Tuscany

On arrival at Pisa airport, we picked up our hire car and transferred to Relais La Corte Dei Papi. An oasis of peace and tranquillity, Relais La Corte Dei Papi is a beautiful country house, dating from the late eighteenth century, renovated with love and passion by the Papi family. Ideal for all those wishing to relax and enjoying all the comforts of a refined and luxurious country retreat immersed in scenic Tuscan countryside.

The restaurant, in the ancient cellar of the farmhouse, serves excellent food with traditional Tuscan specialities, home-made bread, hand-made pasta and irresistible cakes. The swimming pool is surrounded by olive groves and pine trees and has beautiful views across the Tuscan countryside.

Our first evening in Tuscany was spent in Cortona, a charming walled town 600m above sea level and with spectacular views of the surrounding valley. We had a chance to explore this vibrant small town followed by a wine tasting of four wines from Montepulciano, Montalcino and Cortona in the oldest Enoteca (wine shop) of Cortona.

In the morning of our second day, we had a cookery class with the Chefs from Relais La Corte Dei Papi. We learnt how to make pasta, which we would later eat for lunch and a tasty little bread pudding for dessert.

We set-off for Villa La Massa in the afternoon, sister hotel to the famous Villa D'Este. Immersed in the heart of Tuscany, this splendid mansion is part of the Leading Hotels of the World. The 16th Century estate sists on the banks of the Arno River, on 22 acres of lemon trees and olive groves.

Located just a few kilometres outside Florence, the hotels shuttle bus can transfer you to the hustle and bustle of the Tuscan capital city. We took advantage of this the following morning for a whistle-stop tour. The shuttle dropped us at the Ponte Vecchio a Medieval stone bridge over the Arno River. The bridge is noted for still having shops built along it. Butchers originally occupied the shops but today the occupants are jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.

We visited the Piazza della Signoria to see the replica statue of Michelangelo's David along with many other statues in the square. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a sight to behold with its huge dome. The streets are full of beautiful and often ornate buildings and plenty of ice-cream parlours, restaurants and designer shops to enjoy. We just had time for a coffee in the contemporary Gallery Hotel Art, a 4-star design and boutique hotel before heading back for the shuttle bus. The Gallery Hotel Art was designed by Michele Bönan, a Florentine architect. The hotel façade and interior are an exhibition of contemporary art with a different theme each year. This year giant spoon installations!

At the end of our busy day in Florence, the peace and serenity of the Villa beckoned as did the fabulous selection of wines we tasted in the cellar. Afterwards, dinner was served in the restaurant Il Verrocchio where we enjoyed a fabulous five course menu.

Our final day was spent at Castello Del Nero, a magnificent 12th century castle commanding stunning views of the rolling countryside, ancient vineyards and lush olive groves whilst enjoying close proximity to Florence, Siena and Pisa. Folowing meticulous restoration, the castle is a treasure trove of original features and is one of the best luxury hotels in Chianti. Bedrooms with centuries-old frescoes, family crests and vaulted ceilings bring to life the grandeur of the Tuscan region's rich historic past. The hotel also offers a complete sanctuary in one of Tuscany's most exclusive spas. ESPA at Castello Del Nero, where we were lucky to spend the afternoon.

Castello del Nero, is also renowned for the high standards of its fine dining at the Michelin starred La Torre restaurant. Once the castle's stables, the elegant dining room allows guests to dine by the historical fireplace or eat al fresco on the Garden Terrace overlooking the Chianti valley.

Our stay in this fine hotel was all too short, as we made a dash for our final destination. A quick visit to Pisa before heading back to the airport for our flight home. Pisa is most famous for its Leaning Tower, part of the Cathedral of Santa Maria in the Square of Miracles. It's a fascinating site and it's worth climbing the 294 steps to the top through galleries and arcades to reach the seven bells at the very top.

Tuscany is one of the most spectacular regions of Italy; rolling valleys dotted with cypress trees and vineyards and olive groves as far as the eye can see. The towns and cities have plenty of rustic charm, ancient buildings, masterpieces and fabulous food and wine to enjoy.