The centrepiece of my trip to Europe this year was a walking tour in Tuscany. Given that I’d never been on a walking tour before – never been on any kind of group tour whatsoever – I was nervous. I didn’t really know what to expect but the tour offered me a chance to see more of Tuscany that I could have ever seen travelling alone so I decided to take the chance. And I’m so glad I did because I had an absolutely wonderful time!
Based at an agriturismo near the town of Buonconvento, south of Siena, each day our small group of 8 (7 walkers plus our guide) would head out to explore a beautiful new area and –inevitably, in Tuscany – a hill town or two. We walked sections of the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route that runs from Canterbury to Rome. We saw grape vines heavy with fruit just waiting to be turned into the region’s famous wines and finished one of our walking days with a tasting at a winery. We saw charming village after charming village. We explored Pienza, the ideal Renaissance city as envision by Pope Pius II (and the only really crowded tourist place we saw on our travels). We met truffle hunters in the woods, who were just emerging successful with several prized white truffles to their credit. We visited a monastery after a long day’s walk and listened to Gregorian chanting in the cool of the church. We were enchanted by the spa town of Bagno Vignoni and relaxed in the outdoor thermal pools at one of the hotels.
There is no better way to explore a place than on foot. Walking through fields and forests, vineyards and villages, I had the time to take in my surroundings. I realised Tuscany is far more lush than I’d ever imagined it to be, with everything from oak trees to cacti happily growing in its rich soil. I never got tired of the daily view of cyprus and olive trees. I marvelled at the old stone buildings we passed and stopped trying to count the number of churches we saw after realising that even the smallest villages have four or five.
Most of all, I thought how lucky I was to be able to have this adventure. I met wonderful people, saw amazing, unforgettable places, and, most importantly for a vacation, left my normal life far behind. It was relaxing, inspiring, and everything that a good holiday should be.