I was offered a free villa in Hollywood, but I said no thank you, I prefer to live in Italy
Green rolling hills and steep alleys of fortified medieval towns, golden mists in the morning over Val d’Orcia and Florentine architectural marvels, silvery olive gardens and distinctive local cuisine – Tuscany is all this and much, much more. The profound feeling of tranquility pervades you from the first minutes on this bountiful land and stays with you forever.
We’ll visit Tuscany in springtime, when fresh emerald grass add new colors to the familiar landscapes. Yes, that’s right – Tuscany in March is green again, its emerald fields changing color with new grass.
Our base for the whole trip will be at Villa Gaia near Seggiano, mere 25 minutes away from the Orcia river by car: Villa Gaia. It’s a great place with a spectacular view, located picturesquely among famous Tuscanian rolling hills and cypress trees. Spacious rooms, verandas, large halls with massive fireplaces, a gourmet restaurant, even two outdoor pools will help us find the right mood to appreciate Tuscanian landscapes. And, of course, fabulous local vines and masterpieces of the local cuisine aren’t bad either!
Every day we’ll take radial trips off the villa to the fields or towns; there are plenty interesting places to shoot in any weather, we’ll barely see a tiny part of this land – but enough to understand why it became the cradle of Italian Renaissance.
• Visit Podere Belvedere, the most-photographed villa of all Tuscany
• Climb the walls of Pienza and see the rolling green farmland in the valley beneath
• Meet the first rays of the day near the walls of Castiglione D’Orcia, one of the highest points over the famous valley
• Walk the farm roads in the smooth hills of Torrenieri and see its famous cypress grove
• Visit the tufa rock towns of Sorano, Pitigliano, and Sovana, first inhabited by ancient Etruscans – and relax in the hot thermal baths of Saturnia under the moon
• Walk the streets of medieval Siena, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, or Volterra
• Discuss the finer points of photography in a dedicated master class pavillion at the villa, complete with a projector
• Participate in a pizza master class from our chef at the villa
Our timetable (see below) isn’t carved in stone; it will heavily depend on the actual weather. On a grey rainy day we could walk the wet cobblestone streets of medieval towns, hunting for reflections and bright colors accentuated by rain – or just sit down by the fireplace and have a discussion or another master class in processing and panoraming. But the baseline itinerary will look like this:
Day 1 – 26th March
We meet you at the Florence Santa Maria Novella (SMN) rail station at 1 pm. The station is about 20 minutes away from the Florence airport, and very convenient also for those traveling from Pisa (1 hour by bus or train) or Rome (1-2 hours by high-speed train). Right after the meet-up, we depart to the heart of rural Tuscany. This first evening at the villa we’re having a pizza party – or more specifically, a pizza master class from our chef. A perfect occasion to unwind, get to know each other, and just have a fun evening with crispy pizza and a glass of wine! (D)
Day 2 – 27th March
The day starts early, way before dawn. Complimentary morning coffee is served before the departure. This morning we’re shooting one of the most famous Tuscany villas, Podere Belvedere. Right after that (if the mists favor us) we move to the south from San Quirico and have a second shooting session. Then we return to the villa for breakfast and a photo processing master class. After lunch, we’re off to the famous Villa Gladiatore, and after the sunset we take a stroll on the ancient Roman village of Bagno Vignoni, just several minutes’ drive away from our sunset shooting location. Then we return to the villa for a gourmet dinner and a relaxed evening by the fireside. (B/L/D)
Day 3 – 28th March
We meet the first rays of morning sun near the walls of Pienza, to shoot the classical but ever-changing picture: famous villas wrapped in the morning mist under the first sunrays. We’ll try to find a less-than-obvious point of view a bit lower than the usual shooting location. After the session, we’ll go to Pienza, to walk its narrow streets, smell the freshly baked pastries, and enjoy a cup of wonderful Italian coffee. Of course, a short stroll wouldn’t be nearly enough to do justice to this exceptional town; even several days won’t probably suffice. And Pienza isn’t even all about architecture: it’s an absolute must to appreciate the local wines and cheese too. We’ll visit a little nondescript wine shop near the main plaza; but don’t let the looks deceive you – the owner is one of the most famous sommeliers in Italy, supplying wines for the Holy See and the Pope himself. And of course, we’ll get to taste the famous Pecorino di Pienza, one of the finest sheep cheeses in the world, rumored to be a favorite of Lorenzo Medici himself.
Then we return to the villa for breakfast, another master class and a lunch. In the afternoon we visit Val d’Orcia and its emerald hills; the evening location will depend on the weather. (B/L/D)
Day 4 – 29th March
This day’s itinerary includes two of the most exemplary architectural gems of the region, Siena and Volterra. We’ll plan our visit a bit differently, though, starting from the sunrise at Crete Senesi. This place is famous for its lunar hills but not quite as popular as Val D’Orcia. We greet the sun in there and then drive straight to Siena to reach it before the daily tourist wave.
Siena and Volterra were founded by ancient Etruscans about 8 century BC, so they’re roughly as old as Rome itself. Both of them are perfect for genre and street photography, so that’s what we’ll do this day. We’ll have a quick breakfast on the go – a croissant or a panini with carpaccio, of course with a cup of a rich Italian coffee. In the afternoon, we’ll find a trattoria to have lunch and after that, we’ll relocate to Volterra for sunset shooting and an evening street shooting session afterwards. Then we’ll return to the villa for dinner.
(Instead of Volterra, we can have evening shoots in San Giminiano.) (D)
Day 5 – 30th March
We’ll have our morning shooting session near capella Vitaletta in Val D’Orcia (if the weather is good, of course). After the breakfast we’ll have a discussion in photo composition and create a shooting plan for the next days. After the lunch, we’ll drive to Montalchino for an afternoon shooting session from the walls and an evening street shooting afterwards. (B/L/D)
Day 6 – 31th March
Today we’ll visit Sorano and Pitigliano, two tiny but bright gems in the Tuscanian crown. These Etruscan towns, hewn in tufa rocks, keep the ancient spirit to this day. Not many tourists, let alone photographers, visit these settlements, so we’re in for a rare treat: narrow and steep cobblestone alleys, potted flowers outside of house doors, mossy red bricks and fantastic colors. We’ll have a lunch in Pitigliano, and after the sunset shoot, finally return to our villa for dinner. (B/D)
Day 7 – 1st April
Another morning shooting session in Val D’Orcia, then breakfast at the villa. After that, a master class and a discussion. Then we’ll have lunch at the villa and depart into the fields again. (B/L/D)
Day 8 – 2nd April
Yes, this is our last day – and yes, we still have to get up before dawn. We’ll have our morning session near the villa, though. Then breakfast, and after that we pack our bags and leave for Florence. At 2pm we drop you off at the Florence airport. (В)
Total price: 3900 USD per person twin share
Single supplement: 450 USD
Maximum Number of Participants: 12
Difficulty: very easy
Included in the price:– All transfers
– Lodging, meals, and wine at the villa restaurant as stated in the tour itinerary
– Instruction and master classes by two professional guides
Not included in the price:– Lunches at Siena and Pitigliano on day 4 and day 6
– Airfare to and from Florence airport
– Visas (if applicable)
– Single supplement (450 EUR)
What to bring
– DSLR camera with tripod and remote shutter release
– A wide angle lens. For example, Nikkor 14-24 or Canon 17-40. Best lens for use in wide-angle scenes or architecture photography
– A middle-zoom lens such as a 24-70 mm
– A telephoto zoom lens, such as a 70-200 mm. One of the most important lenses in Tuscany. Be sure to have additional tripod mount to this lens.
– Waterproof and windproof jacket (consider the average temperature +5 – +10 C at nights and +10 – +20 C during the daytime)
– Waterproof pants
– Warm jacket and thermal pants
– Wellingtons or fishing boots
– Casual clothes for dinners and lunches and photography workshops at villa Gaia
Daniel was born in Moscow area. In his childhood he graduated the art school. After that, he is studied in Moscow institute of Physics and Technology and became an optics physicist. During the study he gain experience not only in physics, but also in mountain climbing and hiking, guiding tourist groups in winter and in summer in Russian mountains. Right after graduation he became a guide of photo-workshops and chief editor of “Continent expedition” magazine. This magazine is about travel and adventures all over the world. He has got several awards in photography: Golden Turtle’ 13 Nature nomination winner, National Geographic Russia contest 2013 and 2014 finalist, Best of Russia’13 and ’14 winner, best photographer’13 finalist and others. He is spending most of his time in Norway, Lofoten islands and in Tuscany at villa Gaia, guiding groups of photographers.
Iurie Belegurschi is a landscape photographer based in Iceland, where he runs photo tours and workshops. He was born in Moldova and has been living in Iceland since 2006. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Hospitality. His photos have been published worldwide in books, calendars, greeting cards, magazines and some of the most popular newspapers like The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Sun, The Huffington Post, and The Telegraph.