Friday, February 26, 2010

Celebrating the culture of Il Bel Paese

According to a poll of 320 linguists from a London language firm, Italy is the rated °1 most Romantic language in the world.
And it's no wonder, as the Italian culture is full of beautiful words, phrases, and affection is shown openly. Besides the renowned art and history seen all around you, Italian culture and interaction is just as fascinating to witness as a tourist. Stay tuned, ArtViva will soon be presenting a special program on culture. A perfect solution for anyone wanting to learn about Il Bel Paese, and having fun while learning!

- famous photo shown, American Girl in Italy, by Ruth Orkin. For more photos you can visit her site at:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vasari Corridor Tours until June 2010

The famous Vasari Corridor, built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari, is the enclosed passageway which allowed the Medicis to travel from Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio without having to mingle with the commonors. Built in only 5months by the famous Tuscan architect, the corridor is one of the more prestigious secrets of this Renaissance city, and also has an amazing display of self-portraits and art on display throughout. Usually it requires a waiting list to enter and the costs are higher than your average museum.
The corridor will be closing in June 2010, and until then ArtViva will be offering private tours through the corridor (Uffizi tour also included). This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that may not be possibile the next time you visit our Renaissance city, so sign up now!
For more information on the exclusive tour, click here or feel free to email us at

Friday, February 19, 2010

Off the beaten path...a different type of tour

At Artviva, we pride ourselves on offering more than your typical, run-of-the-mill tours. We are constantly searching for new experiences to offer to clients that will give them a truly unforgettable experience with us. Last year we began offering a tour that does just that.

Our Marvelous Chianti Castle Wine Tour has been receiving rave reviews. And how could it not? It's not every day you have the chance to visit a 12th century castle wine estate...deep in the Chianti hills.
This award winning estate not only produces wines but also quality virgin olive oil and superb saffron. We'll take you there where you'll walk the grounds, visit the cellar, and learn how they produce their wine. Lunch and dessert of the famous Tuscan VinSanto and cantucci included...
visit our site for more details. Book now!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Florence Happenings: Dance Festival at Fortezza del Basso

From February 25th to 28th, the Fortezza da Basso will be hosting the 5th annual Danza in Fiera.For those of you who are interested in dance, dance lessons, shows, costumes, theatre you will surely find something here. Over the course of 4 days the fair will host about 500 different dance-related events- including free dance lessons, and appearances by famous Italian dancers, as well as open auditions for dance schools and the chance to win dance scholarships.

Opening hours are:

Thursday from 3:00p.m.-9:00p.m.

Friday and Saturday from 10:00a.m. -9:00 p.m.

Sunday 10a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

1 day admission 15Euro

4 days admission 35Euros

For more information on events view the website, available in english here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Staff Picks: Dining out for the budget traveller

Not too far from our offices in the center of town is a wonderful little restaurant in Piazza Ghiberti called A Casa Mia. If you're on a budget, and looking for a place to have a filling lunch, we suggest you check this out. You won't be able to beat the price for lunch specials here, the service is fast and friendly, the food tasty, and the portions large.

Two of our staff members stopped by one day for lunch and were not dissapointed. There is always quite a crowd, as many locals take advantage of the lunch specials, but the service is so speedy you won't be left standing long. Alternatively, if you'd like to guarantee yourself a spot, try heading over around noon- chances are there won't be many Italians lunching that early.

A Casa Mia has 2 alternative lunch options:
3.90E for a first course, 1/2 liter of water, and an after-lunch espresso.
6.90E for a first course, second course, side dish, 1/2 liter of water, and espresso. (a real deal!)

When choosing the lunch special you will be handed a menu with your 3 choices of a first dish (the day our staff members went we had a choice of spaghetti carbonara, risotto with rucola and gorgonzola, or gnocchi with broccoli and cream sauce. They usually rotate this menu- see site for all they offer).

Our staffers both chose the risotto which was cooked to perfection: creamy, cheesy, and filling on its own. It only took about 10 minutes between waiting for the first and second dish- the second course was stuffed farmers chicken plus a side of grilled vegetables. The other options were filet and rabbit.

All in all it was filling, incredibly tasty and the service was wonderful. We each had a glass of wine which was only 2 or 3 Euros, and the serving portion, like the food, was very satisfactory.

Besides the special, they also offer pizza, deserts, and various other options. But remember-the specials are only on for lunch, so if you want to get the maximum amount of hearty cooked Italian food for your wallet stop by A Casa Mia. There are 2 locations in Florence: Piazza Ghiberti and Via Pisana. For a full menu, click here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carnevale in Viareggio

The most prestigious Carnevale celebration in Italy is in Venice, however the Carnevale celebration in Viareggio is just as fun, and a lot closer to get to if you are in the Tuscan area.

The parade is open to visitors from all over, so no watching from the sidelines- you will be part of the show. And with 40 ton floats, masks, musicians in the street, musical comedies, and restaurants even showcasing special Fat Tuesday menus, who can argue with that?

Only one more day until the big Madi Gras finale! For more information, please click here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting Married in Italy?

Contact us about great tours and event planning, locations, the best wedding planners, rentals of fiat 500s and other classic cars and more

Experience the Best of Tuscany

See beautiful views on our original Best of Tuscany tour...
No large buses, small groups only

Carnevale in Italia!

Carnevale is a big celebration in Italy- Many towns start the festivities around the beginning of February and the big finale is on Fat Tuesday.

Almost all Italian cities have some sort of Carnival celebration but the most famous ones are Viareggio and Venezia.

In Venice, Carnival celebrations start February 5th until February 16th (Mardi Gras this year). For a list of full events click on the Venice Carnival Italy link below:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Florence News: City developments!

This year on February 14th, Florentines will not only be celebrating Valentines Day- they will also be introduced to the much-talked about Tramvia system.
At 6:30 a.m. the Tramvia will open and to celebrate this occasion, city officials are giving vistitors and residents a full week of free rides!
The tramvia Line 1, which will 7 times an hour, will connect Florene (near Porto al Prato) to Scandicci. There will also be a line 2 and 3 but ever since the Duomo became pedestrian-only, plans have been delayed. has more details.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Arriving In Italy?

What could be more wonderful than arriving home to Italy and being whisked away to the closest good restaurant for a ‘welcome back to Italy’ lunch?
The restaurant: Pasucci al Porticciolo, close to a tiny harbour near Fuimicino airport; Rome’s main airport. Porticciolo means small and pretty harbour.

This restaurant follows the Slow Food movement credo and holds Slow Food classes.

The region is the home of a movement to celebrate and protect a local delicacy called ‘Tellina’; a tasty small shellfish. Try the “calamari fritti in composta di arancia e cipolla” . It was creative and delicious. Lightly battered in a tempura like paste, the calamari cut in thin strips and served with a side sauce of red onion rings cooked in a reduced orange sauce.

For more food sensations see our gourmet focused tours such as our evening tour, or our Best of Tuscany tour with local Tuscan treats for lunch and a visit to a great wine estate, or our bike tour that tastes fabulous wine and lunches at a famous restaurant...

See the restaurant's web site at

Other Delicious Dishes:

A Tuscan view...

This weekend, one of our office staffers ventured out into the heart of Tuscany, to take photos and view the gorgeous rolling hills and mountaintop towns.

If you asked any of us living in Florence, chances are we'll tell you the city is so amazing, with so many events, festivals and fun things to do, we sometimes forget to leave and explore all the beauty outside of the city!

But there's a reason Tuscany is world you can see from the photos. These were taken in San Gimignano. If you're visiting Italy this year, why not consider taking our Best of Tuscany Tour, which takes you into the heart of Tuscany to Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggione. It includes a small group guarantee, a private driver and your own guide who will recount the fascinating history of the Tuscan area along the way. The guide will also be at your disposal to offer suggestions on what exactly you would like to see in each town- so whether you are looking for a view for photos, or some local wine shops, you will be fully informed. Once you arrive in each town, we'll give you time to explore on your own. A mouthwatering lunch and wine is included, at a special place only we know about. We guarantee this tour won't leave you disappointed.

*There are a few tour operators who offer a generic form of this tour, and we are often asked what is the difference between their tour and ours. ArtViva Walking Tours was the first tour operator to offer this tour in Florence. We are different because of the quality and group size of our tours. Our tour guides are mother-tongue English speakers who are extremely knowledgeable about the area. We also refuse to allow more than 14 people maximum per group- though usually the group size is much less. To ensure your spots are reserved, book now! If you're looking for a more exclusive tour, and wish to travel to Tuscany with your own personal guide, check out our private Best of Tuscany option.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Florence News: Digging up Da Vinci?

According to the, a group of Italian scientists are asking for permission to dig up the remains of one of Tuscany- and the world's- most famous artists, Leonardo Da Vinci.

The Times says, "A team from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage, has asked to open the tomb in which the Renaissance painter and polymath is believed to lie at Amboise castle, in the Loire valley, where he died in 1519, aged 67.

Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist, said the project could throw new light on Leonardo’s most famous work. “If we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo’s face and compare it with the Mona Lisa,” he said.

The identity of the Mona Lisa has been debated for centuries, with speculation ranging from Leonardo’s mother to Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant.

What do you think? For the full article, click here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Craving La Dolce Vita?

Are you planning your trip to Italy this summer? Does it seem as if your exciting itinerary is back-to-back tours, shopping, excursions, and nonstop sight-seeing?

Imagine being whisked away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, to a Renaissance Villa. Although only about 15 minutes from the centro storico of Florence, this Villa, up in the hills, will give you the impression that you have escaped the hustle and bustle of the city center. The gorgeous Italian garden, adorned with statues and beautiful views will leave you breathless. As you lay by the pool that is surrounded by olive groves, you view the Tuscan hills stretched out before you, you can truly savor the experience what is like to be under the Tuscan Sun.

Spend the day lazing by the pool, then enjoy a delicious gourmet Tuscan lunch paired with a crisp glass of wine- and just relax. This is what the La Dolce Vita is all about.

Walking Tours is the only tour operator to offer this exclusive experience. To learn more, or to book, click here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Off the Renaissance Path: (other) things to do in Florence

Are you looking for a break from the amazing and exhausting collection of Renaissance art? Sometimes spending all day at The Uffizi or Accademia can be a bit overwhelming. Although at times it is hard to separate the city from the amazing art it has to offer, there are different activities to participate in and various museums to visit- you just need to know where to look. And we guarantee you won't be dissapointed-For example, did you know Florence's Museum of Natural History is the oldest in Europe? Museo dello Specola is now displaying the Giazotto collection of 500 pieces of crystals from all over the globe. So if you'd like to see a dizzying array of gorgous crystals, you're in the right place. For more info visit the website here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

No Starbucks here!

Coffee is to Italy as, well, wine is to Italy- or Spaghetti- for that matter. In other words , the Italian Cafe is a daily part of Italian culture. It is not uncommon for an Italian to have an espresso every few hours- some Italians drink up to 7 or 8 espressos a day. Considering one small espresso shot has the same amount of caffeine as an American cup of coffee, that’s quite a feat!

Italians like their coffee, but not in the Starbucks sense. On any main street in Italy you will be sure to find a local coffeeshop which Italians call a bar. Inside, your barman will serve you the best cappucinos, espressos, hot croissants, (and usually sandwiches, snacks, and drinks if you’re in during lunchtime or for a pre-dinner aperitivo).But don’t expect them to understand the meaning of a Double-Tal- Hal- Caf-Skinny-Latte. There is much to be said regarding the Italian coffee experience.

Coffeeshops in the states have a different lounge-like atmosphere in which you can sit for hours reading, studying, or chatting over a steaming cup of chai or frappucino. Italian coffeshops, however, are a completly different experience, as noted here:

- Italians do not sit for their coffee. They will buy their morning espresso or cappucino, drink it at the bar, elbow to elbow with other customers who will be munching on their monring pastries while wiating for their order.

- It is completley acceptable to sit down and enjoy your morning cappucino, as most tourists do. Otherwise how else would you be able to take full advantage of the outside seating and beautiful piazzas? Just be aware that sitting down inside or outside of an Italian coffeeshop will raise the price signficantly on your bill. A cappucino that normally costs 1.10E will more than triple in price once you sit outside. Consider it your cover charge.

- If you’d rather skip the cover charge and brave the bar next to your local Italian, decide what you’d like to order to drink-eat and then head straight to the cash register. Once you pay, you’ll head back to the bar and hand the barman your reciept.

- Most bars also sell bus tickets, tabacco products, lottery tickets, light lunches, and alcoholic drinks. Just ask at the register. (called cassa in Italian)

- Italians do not generally ask for anything “ToGo”, however as Florence is a tourist town, they may have the cups available, so if you’d like to take your cappucino with you, as for it “A portare via.” (Take away)

Life in Italy has a fabulous summarized Italian coffee term list, which we suggest you look over for a quick lesson:

Lastly, and most importantly, our staff has listed their favorite coffee shops that are conveniently located just steps away from our office!

Caffé Donnini 15/R- located in Piazza Repubblica (best prices, wonderful coffee and mouth waterin pasteries)

Caffè Paszkowski- Piazza Repubblica 6(great for the closest thing to a frappucino on a hot summer day- Cafe Shakerato), great lunches with everything from big salads to pasta dishes for only about 5 or 6 euro.

Caffè La Posta- Via Pelliceria 1. Right around the corner, great lunches as well.

Il Kiosko- A kiosk right across from our office that will gladly offer their frothy cappucinos in big cups to go!

Staff Picks: Restaurants you can't miss out on!

Ringo's is a little restaurant right across the river from us that we've all passed numerous times without giving it a second thought. Its dark tinted windows, flashy outdoor seating and little neon sign advertising hamburgers seemed a little out of place on Borgo San Jacopo, and a little too "diner-ish".

Then something strange happened. One of our bonafide and trusted "foodies" in the office noticed that there was a "SlowFood" sign on the door- this created quite the buzz in the office. SlowFood hamburgers? In Florence?

For those of you who are not aware, SlowFood is a movement that promotes cooking and serving food that is fresh and, well, not rushed. (For a better explanation, check out the SlowFood website Basically anything that is promoted by SlowFood is sure to be mouth watering good, fresh, and definitely something to write home about.

If you're visiting Il Bel Paese, and will be travelling around for a few weeks, chances are that as many yummy pasta dishes you try, you may eventually have a craving for some good ole home cooking burgers. (And for those of you that have been here for a while this is common!)

We decided immediately we had to try it out this little place- and spread the word on what these burgers were really like. Thanks to our office manager for volunteering, and giving us some mouth watering photos of a hamburger she described as a "one-in-a-million hamburger made with homemade ingredients."

But don't take our word for it...the photos speak for themselves. We will definitely be going back!
Ringo (Florentine owner of Ringo's) uses all fresh ingredients, and has a unique way of making his burgers. He uses the freshest meat and condiments, scoops out the bread on each bun, and fills the insides with his own special sauce. The hamburger is so mouth-watering delicious, and so filling, you won't need any sides!

So if this interests you, make sure to save the address: Ringos at Borgo San Jacopo, 19/r 50125.

**these are all honest and personal opinions of the staff at Walking Tours Staff and in no way advertisements to restaurants!**