I haven't recommended any of our accommodation thus far not because it was bad, more it was all rather run-of-the-mill. But I would recommend where we stayed in Tuscany.
I found the Residenza San Leo through www.booking.com - this renovated farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside was a large part of why we so enjoyed our brief stay in Italy.
The farmhouse is hundreds of years old and has been very nicely divided and renovated, preserving it's charm. We hired an apartment which was very roomy - ours had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a little alcove where we stashed the baby, a lounge/sitting room and a kitchen.
The property is located in the countryside - there's no internet, you will need a car and it will take you time to drive to the major attractions in the area (Florence, Siena, Piza, etc). However we found San Leo to be a reason to visit in itself. The grounds are gorgeous and beautifully maintained. The property is still an operating farm with olives (they press and bottle their own oils) and the famous Tuscan Cinta Senes pig.
We had the continental breakfast each morning (delicious and great price), eating in the dining room next to the old olive presses. Most nights the hostess and her staff will make a three course meal which you can join in (we did this one night and had a great meal). Their own produce (olive oil, sausages and cured meats and homemade lemon sorbet) is used as well as other regional fare.
Swallow's nests under construction, under the eaves.
The hostess keeps chickens and geese on the property and she kindly allowed the two big kids to accompany her on an egg collecting mission. The kids declared it the best thing to have happened on the holiday thus far. Fickle kids.
The pictures on the booking.com website come across as a bit grandmotherish (apologies to all you grandmas out there); our apartment didn't have that feel. It was much more a comfortable 'country living' kind of style. I reckon they should get their photos redone.
Our first day in Tuscany we spent the morning enjoying the grounds and letting the little fellow catch up on his sleep after the big day in Cinque Terre. Then we headed off to explore Siena.
We arrived in time for lunch and ate in one of the many restaurants around the Piazza del Campo. Although a little touristy, the food was good and the location was perfect for us - the kids could run around the square while we finished our meals. We enjoyed watching a female police officer telling off all the folks lying down in the square (must be a no-no) - she was fighting a losing battle.
The building on the left there is the Palazzo Pubblico with its bell tower Torre del Mangia (built in the early 1300s it was the tallest structure in Europe at that time).
Twice a year a horse race, the Palio di Siena, is held around the Piazza.
For those who don't mind a bit of Daniel Craig, the race was filmed in some of Quantum of Solace's early scenes.
The Fonte Gaia or Fountain of Joy is also found in the Piazza:
We then headed towards the Duomo, which really is beautiful.
We just sat down and looked at it for a bit, ignoring heartfelt pleas for gelato (they got some with dinner instead).
We headed home after this, although I was upset I didn't get to see the Basilica of San Domenico.
They keep a relic of Saint Catherine of Siena there. Cute little word that one: relic. Makes you think of some nice little trinket that was important to the person, preserved to keep the memory of a good Catholic alive.
Wanna know what Saint Catherine's relic is? Her SEVERED HEAD.
Sometimes it is very confusing to be a Catholic. Is her head supposed to inspire me? All it does is inspire me to be a mediocre Catholic so no one will violate my corpse in the name of the good Lord. Fortunately, it appears my chances of sainthood are pretty slim.
But please, don't let that stop you from coming back here in a few days, once I have my Florence photos sorted. A bientôt!