Mention Tuscany and many people envision biking around the countryside, staying in a quaint (or opulent) villas and living the dream ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. Our holiday actually started in South Hampton where we boarded the Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth. It was our parents 80th birthday so we decided to shout them a ‘trip of a lifetime’ cruising from South Hampton to Italy, Monte Carlo, France, Spain and back to South Hampton.
As the cruises do, they stop at various ports and offer excellent tours. Our most memorable tour was the one to Florence. Transported from the port of Livorno by luxury coach, we were able to take in the rolling countryside, admiring the beautiful poppy fields which seemed to wave at us as we passed field after field of them. Arriving in Florence was breathtaking. OK, so where is Romeo and Julliette? As we rounded each corner to be greeted by yet another stunning courtyard, statue or scenic view, I expected to see a young girl leaning over a balcony being courted by one of the very dishy young men strolling around in very flattering Armani-style Jackets.
Our day was spent enjoying the various churches, galleries, museums and also just sitting sipping our cappuccinos doing what we all like doing…people watching.
One church which brought history to life for us was Santa Croce, built in 1294, which was full of tombs and monuments of the many famous Florentines – Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Giotti to name just a few. We also spent a few hours soaking up the beautiful works of art in the Uffizi Gallery where we saw the original Birth of Venus by Botticelli. As we peeped out of one of the gallery windows, we were treated to a spectacular view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge, designed by Taddeo Gaddi and built in 1345. I think it was at that moment that we all decided we would come back to Florence. One day was simply not enough time!
As on any organised tour, the day has been designed to fit in as much as you sensibly can. However if there is a church, museum or gallery that you prefer not to visit, and you would rather spend time exploring on your own, do speak up and arrange a time and place to reconnect with the guide.
For my Mother, it was Florence and Rome and we have already earmarked a trip back to Italy to spend more time really getting to know the cities and countryside. For my Dad, it was the cruise itself which provided just the right amount of formality, elegance and fun. The days at sea are filled with interesting things to do and most nights there was a formal ball which you could attend…or not. However if you get the chance, go!! It is a wonderful opportunity to dress up and practice the ballroom dancing that we learned at Sacred Heart in Hamilton quite some years ago. Bit like riding a bike - some things you just don’t forget. I must say we were blown off the dance floor by the particularly snappy moves of the 70, 80 and 90 year olds! Eventually we retired to the live band lounge at The Yacht Club where we could wiggle and jiggle our way through the night while sipping some very innovative cocktails. The best cocktails are made in The Commodores Club so definitely put that on your ‘must try’ list.
Other highlights were the tours we took of Monte Carlo, Nice and Barcelona which were a pleasant mix of escorted and time on our own to explore and just soak up the ambiance.
If you are thinking of doing something special for your parents, or maybe your adult children, or 20+ aged grandchildren, a cruise around the Mediterranean in Cunard comfort and style should be high up your list.