A Tennessean in Tuscany - Traveling with the Chamber
By: Scott R. Mertie
I have had the opportunity to travel on healthcare delegations and trade missions to countries such as China, Cuba, Germany, France, and the UK on numerous occasions. In November 2016 the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce contracted with Central Holidays to put together the Chamber’s first group trip to Costa Del Sol, Spain. Based on the success of that trip, the Chamber again used Central Holidays to plan another trip in November 2017. This time the trip was to Italy’s famous wine region - Tuscany!
Members of both the Nashville and Johnson City chambers met in Florence Italy for a week in Tuscany. After arriving in Florence, we met Oliviero, our local guide, and all boarded a bus to Pistoia, which would be our home for the next week.
Pistoia is a beautiful medieval town located 45 minutes northwest of Florence. After settling in our spacious rooms at the Hotel Villa Cappugi, we were welcomed with prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) while Oliviero went over the week’s itinerary with us. This also gave us a chance to get to know the other travelers from Johnson City (and for them to meet us). We all had a private dinner at the Restorante Collegigliato, which is on the property of the Hotel Villa Cappugi.
We spent our first full day in Tuscany with an extensive city tour of Florence. The highlight was seeing the Cathedral, with its massive dome and the adjacent Baptistery. After the tour, we broke for lunch in the city center, where we got to enjoy the culinary delights of Florence. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the city and shopping. Florence is known for its high-quality leather, so I was inclined to purchase a purse for my wife, which was originally designed for Grace Kelly. That evening a group of us joined Olivero to dine at Pizzera il Terzo Cerchio, a local family run restaurant about a mile down the road from the hotel.
They next day the group went to Pisa, where we were amazed by the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of Miracles), which included tours the cathedral and baptistery. Of course we all took turns posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. After our photo ops, we wandered the streets of Pisa to shop and find a place for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the main street. With Pisa being on the coast, I couldn’t leave without ordering seafood pasta! That evening back in Pistoia, most of us migrated back to Pizzera il Terzo Cerchio for more great local classics!
Our third full day in Tuscany was spent touring the historic town of Siena, where the famed Palio horserace is run semiannually. After touring the city and seeing St. Catherine of Siena’s thumb at the St. Dominic Basilica, we had lunch just of the Piazza del Campo. Our lunch started with two types of pasta followed by veal scallopini. We were treated to Cantuccini (twice baked cookies) dipped in Vin Santo, (holy wine) a sweet wine, for dessert.
On our way back from Siena, our bus driver Greco, surprised us with a stop at the Florence American Cemetery where over 5,000 US soldiers are buried after losing their lives in Italy during WWII. I must admit that this was a quite an experience. I have been to the US memorials in Normandy, Luxemburg, and Pearl Harbor, and this was just as moving.
We finished the evening off at Fattoria il Poggio, a small winery near the town of Collodi, the home of Pinocchio. The owner of the winery gave us a brief tour before seating us in their wine cellar for a Tuscan feast with pasta, wild boar and roasted chicken. Of course, their wine was the star of the dinner! The evening was capped with music and dancing, led by our bus driver, Greco. The winery even had two ginormous Bernese Mountain Dogs that laid quietly in the tasting room while we ate, drank and danced the night away.
The following day we toured the medieval town of San Gimignano. This is a walking town without a single car within the walled city. We had plenty of time to see the town and even stop in at Gelateria Dondoli, which is widely considered to have the best gelato in the world.
That evening we drove into the heart of the Chianti region to tour the Castello di Verrazzano, a massive estate where Giovanni da Verrazzano was born. Verrazzano was a navigator who is credited with discovery the bay of New York in 1485. The estate encompasses hundreds of acres which include grape vines, olive trees and wild boar. We were treated to an assortment of meats (made from the local boar) and their award-winning Chianti Classico wines.
Our last full day in Tuscany happened to be market day in Pistoia. Hundreds of booths were set up throughout the streets with vendors selling clothing, produce and everything in between. It was truly an “open air Italian Walmart”. That afternoon we explored Lucca, another medieval walled city. Lucca was home to Puccini, one of the most famous opera composers of all time.
That night we had our “farewell” dinner back at the Restorante Collegigliato in Pistoia. After the meal, we showed our appreciation to our guide, Oliviero, and bus driver, Greco with their favorite wines. We all continued to enjoy everyone’s company over more wine that evening until we said our goodbyes and turned in for our last night’s sleep in Tuscany.
While some of us flew home the next day, others went on to Rome to spend a few more days visiting all of the capital city’s famous sites. The next day was spent at Vatican City, where Michelangelo painted his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Unlike my previous international delegations, this trip was purely for sightseeing and enjoying the comradery of our fellow chamber members. Participants from the Nashville Area Chamber and Johnson City Chamber had never met prior to this journey. However, by the end of the week we felt like we had made life-long friends with our fellow travelers.
Our international travel opportunities are open to members and non-members. To learn more about our upcoming trip to Austria and Germany for Oktoberfest, click here.