Italy Women 2016 – September 15-October 6, 2016

Florence, Lucca, Siena, Tuscan Countryside, Cinque Terre

IMG_2869_1Ah, Bella Italia! Wouldn’t we love to explore her majestic art, architecture, and cuisine, her serene villages and vineyards, her romantic coastlines for half of the rest of our lives? Well, on this Women’s Adventure, we’ll have to settle for just a bit less than that, taking in some of the spectacular sights in the top half of “the boot”.

We’ll begin in Florence, my favorite Italian city, full of culture and beauty, and just the right size to enjoy ourselves easily. We will stay six nights, strolling on the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno, listening to the monks chant their 5:00 Mass near the Piazzale Michelangelo, stopping at a frutta e verdura market for a fresh afternoon snack. After a half day private walking tour with our guide, Elena Leo, to get a feel for the history of Florence, we will visit the old masters in the Uffizi Gallery and the exquisite statue of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. Franco treats us like queens at Il Porcospino, a local ristorante near the Medici Chapel.


Fiesole’s Etruscan Arches

A day trips to Fiesole will give us our first taste of some northern Tuscany towns, with a spectacular view of Florence from above, and we can explore the Etruscan ruins nestled in Fiesole’s village boundaries. A short train ride to Prato (our guide’s hometown) and we can visit the Textile Museum, a fresco-ceiling chapel, and a Palazzo or two . . . And always there is espresso, cappuccino, gelato and other delicious culinary delights.

We depart Florence and travel by short train ride to Lucca, a unique triple-walled little city, for three nights, where we can ride bicycles on top of the old walls, picnic at one of the wall-top parks, and take a half-day tour of nearby Pisa. We will see the Leaning Tower, of course, and those of you who are adventuresome can climb the tower if you wish. The Baptistry and the Duomo are spectacular, part of the unique Field of Miracles situated within an area the size of a city block.

Then on to Siena, where the Palio is held each year at the Campo, in July and August. While we are there, we can see clear evidence of which contrata (city district) has won the prize after the last race. A half-day private tour with my friend Viviana Girola will put some of Siena in a historical context, including entry into the magnificent Duomo, as well as the side gallery with ancient illuminated manuscripts on display. Then we will be free to explore the walkways, churches, shops and alleys of this old world town. By popular demand, we have three nights in Siena. Delicious dinners await us, as well as casual daytime grazing on the Campo, full of cafes and street vendors.

After kissing Siena goodbye, we will head to the Tuscan countryside, near Vagliagli, just outside of Castellina in Chianti. Our hosts will be Mario and Elena, the owners of Tenuta Corsignano, an agriturismo, a working farm with vineyards, olive trees, herb gardens and views of Siena in the distance. We will take off most days for Tuscan towns and villages, such as Montipulciano, Pienza, Cortona, and San Gimignano, and perhaps visit Capalbio’s Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden), a spectacular park with mosaic magnificence in the form of the figures of the Major Arcana. We might also have a private cooking class, a delightful half-day experience.

If you choose, you can just spend a leisurely day or two at the agriturismo itself, lounging by the pool, walking the area or napping luxuriously in the Tuscan sun. There is always time to write in your journal, one you will receive for the trip, or one you bring with you!

We will depart from Corsignano and private drivers will take us to Cinque Terre, where we will stay for three nights. Your choices are many throughout these “five lands”, and you can walk or hike from one of the five villages to another, or take the little “milk train” or boat instead, stopping here and there to explore Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

We will steal away one day, taking the train to the spectacular oceanside town of Portofino (remember Enchanted April, filmed in that area?) for a day of shopping (even just window-shopping) in the high end stores and galleries, all at the edge of the sparkling Ligurian sea. Sip chilled Prosecco and watch the yachts come and go.

A view from Portofino's hills

A view from Portofino’s hills

When we say goodbye to Cinque Terre, we will head for the airport (either Milan or Florence) and our return to reality!

Our trip will include AIRFARE FROM DENVER, twenty nights’ lodging (double occupancy), all transportation within Italy, walking tours in Florence, Prato and Siena, a half-day trip to Pisa, combo ticket in Pisa (the fee for the Tower climb is not included), eighteen breakfasts, three lunches, two picnics, eight dinners, entrance to the Duomo in Siena, the Uffizi, Accademia, and Medici Chapel in Florence, bicycle rentals in Lucca, Florence Street-wise maps, travel journals, and ME, your planner, guide, and all-around fire extinguisher!

Cost for above, (including airfare from Denver) is $6200.00** A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space. A discount of $250 is yours for early registration by November 15, 2015 OR for bringing a friend not on my list . . .

For questions, please contact Joannah L. Merriman, Lifeprints, 970-481-6339. E-mail me at and check out my travel blog, for samples of previous trip adventures!


**Double occupancy. Single occupancy available for additional cost of approximately $1000-$1100, depending on the value of the Euro at time of travel. If you are flying from somewhere other than Denver, or if you have miles you’d rather use, please talk with me. Travel insurance is a must, I’ve found, but I will offer a group rate or individual policy for the full value of your trip as well as for lost luggage, trip delays, medical coverage etc. Details about that upon registration.


Siena And An Important Commemoration . . .

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why is it that I can never type today’s date without feeling as though I shouldn’t be celebrating anything?  9/11 has become its own planet, wrapped in sorrow and disbelief, no matter that it has been eleven years since the twin towers collapsed, taking thousands of people with it.

Life DOES go on for all of us, but the solemnity of writing the date still envelopes me.

Today we leave Rome, headed for the train station.  We board a train to Florence and the Stazione Santa Maria Novella, where we meet Stefano and Fillipo, our private shuttle drivers, who will load our luggage into two shuttle vans.  Our Florence hotel, the Hotel Pendini, is centrally located, and we leave our luggage there, but for an overnight bag, before we head to Siena for one night.

Arriving in Siena, we check into the Hotel Chiusarelli, just a block from the Chiesa San Domenica, a beautiful, simple church whose claim to fame is that it houses St. Catherine of Siena’s head in a glass case on a side altar.  The Italian Catholics are big into collecting body parts of saints, and St. Catherine is the Protective Saint of Siena.

Our guide, Viviana, meets us at a café across from the hotel and we begin our tour of this stunning hill town.  The Duomo (I call it the Zebra Church) never fails to captivate me.  Viviana’s information is always fresh, her knowledge is impressive, and the history of this church, the town, the rivalry between Siena and Florence, and the magic of the Palio competition makes Siena a must-stop for my Italy Women adventures.

We complete a wonderful day with delicious dinner at Le Logge, just off the Campo, and we toast to the memories of all who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 with a moment of silence in the midst of the pleasures of travel.  We are the lucky ones.

My pedometer tells me I walked 5.47 miles today.

The Worst, Best and the Rest of Rome . . .

Monday, September 10

The Rome whirlwind goes by with glitz and overload, especially when one goes to the Vatican.  I know, it’s something you just have to do when in Rome, but frankly, this is the last time I’ll make a trip to the smallest country in the world.  And referencing the title of this post, I think for me, the Vatican experience is the worst of Rome.

The Basilica is exquisite, overpowering, full of story and art, and though the Vatican Museum is also art-full, somehow my eyes glaze over, especially when I think about the link between political power and the Church’s co-dependent relationship with the richest families in Italian history.  Stolen art from other countries, contests to see who has the most body parts of saints, and overwhelming statuary, tapestries, paintings . . . all of that would be enough, more than enough.

But squeezed into every section of the Vatican Museum are souvenir shops and counters, selling ridiculous amounts of books, plastic artifacts, gold crosses, rosaries.  A veritable Vatican Coney Island.  Heresy, I know, but I think I’ll be hard pressed to visit Rome again.

Rome is hot and sticky, teeming with tourists and Romans alike, wandering the streets as though there are no cars at all . . . and some of that is part of the charm of this dirty old city.

The Rome upside is that it is walkable, moreso than I had remembered, and just going back to the Spanish Steps, soaking my bare feet in that cold fountain pool,

My feet were nearly blue, but it surely did feel wonderful!

inspiring several Italian women to take off their shoes before the politizia could shoo us off . . . now THAT was fun!  The policewoman scowled at me and said, in Italian, that this was not a bath, and if I wanted a bath, I should go back to my hotel.  I told her it was only my feet that were taking the bath, and that I was happy she hadn’t come along until about 30 minutes into the soak!

Our final Roman dinner, at the Fortunato just near the Pantheon, was an opportunity to have the best steak tartare I’ve ever eaten!  Delicious food, yummy wine, all on a Roman terrace, with the dusk settling over the Pantheon over my right shoulder.

10.72 miles logged on the pedometer on Sunday, 7.11 miles on Monday.  I’m training for the Camino de Santiago even when I’m in Italy.

Getting Into The Roman Groove

Saturday, September 8

Breakfast (Colazione) at Hotel Smeraldo is lovely, with trays of salami, ham, and cheese.  Yogurt, cereal, fruit, rolls, and coffee round out the fare.  After breakfast I meet with my group in the lobby, armed with our Roma passes.   Like a line of ducklings, we wander out, snaking through small piazzas, looking for Bus # 116 which will take us up to the Villa Borghese and the Borghese Gallery.  One of my favorite places in Rome, the Borghese Gallery houses, among other spectacular artwork, mosaics, etc., the statue of Apollo chasing Daphne, by Bernini.  Spectacular . . . and I am awe-struck again.  (Unfortunately, absolutely NO photos allowed, so I revel in the real thing, and buy a postcard . . .  ).

No photo can convey the exquisite beautiy of this piece . . .

A walk through the Villa Borghese grounds to the lookout point above the Piazza del Popolo, then a stroll to the top of the Spanish Steps and down to the fountain, where we can fill our bottles with water from the fish’s mouth.

On Via Condotti, the high end shops do NOT beckon to me, but it’s interesting to see the suited-up concierge outside each entry door.  We ducked down a block or two and had a delicious light lunch.  More walking walking walking and we were at the Pantheon.  The McDonald’s across the Piazza from the beautiful round-domed building is no longer, and a waiter at what is now a lovely restaurant in hat location confided that there was “funny business . . . connected to the mob” which caused the shut-down of the greasy fast food place.  Excellent!  The Pantheon does not deserve to have to look at the golden arches for the rest of its historical life.

Anne and I went in to the Pantheon just as it was closing to tourists, because a Mass was about to begin.  We simply said we were attending the service and the guards let us in, though their looks were dubious.  Do you think I LOOK like a Catholic, rather than a heathen?

The priest appeared to be as old as Abraham, his black four-cornered hat atop his white and balding head, escorted in by a young assistant.  The usher lifted the front hem of the old monsignor’s dress as the Monsignor took one step toward the altar and plopped into his carved chair.

He had his role, but it was only for half of the service, while the lay participants and the younger assistant read the various parts of the mass.  Anne and I sat, amazed by the ancient priest, and we snuck off at the Communion.  More walking before we caught up with Sue, Marie, Laurie and Amy for dinner on the Piazza Navona and back to the hotel.

7.28 miles logged on the pedometer for today.

Market Week in Provence, Part 3

May 9 and 10, 2012.  Mid-week in Provence found us in St. Remy, and to our surprise, Wednesday was Market Day in this town famous for the fact that it is the home of the mental hospital at which Van Gogh spent about 15 months.  Down the path to the hospital and surrounding it are eighteen plaques, what I call the Van Gogh Stations of the Cross . . . on each plaque is a reproduction of one of his paintings, along with an excerpt from his journals, or a letter to his brother, or some other bit of his writing which helps put each painting in context.

No matter how many times I enter the hospital, I am always struck again by the austerity of the room in which he slept, the simple horror of the tub where he received his shock treatments, and the beauty he created despite his tortured mind.  The hospital is still functioning, and the young patients take great inspiration from Van Gogh’s dedication to his work despite his mental illness.  Many of the patients’ paintings are for sale in the inevitable gift shop.

The presence of the street market made today’s visit to St. Remy even more full of color and the buzz of the local shoppers.  Fresh fish, vegetables, eggs, jams, sausages, olives as well as table linens, purses, dresses, and street musicians filled the streets from downtown to the visitor’s center.

What’s for lunch??

Though we are beginning to recognize some of the vendors, the variety of booths and tables of merchandise never stops surprising me.

Next time I come to this intriguing little city, I won’t even look for a restaurant.  I’ll just graze ecstatically among the market’s offerings!

On our way back to our villa after lunch, we spotted a glowing field of poppies, so we pulled off the side of the road, walked to the field, all of us with cameras in hand, and clicked and clicked until we thought we might have had our fill of the view.  Incredible!

Brilliant poppy field with a backdrop of the Luberon Mountains

Our days are full and lazy in that order.  Plenty of places to see while it’s sunny, and then back to the villa to relax, read, swim, graze at a table full of market fare, and sleep, sweet sleep before we begin again.

Thursday’s market venture found us in Aix-en-Provence, where the market stretched down long avenues and wound through alleyways and plazas.  After a morning of shopping and lunch in front of the merchandise market, we returned to the villa in anticipation of our dinner, prepared for us on site by Chef Ronald,, and we were not disappointed.  You can check out his website (click on “English”) and go to the menus for a mouth-watering list of possibilities, with photos.

More on that in the next post!

Almost Time For Liftoff!

April 27, 2012. In one week, six women will be winging their way to Paris for the France Women 2012 Adventure!

Departing from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado (the fearless leader), British Columbia, New York and Vermont, we will all meet Saturday morning, May 5, at the Charles de Gaulle airport, board a TGV (the fast train) to Avignon, rent our cars and drive out to Villa St. Roch in Robion, the Luberon Valley of Provence. A week there, one night in Gigondas with Thierry and Dominique, the owners of Les Florets, and then back to Avignon to return our cars and return on the train to Paris for another lovely week!

If you’d like to read about our adventures along the way, you can go to this site and click on “Follow”, enter your e-mail address, and then “confirm” your request when WordPress sends you a confirmation e-mail.

After that, you will get an e-mail every time I write a post about our calm and exciting travels.

Paris Days

Monday, October 18, 2010. Last night we walked quickly to the Rue Cler, at least six of us did, looking for a quick meal. Kay, Marie and I found Chinese food appealing, while Anne, Tonda and Sue decided the next-door restaurant looked better to them. One way or another, we were all exhausted from our day of driving the French highways, and we were very glad to tumble into our respective beds at the Hotel Muguet.

A Bit of Van Gogh

Monday, October 11, 2010 – Provence

Today is a rainy day, hazy, a bit cold, not pouring, but certainly not sunny, as we are promised it will be tomorrow. So we opt to go to St. Remy to see what I call the Van Gogh Stations of the Cross. Eighteen reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings on panels outside, throughout a walk down the pathways he wandered when he committed himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum. In about a year, he created over 100 paintings, and you can walk through the eighteen outside panels, enter the asylum and walk up a flight of stairs to Van Gogh’s bedroom, his sitting room, the room in which he was administered his shock treatments, etc.

Reading some of the information, in one case exquisitely written by a psychiatrist at the hospital, I feel as though I am almost there, watching Van Gogh paint as he gazes out his barred windows. The courtyard in the back of the hospital has a beautiful lavender garden, bordered by flowering rosemary bushes. Two small stone structures are nestled against the stone walls of the property.

Returning to the “centre ville” of the town, walking past modern shops in the ancient buildings, one could almost forget the man who spent a tormented and yet productive year in a mental hospital over a century ago.

A wonderful way to soak up some of the Provencal art history!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Well, our France Women’s trip has begun, and we are settled into our wonderful villa, Fontaine du Faucon, just outside of the lovely village of Goult in the Luberon Valley in Provence!

We all met at the Denver airport on Friday morning, and amazingly enough, our check-in, boarding, flights, connections, customs drill in Paris, luggage collection (NO ONE lost a bag!), and Rail Pass validation went off without a hitch! In fact it was such a smooth transition from one thing to another that we actually had too much time in the TGV terminal, waiting for the train.

We boarded the “fast train” at 11:30, wrestling our luggage up and down the few platform steps, and settled in. Despite the beautiful sunny day and the spectacular scenery in the countryside, most of us slept all the way through the rail journey to Avignon. But we laughingly reminded ourselves and one another that we will be able to pay more attention on the way back to Paris.

At the Avignon rail station, we rented our two cars and again, without a hitch, found our way to this amazing villa. Helen, the owner’s sister, greeted us with a warm kiss on each cheek, while the smells of dinner comforted our senses. The herbal mixtures for sauce, and the sauteed garlic made my mouth water, and I was so thankful that we arranged for Helen to prepare our first meal here, rather than going to a restaurant somewhere or cooking ourselves. We’re all still cheery but very tired, and I’m sure we’ll be happy to settle in for the week.

I gave the women a tour of the bedrooms, let them arm wrestle one another for choices, and settled into my “apartment” across the small courtyard. Ellen took first advantage of the swimming pool and it must have looked more inviting to Sue and Marie than to me, because they soon were wet and laughing with Ellen, while I drove Kay and Gena up to the village of Goult, where we laid in a few supplies for breakfast this morning.

By 7:00 p.m. last evening, Helen had set out some cheeses and tapenade on toasted baguettes, accompanied by sparkling wine. We draped ourselves across couches and chairs in the living room and rested, talking, sipping, crunching until we were called to the main meal in the formal dining room. No, it was too tiring to even think of pictures, but I surely wish I had had a photo of the Wild Mushroom Crostini (chanterelles, sep, and something else) and arugula slightly wilted in olive oil. Next came Duck with Balsamic Sauce, Green Beans and Roasted Potatoes. And as we grazed over our plates, Helen was preparing a mouth-watering dessert of Red Wine Poached Figs with Panna Cotta and Almond biscuits. the Balsamic Sauce even had black cherries, and the entire sumptuous meal, accompanied by red, rose and white wines from the owners’ vineyard (St. Esteve de Neri), coffee, tea, and chocolate truffles. Now don’t all of you feel SO sorry for us???

This group, already connected by couples and trios, melted into instant friendships, and we finally made our way to our respective rooms by 10:00 p.m., having traveled many many hours across the globe. This morning, I walked across the courtyard to the main house by about 8:30 to make our first breakfast, and found only Ellen and Sue awake, talking over tea in the living room. Bit by bit the others came alive while I mixed up batches of scramble with mushrooms, peppers, onions and herbs. Coupled with fresh baguettes from the local bakery, fruit and cheeses from the village grocer, and apple pastry, we began our week here, lazy at first, but it will fill with activities soon.

Today we’ll all go into Goult and explore the little streets, cameras in hand,and I’ll try to post some photos along the way. Later we will drive to Isle de sur la Sorgue for Sunday Antique Market. Our first full day in Provence begins and ends with eating delicious food, sandwiched with the local color and the sound of our own laughter.

France, here we come!

It’s nearly 1:00 a.m. and in a bit more than four hours, I will be up again, departing for Denver International Airport with seven women. Tomorrow afternoon we will be driving from Avignon to our villa, Fontaine du Faucon, near Goult, in Provence.

For the next two weeks, we’ll relax and soak in all that we can of the Provencal countryside and the magnificence of Paris. We hope you will enjoy your third-party ride with us!

Bon nuit!