A Day in Tuscany With Viator...AKA The Day We Drank All The Wine

Ahhh Tuscany. Think rolling green hills, brilliant blue skies and adorable towns standing high on hilltops throughout southern Tuscany. The Val d’Orcia region is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is quintessential Tuscany -- gorgeous landscapes, vibrant hill towns, Renaissance architecture, charming (and steep) streets, and of course, some of the best wine in the world (but we might be biased).

Views from Pienza

Staying in Tuscany is always the best option, but if you’re a part-time traveler with limited time off like we are, day trips are the way the way to experience the best of both worlds. During our whirlwind Italy trip in May, we stayed in Florence 3 nights and booked a day trip to Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino through Viator.

Montepulciano and Church of St. Biagio

The more popular day trip from Florence includes stops in Siena, San Gimignano, lunch at a Chianti vineyard, and Pisa, but wine drove our decision to opt for the Val d’Orcia tour.  Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile Montepulciano wines are some of the best reds in the world.  Solid go-to Italian wines if you ever find yourself staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin.

THE TOUR

For our Day in Tuscany trip, our tour had pick-ups in both Florence (train station) and in Siena. While booking, we could select to meet at the train station, or have a free pick up at our Airbnb. We opted for the free pick up, but for drop off it will cost you extra.

You visit a winery for tastings, Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano, where you can tour a wine store and cave and get a second free tasting. Unlike the more popular Tuscan Day Trip from Florence, food is not included on this tour, except some crackers/cheese/meat and assorted appetizers at the two tastings, so beware of wine tasting on an empty stomach (unless you’re into that. You cheap date, you.)

WINE TASTING

The first stop was in Montalcino at the Abbadia Ardenga winery. The property spans over 1600 acres, and has a long history of winemaking. It was previously owned by the family of Pope Pius II, who was also key to the development of the town of Pienza (next stop on the tour). The vineyards on the property are solely dedicated to growing the Sangiovese grape varietal and produces 40,000 bottles of wine annually.

For the tour, we had a brief introduction and history lesson from the owner, an adorable older gentleman (who really has a thing for the ladies - you’ve been warned ;)) named Mario. Mario speaks no English, but was there for our entire tour, from learning about the property and family, to pouring wines during the tasting.

We tried four wines - a Rosso di Montalcino, two Brunello di Montalcinos (a D.O.C and D.O.C.G) and a white wine - Vinsanto.  We also opted to try the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - the best of the best - which Mario will open if you’re interested in purchasing.

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Enjoying Tuscan wine!

Four tastings may not sound like much, but when you skip breakfast, it does the job.  After the tastings, the buying of ALL the wine, and a few pictures with Mario, we were off to the town of Montalcino.

Helloooo Mario
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MONTALCINO

We had about an hour to spend wandering the hill town of Montalcino.  It was super charming with lots of shops and a fortress for a great viewpoint (Fortezza di Montalcino).  Fresh off the wine tasting, we grabbed a group of newfound friends from the tour and stepped into another wine store that offered a tasting. Our motto -- when in Tuscany….drink all the wine. After buying even more wine (we have a problem), we had just enough time to grab a quick cappuccino (what else goes better with copious amounts of wine) and head back to the bus.

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PIENZA

The next stop was Pienza  - the cutest little town and the home of Pecorino cheese. Wine, wine, coffee, more wine..and now cheese.  We. Were. In. Heaven.

It was the smallest town we visited, but had an adorable town square with a flower field and beautiful church. The views were amazing and not to be missed.  After a few photo ops, we once again found our new tour friends and went cheese hunting.  

All throughout town there are little storefronts with cheeses, meats, and more wine.  We hit about 4 different ones that offered cheese plates and all shared.  We also picked up some cheese, salami, and some truffle glaze with balsamic vinegar to go for our trek to Cinque Terre the next day at a storefront called La Taverna del Pecorino. The store employee (shop owner? Not sure) was the BEST. He let us try tons of different meats and cheeses and the various flavors of balsamic glaze, so definitely stop in there if you ever find yourself in Pienza!

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MONTEPULCIANO

Chris here -- This was by far the stop I was looking forward to most of all. For many years, wine from Montepulciano has been my go to when staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin (note -- Vino Nobile is different from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo). Generally affordable, but solid, easy to drink, and goes along with most meals - well, at leasts to my unpolished palate.  I had also heard great things about the town itself, so this tour through Val d'Orcia shot the top of my list.

Unlike many wineries throughout Tuscany that require transportation in between tastings, the town of Montepulciano offers walkable unique cantina tastings among its historic streets. On the tour, you had an option to wander on your own for about an hour and a half, or get a cellar tour in the former dungeons turned wine cellars of Azienda Agricola Ercolani, which ended with some light appetizers and free tasting.  Because, well, dungeons and free wine, we opted for the tour.

They offer the tour and free tasting whether or not you're on a larger tour, so if you find yourself in the area, make sure to stop in. Some other popular spots in town include the caves of Cantina Fattoria della Talosa or Contucci Cellars, or the modern Cantina Salcheto with an incredible view of Tuscany’s rolling hills.

After the tour we had about 45 minutes to wander. We stopped in some shops, then made one last quick stop for more wine and to soak up those Tuscan countryside views at Caffe Poliziano. Do stop in and snag a coveted terrace seat and enjoy some wine - or coffee - and GORGEOUS views!

Enjoying Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and espresso on the terrace at Caffe Poliziano
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VIATOR TOURS TAKEAWAY

We booked a few tours through Viator for this trip and found it to be a pretty easy process.  They contract with smaller tour groups, so you’re still supporting local tour guides, but we found the many tour company options to be somewhat overwhelming.  We had great experiences on all of the Viator-booked tours, with fantastic tour guides. Cin Cin!

Tour information is here, and our cost was about $72 per person.

If you're new to Viator, use this link to get $10 off a tour.

Full Disclosure -- if you book and complete a trip, we'll also get $10 towards a future tour. Also note -- this is not a sponsored post. We paid for this tour and views are completely our own.

Dolce Does….A Hunt for Street Art in Nolita, NYC

This post was featured in Pages of Travel.

Fun Fact: Audrey Hepburn is my all-time favorite actress.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s has long been my go to flick whether I am happy, sad, can’t sleep, (ahem…nursing a hangover), or bored on a rainy afternoon. 

In early March I had a planned trip to NYC to visit family and friends while on the east coast for work. I’ve frequented New York in the last several years since my full time job takes me to the east coast a decent amount, so for this trip I had only one thing to see at the top of my list….

Hit Nolita (North of Little Italy) to find the Audrey on Mulberry street art by Tristan Eaton.

It ended up being the coldest weekend of the winter – this SoCal girl was FREEZING! – but my dear friends indulged me, so after a few brunch cocktails to warm us up, off to Nolita we went.

We got dropped off by a cab at the corner of Broome and Mulberry, and right around the corner from Cafe Roma, there she was.

audrey on mulberry_tristan eaton

In the warmer months, there's a little table and chairs set up so you can join Audrey for a meal.

After taking some pictures, we took advantage of the street art, great shopping (tons of boutiques, plus SoHo is nearby!), and the awesome food and drink spots.  We needed some cocktails to keep us warm in that freezing March weather!

There's also some art of John Lennon, Homer Simpson, and Where's Waldo in the neighborhood.

If you’re into street art, shopping, and great food/drinks, or even just getting lost in the city, plan to spend an afternoon next time you’re hunting down street art.  Once you've worked up an appetite, grab a bite at fast-casual Italian spot, Sosta (Mott) or old school Italian restaurant Emilio’s Ballato (Houston), where celebs like Billy Joel are known to frequent. Don’t miss cocktails on the patio at Sweet & Vicious (Spring), or at the Hemingway-meets-tiki RinTinTin cocktail bar. And...you can't go without some Dolci (desserts!) when you're in Little Italy!

I'm always adding to my list of round-the-world street art to catch on future trips.  Drop a note in the comments to let me know where your favorite street art is!

Audrey on Mulberry was featured on Pages of Travel post on 33 coolest street murals around the world -- go check out the other 32 awesome pieces!

Amazon Prime Day's Best Deals on Travel Products

AMAZON PRIME DAY

If you're as obsessed with Prime Day as I am, then you've already scoured the site today to get the best deals on items you've had your eye on...or..maybe you're also like me in that you made a few impulse buys.  No shame.

If you instead read that first sentence and thought -- wait, what is she talking about now?  What's this Prime Day she speaks of? No, it's not a national day to celebrate math and numbers ... it's a random day Amazon selected to throw a bunch of awesome goods on sale for super cheap.  Leave it to Amazon and Target to just take all our money.

If the latter is you, then first you need to sign up here for a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime to access the sale and free 2-day (and sometimes 1- or same-day) shipping and all the other perks like TV show, movie, and music streaming.  Do it - I promise, you'll never look back.

 

Now that you're all set up with your Prime account, you're ready to shop ALL OF THE DEALS.  Below is a list I pulled together of all the best travel-related deals available through July 11.  

Disclaimer - this is not a sponsored post, but I do get commission if you order through one of the links below, which helps offset the costs of running this site.

 

Men's Slim RFID Wallet 
Slim enough to fit in a travel pouch or your front pocket so you don't get pickpocketed, and RFID so no one can scan your cards to steal your information. 

eBags Medium Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
Ever since I discovered these suckers a few years ago, I never take a trip without them. Cubes help maximize packing space and I separate (rolled) clothes by tops vs pants or by theme (i.e. beach or pool day) for ease while on the go. Also check out the Weekender 5 Pc Cube Set.

Kisreal 26800mAh Power Bank Portable Charger External Battery Pack 3 Port Input & 3 Usb Output
I never ever travel without a portable charger. My phone just dies way too fast after pulling up google maps, taking photos, editing photos, and referencing my itinerary.  This charger has tons of power and can charge up to 3 devices at the same time.  You can also get 8.5 charges on your iPhone or 6.5 on your Samsung Galaxy. And, what's unique to this charger, it's compatible with micro usb, lightning jack (iPhone) and USB type C -- aka your new MacBook. 

"anature" Stainless Steel Water Bottle
I never travel without a water bottle, especially when flying. Most airports now have filtered fountains to fill up your bottle just past security. Or, I take advantage and refill during drink service on the plane.  This bottle is 9 oz, so perfectly compact to fit in your bag or to keep a child hydrated. And, it's well insulated to keep that beverage cold - or even hot. 

 

Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible, 11.6-Inch HD Touch, Intel Celeron 
Perfect size and lightweight to take for entertainment on the plane to backing up and editing your vacation pictures on the go.

Youngnis Foldable Waterproof Carry Storage Bag with Zipper   
I try to travel via carry on luggage only (time saver and beats lugging huge suitcases all over the place) but often find myself tight on space after shopping or picking up souvenirs. So, a few years ago I started packing a foldable duffle bag that could fit my purse and all the extra loot if I ended up with too much stuff.  This bag is PERFECT because it's cheap, lightweight, folds up nice when not in use, AND the real perk --- it slides right over your carry on handle so you're not looking like a crazy bag lady in the airport or on the train. Winner winner. 

CamelBak Women's 2016 L.U.X.E. Hydration Pack  
If your travel plans include something a little more adventurous, this Women's Camelbak is included in the Prime Day sale.  Designed for mountain biking, but useful for staying hydrated for day hikes or even during festival season. 

Women's 100% Silk Scarf Luxury Satin Graphic Painted Shawl Wraps
Another staple I never travel without is a scarf or wrap of some sort - no matter the destination, no matter the weather. This lightweight silk scarf will come in handy if you're cold on the plane, need to jazz up an outfit due to packing light, enter any churches or mosques that require covering up, or just to add to an outfit. 

 

This is a small sampling of some of my favorite deals featured in today's sale.  Different items become available at different times throughout the day, so check back, or click on "watch deal" so you don't miss out.  With these items, and more - including cameras (and accessories), tripods, tablets or e-readers, headphones, or even clothes

Happy Prime Day Shopping!

Pin this to remember these products later!

Pin this to remember these products later!

It's My Birthday I Can Giveaway If I Want To

Today is my birthday!

To celebrate, one lucky subscriber will win a $25 Amazon gift card AND an Anker portable charger to keep your device charged on your next trip. 'Cause, you know, Instagram.  Or Snapchat, whatever. 

How to Enter: Starting April 28 at 9 AM PT, click here to enter your email address and name -- which also subscribes you to The RoundTrip if you haven't done so already -- and you're in!  Follow us and share on social media for extra entries.  Winner will be announced in next week's The RoundTrip.

Good luck!

How To Fly Around the World for Under $200

This blog post could also be titled, How I Afford Travel, or How I Convince My Husband To Travel Internationally Every Year, or How Not To Get Ripped Off by the Airline Industry (just kidding. I love you airline industry).

As you have likely already gathered about me if you know me, if you've read my early posts, or if you've read the "About Me" on this site, I'm a relative newbie in the travel world.  I've always had the desire to travel, but didn't get my first passport until 2013, and didn't leave the continent until 2014 when I went on a trip around the world.

Booking the trip around the world opened my eyes to a new world of travel.  Since that fateful night when I booked flights from New York - Milan, Prague - Paris - Thailand for $177 (yes, total!), I've become obsessed with fare glitches, fare deals, fuel dumping, and insane airfare deals.

I find airfare to be the most daunting - and often most expensive - part of travel.  Especially when you're brand new to travel.  Booking an expensive flight, hotels, researching where to go, what to do, what to eat, cultures, potential scams, and everything else with travel can be scary!

But.  The more I travel, the easier and less daunting it has become.  Honestly.  

TRAVEL. IS. AS. EASY. AS. BOOKING. A. FLIGHT.

And guess what?  Booking a flight can be as quick as 5 minutes.

Since the Round-The-World trip in November 2014, my husband and I have returned to Europe the last 2 years, and have another trip booked to Italy come May. That's 4 years in a row traveling to Europe, when I had never been in my life!  And it's all thanks to finding crazy good travel deals.

I'm constantly asked how I find these deals.  So, I'm sharing my favorite sites here for you to browse, follow on social media, and check out for inspiration for your next trip!

TIPS:
1. BE FLEXIBLE. The best deals I've found have been about 6 months in advance of the trips I've taken, but I've been flexible with destination and exact timing. Often amazing deals pop up for the next 1-3 months - with my full-time job I can't usually jump on those, but if you have a more flexible schedule, you're in luck.

2. ACT FAST. You NEVER know how long a deal will be up. Be (somewhat) spontaneous. Deals most likely won't last longer than 24-48 hours after they've first been discovered. (Note - you can cancel airfare within 24 hours, so you may want to book now, ask wife-husband-boss for forgiveness later.)

3. KEEP REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Sometimes these deals really are too good to be true and can get cancelled.  I booked a $200 rt flight on Delta to Portugal over a 5 day weekend that ended up getting canceled. I was bummed, yes, but another deal popped up a month later that was honored. 

4. HAVE AN OPEN MIND. And be ready for adventure. When we booked Round the World, we didn't know how we'd spend the time between Milan and Prague. We pulled up a map and Austria was on the way - a country that was not on my radar.  AND WE FELL IN LOVE. Be ready to be surprised and wowed and keep an open mind!

5. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEXT TIME. Found an amazing deal but it's not the right timing, or you don't have the right financials? There will be another deal that will pop up.  This one I still struggle with on a daily basis. :)

Now that we got that out of the way.....are you ready to book your next trip of a lifetime?  

FLIGHT RESOURCES

SecretFlying posts great flight deals with tips on how and where to book. Easily search by trending deals, latest deals, and deals by continent.  I follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@secretflying) as well.

SecretFlying posts great flight deals with tips on how and where to book. Easily search by trending deals, latest deals, and deals by continent.  I follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@secretflying) as well.

The Flight Deal: Sign up for the Flight Daily Deal e-newsletter.  They send out a daily email with about 10 flight deals. Also share travel tips.

The Flight Deal: Sign up for the Flight Daily Deal e-newsletter.  They send out a daily email with about 10 flight deals. Also share travel tips.

Google Flights is my favorite search tool.  Google makes it easy to search by location or date and compare airports for arrival or departure to really find the best fares.   Play with the explore anywhere, or have fun clicking around the map to find the best deals.  You can also narrow search to x number of stops or specific airlines if you want to avoid multiple layovers and really budget airlines.

Google Flights is my favorite search tool.  Google makes it easy to search by location or date and compare airports for arrival or departure to really find the best fares.  

Play with the explore anywhere, or have fun clicking around the map to find the best deals.  You can also narrow search to x number of stops or specific airlines if you want to avoid multiple layovers and really budget airlines.

Skyscanner is a global travel search website that provides a free flight search service as well as online comparisons for hotels and car hire.  Explore best deals by month or destination.  They have a website and app. 

Skyscanner is a global travel search website that provides a free flight search service as well as online comparisons for hotels and car hire.  Explore best deals by month or destination.  They have a website and app. 

Momondo helps you find and compare fares from 700+ travel sites, giving you access to the best rates for airline tickets online. Momondo will also search third party agent sites for the best flight deals.  They have a website and app. 

Momondo helps you find and compare fares from 700+ travel sites, giving you access to the best rates for airline tickets online. Momondo will also search third party agent sites for the best flight deals.  They have a website and app. 

TravelZoo puts out a weekly Top 20 list of the best travel deals and packages every Wednesday.  You can access via website or sign up for their email list.

TravelZoo puts out a weekly Top 20 list of the best travel deals and packages every Wednesday.  You can access via website or sign up for their email list.

I've launched TheRoundTrip -- a weekly 5 minute tip sheet on all the top travel news and deals.  I spend hours each week going through each of the above resources, to share the very best deals with you.  You can find each week's newsletter and deals by clicking TheRoundTrip in the header, or sign up here. 

I've launched TheRoundTrip -- a weekly 5 minute tip sheet on all the top travel news and deals.  I spend hours each week going through each of the above resources, to share the very best deals with you.  You can find each week's newsletter and deals by clicking TheRoundTrip in the header, or sign up here


Pin so you can easily access these resources next time you're ready to book a trip!

Pin so you can easily access these resources next time you're ready to book a trip!