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Romantic Holidays As Seen on TV3 Saturday AM – 6th February 2016

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Love is in the air for this weeks Saturday AM travel slot. We discussed romantic holidays including Ireland’s top hotels, a weekend break in Florence and a magical trip to the Maldives.

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Ashford Castle

Not only is Ashford Castle Ireland’s best hotel but it was also voted the world’s No 1 hotel in 2015 by one of the industry’s leading luxury networks – Virtuoso. €75 million has been invested into the hotel over the past two years and there is no doubt this 13th century castle offers something unique to its guests. As you drive in under the impressive gates, through the golf course and across the moat – you will be blown away before you even set foot inside the hotel. Once inside the attention to detail is extraordinary. Complete with excellent service and the finest furnishings, when it comes to romantic hotels in Ireland, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Ashford castle discussed by Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on Saturday AM

You can choose one of the many sporting activities including golf, falconry, horse riding, fishing or spend the afternoon relaxing at the spa – you will be spoilt for choice here. There is also an excellent choice of dining available. Choose fine dining in the famous George V Dining Room or casual dining in their Summer Bistro or Dungeon restaurant.

Ashford castle discussed by Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on Saturday AM

As it is a leap year, Ashford are offering a “Leap of Faith’ package for ladies who would like to propose. Price of €563 per person includes a two night stay with breakfast, a five course fine dining meal, couples spa treatments and a visit to the in house cinema to see the movie Leap Year. It doesn’t end there! During the movie you can arrange for a secret proposal to happen on the big screen. This will be arranged by the staff to suit your individual taste. And of course you will be given a bottle of champagne to celebrate!

Ashford castle discussed by Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on Saturday AM

There are also special offers available during February & March which would be ideal as Valentines day gifts. Two nights BB and one evening meal from €285 per person or two nights BB and two evening meals plus afternoon tea from €380 per person. For more details click here.

Monart

The difference between Monart and other luxury hotels is that Monart is Ireland’s only destination Spa property. It offers a unique adults-only environment and was recently awarded ‘runner up best spa retreat in the world’, by Conde Nast Traveller. It was also named as Ireland’s best destination spa for four years in a row. If you are looking for a spa break, there is no doubt – Monart is the best!

Monart Spa Resort discussed by Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on Saturday AM

All spa products at Monart are 100% natural. They use Pevonia Botanica, the award-winning natural skincare range and Voya, 100% organic seaweed body therapies. The deluxe accommodation and excellent cuisine are also top class and as Monart is situated on 100 acres – you will feel utterly relaxed here.

Monart Spa Resort discussed by Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on Saturday AM

Monart have limited availability for Valentine’s weekend with packages from €185 per person including breakfast, evening meal and full access to the 2000 square foot Thermal suite throughout your stay.

Monart Spa Resort discussed by Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert on Saturday AM

Alternatively they have over night stays available throughout the year from €149 per person – a perfect Valentines day gift. For more details click here.

Florence

Florence is Italy’s most romantic city and must rival Paris for being Europe’s city of love. Smaller and more compact than Paris it offers a more intimate feel. It is so easy to navigate and you should manage to see most of the highlights in a weekend break.

Florence by The Travel Expert

The Ponte Vecchio bridge is lined with jewellery shops just asking for the ring to be chosen. The city oozes style so its not surprising that Gucci and Roberto Cavalli were born here! The Uffizi Gallery houses one of the largest collections of art in the world and the Cathedral (Duomo) is one of the most impressive you are likely to see anywhere.

Duomo, Florence by The Travel Expert

If you have the time, a trip into the Tuscan countryside will only add to the romance. Choose from Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti – all a short distance from Florence. I found a great deal departing on the 7th of May for only €215 including flights and three nights hotel accommodation. The perfect gift for your loved one on Valentines day! Click here for more details.  

Maldives

The beaches are white powder, the temperatures are approximately 30 degrees all year round and each resort is on its own island. The word paradise automatically springs to mind! Not surprisingly the Maldives are one of the most romantic places to holiday.

Kandolhu Island, Maldives by The Travel Expert

There are almost 1200 islands spread out over 1000 km of which 100 are tourist islands and 200 are locally inhabited. Even the airport is on a separate island as it is literally a runway in the ocean! Renowned as an underwater paradise each island is surrounded by its own reef which is perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving. Many rooms or villas are situated over the ocean with direct access to the sea. The atmosphere is so relaxed that even in the 5* resorts, a beach dress and flip flops are the norm at night. So ladies, no need to pack ten pairs of shoes!

Kandolhu, Maldives, The ultimate honeymoon by The Travel Expert

Normally once you land you will transfer to a sea plane to bring you to the island resort. As everything needs to be imported, items can be expensive so I would recommend going all inclusive. Be careful though as some all inclusive resorts will only allow you use the buffet restaurant and you will have to pay extra to use the a la carte restaurants on the island. I can recommend Kuramathi, an excellent 4*+ resort who offer a ‘select’ all inclusive package, that includes nine a la carte restaurants. Prices from €2745 per person include flights and seven nights accommodation in a jacuzzi beach villa, with sea plane transfers and the select all inclusive dining package. For more information click here.  Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about the Maldives on Saturday AM

If you want to go 5*, Kandolhu has four a la carte restaurants and even your own wine cooler stocked with 30 bottles of wine in your villa! Will you manage to get through them all though…. 

I hope I gave you some ideas of how to surprise your loved on on Valentines day or at some stage in the future. For more ideas read my blog post – the top 10 romantic destinations.

 

Prices are correct at time of issue but are subject to change.

 

Sarah

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Top Ten Romantic Destinations

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It wasn’t easy trying to come up with a list of the top ten romantic destinations – let’s face it Italy probably has ten on it’s own! I had to narrow it down to my personal favourites so I hope you like them…

 

The world is full of romantic places but sometimes it’s what happens in a particular place that makes it romantic. Let’s face it The Eiffel Tower doesn’t look particularly romantic, but proposing in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, is one of the world’s most romantic places to propose. Hopefully you can take some inspiration from these romantic destinations and plan you own romantic getaway.

 

 

 

 

Paris

It is impossible not to fall in love with Paris. Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and sip champagne from the bar at the top. As I mentioned previously, it is one of the most romantic places to propose! If that’s not your thing, take a stroll around Montmartre and enjoy the views from the Sacré Coeur, or relax and absorb the city from a boat trip on the Seine. Finish off your day with some classic French cuisine in one of it’s many brasseries – formidable!

Paris one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Whitsunday Islands

My trips around Australia led me to some pretty spectacular places, but the one place that stands out in my mind is Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands. It is still probably the best beach I have ever seen, and one that I will find it hard to beat. The sand is amongst the purest in the world, it is so fine you can even use it to polish your jewellery!

Whitsunday Islands one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Tuscany

The Ponte Vecchio bridge n Florence is full of couples browsing it’s jewellery shops – just looking for the right one, and Florence’s Duomo is one of the most impressive I have ever seen.  The city is so easy to navigate, and even a casual stroll taking in the Italian style is enough to bring out the romance in you. If you have time, take a trip to the Tuscan countryside and visit Siena, San Gimignano or the Chianti wine region. In fact Im struggling to decide which is more romantic, Florence or the surrounding countryside…. For more info on Tuscany, read my blog.

Florence one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Venice

A trip on a gondola and a coffee on St Mark’s Square – it has to be done right? Ignore the expense (they both cost a small fortune) – the views from both are breathtaking. The small winding streets and bridges are a pleasure to explore. Where else will you find a city of such scale and beauty built on water?

Venice one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Maldives

White powder beaches, year round temperatures of 30 degrees, each resort is on its own island and you generally arrive at your hotel by seaplane – the Maldives is pure paradise! The laid back atmosphere means that even in deluxe hotels, the dress code is casual – so girls, no need to pack ten pairs of heels!

Read about my magical stay in the Maldives

Maldives one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Hawaii

This multicultural paradise is vastly different from the paradise islands of the Indian ocean or South Pacific. You will see college students on gap years, mingling with honeymoon couples in five star resorts. There are six main islands, each offering something different. The combination of rugged landscapes, waterfalls, volcanoes, superb beaches, and the relaxed vibe, ensures a holiday in Hawaii will leave you wanting to come back for more.

Hawaii one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Bora Bora

I debated between Bora Bora and Tahiti – both in French Polynesia and both absolutely world class romantic destinations. No matter which island you choose, you just have to have an overwater bungalow. I think it was the Four Seasons Hotel in Bora Bora that won it over for me –just take a look!  

Bora Bora one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Lapland

Lapland is not all about Santa you know! If you like the snow then there is nowhere better. It really is a winter wonderland and will definitely fill you with child like wonder. From late August to late April this is the best place to watch the Northern lights. Why not stay in a glass igloo and watch the Northern lights from the comfort of your cosy bed.

Read: How to see the Northern Lights through your own glass igloo.

Lapland one of my top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Santorini

Santorini has to be on everyone’s bucket list. That picture postcard that you see on almost every advertisement for Greece – how could you not want to go there? Every time I see it, I picture myself sipping a cocktail in a small Greek taverna, watching one of the most amazing sunsets. One of the world’s most romantic destinations – absolutely.  Top Tip: Try to avoid peak summer months, the crowds might ruin the romance…

Santorini, one of the top ten romantic destinations by The Travel Expert

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Tanzania

Despite travelling to over 50 countries in 30 years, our holiday in Tanzania is still my favourite travel experience. The deluxe tented safari camps and the most spectacular game viewing – we experienced nature at it’s very best. And then we finished off our trip of a lifetime by relaxing on the beach in Zanzibar – pure bliss! 

Read about my safari in Tanzania here

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I would love to hear your favourite romantic destinations – please comment in the box below.

 

 

 

Sarah

 

The Travel Expert

 

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The Ten Best Movies To Showcase Italy

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Planning a holiday to Italy? Check out the ten best movies to showcase Italy, to get you in the mood!

Italy is a country that is brimming with culture and stunning places just waiting to be explored. Over the past one hundred or so years, we have been blessed with some truly brilliant movies which showcase its beauty perfectly. Take a look at my favourites and see if they whet your appetite.

Roman Holiday | Under The Tuscan Sun | Only You |

Eat Pray Love | A Room With A View | Life Is Beautiful | The Talented Mr Ripley

 Letters to Juliet | Quantum Of Solace |The Godfather

Roman Holiday

Although set in the 1950’s, Roman Holiday is one of the best movies to showcase the magic of Rome. You will follow the stunning Audrey Hepburn around Rome as she explores top sights including The Spanish Steps and The Mouth of Truth for the first time.

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Under The Tuscan Sun

Diane Lane, recently divorced, renovates a run down Tuscan villa to help transform her life. A romance and journey of self discovery ensues and the Tuscan countryside is the ideal place to make this happen.

sunflowers-in-tuscany

 

Only You

This romantic comedy staring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr is the perfect movie for anyone who is looking to see Italy’s highlights. Set in Rome, Venice and Tuscany this movie is an Italian lovers dream. The ride along the Amalfi coast and the hotel stay in Positano (Le Sirenuse) is a spectacular advertisement for this coastline.

Sorrento, 24th October holiday by The Travel Expert

 

Eat, Pray, Love

A divorced Julia Roberts takes a trip around the world to rediscover her true self. A three month start in Italy where she learns the language and some Italian cooking has inspired many people to copy her journey.

Pescheira de Garda Italy

 

 

A Room With A View

Florence is the setting for this romantic period drama. Helena Bonham-Carter is perfect as the impressionable,  young English lady. Florence and the Tuscan countryside combine to make this a worthy award winning movie.

Florence by The Travel Expert

Life Is Beautiful

This oscar-winning, foreign language film is about a Jewish book keeper in wartime Italy. Set in Arezzo, this Tuscan masterpiece sees Guido protecting his son from the horror of the holocaust by cleverly using his imagination.

The ten best movies set in Italy by The Travel Expert

The Talented Mr Ripley

This moody thriller is set all over Italy. It is one of the best movies to showcase various Italian cities with Venice,Rome, Palermo and Naples all featured. The scenes along the Amalfi coast are enough to tempt you to book a plane ticket!

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Letters to Juliet

Although most of the film was shot in Tuscany, Verona is home to Juliet’s balcony and where Amanda Seyfried finds a 50 year old love letter. Of course she has to trace its owner and hence the Italian journey begins.

The ten best movies set in Italy by The Travel Expert

 

Quantum of Solace

No one could forget the opening scene of Quantum of Solace. A car chase around Lake Garda followed by the dramatic Palio race in the Piazza del Campo, Siena. This race is held twice a year. Entrance is free but if you want to see the race properly, book a room at least a year in advance, over looking the square.

The ten best movies set in Italy by The Travel Expert

 

The Godfather

Part of the iconic Godfather is set in rural Sicily. Unlike my other choices, this doesn’t show Sicily at its best! There are no stand out sights and no glimpses of the cliff top town Taormina. However, somehow the countryside is fascinating. The movie is such a classic that it has been the reason for many visits to Sicily since it’s opening in 1972.

The ten best movies set in Italy by The Travel Expert

Sarah

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Europe’s Top 10 Food Destinations

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Check out my top 10 food destinations in Europe and get planning your next holiday.

1. San Sebastian, Spain

The small city of San Sebastian is a food lovers paradise and is probably the food capital of Europe. There are 13 Michelin-starred restaurants here, the most in the world per head of population. It is not just about the michelin star restaurants though, make sure you try the local pubs offerings ‘pinxtos.’ These are tasty bite size tapas. These showcase all of the regions top quality food, without the hefty price tag.

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San Sebastian, one of Europe's top food destinations by The Travel Expert

2. Barcelona, Spain

The best place to take a walking food tour has to be Barcelona. Wander through the historic centre and sample some tasty tapas. Make sure you visit one of Europe’s best food markets, the famous La Boqueria,

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La Boqueria in Barcelona, one of Europe's top food destinations by The Travel Expert

3. Bologna, Italy

Locals will tell you Bologna is Italy’s food capital but not many outsiders have figured it out yet! Home of spaghetti bolognese, it is the best place to taste it. The neighbouring town of Parma is home of Parmigiano Reggiano and of course parma ham. Sit on the town’s piazza and enjoy some local prosciutto or better still visit the Museo del Prosciutto in Langhirano and watch it being made.

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Parma ham in Parma, one of Europe's top food destinations, by The Travel Expert

4. Florence, Italy

The spectacular city of Florence is not only a food lovers paradise but it is the top choice for romance too. Marvel at the Duomo, pick up a souvenir on the Ponte Vecchio, before enjoying some nice Italian cuisine on the Piazza del Signoria – bellisimo!

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Florence by The Travel Expert

5. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Not only is the walled city a stunning place to explore but it is teaming with pavement cafe’s and tasty eateries. If you like dining al fresco with the buzz of  happy holidaymakers then Dubrovnik is for you. Lets not forget that Croatia is renowned for it’s truffles and Dubrovnik is truffle heaven!

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Some of the many eateries in Dubriovnik's old town

6. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is renowned as one of Europe’s best foodie towns, there are 15 michelin star restaurants here and one of the top things to do in the city is a ‘foodie tour’.Voted the best restaurant in the world, three years in a row, Noma, is here. But it’s not all about the fancy restaurants, the newly opened Street Food Market offers everything from Cuban street food to pizza. Situated right on the harbour, it is the perfect spot for a tasty lunch.

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Copenhagen, one of Europe's top food destinations by The Travel Expert

7. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux is full of bistros and brasseries offering fantastic lunch and dinner menus. And of course there is no where better to pair fine wines with the local french cuisine. Explore the small village of Saint Emillion and take a tour of some of the surrounding Chateaux. Bordeaux is the perfect destination to sample local French produce.

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Bordeaux one of Europe's top food destinations by The Travel Expert

8. Paris, France

Paris offers French cuisine at it’s finest. Specialities from all of the french regions are served in Paris. There are bustling brasseries and trendy bistros mixed with michelin starred restaurants with celebrity chefs. For a major European capital, Paris will still surprise you with how many local shops are still prevalent on every street corner. The bakeries, pastry shops and cheese shops are still there because they are so good – make sure you try them!

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Paris, one of Europe's top food destinations by The Travel Expert

9. Porto, Portugal

One of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto is emerging as one of Europe’s top food destinations. Originally known for it’s Port, Porto offers much more. Unlike many of the other destinations Porto’s restaurants are not fashionable per sé, there are no celebrity chefs or swanky restaurants. The beauty is lies in the traditional restaurants, serving traditional Portuguese cuisine.

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Porto, one of Europe's top food destinations by The Travel Expert

10. London, England

London is home to some of the world’s best restaurants. Celebrity chefs are falling over each other to win the best restaurant and best chef awards. From Michel Roux Jnr to Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, they are all in London. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is one of the best dining experiences in the World. London is another city that is full of great markets, Covent Garden being the most popular.

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London, one of Europe's best food destinations by The Travel Expert

Sarah

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Bank Holiday Weekend in Florence, Flights & Hotel, 29th October, €288

Florence

Florence, one of Italy’s most beautiful cities is historic, charismatic and of course romantic! Enjoy the bank holiday weekend in Florence from only €288!

 

Stroll along the banks of the Arno, browse the jewellery shops on the Ponte Vecchio bridge, or marvel at the Tuscan countryside, if Florence doesn’t bring out some romance in you, I’m afraid nothing will!  I love that the city is so walkable, yes there are numerous art galleries, cathedrals and museums to see, but everything is so close together that you will be surprised how much you can manage in a few days.

Duomo, Florence by The Travel Expert

The cathedral or Duomo is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. As you climb the narrow staircase the red roof tops peer through the small windows. Once you reach the top, the views of Florence are staggering. The Ponte Vecchio bridge is full of vendors and street artists and for me, is the heart of this great city.  The cities top attraction, the Uffizi gallery has one of the largest collections of art in the world and attracts a huge crowd. Make sure you book tickets online beforehand to skip the queue! If you have the time, take a day trip into the unique Tuscan countryside, visit nearby Sienna, Chianti, San Gimignano and admire the remarkable scenery.

Fly from Dublin to Pisa with Ryanair on the 29th of October and spend three nights in the Villa Lucrezia Firenze for only €288 per person. Rated very highly on tripadvisor and awarded a gold level from Greenleaders, this is the place to stay for a traditional Italian welcome. My advice is to stay longer if you can, and take in the tuscan countryside, but hey if you don’t have the time don’t panic, once you go to Florence once, you will definitely come back for more!

 

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All prices are correct at time of issue but are subject to availability.

 

Sarah

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Tuscany, Italy

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The contrast of the countrysides rolling hills mixed with the stunning cities of Florence and Pisa make’s Tuscany an irresistible choice for any traveller.

There is so much to see here, the problem is where to start! I have holidayed in Tuscany numerous times in various cities and towns and loved it each and every time. There are regular direct flights from Dublin to Pisa with Ryanair and they won’t break the bank so its probably the most direct route to take. I would recommend getting the Ryanair coach from Pisa airport direct to Florence and spending a few days there first. Florence is Tuscany’s capital city and when walking around it, you get the feeling that it deserves to be! The Tuscan countryside is so beautiful that it would almost be a shame if its capital city didn’t have that certain heir of grandeur. Although the largest city in the region it retains its old world romantic charm. It has one of Italy’s must see Cathedrals or Duomo, the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce, the famous statue of ‘David’ by Michelangelo and of course one the largest collections of art in the world in the Uffizi Gallery. I would recommend doing an organised city tour to avoid long queues and will enable you to see most of the sights in the shortest time. If you would rather go it alone make sure you at least pre book the Uffizi tickets online, the queues can be over 2 hours long during peak summer months. Florence is not only known for its artistic charm, it’s really quite romantic too. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge, one of the most photographed places in Florence, is lined with vendors, hoping the magic of this city will entice the spellbound tourists to purchase something for their loved one.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about Tuscany

From Florence you can take a train to nearby Siena which is only just over an hour away. In my opinion, this is another ‘must see’ if visiting Tuscany. It is one of my favourite places to visit. The old town centre is pedestrianised and is so easy to navigate. It doesn’t have that big city feel but there are numerous sights to see and it feels almost relaxing, strolling through the streets picking up souvenirs, a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Florence. Siena has been declared a World Heriage site by UNESCO and after a visit to the Piazza del Campo you will see why. The Palazzo Pubblico or town hall stands magnificently beside the Torre del Magnia. Climb the 400 steps to the top to see the red roof tops of Siena and the surrounding countryside, it is breathtaking. This is also the famous location for the Palio horse race which takes place twice every summer. Ten horses with bare back riders race around Il campo each representing their own district, dressed in various colors, it really is a magnificent sight. For any movie buffs out there you may recall this from a scene in the James Bond’s movie, Quantum of Solace. Like most of the Italian cities and towns, there are loads of typical trattorias and osterias. One of the best lies in the heart of Siena. Unfortunately the secret is out so its usually thronged with locals and tourists but make sure you visit, you won’t be disappointed, Losteria on via de Rossi.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about TuscanyFrom Sienna, get a hired car. There is a fantastic train service to most of the larger towns but to experience the Tuscan countryside properly you really need a car. The freedom you have to stop at small walled towns and villages and sample the local produce, for me is one of Tuscany’s highlights. The Cypress trees, old country cottages and the striking sunflowers means the journey is the destination. Driving the Chianti region, stopping at various towns and sampling the local wines is another highlight. We came across Montepulciano, one of the oldest hill top walled towns while driving one day and to this day it’s one of my favourite spots. Although not exactly undiscovered, it’s not as well known as some of its neighbours so it doesn’t attract as many tourists as the famous San Gimignano just down the road. However, regardless of the large influx of tourists the medieval walled town of San Gimignano is town you just have to visit. The fourteen towers dominate the landscape and give a dramatic feel as you get closer to it. Like most of Tuscany’s towns it is also pedestrianised but although easy to navigate it can be extremely busy in the summer months. I would recommend staying there for a few days or even overnight to get a true feel for the place. Alternatively visit in the late afternoon when the numerous Tour buses have left. Because of the nature of the walled town it gets dark very early and is not the best place to see the Tuscan sunset. Its neighbour on the other hand, Volterra, is the perfect spot. Only a half hour drive from San Gimignano, but its situated perfectly to enjoy a late drink as the locals meet in the open square to discuss the events of the day. You get the feeling you are seeing the true Tuscany here while taking in one of the best sunsets in the world.

Top tips for taking the best holiday photos

You can drive back to Pisa from here as it’s only an hours drive and visit the famous leaning tower before flying home. Pisa however, for me lacks the grandeur of the other Tuscan cities. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Leaning Tower, I think I would probably skip it altogether. The great thing about the Tower and its surrounding buildings is that they are so close to the airport that you can really do a quick visit on your way home. There are four buildings, one of which is an impressive Cathedral but really a few hours is all you need here to tick the box and get the souvenir photo.

 

Sarah

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