Tuscany in Spring is an artist’s paradise – fountains sparkling in the sun, vineyards and olive groves reaching to distant hills, colours of gold, terracotta and Spring green, and sudden sunlight under stormy skies.
I had brought a group of 13 artists here on our Travel Sketching workshop to explore the many delights of the region – the art treasures and cultural highlights of Florence and Siena, the lovely medieval walled city of Lucca, and the ancient village of San Gimignano perched high over the lush Tuscan countryside. Montecatini was our perfect base, staying in the very comfortable Grand Hotel Plaza and Locanda Maggiore. We had joined the Travel Department on their Classic Tuscany tour, with our fabulous guide Claudia helping and advising all the way.
We were travelling light – sketchbook, pens and a small watercolour pan set, allowing us to capture quick impressions simply and easily on the move.
MONTECATINI ALTO, reached by a 10 minute funicular ride, is a beautifully preserved medieval village where we were graciously received by Lorenzo and Rosella in their lovely Il Giardino restaurant. With the village piazza in front and panoramic views of the countryside from the back terrace, we made ourselves at home here, enjoying a leisurely lunch while we sketched
Braving the rain, we found shelter to sketch a view of the town and an ancient monastery doorway
As the rain cleared to a bright evening, some of us chose to take the walking trail back downhill. A profusion of poppies, birdsong and bright green foliage.
A full day in FLORENCE – So much to see, so little time. This was where we practised our “”Quick Sketch” skills – 5 minute scribbles in a tiny pocket sketchbook as we followed our guide through the crowds
A couple of colour sketches from my recce trip here last October
Our next excursion was to the historic town of LUCCA, famed for its original walls, Romanesque churches and quiet, elegant ambience. We found a lovely café in the Piazza Citadella, and lingered over cappuccino to sketch the Puccini monument. Sitting in the sun as the crowds hurry by must be one of the nicest pleasures of sketching, slowing down to absorb the moment and record it with a simple sketch.
A delicious Tuscan lunch in Piazza dell’Anfiteatro – tagliere of Parma ham with fresh melon, Pecorino cheese with pear and honey, a glass of chilled local wine – and the colour and life of the busy piazza in front of us to sketch – chimney pots against the sky, laundry hanging between shuttered windows, trailing plants and the bustle of the lunchtime crowd.
The original medieval walls of Lucca surround the city with a pleasant shaded pedestrian and bike path, a lovely place to relax in a quiet, shaded spot. From here the tower of San Frediano rises majestically above the city
We returned to Montecatini by train in the evening, an easy journey with frequent service, preferring to stay longer in Lucca instead of continuing with the Group excursion to Pisa. For our artist group, it was a perfect day exploring and sketching at a leisurely pace.
A relaxing day in Montecatini – sketching the fountain in the piazza by the hotel
Montecatini Terme is a spa town, famous for its healing thermal waters. We visited the Tettuccio Terme to sketch the elegant neo classical architecture, gardens and statuary
Our final excursion day was a full one – to SIENA and SAN GIMIGNANO
Siena with its winding streets and magnificent Piazza del Campo – San Gimignano, a UNESCO world heritage site, set high on a hilltop overlooking a vast panorama of olive groves and vineyards.
And then its time to go home – much too soon, we feel like we’ve only started to get a feel for the beauty and cultural treasures of Tuscany. Our sketchbooks are our travel mementos, full of notes and colourful impressions. Our group have had a really good time together and made lasting friendships. We all promise to do it again!
Our sincere thanks to our wonderful guide Claudia Benvenuti who encouraged and assisted us with the greatest courtesy and professionalism, and to all the Travel Department team.
We also thank the management and staff at the Grand Hotel Plaza and Locanda Maggiore who made our stay so comfortable and enjoyable and took such good care of us. Special thanks to Liliana Mazzocut and to our head waiter Mariano.
Our team of artists came together and inspired and encouraged each other. We had such a nice time getting to know you. Thank you Arnie, Clodagh, Ann, Catherine, Thelma, Pauline, Maura, Attracta, Edna, Sinead, Ailish, Jenny and Sophia. And we couldn’t have done it with out the super Support Services team of Michael and Brian!
Ciao and Arrivederci!