I believe there are three things which make each travel experience a complete success...the anticipation, the journey itself and the memories. And the memories last a lifetime! In my golden years, I plan to let my mind wander to those special places explored in my past, to those travel memories created long ago. One such place I will meander to is stunningly beautiful Tuscany and the amazing hiking tour I recently completed with a wonderful group of travellers.
It was early spring and the new growth in the olive groves and the budding greenery of the perfectly aligned vineyards on softly sloping hillsides was simply gorgeous. Long laneways lined with alternating cypress and pine trees lead the way to charming, centuries old stone villas. Bright red poppies grew in abundance and charmed us as they swayed in the gentle breezes in meadows and along roadways everywhere. Our hikes took us along country roads, dirt paths, through charming medieval hilltop villages, hilly trails through beautiful forests and along incredible stretches of white sand beach. As we made our way along one particular road, the scent of fresh rosemary was intoxicating. It grew in large bush-like plants, encouraged, I am sure, by the warm temperatures and spring rains. Friendly dogs, tails wagging, barked greetings from behind wrought-iron fences, thrilled when we paid attention before continuing on our way. After a rather arduous climb up to the famous town of Vinci, our guide surprised us with a glass of grappa, a fragrant grape-based brandy. This was our reward for the climb, but the best reward of all was the view from the top of the incline, overlooking the spectacular valley below. One day, as we came upon the world renowned Verazanno Vineyard and walked through its regal wrought-iron gates, a beautifully landscaped garden lay before us. Following a private tour of the facilities, there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the fabulous wines and discover delicious cuisine typical of the region. After all, in addition to spectacular scenery, Tuscany is all about delicious food and wine!
As our group discovered, the beauty of a hiking tour is simply this - the opportunity to discover and explore parts of a country you would otherwise never see, to learn fascinating details of the quaint, medieval villages from guides who live in the region and love to share the local lore. This does not mean, however, that we did not visit some very historic cities. What an awesome experience to view the magnificent duomo of Florence from high above the city, then to walk down the mountain into the city itself. Or to walk into Siena, often regarded as the most beautiful city in Italy and to discover its unique architecture and its expansive, shell-shaped town centre, the Piazza del Campo. Hiking each day gave us a wonderful opportunity to really get to know and enjoy our fellow travellers, a very special aspect of any trip. Already, I cherish these memories and have many more to savour...come those golden years!