Daily Pampering: Your private window on Tuscany’s Siena’s Palio

There’s more to Tuscany than wine, olives and the breathtaking Tuscan sun. The Siena Palio is one of the fastest horse races in the world (usually under 90 seconds) and possibly one of the oldest, dating back to 1656. And wouldn’t you just love to see what all the fuss is about? Now you can.

Tuscany’s Castel Monastero‘s package Your Private Window on Siena’s Palio offers you the unique opportunity to watch all the excitement from one of the race’s pivotal points: the “San Martino” curve. The best part? You can skip the crowds and cheer on your favorite steed while sipping champagne and indulging in other hotel-provided treats. The three-night package includes:

  • Three-night luxury accommodations
  • Welcome amenity in your room upon arrival
  • Buffet breakfast
  • Return transfer to Siena from Castel Monastero on the day of the Palio
  • A window space on the “San Martino” curve
  • A champagne cocktail during the afternoon
  • A light dinner with a selection of specialties created by Chef Alessandro Delfanti
  • Access to the “acqua benessere” indoor water area of the SPA which includes a Finnish sauna, bio-sauna, Turkish bath, swimming pool with toning hydro massage, swimming pool with a high saline density for a relaxing, draining effect, Kneipp program, emotional showers with chromo therapy and natural essences, relaxation zone.

Prices ranges from $1,250 USD for a superior room to $2,260 USD for an executive suite. Prices are per room, per night and include VAT and service charges.

Want more? Get your dose of daily pampering right here.

EAT, STRAY, LOVE: Italy, Tuscany, and the Maremma

With the release of another popular film set in Italy, people worldwide know of the country’s most luscious region: Tuscany. But few realize the Mediterranean Sea skims along the classic wine and olive region, and combines sensational flavors with unforgettable views.

Here, find three ways to enhance the Italian culinary adventure and traveler’s delight, in the unforgettable Maremma region, nestled into the southern coastline of renowned Tuscany.

In Italy, it is impossible to miss the food and drink. Even the least-interested traveler can find a meal to please. But for the food-lover, Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma region borders the Mediterranean Sea and offers wine and olives with an additional alluring treat: fresh seafood.

What to do: Seek out a local olive oil producer (in Canino) and wine producer (Montepulciano and Chianti among others), and venture along the Mediterranean coast, where the blue Sea washes up to greet the Tuscan hills. Stop at one of the coastal restaurants to enjoy the unspoiled coast and its culinary treasures.

What to try: the excellent local Maremma wine, Morellino di Scansano, a local seafood and pasta specialty, spaghetti allo scoglio, accompanied by the local sheep cheese called pecorino.

With cities like Siena, and Florence, and Pisa, Tuscany has its legs rooted in the artistic Renaissance. But venture off the worn path a bit, and you’ll discover the colors of the countryside, the irresistible wandering landscape striped with vineyards, checkered with olive groves, and punctuated with ruins dipped in history.

What to do: Visit the ancient Etruscan ruins in Etruria or Pecorino, or stop at one of the many castle ruins or fortress towns located high on the hills.

What to try: If in Sovano, touring Città del Tufo, plan to eat at nearby La Taverna Etrusca, for its romance and excellent food. The smiles and dialogue in Italian as the owner brings out each savory dish is most memorable.

In Tuscany, every road leads through vast fields of grazing sheep or cattle, or cultivated with olive groves and vineyards. The colors and lines as they play across the landscape mesmerize with unsurpassed beauty. This richness of experience, the slower pace of life found in enjoying the simple pleasures, like a glass of wine or a good coffee … this is the Italy that does not leave even after the traveling is over. Long after the bottles of wine and olive oil have run dry, the irresistible flavors of Tuscany linger, and lure the traveler back again.

What to do: Stay in an Agriturismo villa, for an authentic stay in Tuscany.

This traveler will be returning to Tuscany’s Maremma in autumn, for the olive harvest. My family and I can’t wait to venture back into Italy for another refreshing week savoring the flavors and walking the coast and countryside.

Jennifer Lyn King, a native Texan, lives in the Czech Republic, where she writes from her home near Prague. She is the author of The One Year Mini for Busy Women. Read her blog on Red Room. All the photos above are copyright Jennifer Lyn King.

Sting opens organic farm store in Tuscany

Is every little thing he does magic (sorry)? Mother Nature Network announced that Sting and wife Trudie Styler just celebrated the opening of their new farm store, on their 16th century Tuscan estate near Florence. The couple have quietly been producing wine, olive oil, acacia and chestnut honey, and salumi on the 900-acre property for a number of years. Until now, however, the products were only available at select outlets in the U.K. and U.S.. The property also hosts yoga retreats.

At Tenuta il Palagio, travelers, food lovers, Police fans, and…tantric yogists…can get a taste of these farmstead products. In 2009, Sting told ecorazzi, “I came here and I decided to stay and be a farmer…also because I wanted to nourish my family with genuine quality products in a healthy environment. Everyone knows about my environmental commitment, especially to the rain forests in South America. With this business in Tuscany I am trying to help myself and those who are close to me to live better in a natural context.”

Move over, Bono.

[Photo credit: Flickr user funadium]

No guidebook required: the joys of ditching an itinerary

Itineraries and guidebooks can be both a blessing and a curse, when it comes to travel. If you’re the free-spirited, adventurous sort, it sucks to lug a book around, but it’s a good idea-especially if you’re a woman-so you don’t have to leave accommodations to chance should you arrive late at night in a strange town.

I once ended up sleeping in a spider-infested trailer, after spontaneously arriving in a downpour in a Tuscan hill town devoid of rooms for rent. After politely declining the hostal owner’s offer of sharing a bed, I paid ten euros for the trailer, and spent a long, twitchy night imagining things (including the owner) crawling up my legs. Now, I book ahead if I think I may end up stranded.

If you’re a little on the Type-A side, or traveling with someone, a planned itinerary can be helpful, if not relationship-saving. But what happens when you decide to just wing it? Journalist Catherine Price, a contributor to O, the Oprah magazine, recently found out, on a four-day impulse trip to Tokyo. Price decided to let strangers plan every detail of the trip for her, starting with taking the suggestion of a random woman in a San Francisco book store to visit Tokyo. The resulting trip enabled former micro-manager Price to “experience the joy of letting go.” Read more about her fascinating experience.

[Via CNN]
[Photo credit: Flickr user Jaymis]

National Geographic Student Expeditions expand for 2010

The popular and successful National Geographic Student Expeditions program is gearing up for another outstanding year, adding new options for high school students looking for an adventurous and educational escape this summer. The lucky travelers have their journeys enhanced further by the inclusion of National Geographic experts and trip leaders designed to deliver travel experiences unlike any other.

Of course, many students spend their summer traveling, but the Student Expeditions program offers some unique options that aren’t available elsewhere. While on their journey, each student will select an “On Assignment” project in the area of interest that includes photography, travel writing, filmmaking, exploration, archaeology and ancient culture, climate and geology, marine biology and conservation, Earth science, and wildlife and conservation. Those projects can take such forms as a photo portfolio, a travel film, or a short story, with a focus on capturing the culture and natural wonders of the locations visited.

The students are guided in their assignments by handpicked experts, such as National Geographic photographers, writers, or researchers who join their expeditions for anywhere from three to seven days. These experts are generally well known in their field and offer years of experience and expertise to the next generation of explorers on the trip. For example, when traveling through Tanzania, the students will be joined by Anna Estes, a wildlife ecologist who has conducted research in the Ngorongoro Crater, while those selecting Australia as their destination of choice, will see the country with photojournalist and filmmaker Ulla Lohmann.As if that wasn’t enough all of National Geographic’s trip leaders are college graduates who are working in journalism, photography, science, and similar fields. Each has insightful and extensive knowledge of the destination the students will be visiting, and in order to ensure the best experience possible, the ratio of trip leaders to students is roughly six or eight to one.

The 2010 schedule offers 15 exciting trips, lasting three weeks in length, to such destinations as Costa Rica, Iceland, Peru, China, India, and more. New to the schedule this year are expeditions to Alaska, Hawaii, and Tuscany. You can check out the entire list by clicking here, and high school students interested in joining one of these trips can fill out an online application here.

For a great look at what one of these trips is like, check out this wonderful video from a student expedition to Peru. Why couldn’t this have been an option when I was in high school?!?