It was a bright sunny morning mid-December in Florence. My wife and I waited outside our hotel in Florence, about 400 yards from the Duomo. We were meeting our friend Anna Madaffari who operates Cool Tours.
Our plan for the morning was simple. We would walk to Caffe Gilli, have a cappuccino and a pastry, catch up with Anna whom we hadn't seen in a year. In the large crowds walking to and from the most famous landmark in Florence, emerged the spunky Italian with a smile a mile wide dressed in her traditional black. She was bundled up more than we were as the temperatures were cooler for her, but mild for us considering we were coming from winter in the Midwest.
"Buongiorno!" Anna lets out, followed by a peck on each cheek; she repeated the greeting for my wife.
"I am parked around the corner, let's get in the van," Anna said.
"But what about our morning plans?" I said.
"Oh, we will stop and get a coffee, but it's too nice of a day not to go for a drive and see something new," she said.
Anna introduced us to Nicola, who helps manage the estate and the three large but friendly dogs whom Nicola tries desperately to keep from escaping. While Anna made a couple of phone calls, Nicola took the time to give us a tour of the organic farm. The small cellar that houses what we are about to find out are some amazingly great tasting wines. Next, it was off to the tasting room for lunch and food. On the table were red, green, white, and black label wines. Each with its own unique taste that paired perfectly with our appetizers, pasta, and chocolate lava cake for dessert. My wife and I were seduced by the atmosphere, the smells, the tastes and purchased six bottles, two red labels, two white labels, and two black labeled bottles. They arrived at our home in Nebraska about three weeks later.
After about two and a half hours at I Balzini we climbed back into the van to head back to Florence. We made one more quick stop at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial. This is the final resting place for 4,398 Americans who helped liberate Italy in World War 2. It is one of two American cemeteries in Italy and a must-visit for any American.
We left the cemetery in the late afternoon as the sun was setting into the horizon. Anna maneuvered the streets of Florence and was able to find a parking spot on in the Oltrarno side of the Arno river. We walked to a tiny but upscale wine bar where we sat next to a large window overlooking the Arno. Anna ordered water, my wife and I ordered wine. It was like a dream, and I didn't want the day to end. So I counted down, 3, 2, 1, and started interviewing Anna with my portable recorder. The result, the 67th episode of the Total Tuscany Podcast which you can listen to by hitting the play button at the top of this page.
We talked about our perfect day together, her growing business, and what you can expect when you hire Anna to be your guide a day or even longer.
Anna is simply the best! If you are going to Tuscany, do yourself a favor and hire her. Your experience with this sweet, spunky Italian will most likely turn into the most memorable part of your trip. You will see Tuscany through her experienced eye and know the place better.
Travis Justice & Pat Campagna have been traveling to Tuscany since 2009. They produce the Total Tuscany Podcast and all the content on this website.