoy fine wines — while someone else does the driving! We'll also marvel — often in unexpected places — at extraordinary art, architecture and gardens, including privately-owned properties, with visits by special appointment.

A working farm "podere" in the Val d'Orcia, near our hotel

This iconic view is enjoyed from the garden of a private estate that we will visit by special appointment

Let us worry about the details and the logistics, while you enjoy Tuscany's glorious vistas!

The Pantheon - inspiration for architects for centuries

In the afternoon, we'll go for an "anti-jet lag" walk to introduce you to the remarkable neighborhood of our hotel; and in the evening we'll toast the beginning of our Tuscan sojourn with a quintessentially Italian aperitivo and Welcome dinner at one of Rome's best traditional ristoranti, a short walk from our hotel. After dinner, we'll be treated to one of Rome's loveliest sights: the Pantheon in the evening.

The next morning we'll embark upon our unique travel adventure, driving north, through the Tiber Valley and thence into Tuscany.

Before traversing the forested mountains that isolate the Val d'Orcia from the main route between Rome and Florence, we'll pause to explore Chiusi, an ancient Etruscan hill town with hidden treasures that most travelers miss all together.

To facilitate the convenience of non-stop flights from several American "gateway" cities, our exclusive small group tour will begin with individual arrivals in Rome on Tuesday, May 2. We'll gather at our first-class hotel in the heart of the historic center, situated right behind the Pantheon!

Try to schedule your arrival by mid-day.
Note: Authorized taxis are boarded in front of the terminal and there is a fixed rate for Roma centro! Alternatively, Travel Designs can arrange for you to be met by a private driver.

This appealing view is just a few steps away
from the entrance to our hotel!

Then, onward to southern Tuscany's Val d'Orcia and our cozy hotel for eight nights, once a way station on the
via Francigena
, the medieval pilgrimage route to Rome from France, which, in turn, followed the ancient Roman consular road through Etruria, the via Cassia. Unpack and settle in for an unforgettable week!

Years of exploration of this amazing valley have resulted in our ability to enable you to have "behind the scenes experiences" that would be difficult, if not impossible, for you to enjoy on your own.


Our first-class hotel in the Val d'Orcia -– like having
your own villa, but with someone else doing the work!

The garden of our hotel is especially lovely in early May, when the ginestra (broom) and late double wisteria are in bloom. Hopefully, the first roses also will greet us!

The hotel's pool, secluded in the lower garden

Val d'Orcia - private villa garden

  Each day's destination will provide breathtaking views and a new perspective on this fascinating part of Tuscany. We'll travel the short distances in a smaller deluxe motor coach. Someone else doing the driving — and parking! — along with meticulous advance planning will enable you to enjoy carefree exploration of engaging medieval hill towns, such as Pienza, Montalcino and Montepulciano, seldom visited villages, and exquisite gardens. We'll also have time for easy walks in the pristine countryside and tastings of Tuscany's celebrated wines.

The lower Val d'Orcia is the source of one of Italy's finest wines: Brunello di Montalcino. We'll enjoy a private tasting at a family-owned tenuta (estate) way off the beaten path. It once was a fortified farm! Nearby, a millennium ago, Cistercian monks tended vineyards at an abbey founded by Charlemagne. Today it is active again, with monks caring for one of Italy's most beautiful Romanesque churches, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.


Montepulciano - famous for its Vino Nobile
di Montepulciano

The hills above the "middle valley" are studded with captivating medieval towns that flourished above the via Francigena — a route for artists and merchants as well as pilgrims, hence their unusually rich artistic and architectural patrimony.

Pienza - rebuilt in the 15th century by Pope
Pius II as the perfect Renaissance town

San Quirico d'Orcia - bypassed by
most visitors and a delight to explore!

Far less well known, but also delightful to explore are a slew of lesser-visited small medieval towns and villages off the pilgrimage route and the Roman via Cassia. One is blessed with hot mineral springs, which have been spewing forth curative waters since ancient times and once provided relief for the gout suffered by the Medici. Today, instead of a piazza, there is a huge pool of warm mineral water in the center of the village!

Val d'Orcia - historic spa village dating back to the Romans!


Val d'Orcia - remote medieval hill town enclosed with walls

A highlight of our exploration the middle Val d'Orcia
will be an exclusive private tour — outside of the extremely limited public visiting hours — of the splendid gardens at La Foce, the villa of the Anglo-American writer, Marchesa Iris Origo (1902-1988), now the property of her daughters. Here the English architect, Cecil Pinsent, created his masterpiece.
(He had made his fame working for Bernard Berenson at his villa in Fiesole, as well as for Iris' mother, who restored the gardens of the Villa Medici of Fiesole, where Iris grew up.)


La Foce

We'll also take time to explore the upper Val d'Orcia, where a Medici fortress high on a crag once guarded the border of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with the Papal territories — and more recently provided the background for a dramatic scene in the film, "The Gladiator".

Upper Val d'Orcia


Early in our sojourn in the Val d'Orcia we'll devote a day to visiting the provincial capital, Siena, which, for centuries, dominated the lands to its south, including the Orcia Valley—as source of wealth, from agriculture, and through a network of hospices for pilgrims en route to Rome along the via Francigena.

This red brick medieval town is known for its superb Gothic buildings, including the Duomo (Cathedral), richly decorated with white marble sculpture both in its interior and on its façade, and the Palazzo Pubblico, arguably the most handsome medieval town hall in Tuscany-and the focal point of il Campo, Siena's main square, an especially welcoming urban space and absolutely unique in Italy. The soaring bell tower was the model for others we will see during our stay in the Val d'Orcia



Several of Siena's noble families owned fiefs in the territory south of the city; one in particular is of interest to our sojourn in the Val d'Orcia: the Piccolomini. The charming hill town of Pienza, in the "Middle Orcia" was the birthplace of the family's scion at the beginning of the 15th century: Aenaeus Silvius Piccolomini, a Renaissance humanist who became Pope Pius II. His nephew, a cardinal (and later Pope Pius III), built a library inside Siena's Cathedral in honor of "the Humanist Pope". The frescoes, by Pinturicchio, that decorate every inch of the Libreria Piccolomini comprise one of the masterpieces of Italian Renaissance painting.


On our last day in the evocative Tuscan countryside we'll travel to Florence by way of the mysterious Crete senesi — eroded clay and limestone hills south of Siena — and, east and northeast of Siena, the verdant Chianti Hills — or Monti del Chanti — the most prestigious area of the Chianti Classico wine "zone".

Our destination — for a tour of the exquisite garden and cellars dating back a thousand years — is a former monastery, now a prestigious wine estate, in the same family since the middle of the 19th century.

Organically grown Sangiovese grapes - private wine estate
in the Chianti Hills


Private wine estate in the Chianti Hills, dating back 1,000 years!

The former cloister of the private wine estate we will visit in the Chianti Hills.

Here we also will be treated to a special private luncheon in the family dining room.

We'll then take the old scenic road — the Chiantigiana - to Florence and check in to our top first class hotel in the historic center, for two nights. Our luxurious residence could not be better located for visits to Florence's most compelling monuments, museums and churches and is near a variety of restaurants, trattorie and shops.

The last full day of our Tuscan sojourn will remain unscheduled for individual pursuits. The Uffizi galleries are only a short walk from our hotel; Travel Designs will be happy to make an early morning appointment for tour participants who would like to enter ahead of the large tour groups. Also close by is the recently reorganized Cathedral Museum, with Lorenzo Ghiberti's original "Doors of Paradise", now entirely restored and on display.

In the evening, we'll gather to share our experiences of the day and to celebrate our singular journey with an elegant aperitivo and Farewell dinner in a very special room within our hotel—absolutely unique in Florence!

Historic caffè in nearby Piazza Signoria


Firenze - Duomo - Brunelleschi's magnificent dome

The TUSCANY off the Beaten Path tour will conclude in Florence Saturday, May 13 after breakfast, with individual departures for Florence's Amerigo Vespucci airport, an easy taxi ride from the hotel—or for the Santa Maria Novella train station, if you wish to extend your stay in Italy.

Throughout the trip, you can look forward to wonderful meals, with all menus planned personally by Travel Designs, in collaboration with our restaurant owners and chefs in Tuscany. Great attention is given to variety and regional cuisine.

Tuscany, of course, is famous not only for fine wines but also for extra virgin olive oil and artisanal food products such as prosciutto, salame and the famous Pecorino di Pienza. One of our special visits, in fact, will be to a prestigious family-owned sheep farm to learn how the cheese is made.

Springtime seasonal vegetables and fruit


Prosciutto, salame e formaggi di pecora (sheep's cheeses)

Our daily breakfast buffets will include fresh sheep's milk ricotta as well as a variety of cereals, fruit, yogurt, eggs and made-in-house pastries and torte (cakes).

Val d'Orcia - olives

If you take pleasure in breathtaking views, small engaging art towns and villages, splendid gardens, great food and wine, and plenty of easy walking, then this trip is for you!

We hope that you will be able to join us for our singular journey along the lesser-traveled byways of southern Tuscany!!

Val d'Orcia - two lesser-visited medieval walled towns.


Group size must be limited — to ensure the high quality expected by our travelers. Our meals together will be enjoyed in restaurants and trattorie too small for large groups and our unusual walks and private visits are impossible to achieve with large numbers of participants.

Early registration is advised.
For detailed tour information, please contact us at:

Travel Designs
P.O. Box 782 ? Alfred, NY 14802
Tel.: 607-587-8324
Fax: 607-587-9650
E-mail: info@travel-designs.com

We look forward to hearing from you!

Sharon and Roger Smith


Special luncheon at a private wine estate in Tuscany

All photographs by Travel Designs