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Touring Villas in Tuscany

February 2006
by Barbara Bennett with Suzanne Goulart

Tuscany in Autumn

After a sparkling week in Positano, I arrived in Rome on an Italy high, having feasted on the best Fruti de Mare and Brunello wines to be found on the Amalfi coast. The picture-perfect weather hovered in the low 70s (Fahrenheit) as I made my way eagerly to Piazza di Spagna—the Spanish Steps to many, of course, and fashion central to many more. Shortly after checking in at the Hotel Condotti literally five minutes away, I was out the door and on the hunt for that special pair of leather gloves.

The area where the Condotti is located is surrounded by some of the most famous fashion houses in Italy. Versace, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana are just around the corner. In between are smaller vendors offering exquisite leather goods at prices more reasonable. I found exactly what I was looking for right around the block. From there, it was on to the main piazza for the Furla shop. Their leather handbags are gorgeous. Then, for the best selection of sunglasses anywhere, over to the Via Veneto. I picked up a great pair of Salvatore Ferragamo shades at half the price they would be here in the States—that is, if you could even find them here. Rome excites me the way London and Paris do. Especially when it's warm and sunny and everyone is dining outside. Next stop, lunch!

Barbara Bennett at Rome's Spanish Steps

I must be honest when I say that the food in Positano left me very spoiled. Never having had a really great meal in Rome except at the Hassler Hotel, I opted for the Hassler once again. The best porcini mushroom crêpes ever and a fabulous bottle of wine. You cannot go wrong there! And then I strolled back to my room at the Condotti—a double superior with a huge terrace overlooking a cobblestone pedestrian alley, privy to the sounds of the city—where I decided to turn in early.

After a wonderful week along the coast with my husband, I was ready for further shopping in Rome and could not wait until Suzanne arrived. Yes, I still had more to buy and I was looking forward to a fabulous pizza at Dar Poetta.

Once Suzanne touched down the next day, she took a cab from the airport straight to the Condotti where she was greeted by the manager Vladimir, a gem of a man who never fails to remember you once you've met and always greets you by name. He expedited the paperwork, set her up in a cute little room with a balcony, and before either of us knew it we were sitting downstairs over fresh cappuccinos orchestrating our next move.

Piazza Navona

Rome to Tuscany

Suzanne and I had a day in Rome to do whatever we wanted before our schedule of villa appointments began. We headed toward Piazza Navona, stopping along the way at the Pantheon—built in 27 BC by Agrippa as a temple to the gods, rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian in the second century AD, and today Rome’s best preserved relic of antiquity. Then we came upon an accessories store where each of us bought a scarf. In Piazza Navona we encountered the predictable mélange of restaurants, local artists and tourists. Artists gather here to sell their work and of course we both found pieces we loved. Even though the Euro has escalated the cost of just about everything abroad, €30 for an original oil painting is still an excellent value.

Following our art purchases, we sat down to enjoy a lunch of bruschetta, mozzarella, basil and tomato salad, accompanied by a glass each of pinot grigio. Later, for dinner, we satisfied a mutual gastronomic longing and went to Dar Poetta in Trastevere for one of the best pizzas in Rome. Suzanne had been there before in April and she was not disappointed the second time around. We ordered smoked salmon with arugula and the vegetarian pizza. It was nothing short of superb!

Suzanne, a Tuscan friend and Barbara

Early the next morning we enjoyed a quick breakfast at the Condotti, checked out of the hotel and rode a cab to the Stazione Termini for our commute to Florence (Firenze, to be accurate and appropos) aboard the super-high-speed Eurostar Italia. What a way to go! Comfortable, clean and fast, it took us about an hour and 45 minutes and flew along without a hitch. We met business contacts at the station in Firenze and squeezed our luggage and ourselves into a decidedly undersize Fiat Panda. Not to worry, however...we upgraded the next day.

Upon disembarking the train in Firenze, Suzanne and I were both struck by the notion that Italians in general are the most stylish people on the face of the planet. As I made my way through the station, I could have been in the middle of a fashion show. To any Italian, of course, style is the norm, a way of life. They are so used to it they ooze nonchalance and unspoken confidence, which only fortifies the impression of chic. Clothing and accessories are fabulous—from snappy outfits and beautiful shoes right down to the scarves and sunglasses and belts and gloves that embellish them. Names like Armani and Gucci, or Versace and Prada, are but the tip of the iceberg here. Local labels that you and I have never heard of would turn as many heads back in the States. There is no doubt about it: Italy and style go hand in hand.

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