Italy? Wine Not…

Travel

Tuscany, and it’s many reasons to “Fall” in love with travel again.

Offering 55 superbly appointed rooms and suites, the new Grand Universe Lucca, Autograph Collection stands proudly adjacent to the Piazza Napoleone and across from the iconic Teatro del Giglio, where performances by Lucchesi composers Puccini, Catalani and Luporini have inspired a moving music culture that beats well into the present day. Fit for Tuscan royalty, the magnificently restored Italian ‘palazzo’ redefines experiential luxury in Lucca’s cultural city center, with interiors splendidly blending timeless elegance and contemporary comforts. Textiles drawn by earthy shades of grape red, pine green and Tuscan sun yellow, reflect the city’s famous silk production heritage, while delicate wall tapestries pay homage to the region’s vineyard patterns. Music, one of the hotel’s inherent pillars, inspires the name of each room category — from the ‘Piccolo Room’ to the ‘Puccini Suite’, named after the beloved composer who frequently visited the monumental Hotel Universo e Tosca in the early 1900s. 

Bucket-list worthy experiences, such as having your very own ‘Prelude of Existence’ written by a classical composer, are among the top reasons to fall in love with Italy all over again. In musical terms, a Prelude is an introductory piece of music, most commonly an orchestral opening to an act of an opera. This curated experience takes place in the Symphony Lounge, where the hotel’s classical composer will unlock your very own theme song based on a brief questionnaire that identifies your key personality traits — romantic, dynamic, seductive? While the composer prepares your Prelude, drink and eat from a selection of Italy’s best coffees, teas and pastries. Written in musical notes and delivered on a music sheet of paper, the Prelude can be specially packaged inside a ‘time capsule’— tied with a silk ribbon and tucked away inside a Tuscan leather box — to cherish (and perhaps be inspired to learn to play it) for years to come. 

Grand Universe Lucca also brings the region’s best wines front and center. The hotel features three immersive Tuscan Wine tasting experiences – the Montalcino, Montecarlo, and Super Tuscan and Chianiti Classico — as well as a mixology class where guests will concoct four drinks, and spirit tastings paired with chocolate. These are held in the intimate Eterno Wine Cellar, where history surrounds the delectable experience with remnants of an ancient wall that complements an extensive collection of Tuscan wines. For an alfresco experience, head to the always awe-inspiring Sommitá rooftop bar which overlooks the walled city and features a list of musically inspired cocktails. Book the “Tuscan Wine & Olive Oil Experience” package for Fall 2021 travel at www.granduniverselucca.com

Less than an hour’s drive away, nestled on the hill of an expansive 60-hectare estate in the heart of Italy’s most beloved region, the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa overlooks the mountainous Serchio Valley, one of the most unexplored areas of Italy. One hour from Florence and Pisa, the resort features 180 luxurious rooms, a spa, two restaurants, two swimming pools, on-site cooking lessons, and a variety of off-property excursions ranging from visits to local wineries, medieval towns, and more, giving travelers an authentic taste of Tuscany.

With the ‘Chef for a Day’ experience, guests can cook side by side with one of the resort’s chefs for an authentic taste of Italy. The experience begins with a trip to a local food market in Barga — a medieval village tucked deep in the Tuscan hills — where travelers will handpick fresh ingredients from the local markets and pick up some other staples from locally-owned shops (think “the meat guys” and the “cheese guy”) — all the inspiration for the day’s menu. After a tour of Barga and shopping, guests head back to the resort where they will learn how to hand-make Tuscan dishes such as fresh pasta (the shape of your choice), ravioli, fresh Caprese salad, and sauces in a very hands-on, interactive cooking lesson. Once the hard work is done, indulge in a three-course meal on a veranda overlooking the picturesque Serchio Valley.

What’s more, the province of Lucca is home to many wineries practicing biodynamic farming, in which manual operations substitute machines and soil fertilization is carried out with cow manure, leaving no room for any GMOs, synthetic chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides. Nestled within Garfagnana’s rolling hills, Podere Còncori is a biodynamic winery owned and operated by Gabriele de Prato, who produces a variety of wines ranging from syrah to pinot blanc and pinot nero, and in his practice aims to restore the dignity of the wines produced locally. As a biodynamic vintner, Gabriele relies on his perception and understanding of his vines, “a constant dialogue with nature using one’s senses: to walk, touch, see, smell, listen and taste; this is the meaning of biodynamic farming for me.”  For less than 30 euro, travelers can book a visit to Podere Concori where Gabriele will walk his guests through his vineyard, passionately explaining the ins and outs of biodynamic farming, before guiding them to a tasting room where his wines are poured alongside crostini and homemade pasta cooked by his wife. 

The motto of your trip: Cin-cin! 

A special thanks for Grand Universe Lucca, Autograph Collection and Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa for their support and participation in the 2021 “Clubs for a Cause” golf tournament benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

By Jason Underberg

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