Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

The deep-throated cooing of pigeons in the rafters roused me from a delicious sleep. I stretched and yawned before climbing out of bed to watch the sunrise. As the sky blushed deep orange, lights winked on across the valley, marking tiny hilltop towns that are invisible during daylight hours. I glanced at the clock and groaned. 5:30 a.m. Too early for me to be up. I crawled back into bed and drifted off for another hour – until the donkey started braying. Rather than fight it, I reset my internal clock and headed out to take photos of this working farm in the heart of Tuscany, Italy.

At sunset, the spice and vegetable garden at Montestigliano catches the last golden rays

At sunset, the spice and vegetable garden at Montestigliano catches the last golden rays

Montestigliano was established at the end of the 18th century by the aristocratic De Vecchi family from Siena. They built the first part of what is today the central property. It changed hands twice more through the centuries, with each owner expanding the property until it included several palazzos for the owners, a small chapel, a granary, and houses for the farm manager and workers. Its fourth owner, Luigi Donati, acquired it in 1953, but by then the once prosperous property was in a run-down state. Read More

A Piero della Francesca painting is being restored in Sansepolcro, Italy, the home town of the famous Renaissance artist

One the many joys of wandering around the Tuscan countryside is discovering astonishing artwork found in every village, no matter how tiny. During my stay at the luxury Tuscan farmhouse of Montestigliano, I visited the tiny town of Sansepolcro, Italy, the very last town on the eastern border of Tuscany prior to crossing into the Le Marche region. At first glance, it seemed like just another cute Italian village. However, I soon learned that it had much more to offer than its weekly market. Read More

Roses climb a wall at Montestigliano, a holiday farmhouse in Tuscany that offers authentic holidays in the Italian countryside

Roses climb a wall at Montestigliano holiday farmhouse in Tuscany, which offers stays at an authentic working farm in the Italian countryside. One of the joys of staying at this Tuscan retreat in Siena was exploring the grounds. The terrace below Casa Luisa, the gorgeous restored palazzo where I stayed, was perfect for watching the sunrise. On the opposite side of the hilltop estate, sling lounge chairs in the spice garden caught the last golden rays of the sun before it dipped behind the hills. Read More

My Tuscan retreat in Siena, Italy, included a visit to the hilltop town of Siena, where the skyline is topped by the Duomo, Cattedrale de Santa Maria Assunta

The hilltop town of Siena is one of the most beautiful rural villages in Tuscany, Italy. In this view, the Siena Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta), commonly known as the Duomo, crowns the hilltop. The town is a true wonder of Medieval brick architecture, the highlight of which is Campo Square (Piazza del Campo). Mangia Tower dominates the Campo, soaring some 102 meters, or approximately 335 feet. It was built between 1338 and 1348, and designed to be the exact same height as the Cathedral, signifying equality of power between state and church. Today it is still the second highest secular tower in Italy. Read More

Centuries old palace at Montestigliano luxury holiday farm in Tuscany, Italy, is drenched in shades of gold and burnt orange under the setting sun

A centuries-old palace at Montestigliano luxury holiday farm in Tuscany, Italy, is drenched in shades of gold and burnt orange under the setting sun. Visiting the hilltop towns of Tuscany has almost become cliché, and many of the region’s most popular destinations are overcrowded with tourists. However, there are still ways to have an authentic Tuscan experience, and Montestigliano Farm Holidays is one of the best. My stay at this 2,500 hectare working farm was a combination of pure relaxation and fascinating cultural experiences, the highlight of which were the communal open-air dinners held in this gorgeous courtyard. Read More

Alessandro greeted me with a huge smile. ” Hello! Welcome to al Bricco D’Oro.” I laughed and smiled back. “How did you know to speak to me in English? I asked. “From the way you look,” he said. “It is our business to know.”

I had arrived in Bologna just a few hours earlier, exhausted by 18 hours of travel from Thailand. All efforts at a nap had failed, and I finally gave up and headed out to see the sights and fill my belly. Instinctively, I headed for Piazza Maggiore, the main square and cultural heart of the city. Surprised by the lack of crowds, I wandered around the square, examining the Medieval palaces that surrounded it on three sides. Palazzo d’Accursio, a Renaissance wonder with a stately crenelated tower, is home to the Town Hall. A couple of tourist-filled cafes in Palazzo Podestá and Palazzo Banchi beckoned, but I passed by in search of a more local eatery.

Alessandro and Barbara, proud new owners of al Bricco D'Oro bar in Bologna, Italy

Alessandro and Barbara, proud new owners of al Bricco D’Oro bar in Bologna, Italy

A few blocks behind Piazza Maggiore, I found what I was looking for. An obviously local crowd sat around a handful of tables scattered on the sidewalk in front of al Bricco D’Oro. I peeked inside. As if paying tribute to its name, the interior was flooded with warm golden light and glass cases displayed delicious looking desserts and entrees. Alessandro and his girlfriend, Barbara, waved me in, helped me choose a vegetarian meal, and for the next couple of hours made me feel like I’d found a home away from home. Read More