48 hours in Tuscany: a romantic weekend in the Chianti region

View Olena TuscanyTuscany is known for its cultural heritage, rolling fields filled with vineyards and, of course, its delicious cuisine. Much has been written about this popular holiday destination – but at Sun-hat Villas, we pride ourselves on showcasing those hard-to-find places around this stunning part of Italy.

Not surprisingly, the Chianti region is a firm favourite among wine lovers, making it the ideal place for a romantic getaway. Even if you are only there for a weekend, you will still have time to spend an afternoon at the beach, see the sun rise in Florence and sample the local food and drink.

With so much to see and do it can be hard to know where to start, so we have compiled an itinerary featuring a few of our favourite places.

Day One

A morning in LucignanoLucignano in the Province of Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

Close to Siena, and set amidst vineyards and olive groves, the medieval walled village of Lucignano is a hidden treasure just waiting to be uncovered. It is built around concentric circles, and the focal point is a typically-Tuscan piazza. Stop at one of the cafés and enjoy a strong espresso, before exploring the narrow streets and historic churches.

Another highlight for romantics is the Tree of Love, made from pure gold, and decorated with crystals, enamel and coral. This spectacular tree is housed at the Municipal Museum.

Escape to the beach

Parco Maremma

Leave the crowds behind and find your own spot on the beach at Parco Maremma, an area of outstanding natural beauty in southern Tuscany. For those in the know, Marina di Alberese is a popular choice and from the car park, you can take a pleasant 20-minute stroll to find a secluded stretch of sand.

A perfect evening

Tuscany

No trip to Chianti would be complete without an evening spent sampling a glass of the local tipple, but you don’t always have to stick to wine. If you like nothing more than sipping a cold beer on a hot day then be sure to call in at La Birroteca di Greve in the pretty village of Greve. Known for its friendly clientele, and retro music, this is one of the best places to discover Italy’s exciting craft beers.

Day Two

Sunrise in Florence

The dome of Florence Cathedral

Of course, a trip to this ancient city is a must – but who wants to spend the day fighting through throngs of tourists just to get a glimpse of Michelangelo’s David? Instead, start your day early so you can arrive in time to watch the sun rise. Bathed in the morning light, you will be able to enjoy the sights before tucking into a local breakfast of cappuccino and cornetto (coffee and a croissant). There are so many places to eat around Florence, but we particularly love Robiglio or Bar Galli.

A bicycle made for two

Tuscany Bicycle Hire

© TuscanyBicycle.com

The Italians are passionate about cycling, and each year Tuscany plays host to numerous cycling events including the vintage-inspired L’Eroica festival. With plenty of hills and mountains to climb, cycling here is certainly tough – but you will always be rewarded with wonderful views and ice-creams.

Rent your wheels from Tuscany Bicycle, which offers road bikes for those who like a challenge and e-bikes for anyone looking for something more sedate. The hire company will even drop your bike off at your villa and pick it up again for a small charge.

Indulge your senses

Bagni di Petriolo

After all that exertion, round off your weekend by relaxing at one of Tuscany’s hot natural springs. The warm, healing waters will be the perfect antidote to your afternoon of cycling, and best of all, some of them are free.

Just south of Siena, the springs at Bagni di Petriolo are close to the remains of a Roman bath house that dates back to 404AD. Here you will discover a series of smaller baths leading to a larger pool at the bottom, and this is a hot spot for Italians looking to unwind.

And for a truly authentic treatment, why not have a go at making your own luxurious body mask using clay collected from the riverbanks? Locals will often dry the clay, before mixing it with thermal waters and covering themselves with it. To wash it off, simply jump in one of the nearby rivers or pools – we guarantee it’ll get the blood pumping!

If you’ve been inspired by our tips, then take a look at our selection of luxury Tuscany villas.

Sun-hat Villas Tuscany

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Take a virtual tour of your home from home

Nothing beats the moment you step into your holiday villa for the first time. As you open the door, the children rush in to choose their bedrooms and dip a toe in the glistening blue pool, while you enjoy the smell of fresh linen and look for the best spot in the garden to sip a cool glass of wine in the evening.

If you are planning a villa holiday this summer, chances are you are looking for somewhere to spend quality time with loved ones. But ensuring the accommodation has everything you need for an extended stay can be a challenge, especially if you are trying to juggle lots of different demands. So, to make it a little easier, we’ve created a series of virtual tours, which give you the chance to ‘walk’ around some of our beautiful villas and find the perfect retreat.

Dollhouse view of Villa Belissima, Quinta do Lago, Algarve.

Dollhouse view of Villa Belissima, Quinta do Lago, Algarve.

Whisking you away to Portugal, our 3D walk-throughs take you around our villas in the Algarve, in popular resorts such as Vilamoura, Carvoeiro, Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo. The tours make you feel like you are really there with 360° images of each of the rooms – from sweeping staircases and spacious dining areas to the magnificent master suite. You can even view these properties in a ‘dollhouse’ style, giving you a fantastic overview of the villa in its entirety.

Villa Belissima Algarve

Villa Belissima, Quinta do Lago, Algarve

As well as fuelling your holiday daydreams (especially on gloomy days), this tool also helps you to answer practical questions like who will sleep where, and whether there is space for the kids to play as you relax. But while it might remove unexpected surprises, it certainly does not take away any of the excitement. In fact, we think you’ll be hopping on to your computer to take another look, even after you’ve booked your holiday!

Villa Prestige Algarve

The superb games room and cinema screen in Villa Prestige, Quinta do Lago, Algarve.

In the coming months, more walk-through images of the stunning gardens and pools will be added to the collection. We’re also going to be using drones to capture the outdoor areas at our properties so you can get a feel for what suits you best. Don’t forget to check out our birds-eye view of the Algarve’s Vale do Lobo resort, which was also filmed using drones.

Matterport camera Sun-hat Villas

Lucian Andries, our Holiday Care Specialist, on location with the camera equipment.

The tours, which have been produced by our resort staff and powered by Matterport, are available on our website – just look for the ‘3D Tour’ link in the search results and on the property pages. There are currently more than 20 available, including Villa Katy Quinta do LagoVilla BellevueCasa Colina do Mar Quinta do Lago and Villa Prestige Algarve.

48 hours in St Lawrence Gap, Barbados: turtles, cricket and Oistins

For those wishing to visit the Caribbean it can be tricky; all of the islands have so much to offer. Friendly locals, white sand, crystal clear blue seas, delicious cuisine, fascinating historical sights and stunning walks. So how do you know which one to choose?

We are here to shout about one of our favourite islands, Barbados.

Barbados St Lawrence Gap

Just a couple of the things we love about this island is not only the fact that it’s a great place to visit for its endless beaches and palm trees, it also has masses of beautiful flora (the aloe vera plants are ideal for that sun-burn) sunny afternoon cricket matches and beautiful colonial buildings.

Our favourite place to hang your hat in Barbados to explore (you can drive the length of Barbados in an hour and the width in 45 minutes so you are never to far away from everything you want to see) is St Lawrence Gap. It’s got some great bars and restaurants, perfect for turtle spotting and a great hangout to mix with the locals. Here are some of our tips to spend 48 hours in this gorgeous area as part of a longer trip.

Day 1

Sunrise: Breakfast at Dover Beach turtle spotting.

Turtles

Pack yourself a picnic and head to Dover Beach. Or, if you prefer, there are plenty of places where you can buy food and here are just some examples of delicious Barbados food you can try, no matter what time of day. Dover Beach is one of our favourites and there are plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas to rent for a small cost. Alternatively, just kick off your flip-flops under one of the shady palm trees and lay down your towel to catch some rays. The water is clean and warm and occasionally you’ll be treated to views of sea turtles coming up for air among the waves.

Fun in the sun: Catch a game of cricket

You can’t walk far without spotting an impromptu game of cricket. It’s a real treat if you can catch a match. Cricket is popular with people of all ages and really brings the community together and is a vital element to the island. It gives you a great excuse to sit in the sun with a cold beer or ginger beer for the kids. Check out some of the matches coming up here.

Sunset: St Lawrence Gap

St Lawrence Gap, small cove, Barbados

You are in the right place for a fun night out. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the huge offering of restaurants and bars and there is a great atmosphere, especially at weekends. The people are vibrant and the music fills the streets. There are lots of great places to dine; from small local huts with live music, to larger restaurants where you can sit and watch the world go by.

We like The Old Jamm Inn, which claims to be ‘the heartbeat of live music’ and who are we to argue? If you are looking for somewhere more chilled out and romantic, then you can’t go wrong with friendly and delicious Apsara Samudra, a restaurant overlooking the ocean that serves exquisite Thai and North Indian food (the Peshwari naan is to die for).

Day 2

Sunrise: And breathe

St Lawrence Church, St Lawrence Gap, Barbados

Yoga on the beach has become more and more popular, and the Yoga Samudra classes are a perfect way to relax, stretch and enjoy the sound of the crashing waves and the sun on your back. Yoga is always at your level so these can be as challenging as you make them, ideal for those who miss a little bit of exercise when they are on holiday but also suitable for those who just want to chill out.

If you want to do something spiritual but don’t fancy doing the downward dog, then going to the local church is a lovely experience. Everyone dresses to the nines and it’s very welcoming. The white washed and quaint St Lawrence Anglican church, constructed in 1837 is charming and a great way to immerse yourself in Bajan culture. Perched atop a small cliff at the first corner you encounter when entering the area, it’s easy to spot. You may even be asked to stand up and say hello as a very welcome newcomer.

Fun in the sun

Chamberlain Bridge, Bridgetown, Barbados

The charming building with the lime green door houses the lovely art gallery, Art For Everyone, with some excellent pieces for you to peruse. Leave here and then grab some brunch at the Happy Days Café (we love their omelettes).

Once you have satisfied your hunger, hop on a bus to Bridgetown. The buses are great fun and a real insight into Bajan life. You’ll be sitting with locals on the journey who are really friendly and will chat to you about all sorts.

This will take a mere twenty minutes and then you are in Bridgetown, the heartbeat of the island. Start with a walk from Independence Square, which has statue of Errol Barrow, the first prime minister of the independent Barbados, and then head across Chamberlain Bridge to National Heroes Square, with its statue of Nelson and coral stoned Barbados Parliament.

Alternatively, you can take a bus to Barbados’ second city Speightstown – a great one to take photos of its brightly painted clapboard houses.

Sunset: Oistins Fish Fry

Oistins Fish Fry

No trip to Barbados is complete without a trip to Oistins Fish Fry. You can rock up and pick a hut. Each and every one offers fresh catches of the day served straight from sea-to-boat-to-grill-to-plate. This is ideal for those wishing to mix with the friendly and fun locals and the food is great – if you only do one thing in Barbados this is it!

Have you been inspired? Take a look at the luxury properties we have available in St Lawrence Gap.

Sun-hat’s top five reasons to book your holiday early

There has been a long running debate on whether or not it’s better to book your holidays early or to secure last minute deals. January is a predominantly popular month for confirming summer holiday bookings and, at Sun-hat, we handle 20% of our annual bookings during this time. We explore five good reasons for you to book early and pick up a great deal.

Lower Travel Costs
Blue Sky Air Travel Flight Aircraft Aviation

Although there are many myths surrounding late deals, you can actually save money by booking your holiday earlier, sometimes as much as 25%. Holiday prices will tend to increase the later you book as demand continues to rise. The best villas are usually the first ones to get snapped up, with some savvy customers choosing to book up to 12 months in advance.

Better Availability on Flights and Accommodation

Luxury villa – Sun-hat Villas

Booking early is extremely important when it comes to flights, as you may not be able to get on your preferred flight the later you leave it. This is also the case with booking accommodation. Villas are individual, and there is only one of each kind. Once your chosen date has been booked, you may have to look for an alternative option.

More Time to Budget and Plan
pexels-photo-188934 copy

The sooner you book your holiday the more time you have to you pay it off. It also means you’ll be able to get saving for all of the spending you plan to do whilst you’re on you’re trip. As well as this, it’s a great opportunity to plan ahead and find out all of the activities you would like to do during your holiday.

Fun Holiday Countdown
sea-man-person-holiday copy
As January sets in, many of us are suffering from the back to work blues. Booking your holiday early can give you something to look forward to. In the build up to your holiday you can download a holiday countdown app to increase your excitement and anticipation. Examples we like include Ready Set Holiday! and Holiday Countdown.

New Year Goals

Apres Surf Sagres, Algarve

Most of us tend to over indulge over the festive period and end up not quite feeling our best in the first part of the year. But by booking your holiday early, it gives you the perfect amount of time to get yourself fit, healthy and all confident, ready to hit the beach.

To book early and avoid disappointment browse our luxury villas and resorts.

Book your ABTA accredited Sun-hat holiday with confidence

Sun-hat Villas ABTA L6737The Association of British Travel Agents – ABTA – launched its nationwide ‘Travel with Confidence’ campaign on Wednesday 4th January, running till the end of February. It is being launched to tackle the rising issue of online scams, fraudulent websites and non-compliant travel companies that have no financial protection in place.

ABTA revealed that a third of summer holidays are typically booked during January and February and, as travel fraud continues to increase, holidaymakers looking for a bargain are being advised not to be duped by fraudsters. The aim of the campaign is to encourage consumers to book their summer holidays with an ABTA travel company and ‘Travel with Confidence’.

ABTA Travel with confidence

The campaign will be targeted to older people and families, who are most likely to book during this period; there will also be a second campaign in the summer aimed at younger travellers.

As a fully ABTA accredited member, Sun-hat Villas and Resorts is proud to offer all of its customers financial protection on its luxury rentals.

Please see below our summary of ABTA’s advice on how to ensure you ‘Book with Confidence’ and get the best deal:

1) Book With a Provider That Offers Financial Protection
Holidaymakers should receive protection on all holidays purchased in the UK and are entitled to a refund or repatriation if their travel company goes out of business, as well as certain other legal rights if they are experiencing any other issues with their holiday. All ABTA members provide protection for their holidays.

In a recent case where a travel company went out of business, around a third of their future bookings were financially protected by ABTA, which meant they would be able to receive a full refund. This signifies the importance of booking with an ABTA approved partner, as should something go wrong, the consumer is always protected.

2) Misuse of Logos
There are some websites that will misuse the logos of organisations such as ABTA or IATA. To check if your travel provider is an ABTA member use the following link – http://abta.com/find-a-member

3) Scam Websites
A number of websites are created with the intention of carrying out online scams; this is a growing concern for ABTA and its members. Legitimate websites can be identified by a locked padlock symbol in the browser window frame, which appears when you attempt to log in or register, or the web address should begin with ‘https://’.

HTTPS Sun-hat

4) Cloned Websites
Another problem is cloned websites, where genuine websites are copied with subtle changes. For example the last part of the address may be changed from .com to .org. Fraudsters can also create a realistic-looking webpage but vary the spelling slightly from the authentic website. Always carry out a web search if you notice anything suspicious on the website.

To ‘Travel with Confidence’ with Sun-hat, find out more about our ABTA approved luxury villas and resorts.

Time to tee off: award-winning golf in the Algarve

The Royal Vale do Lobo

The 16th at The Royal, Vale do Lobo

The Algarve has long been considered an outstanding golfing destination, but with the recent addition of some new, highly revered courses, together with the redevelopment of some old favourites, it has now attracted international acclaim.

Quinta do Lago has just been named ‘Best Golf Venue in Europe’ in the World Golf Awards 2016, seen as the Oscars of golf by those serious about the sport.

Portugal also received ‘Best Golf Destination in the World’ in the same awards, whilst Quinta do Lago scooped best golf resort accolades in Today’s Golfer Magazine and Golf Digest.

With the Algarve such a highly celebrated golfing location, many of our clients choose to combine their holiday with a round or two. But with over thirty courses to choose from, you may feel you need a helping hand narrowing down where to tee off.

Always here to help, the team at Sun-hat Villas & Resorts has listed our top five golf courses in the region.

1. North Course, Quinta do Lago

Quinta Do Lago North Course

It is not hard to see why Quinta do Lago has just scooped all of the awards for best golf resort. The jewel in its crown is undoubtedly the North Course, redesigned in 2014 by golf architect Beau Welling and European Ryder Cup winning captain Paul McGinley.

If you enjoy a course where accuracy and strategy are important, then this should be on your list of must-visits when in the Algarve. Beautiful views and quick greens make for a very enjoyable round.

2. Monte Rei Golf & Country Club (North Course)

Monte Rei Golf Course Algarve

This course opened in 2007 and has received rave reviews ever since. This is a Jack Nicklaus signature course, the first in Portugal and one of the only ones in Europe.

The mountainside setting of the country club is unforgettable and the course itself is a delight of clever water hazards and fantastic bunkering.

3. San Lorenzo, Quinta do Lago

San Lorenzo Golf Course

Ranked 15th in the ‘Top 100 Golf Resorts in Continental Europe’ by Golf World Magazine, San Lorenzo golf course is one of the most famous courses in the Algarve, and with good reason.
A word of warning – if you are serious about your golf, book an early round – San Lorenzo tends to get slow later, owing to the challenging nature of the course.

4. Royal Golf Course, Vale do Lobo

Vale do Lobo Royal Course

Vale do Lobo is the largest luxury resort in Portugal, and is one of the area’s most established golf resorts.

With undulating fairways nestled in a relaxing pine tree setting, there is a good mix of challenging holes on The Royal Course. The signature par three cliff-top 16th hole with its breathtaking views, makes the steep green fee worth every penny.

5. Oceanico Old Course

Oceanico Old Course Algarve

The second oldest course in the Algarve, this is an interesting and challenging course with some very narrow fairways, all flanked by tightly packed tree lines.

Don’t just take our word for it, though – why not play all of the courses and see if you think we have selected the right top five!

To book your holiday, visit www.sun-hat-villas.com. You can book golf with our partner Quo Vadis at www.qvts.com.

Meet the team – Richard Robinson

Richard Robinson – IT Manager

Richard Robinson – Sun-hat

1. How long have you been working at Sun-hat Villas and Resorts?
I have been at Sun-hat for nine years, having joined the team in July 2007.

2. Why do you enjoy working for the company?
The company is very forward thinking with respect to IT, particularly for a small business. My varied role allows me to get involved in all aspects of the business, so no two days are ever the same.

3. What makes a holiday special for you?
A holiday for me is a time to really relax and kick back with family and friends. While my work and career are obviously important, it’s also crucial in a world of 24-hour email and social media to have some time to recharge the batteries.

4. Where is your dream destination?
I’m a bit of a holiday snob since working at Sun-hat. I love my creature comforts and familiar surroundings so nothing adventurous for me. A private villa in the Algarve or Majorca suits me down to the ground.

Casa do Doutor Vilamoura Area, Algarve

5. What do you bring to Sun-hat?
I like to think I’ve got a pretty flexible can-do attitude. As a man of many hats, I can write code for the Res System and Website, deliver the digital marketing strategy, or crunch some numbers to help keep the business running smoothly. I’ll even make a round of tea if you ask nicely.

Meet the Team – Rob Knox

Rob Knox – Product Manager (Algarve Villas)

Rob loves the Algarve - well he does live there!!

Rob loves the Algarve – well he does live there!!

1. How long have you been working at Sun-hat Villas and Resorts?

I’ve worked at Sun-hat Villas & Resorts for six years.

2. Why do you enjoy working for the company?

Having worked for big companies in the past, such as Thomas Cook and Virgin, I love the fact that we are a small team that gives a great personalised service to our clients. We deliver a top product with our selection of amazing villas.

3. What makes a holiday special for you?

Knowing I am going to get quality, value for money and great service makes it easy to relax and unwind once I am on holiday.

4. Where is your dream destination?

I would say the Algarve because I love it so much, but then again I do live here. So, outside of the Algarve, it has to be Mexico. I’ve had a couple of fantastic holidays there.

Chichen Itza Mexico

5. What do you bring to Sun-hat

I bring experience in the travel industry and skills in contracting, product and team management, plus plenty of hard work and enthusiasm.

An eye in the sky on our holiday destinations in the Algarve


We know that our customers look forward to their holidays all year, and being able to daydream about the day that you set foot on the golden, sandy beach, swim in the cool, blue water of your private pool or hear that satisfying sound of golf club hitting ball helps you to build the excitement until the day finally arrives to get on the plane.

We have now made it even easier to picture yourself on holiday at one of our luxury resorts by employing the latest filming techniques using drones to showcase the stunning destinations in all their sun-drenched glory.

Sun-hat Villas resort in Vale Do Lobo, Algarve

First to receive the drone treatment is Vale do Lobo in the Algarve. The three-minute film takes you up in the air, giving you an aerial view of the impressive entrance to the resort, via a bridge over one of its many beautiful expanses of water.

The camera passes over the beautiful, huge rotunda pool in the resort’s piazza, and suddenly you’re over the gorgeous expanse of golden sand and crystal blue sea, showing how close the beach is to the resort.

Sun-hat Villas, Vale do Lobo resort

The Tennis Centre, kid’s club, and many choices of restaurants and bars can also be seen from the sky.

There is the chance to catch a glimpse of the perfectly manicured fairways and greens of the resort’s two outstanding golf courses, too.

Golf in the Algarve at Vale Do Lobo, Sun-hat Villas

As well as the fabulous facilities on the resort, the film gives you a unique view of the range of stunning villas on offer at both Vale do Lobo and Vale do Lobo 2.

To see more, we’d be grateful if you’d subscribe to our YouTube channel, too. Bird’s eye films of our other resorts will follow in the next few weeks.

Meet the Team – Claudia Mansi

Claudia Mansi – Algarve Villa Specialist

Claudia

Claudia would love to visit the Canadian Rockies

1. How long have you been working at Sun-hat Villas and Resorts?
I have worked at Sun-hat for three months.

2. Why do you enjoy working for the company?
I enjoy working for Sun-hat because each day is different. We are not just selling the villas, but we are also sourcing, pricing and preparing the villas for the arrival of our clients.

We are also a safe pair of hands for our villa owners, ensuring everything runs smoothly for both client and villa owner. I work with a fabulous small team and we are all working towards the same goal – to provide an outstanding, knowledgeable service to all of our clients seeking a luxury retreat.

3. What makes a holiday special for you?
A holiday for me is spending time with my partner, having all my home comforts but at a more superior standard with fantastic views of my surroundings and the independence of my own self-catering facilities.

4. Where is your dream destination?
My dream destination would have to be Canada. I would love to tour the Rockies, visiting Banff, Jasper and of course the beautiful Lake Louise.

Lake Louise, Canada

The stunning Lake Louise, Canada

5. What do you bring to Sun-hat?
I feel that I bring a smile and a positive attitude to Sun-hat. I am happy to help my clients and sometimes feel you have to get into the mentality of how you yourself feel when you’re on holiday, you’re excited you can’t wait to get there and you want to make splendid memories! The travel industry is a great one to work in and one that I am passionate about.