Escape to Italy: For anyone who's looking for a bit of refinement in their lives, there is no better place than Siena. With its historic background, imposing statues and famous galleries, Siena is a land rich in art and culture. While you will have no problem finding the major tourist attractions on your own, there are several less obvious hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Drive to the enoteca in Montalcino and enjoy some regional vino and mingle with the locals at the Poliziano Cantina on the Piazza Grande. Check out the handmade coppersmith's workshop in Montepulciano or join the masses of spectators gathered in the piazza and cheer as the annual Palio kicks into high gear. What better way to explore the countryside than by hot air balloon? Float through 13th century San Gimignano and olive groves, around hilltop fortresses and just above Siena's historic rooftops, gothic towers and old cobblestone streets.
This is an opportunity to float high above the painted landscapes of Italy, taking in the splendor of the countryside. Spend your first three nights at the five-star WESTIN® Excelsior Hotel in Florence, located on Piazza Ognissanti. Enjoy a guided walk to Piazza San Marco, the restored 15th century Dominican monastery, and the Piazza Duomo's 13th century cathedral and cupola. After lunch, it's off to the Academy of Fine Arts for a leisurely visit to Michelangelo's original statue of David. For dinner, try the homemade pasta with game sauce or the grilled pigeon at La Tavola di Pier Capponi. Don't forget to head to the Fusion Bar, located in the trendy Lungarno Hotel for a nightcap.
The next two days are jam packed with history and culture. Visit the Uffizi Gallery and the historic Vasarian Corridor, an elevated covered pathway over the Arno River built for royalty in 1565. Closed to the public, Buddy Bombard has made special arrangements to grant you access to this exclusive corridor. Explore the Palatine Gallery at Pitti Palace, the 16th century Boboli gardens filled with grottos and sculptures, and the 15th century Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. Spend the afternoon hitting up the designer boutiques at Via dei Tornabuoni or take the three-hour guided tour through the Florence Old Quarter to the Brancacci Chapel. Eat like the Florentines at Il Latini and enjoy a family-style meal served with all the wine you could possibly drink.
It's off to Sienna, where the next four mornings you can drift at low level in the world's most famous balloons, while staying in luxury at the five-star Grand Hotel Continental, a restored 17th century palace just steps from the Casa de Campo. Float through 13th century San Gimignano and olive groves, around hilltop fortresses and just above Siena's historic rooftops, gothic towers and old cobblestone streets. Each day for lunch you'll be the priviledged guest of local nobility in their magnificent ancestral castles and estates, including the Knights Hall of Castello di Brolio, where 700-year-old polished suits of armor are still kept. On day eight, return to Florence for your journey home.