LYNN AND HER FRIENDS TRAVEL TO TUSCANY IN ITALY

Who: Lynn, Ceri, Maria and Megan (aka the golden girls, friends travelling together)

Where: Tuscany, choosing Park Albatros as our destination as we have visited the Norcenni Girasole Club  before.  This park is  also close to Piombino as we wanted to visit Elba during our stay.

When: 4th -12th June

Travelling: We flew from Manchester to Bologna with Ryanair,  Bologna is actually 140 miles away from the park; Pisa the closest airport at only 52 miles is the best option for people travelling to Tuscany.  However we had an independent stay at the end of our holiday near to Bologna. On arrival we have booked car hire so picked up our Fiat Qudo which I can only say looked very similar to the Popemobile very apt as we were in Italy.

DAY 1

 One of my favourite things on day one is the visit to the local supermarkets for supplies; we visited Conad Supermarket in San Vincenzo on the way from the airport for fresh meats, cheeses, olives, oils, bread, fresh salads fruit and of course the ingredients for the Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco, soda water, ice and oranges).
 
Upon arrival at the park we made our way to the campsite reception to let them know we had arrived, we were then shown to the Al Fresco reception where the lovely Chelsea took us to our mobile home. Chelsea then gave us a full show in going through health and safety checks and the features of the mobile home. We had to fill in registration forms (this is a legal requirement),  we got the security barrier key code to enter the park and stickers for our car to ensure only people in the park can use all the facilities, we were also issued with a wristband for use of the pool area... In our mobile home, we had an information pack where we found all local information regarding supermarkets restaurant times etc., a map of the campsite all the good tips such as where to get the free Wi-Fi. We had booked the linen packs so all the linen was there waiting for us. Great if you are flying, saves on the luggage space! 

DAY 2

After the long day yesterday we decided to have a lazy day by the pool checking out the campsite. We booked a Vivaldi mobile home with a canopy over half the terrace which gave us the option to either sit in the shade or the sun so the best of both worlds for us. So after a lovely breakfast sat in the sun (gosh it was so nice to have the sun on your face)  we headed off to the pool, we choose to go to the Olympic size pool as the other pools are really for children but what absolutely fantastic pools definitely one for the future with the grandchildren. So an abundance of free sun beds and all nicely placed around the pool for some relaxation. Although, if you want things to do, there are great activities featured in all the pool areas, every morning there is an hour aqua aerobics so off Meg went to do the class, this guy really makes this a fun session and you can do as much or as little as you like, so I put my earphones in and went to sleep and the other two turned over and read their books, aerobics isn’t for everyone!
At lunch time when it started to get very hot, so we went to the supermarket on site which I have to say is one of the best ones I have visited on a campsite. They have everything; I even bought a few plant pots for back home in the garden. We picked up cooked chicken and fresh bread to go with our salad. After lunch, we had a look around the site and to our great delight it was the market day on Park Albatros, the small stalls are all set out right down the length of the road, offering you yes you guessed it handbags! Local craft stalls which offered great bespoke wood carving gifts, clothes, Italian food speciality stalls offering olives, cheese, dried fruit etc.
 
We then had a look at the rest of the facilities. What we really liked about this park was there was something for everyone plus everything is all together in the square, the bar, restaurant, takeaway, gelato, games room and the go ape area. So a brilliant place for a family to spend the night together with an option for everyone. The first night we were there a brilliant band was performing, they did three sets over the night and had everybody up dancing.
 
Park Albatros also has a great laundrette if you are travelling with a large family and a really great information centre where they speak all languages and offer trips to nearby attractions and places of interest to visit if you don't want to take the car. They even do day trips to Florence, Rome and the Isle of Elba and of course all local theme and water parks.  which you can book and through the info point with prices starting from as little as 16 Euros. Lastly, I must mention the beach across the road as this was a great port of call for us after a long days sightseeing. You can park on the road, there are free parking spaces and somewhere there is a metre but we always managed to get free parking. 

DAY 3

Lunch in Castagneto Carducci afternoon and Evening Bolgheri only 20km from the site. A Beautiful small town perched on a small hillside which surrounds a small medieval castle, with beautiful views over to the Tuscan coast. It has, one main street filled with Small bespoke jewellery and handbag shops, small cafes, restaurants with the most amazing views for the romantics amongst us. We had lunch at La Gramola, recommended is the Tagliatelle with the wild mushroom sauce for the vegetarians but for the carnivores they do a Bolognese that is made with stewed beef for more than 24 hours, let me just say 4 women, no talking for 20 minutes!
 
Driving up the Viale Dei Cipressi (Cypress Ave),5 km long and with spectacular sights, you can park after approx. 1 km from a small car park (small charge) and walk up to the beautiful Bolgheri Castle. Inside the walls of the castle are small beautiful houses surrounded with flowers, small speciality food shops, wine shops and friendly restaurants all sit around a small square, which in September hosts a small Jazz festival, definitely one for the future. We ate at La Cantinetta di Bolgheri the Tiramisu was out of this world.
 
One of the specialities bought in Bolgheri was extra-long pasta which looks great, but I haven't got a pan big enough for it to fit in! This area has some of the best Tuscan wines renowned around the world, it also has great wine trails to do but unfortunately, on this trip, we didn't have the time to participate.

DAY 4

Lucca, 65 miles North of Park Albatros. Lucca is surrounded by well kept 16th century Renaissance walls which surround an ancient majestic city. The best way to see the city is to walk the walls, or for a great family adventure hire a bike and cycle around the city (you can hire and book a tour guide).We decided on the more leisurely stroll taking in some of the squares  97 churches and monuments, one of the most famous being Gicomo Puccini who as it would happen we have a mobile home named after. 
 
We decided to visit the San Martino Church, which contains the Volto Santo (Holy Face) a wooden figure of Christ. Worth every penny of the €6.00 entrance fee which goes towards maintaining the building. Then on to the Piazza Napoleon (Grande) for lasagne and ice cream and of course lots of people watching, whilst waiting for the shops to open late afternoon. Something here for everyone.  

DAY 5

Siena, 80 miles from Park Albatros and situated in central Tuscany, is famous for its medieval brick buildings. The fan-shaped Piazza del Campo is dominated by the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, this is where the twice-yearly Palio di Siena horse race takes place in the main square  Piazza del Campo which will house up to 60,000 people.The Torre del Mangia, a slender 14th-century tower with sweeping views from its distinctive white crown would probably have the best viewpoint!. Also worth a visit is the Duomo the outside very impressive, but the inside is magnificent. 
 
Siena is also famous for its ceramics pictures of rolling Tuscan countryside which is hand painted onto plates, platters etc  Not the cheapest holiday souvenirs but always worth a look. I decided to be less traditional and go for a modern piece. Now looking good in my bathroom.

DAY 6

Pisa is 48 miles from Park Albatros. Whilst in Tuscany you cannot miss the trip to see the famous leaning tower. We parked on the outskirts of the city, cheap parking next to the river, however, the walk across the town was amazing, through the park and along the river bank into the city itself, Pisa is probably only half a day visit but well worth it.

DAY 7

Day trip to Elba 17 Miles from Park Albatros to Piombino where the ferry departs from. Sailed into Portoferraio, an hours crossing on the modern Moby Line Ferries. €20.00 pp return as a foot passenger but for an extra €85.00 to take the car. This island has to be seen. Napoleon stayed here when he was exiled to Elba in 1814, you can see most of the island in a day. We went to the Island to Marino di Campo and visited the town of Porto Azzurro. A return trip to this Island is definitely on the cards. 
 
Going into Portoferraio. LA lovely chill hour on the boat coming back with the sun on our faces. Moby Lines offer a great little ferry service and if you turn up early they will put you on the next available ferry, so great if you are ahead of schedule. 

DAY 8

San Gimignano and Volterra are 58 Miles from Park Albatros. Volterra is en-route so both and can be seen in the day if on a tight schedule. San Gimignano can be seen from miles around when driving up to this beautiful hill top town with its magnificent towers. Tea with Mussolini was filmed here, a great film to watch to see the full beauty of this place. It has small narrow streets with great cafes, shops, restaurants and its speciality, small galleries with amazing pictures for all tastes. Jazz artists play in the small squares whilst you are lunching. Again if not too hot a great place to walk around the walls. Lots of parking around this town but you still need to get here early or late afternoon when people are coming away. Plenty to do here for people of all ages.
 
Anyone who is into the Twilight saga's will know that Volterra is featured in the second book New Moon Volturi as they are known. The tourist office is great here, do go in and get a map as the streets are like a big maze. What can I say, probably one of the most impressive views you will find is on the drive up to Volterra, surrounded by high fortress walls built during the 4th and 5th centuries BC with two stunning gates for entering the city. It also has an Acropolis,  foundations of ancient temples and Rocca Nuova which houses a high-security prison whose inmates participate in a rehabilitation project that has given life to a peculiar and successful restaurant, stands at the top of the town. The Romanesque Cathedral - that houses many works of art including a wonderful fresco about the Three Wise Men; the Piazza and Palazzo dei Priori, built during the 13th century. 
 
So many Churches, museums, places of interest for us geeks. Also great for families with the twilight touch, you can also take the children to the torture museum €12.00 for adults and €8 for children we decided to give it a miss on this occasion. Stroll down the historical center, step back in time and enjoy the timeless atmosphere that surrounds the town; taste its typical products, visit the handicraft workshops, where you'll find many ideas for bringing back home souvenirs from Tuscany. Please note most restaurants here close after lunch and re open at 7pm.
 Top tips from Lynn, Ceri, Maria and Meg:

 1. Always have ice in the freezer for the Aperol Spritz (Maria).
 2. Make sure you have good walking shoes for visiting old cobbled towns. Flip flops not good ouch. (Lynn).
 3. Try a different flavour ice cream in every town you visit, yummy (Megan).
 4. Try and buy the handbag you like as soon as you see it or it will be gone when you go back. (Ceri)

 Favourite Places
 
 Bolgheri: For Lynn, love the old world feel, nice and great for just pottering and walking, would love to go for the Jazz Festival.
 San Gimignano: For Ceri an abundance of handbag shops. Too many, too much choice, good job they don't have the same amount of shoe shops! Chilling; with a nice glass of Aperol in the square with all the towers and musicians adding to the ambience.
 Volterra: For Meg as an avid Twilight fan this was the place to visit, stunning views across the Tuscan countryside, and the maze of streets. You definitely need a map to get around this place, oh did I mention handbags again.
 Elba: For Maria with its small coves the temperature is always just that little bit hotter and Maria always like to be warm, so the temperature was perfect on this small island.