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Travelzoo Experience: Il Borro Estate, Tuscany

One of the most coveted perks at Travelzoo is the Travelzoo Experience, in which Deal Experts and other employees take advantage of the same travel, entertainment and local deals we publish to our subscribers and report back on their experience.

Anticipation for my trip to Il Borro, Tuscany, was mounting for months. I booked this trip as my Travelzoo Experience 10 months in advance, only a month after my first day at Travelzoo. I knew this was the trip for me because Il Borro Estates is owned by the estate of late fashion desiger Salvatore Ferragamo, so I knew that this resort would be top notch.

Our trip to Tuscany started with a flight into Pisa. After getting re-acquainted with the nuances of manual transmission, we visited the Leaning Tower before heading for Il Borro, which our GPS indicated was a two hour drive from Pisa. (Don't forget, go to the north side of the Tower to get the picture where it looks like you’re holding the tipped tower from crashing.)

The drive from Pisa to Il Borro is quite memorable. We made a few wrong turns, but ultimately made our way to the upward winding road that leads from San Giovanni Valdarndo toward the Il Borro Estate. We were obvious tourist drivers because the fastest speed we could manage on the narrow and curvy roads was about 25 MPH. 

Luckily, the staff at Il Borro had a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for us upon our arrival. We stayed in the farm-house accommodations dating back to when the estate was a working family farm. Now it’s been beautifully refurbished into luxe resort apartments, aligning with Ferragamo style. Even the bath products at the resort are fragranced Tuscan Soul, which is a perfume in the Ferragamo line. For warmth on chilly nights the hotel staff will come build a fire for you in the in-villa fireplace. No need to sleep with a donkey. 

There is a medieval village on site at the Il Borro compound. This area has cobbled streets and sits nestled in the mountains overlooking a picturesque valley on the estate. There are small shops that are open during a few weekends in the off season that we were lucky enough to catch during our trip there. Strolling through the narrow streets is very romantic – the perfect backdrop for an evening walk with that someone special.  We also took advantage of a horseback ride through the vineyards on a sunny afternoon. Although this sounds picturesque, the horses apparently only understood commands in Italian so we had a tough go of it.

Of course, one of the best parts about staying in Tuscany is the wine! We did wine tasting at Il Borro, which is on the high-end side of production as well as at a family-run winery just down the road for the resort. It was very interesting to see the different techniques each employed. (Tip: TSA regulations allow each person to bring back up to two bottles on wine in his or her checked luggage.  We opted for this route instead of shipping a case of wine back to the states.  Wineries charge upwards of 100 euros just for shipping!)

Planning a trip for yourself? Here are five tips if you're taking this trip or one like it to Tuscany:

  • Visit an olive mill: We visited the San Leo Farm in Figline Valdarno where we took a private tour given by the owner and learned about the process of making olive oil. We ended the tour with a tasting, which we did the Italian way -- drinking it straight! The pure, virgin, cold-pressed olive oil is excellent! The owners invited us to come back and help pick olives from the trees during harvest time -- definitely going to align my next trip to Tuscany with olive harvesting.
  • Take a day trip to Florence: We drove to the train station at Montevarchi (approximately 20 minutes by car from Il Borro) to board a train for Firenze. The sights from the train are spectacular; amazing mountain views and acres of vineyards and olive groves whiz by as you head to through the countryside. Once in Florence, art and architecture are the things to take in. We purchased tickets in advance online for the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia (David statue) in Florence. You won’t be saving money, but you’ll be saving precious time as these tickets act as a "fast pass."
  • Visit the local grocery store: At the farmhouse, guests have their own kitchens, and we made dinner at least twice. Visiting the local grocery store was a trip. The shop keepers didn’t speak English, so it was fun to try and communicate with them. We were able to purchase great produce and meat. The wine selection at even the smallest grocer is amazing. Even a bottle of wine that only cost 1 euro was delicious!  Wine costs much less than a soda in Italy.
  • Difficult driving: One day we were planning to go to the outlet mall to shop for discounted Italian fashions. The concierge made it seem very simple and said we couldn’t miss it. The drive should take only 40 minutes, but when pressed he reluctantly gave us an address for us to program into the GPS. After an hour of driving, the GPS announced that we had "reached our destination" as we pulled into someone’s driveway with live chickens running around it at the top of a remote mountain.  After many wrong turns and two hours of driving we eventually found the shops we were looking for.
  • Language barriers? There was a friendly cat who kept showing up outside of our apartment and toward the end of our trip wanted to get him a nice parting gift. We headed to the grocery store (we went there nearly every day and I think the shopkeeper grew to enjoy our visits. We had fun trying to communicate with hand gestures, and she would try and teach us a few Italian words) to buy some fancy Italian cat food. The shop keeper grew very concerned with the purchase -- she thought that we were planning to eat it ourselves!

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Tips by
Lydia

Deal Expert, New York
Monday, May 21, 2012
See more Tips from
Lydia Gaster