All FAQ information is based on personal experience. For professional advice, we highly recommend Rick Steves’ guidebook and other online travel resources for Italy.
we will be updating this page up to the time of the retreat, so if you don’t see what you need, please let us know and check again! (You can email Questions to firstname.lastname@example.org)
what's tuscany like in january?
Being in Tuscany in the off-season is a rare treat. Not only is it a spectacularly beautiful time of year (tempestuous skies, barren hills, ruddy trees, gorgeous light), but it is a privilege to be able to walk hill towns empty of tourists and to visit larger attractions without waiting hours in lines.
What's the weather like in January?
Weather in January is very changeable. You might have some thick-sock, gloves-and-scarves-and-down-coat days, and then others in just a heavy sweater and a cap. One year, we had snow! I would definitely check weather reports, but even so, you will be most comfortable and least likely to be caught off-guard if you prepare for a rustic adventure. This retreat is ideally suited to people who want to nest comfortably in one place but don't need to be pampered, who value the peace, pace, and quiet of country living and don't mind sleeping in socks or stoking the wood stove.
So, how rustic will the retreat be?
The retreat is taking place in traditional 16th-c stone farmhouses. As such, they are structures of rustic beauty, comfortably modernized but not extravagant, renovated with respect for the aesthetics and functionality of working farmhouses. We dress warmly indoors, and nights can be cold—we use bed warmers and heavy blankets!
Is the retreat accessible for people with disabilities?
Regrettably, neither house is wheelchair-accessible.
All bedrooms are located on the upper floor, so any prospective participant should be physically able to negotiate a flight of stairs.
There are outside lights that illuminate the doorways and paths to the houses at night.
The road to and from the houses is unpaved (dirt with the usual dirt-road features: potholes, rocks, etc.).
The main road in the village is paved, but the few alleys and the ramp to the upper part of town (the Castello) were built with large stone pavers and with cobblestones, and so have uneven surfaces.
Both houses have wifi (if sometimes wobbly!).
Both houses have excellent in-house libraries; they do not have cable.
Depending on the timing, we might be lucky enough to join the village in celebrating the traditional Epiphany holiday of the Befana--the witch who brings gifts to the village children.
If the barrino is open (you never know!), we can enjoy a glass of wine at the Tuesday night movie in town!
We'll have the farmhouses all to ourselves. Alessandra will prepare our midday meals and do clean-up afterwards, but we will be tidying up after ourselves in the kitchen after breakfast and dinner, which are self-service (yes, there is a dishwasher!). We will also all pitch in to keep fires stoked and common areas inviting to all.
Both houses have laundry machines (washers and dryers).
A word to the wise: they are European machines, accommodate small loads and use economy settings. Underwear and leggings from this morning’s walk? No worries. Your grandmother’s table linens for a party of 20? Not such a good idea.
What kind of heating do the houses have?
Traditional farmhouses in this region were built of stone and tend to be chilly. To counter this, the retreat gathering space has central heating throughout and a wood stove downstairs and can comfortably accommodate any writers who want a cozy quiet nook to write in during the day. The downstairs of our lodgings, our common space, is kept cozy by central heating, a fireplace, and a wood stove. The bedrooms, which are upstairs in the former sleeping quarters of the original contadini (tenant farmers), are generally chillier. Space heaters will take the edge off in the bathrooms and before bed in the upstairs rooms at night, and we have bed warmers. Everyone is encouraged to bring warm nightclothes to sleep in, and should expect to spend daylight hours in the warmer downstairs areas of both houses.
Trompy shoes (sturdy enough for romps in the woods and dry enough for rainy-day tours)
Change of shoes for more moderate days
Long underwear/thermal layer
Cozy sweater for indoors
Gloves, scarf, hat
Warm & cuddlies to sleep in (bed socks and stocking cap are your friends!)
Warm jacket (down is perfect)
Rain protection (collapsible umbrella or poncho or rain shell)
Useful Personal Items
Converter for electronics, to pair devices with the wall socket (from American 110V to European 220V)
Earplugs (if you are sharing a room :-)
what kind of Documentation do i need?
International drivers permit (available from AAA, if you plan to drive)
International drivers license is NOT necessary (please verify that this has not changed before you travel--Italian bureaucracy can be very bureaucratic)
Check out your phone plan for international coverage--most have a $10/day option or a pay-as-you-go option; otherwise you might want to research getting a SIM card (a little more expensive to do in advance, from the States, but handy for when you arrive). Note: SIM cards are not available in Montisi, so you would need to get one in advance in the States, at the airport, or in a town other than Montisi (Chiusi and Sinalunga both sell them but are 45 and 20 minutes' drive away, respectively).
There is an ATM at the bank in Montisi and in most towns. If you are renting a car at the airport, you will need money for tolls, so I recommend your getting some cash at an airport ATM (there should be one located at the car-rental station).
While we cannot guarantee a strictly gluten-free facility, Alessandra’s meal plans can accommodate vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets (fyi ~ commercial gluten-free pasta is excellent in Italy, and there are yummy pastries traditionally made without wheat, but I bring my own GF bread from the States).
Meal plans can be purchased with or without wine--you can let us know when you finalize your reservation.
Participants or guests who opt out of Alessandra’s meal plan and do not have their own car can walk to town and take advantage of the small grocery store in the village to prepare their own meals, but should be advised that the shop, while well-stocked and delicious, serves a village of only a few hundred inhabitants and has limited supplies.
For participants who plan to rent a car, slightly larger stores are available within a 15-minute drive in any direction, and there is an enormous and mouth-watering “COOP” 20 minutes away, in Sinalunga. (Whole Foods? Eat your heart out!)
I don't speak italian--how will that pan out?
While we will likely be a retreat of English speakers at the two houses, and the olive trees and owls and barn cat do not care what language we speak, we will, of course, be venturing beyond our own walls. Some of the shop owners in Montisi speak some English, but there is a robust community of expatriates in the area and the village is accustomed to foreigners. Antonella Piredda, who will be leading a couple of tours as part of the retreat (and who is also available at very reasonable prices for amazing private excursions), speaks English, as does Alessandra, who will be preparing our lovely meals.