My co-author and frequent collaborator, Cameron Hewitt, is well-traveled, smart, and insightful. And, while he and I are in perfect sync in our travel styles and priorities, he gives voice to the next generation of "Rick Steves travelers." Join me in enjoying his reports right here. —Rick

Experience Tuscany: Sleep (and Eat) at an Agriturismo

The rustic farmhouse called Cretaiole perches on a ridge overlooking postcard Tuscan farmlands, less than a 10-minute drive outside of Pienza. Its generous lawn is framed by pointy cypress trees and a gentle olive grove.

The resident cats are just how I like them: curious, playful, and starved for attention — they wait outside your door, looking for any chance to slip inside your room and make themselves at home.

And in the evening, an aging farmer named Luciano makes the rounds — knocking on doors, clutching his bottles of homemade grappa and Vin Santo, and cajoling everyone and anyone to come join him for drinks on the veranda.

Cretaiole is an agriturismo — one of more than 20,000 farms subsidized by the government to introduce travelers to Italy’s unique pastoral lifestyle. Agriturismi are required to be working farms — that is, they must actually produce something — while also offering accommodations, restaurants, educational activities, or all of the above. Sleeping at an agriturismo is the ultimate in Italian country living.

Cretaiole is the joint effort of husband-and-wife team Carlo and Isabella. Years ago, Isabella came on vacation from Northern Italy to this part of Tuscany. She fell in love with a local farm boy, Carlo, and decided to stick around. Soon she persuaded her father-in-law, Luciano, to turn their working farm into an agriturismo. And now, about a dozen Americans gather here each Saturday to begin a week-long stay in the comfy apartments that Isabella has carved out of the antique farmhouse.

This isn’t just a place to stay; Isabella has come up with a tempting array of experiences that guests can take part in: olive-oil tastings, truffle hunts, vineyard visits, pasta-rolling classes, and guided excursions to Siena.

Luciano, the old farmhand, has slowly grown accustomed to the visitors from around the world who travel thousands of miles to sleep in his old olive-oil mill. He enjoys knocking on doors after people have returned from dinner, inviting guests to join him for a nightcap of homemade grappa, Vin Santo, and limoncello. While he clearly adores these interactions, Luciano enjoys playing the curmudgeon; one time, observing clueless guests trying to be helpful during the olive harvest, he nudged me and muttered, “That’s the problem with an agriturismo — too much turismo, not enough agri.” But the twinkle in his eye told me he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Cretaiole is the agriturismo that I know best, but there are many, many choices — some more rustic and remote, others on the outskirts of big cities. We recommend our favorites in the Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook, and you can also find a comprehensive list at

One word of caution: Be aware that an agriturismo is truly a working farm. While some are more refined than others, expect muddy roads, manure smells, and tractor engines firing up in the wee hours. Some travelers who think they want an agriturismo would actually be more comfortable with a more polished “countryside hotel” experience. For example, the owners of Cretaiole just opened a brand-new hotel called La Moscadella that’s purely posh — offering higher-end amenities and furnishings, if less of the down-home barnyard charm of the original.

Be honest with yourself about what type of rural Tuscan accommodations you’re really interested in — then find the perfect fit.

If Cretaiole sounds good to you, read this full rundown on what it’s like to spend a week there. Then book it.

While I’ve stayed at Cretaiole several times, the most memorable was the wonderful Thanksgiving week that Isabella arranged — an ideal off-season alternative.

Heading to Tuscany? I share a dozen of my favorite Tuscan experiences here.

Our new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour — which begins in 2020 — incorporates many vivid experiences in Italy’s heartland…including a stay in the countryside of Chianti, plus three nights at Isabella’s wonderful new rural hotel, La Moscadella.

Or, to do it on your own, you’ll find all of the details you need in our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.

Experience Tuscany: Play “King of the Castle” atop a Fortified Tower

Exploring the tiny, hill-capping town of Montepulciano, I wandered up a side-street from the main square. Looking back, I was struck at how the facade and tower of the town hall — so stately and respectable from the middle of the square — were clearly pasted onto a rough brick structure. This reminded me that Tuscany is obsessed with its fancy towers.

“Italy” as we know it was an invention of the 19th century. During Tuscany’s medieval and Renaissance prime, this region was a collection of feuding city-states dominated by rich families. To this day, Tuscans remain fiercely loyal to their home community, and are keenly aware of subtle differences between people from different cities, towns, and villages. (Italians have a wonderful word for this: campanilismo, meaning that a community consists of the people within earshot of its bell tower — campanile.)

One of Tuscany’s architectural fortes are its fortified townhouses. Many towns have several such tower houses — representing the many, often competing wealthy families who once lived there. San Gimignano famously has 14. In those Romeo and Juliet days of feuding families, prickly skylines like San Gimignano’s were commonplace.

Some of these townhouses still have an intact tower — the keep, or place of last resort for a noble family. But many others have had the tower lopped off. If you know what to look for, it’s often possible to see the faint outlines of a former tower embedded into the side of an otherwise nondescript townhouse.

This Tuscan territoriality — even within a single town — can be taken to extremes. On my visit to Montepulciano earlier this summer, I noticed various colorful flags that flew in different parts of town. A local explained that these represent the eight different contrade (neighborhoods) within this small town of just 14,000 people: the red-and-black castle of Voltaia, the blue-and-white flag of Poggiolo, the green-black-and-yellow lion of Gracciano, and so on. Tensions run high between rival contrade, and everyone comes together the last Sunday in August, when the strongest young lads from each contrada compete to see who can roll a 180-pound wine barrel all the way up the steep main drag. (The ultimate expression of this is Siena’s famous Palio horse race — which is, at its basest level, a pissing match between contrade.)

The most famous Tuscan tower, of course, is the tipsy one in the city of Pisa. While the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a touristic cliche, the surrounding Field of Miracles is well worth a visit.

The “Leaning Tower” is simply a bell tower for Pisa’s grand 12th-century cathedral, which mixed Romanesque, Byzantine, and Gothic architectural elements in an eye-pleasing melange called “Pisan Romanesque.” And the cathedral and tower are just two parts of a striking ensemble of white-marble buildings that share an unusual architectural harmony, all connected by a putting-green-quality lawn.

While tourists pose for goofy “holding up the tower” photos, travelers who do a little homework appreciate how these buildings — baptistery, cathedral, hospital, cemetery — symbolically follow the human life span, from birth to marriage to illness to death. (To be entirely clear, it’s perfectly fine to also snap one of those goofy photos. Hey…you’re on vacation.)

In many towns, the tallest tower belongs not to a rich family’s mansion, or even to the church, but to the town hall. Like Scandinavia today, Renaissance Tuscany placed tremendous faith in the role of a well-run state. In fact, Siena’s City Hall — one of the region’s biggest and best — is decorated with frescoes illustrating the consequences of both good and bad government.

Religious as Tuscans were (and remain), they were also humanistic — with a deep, abiding belief in the importance of humanity. While the medieval worldview dictated that the realm of God, Jesus, and the saints was the one and only thing that mattered, Renaissance Humanists began to recognize that the deeds of humans on earth were also significant. In fact, the greatest deeds of humans were seen as the ultimate expression of God’s power.

The right hand of Michelangelo’s David is hyper-detailed and over-developed. In a sense, it’s the hand of God. Michelangelo’s message: The humble shepherd boy David succeeds in slaying the giant Goliath not just because he’s a powerful man, but also because he is super-charged with the will of God. When Michelangelo created a statue, he believed he was chipping away a form that already existed within the stone (put there by God). And when he painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the Vatican, it was a great expression of faith in both God and humanity. (The billowing clouds surrounding the famous scene of God giving Adam the spark of life is, not coincidentally, shaped like a human brain.) This harmony between God and humanity is the essence of the Tuscan Renaissance.

And so, when you see the towers of Tuscany, look at them as giant versions of David‘s hand. Tuscan towers are exclamation points — proclaiming the worthiness of humanity overcoming a thousand years of darkness, fear, and brutality. They are a statement that together, and backed by God, humanity can accomplish great things.

Heading to Tuscany? I share a dozen of my favorite Tuscan experiences here.

Our new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour — which begins in 2020 — incorporates many vivid experiences in Italy’s heartland…including visits to many places mentioned here, including a day in Siena, with one of Tuscany’s most striking towers.

Or, to do it on your own, you’ll find all of the details you need in our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.

Experience Tuscany: Lick Artisanal Gelato

Amazing gelato abounds in Italy — and Tuscany is no exception. My favorite gelato artist in the region, Nicola Sgarbi, now has two branches: One in Pienza (called BuonGusto) and the other in Montepulciano (look for Dolcivoglie sign on your way up through town on the main drag, at Corso #50).

In Montepulciano earlier this summer, I stop by Nicola’s shop. As usual, he greets me with a robust “Buongiorno!” and loads me up with little plastic spoons of free samples.

Enjoying all these little tastes, I ask Nicola what led him to the gelato business. He explains that, after apprenticing at a renowned London restaurant, he came back to Tuscany and opened a laboratorio — determined to make his mark on the culinary world.

In those humble days, his first product was jam made from fruit and berries that he gathered for free on the ground of posh villas. The villas had planted fruit trees and berry bushes for aesthetic reasons, and were all to happy to have Nicola put the fruit to good use. Back then, Nicola had only a bicycle, which he’d ride through the idyllic Tuscan countryside to build a network of producers to work with: truffle hunter, vintner, olive oil producer, and so on. (While intended as a sad-sack tale of humble beginnings, this experience sounded pretty amazing to me.)

Slowly Nicola transformed his preserves business into a gelateria. And he is the very best kind of gelato snob. Nicola makes his gelato from scratch each morning, which means it’s not available until around noon. But don’t wait too late in the afternoon to stop by — when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Originally Nicola made only two flavors each morning. Local customers would come in, asking for other flavors they’d seen elsewhere. Unapologetically, he’d steer them to the two flavors on hand. Over time, he re-trained his customers to go for what’s fresh.

Nicola embraces both locally sourced ingredients and unusual flavor combinations. Whether collecting his plums and berries from a local orchard, or shipping in top-quality pistachios from Sicily, hazelnuts from Piedmont, or lemons from Puglia, he always ensures top quality. And the base of his gelato — the milk — is delivered fresh three times each week from a local dairy farm.

While I’ve never seen the same flavors twice, there are always wonderful surprises. On this visit, his creamy basil tastes like an herb garden. In addition to some of the old standbys (done exceptionally well), Nicola enjoys experimenting with exotic flourishes: carrot-ginger, kiwi-spinach, custard with raspberry jam, orange and ginger, and a dairy-free gelato made with chocolate imported from Venezuela.

Nicola points out that — when compared to processed, mass-produced gelato — the real stuff not only tastes better…it makes you feel better. “It’s not just about the taste, it’s about how it digests.” Italians are very in tune with digestion (which is why, for example, they rarely drink milk after lunchtime); for them, good gelato makes you feel good both while you eat it…and after you eat it.

I ask Nicola how a casual visitor can quickly judge the quality of a gelato shop. His advice matches up with the advice I’ve gotten from many other Italians: Look for truly homemade — as fresh as possible. That means you’re looking for small batches, stored in little metal bins, rather than piled high on top of a giant plastic container.  Beware of bright, garish colors that don’t exist in nature — which are artificial and used to attract children’s attention.

While it seems these days every gelateria in Italy advertises artigianale (artisanal or homemade), these claims are not regulated and can be bogus. “That’s why you have to taste before you buy,” Nicola insists.

I ask Nicola which flavor is the best barometer of quality. Real pistachio gelato is very expensive to produce. So thrifty (or unscrupulous) gelato makers do a “faux-pistachio” — cutting their pistachios with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or almonds. If you know what real pistachio tastes like, it’s a mark of high quality.

Nicola also suggests trying a fruit flavor. While a layperson’s palate may not be able to distinguish between pistachio and sunflower-seed-almond-pistachio, everyone knows what a strawberry or raspberry is supposed to taste like.

Beyond Nicola’s places, I have a few other favorite gelaterie in Tuscany. De’Coltelli, with branches in Lucca and in Pisa, has powerful flavors in the style of Sicily (where, as every Italian knows, all of the best desserts come from). Florence has many good and famous options, but I often find myself at Gelateria dei Nerior or Perchè No. But when traveling in Tuscany, it’s hard to resist the temptation to try several different places to find your favorite. So…don’t resist.

I’ve blogged about Italian gelato before, including advice for how to find the best gelato anywhere, and — for a laugh — a surreal tale of when I became embroiled in a dispute between one small town’s gelato artists. (I survived.)

Heading to Tuscany? I share a dozen of my favorite Tuscan experiences here.

Our new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour — which begins in 2020 — incorporates many vivid experiences in Italy’s heartland…including many, many opportunities to sample Italy’s finest edible art, gelato.

Or, to do it on your own, you’ll find all of the details you need in our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.

Experience Tuscany: Get to Know the Etruscans

Tuscany is named for the Etruscans — those mysterious prehistoric tribes who inhabited central Italy before the ancient Greeks and Romans arrived. While it’s hard to wrap your head around anything that goes back 3,000 years, I find the Etruscans insistently fascinating. Although very little is known about them, it was the Etruscans who laid the earliest cultural foundation for what we today call “Western Civilization.”

The Etruscans peaked around the sixth century B.C., but were defeated and essentially absorbed over time by the more powerful Romans. (It was an Etruscan soothsayer who whispered to Julius Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March.”) Very few actual artifacts of their culture survive, which — to me — only adds to their allure. But a few fragments of art still do exist, exhibited in tragically under-appreciated museums scattered across Tuscany.

The delightful hill town of Volterra remains particularly close to its Etruscan roots. American expat Annie Adair — who leads excellent daily tours of Volterra for Rick Steves readers — once told me that, at a town meeting about whether to run high-speed Internet cable to the town, a local actually grumbled, “The Etruscans didn’t need it — so why do we?”

Volterra has one of the best Etruscan museums in the world, which displays one of my favorite pieces of art from any place or time: the haunting statue called The Evening Shadow (L’Ombra della Sera).

While more than 2,500 years old, this tall-and-skinny work — by an unknown artist — has an unmistakably modern aesthetic. With his supremely lanky frame, distinctive wavy hairdo, and inscrutable Mona Lisa smirk, this Etruscan lad captures the illusion of a shadow stretching long, late in the day. With his right foot shifted slightly forward, he even hints at the contrapposto pose that would become common in this same region during the Renaissance, two millennia later.

Most of what survives from Etruscan times are funerary urns — each one tenderly carved with a unique scene, offering a peek into Etruscan society. Many are decorated with well-dressed figures who recline as if lounging their way through the afterlife. But this pose offers insight into the ways of the Etruscans: People would lie down to enjoy a banquet, and the figures depicted on these urns are actually inviting the gods to a banquet that they hope will be impressive enough to earn them an invitation to paradise.

While there aren’t any striking Colosseum- or Pantheon-type Etruscan landmarks to see, there are a few places where you can see Etruscan tombs, which were built like huge stone igloos, buried deep into the ground.

Walking through a vast, lonely field of themes tombs recently — at Populonia, overlooking Tuscany’s west coast — I could feel the Etruscans reaching out, through eons of history, leaving their mark on Italian culture to in the present day.

Heading to Tuscany? I share a dozen of my favorite Tuscan experiences here.

Our new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour — which begins in 2020 — incorporates many vivid experiences in Italy’s heartland…including learning about those mysterious Etruscans.

Or, to do it on your own, you’ll find all of the details you need in our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.

A Tuscan Island Getaway on Elba: Napoleonic Villas, Salty Fishing Harbors, and Terrifying Gondolas

Pebbly beaches, boat-speckled harbors, and seafood feasts…in Tuscany?

Our just-announced Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour includes an island getaway on Elba. This is great news… not only because it’s a dynamite stop on a dynamite tour. But also because, selfishly, it gave me an excuse to finally visit Elba. I hopped a ferry earlier this summer to research a brand-new chapter on Elba for the upcoming 18th edition of our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook. And I loved it.

Most people come to Tuscany for great art, rolling farmland, picturesque hill towns, and hearty meat dishes. But Elba — an easy one-hour ferry ride from the mainland — is the perfect Tuscan counterpoint…a delightful seaside break. Elba is synonymous with Napoleon, who was exiled here for 10 months after he attempted — and failed — to conquer all of Europe. But there’s much more to this island than its brief Napoleonic interlude.

Elba’s main town, Portoferraio, fans out from its charming, colorful, historic harbor, which bobs with a mix of luxury yachts and humble fishing boats. I’m lucky to score a room at Porto Sole B&B, overlooking this salty scene. My big windows are perfectly positioned at the corner of the harbor. As if conducting a Monet-type light experiment, I become obsessed with snapping photos from my balcony at different times of day, tracking the slow-motion flux of light and clouds and water texture.

Walking along the breezy harborfront promenade in the late afternoon, I pause to watch fishermen mending nets and preparing their rough vessels for the next day’s trip.

Portoferraio is shaped like an amphitheater, with the harbor as the stage. Setting out to explore, I hike steeply up stone staircases to the mighty, Medici-built fortresses that ring the harbor on three sides.

Catching my breath at the top of countless uneven steps, my eyes are drawn to a stately building nearby: a fine little Baroque-era theater built just for Napoleon during his short stay there. The proud attendant encourages me to step into the serene interior, which has an air of historical class and sophistication that feels a world apart from the gritty harbor below.

I follow my phone’s GPS on a quest to find Napoleon’s onetime residence, the Palazzina dei Mulini, just a few minutes’ walk away. I wind up walking right past it three times, assuming it can’t possibly be the boxy, drab building shown on the map. Finally, I sleuth my way around the left side of that house and find the ticket office, where the ticket-seller seems as listless and unenthused as the villa’s interior.

The recently defeated would-be Emperor of Europe arrived on Elba in May of 1814. As if to extend the flimsiest of lifelines to his sense of dignity, the European powers who negotiated his abdication decreed that he would be the ruler of this tiny Mediterranean island. Napoleon got off on a very good foot indeed when he greeted his new subjects by saying, “I will be a good father to you; you try to be good children to me.”

Walking through the rooms of Napoleon’s residence — which were feebly redecorated to give the little tyrant a fleeting taste of his once-opulent lifestyle — it’s  impossible not to feel the poignancy of a man who believed he was on the verge of ruling the world, suddenly humbled, defeated, and relegated to being the two-bit ruler of a no-name island. (I fight back deep Schadenfreude as I imagine Donald Trump leaving the White House, bankrupting his real estate empire, and moving into a Motel 6.) In one room, a petulant bust of Napoleon sneers at me, as if to say, “Watch the carpet!”

Stepping out onto the villa’s back terrace, I walk through the overgrown garden and peer over a stone wall to see waves crashing at the base of the cliffs far below me — with mainland Italy hovering faintly on the horizon, like a mirage. Again my imagination takes flight, picturing a humbled Napoleon doing furious laps in this little garden…seething, strategizing, and fantasizing about his sure-to-be-triumphant return at a place called Waterloo.

Hiking back down into town, I think about how bizarre it must have been for those loosey-goosey islanders to suddenly find themselves subjects of the most Type-A individual in European history. Napoleon arrived on Elba with an entourage of military leaders and diplomats, thousands of books, and 70 horses. And in his 10 short months ruling Elba, he pushed through infrastructure improvements, implemented education and legal reform, and exploited Elba’s lucrative mines to grow his personal wealth. Like having a houseguest who takes it upon himself to rearrange your cupboards and alphabetize your bookshelves, the people of Elba were probably relieved when he escaped the island for one last military campaign.

Back at sea level, I pull up a tipsy chair at a rustic table for dinner at the harborfront Osteria Libertaria  — gazing out at the very boats that, hours before, delivered the fish to my plate. Feeling adventurous (and needing a break from my steady Tuscan diet of hearty pastas and heavy meat), I order the carpaccio di ricciola marinata (yellowtail carpaccio drizzled with olive oil) and the linguine con acciughe e finocchietto (pasta with anchovies and wild fennel). Feeling the wispy anchovy bones getting stuck in my teeth, I’m satisfied — just this once — getting a break from pappardelle alla bolognese.

Beyond Portoferraio, Elba is a joy to explore by car. While quite small (just 18 miles long by about 11 miles wide), Elba has a dramatic landscape. Towering, stony mountains reach up to puffy clouds, and driving what looks like “a short distance” on the map takes much longer than expected — thanks to serpentine roads that twist up and over the many hills and mountains, and along the undulating coastline.

Following those curving roads, I make my way to the charming seafront town of Marciana Marina, which feels mellow and welcoming, with a tidy cobbled square and a beachfront promenade. (Visiting in May, I’m warned that July and August are anything but “mellow” — in fact, I’m repeatedly told it’s best to stay away during those peak-of-peak months. But May, early June, late September, and October are divine.)

Italian beaches don’t often appeal to me. They tend to be crowded, rocky, and greedy (charging a high price for chair and umbrella rentals). For Americans accustomed to Hawaiian or Caribbean beaches, Italian ones are pretty disheartening. As if too put too fine a point on the shortcomings of Italian beaches, the one in Portoferraio is called Le Ghiaie — literally, “The Gravel.” But Marcina Marina’s pebbly, crystal-clear shoreline makes me wish I had time for a dip.

From the seafront, I follow a winding road up, up, up the mountain to the village of Marciana, where I’ve heard that a gondola can take me up to the summit of Monte Capanne. Leaving my car, I follow a gurgling mountain stream up to the ticket desk. My jaw drops when I look up to see that the “gondola” consists of flimsy yellow metal cages, open to the air, suspended from above.

Gulping hard, I step inside my cage. The gate slams weakly shut behind me, and I begin my ascent. For 20 excruciating minutes, I feel like a terrified parakeet going for the ride of my life as I trundle sloooowly up the side of the mountain. The terrain 30 feet below me gradually transforms from alpine forest to naked, serrated rocks. I grasp the bars of the cage so hard my hands start to hurt, and each little bump or jostle tests my faith in Italian engineering. At one point, gripped by abject terror, I think I even record an “in case something goes wrong, tell my wife I love her” voice memo on my iPhone.

Exiting the gondola at the top — after kissing the ground for several minutes — I hike steeply up a rocky, uneven path to the highest point on the entire island, 3,300 feet above sea level. From here, jagged mountain spines — like the backs of giant dinosaurs — spin off in every direction. At my feet are the hill town of Marciana and its port of Marciana Marina, in the distance is Portoferraio, and Corsica looms to the west. On my way down to the gondola, I tiptoe (c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y) to the edge of a deserted helipad, where I contemplate, as if for the first time, the meaning of “vertigo.”

On my way back toward Portoferraio, I stop at Napoleon’s other Elba residence — his country home, Villa San Martino. This one is, if anything, even more depressing than his in-town digs. The shabby interior (halfheartedly dressed up with C-minus frescoes) seems designed to make it clear that he was being punished. And the elaborate but empty Neoclassical-style hall that was built next door — with colonnades, ornate ceilings, and geometric designs on the floors — feels somber, stately, almost tomb-like.

Later that day, I go for an evening stroll in the seafront town of Porto Azzurro (a short drive from Portoferraio). Classy without feeling objectionably ritzy, this pleasant village — scenically set under jagged cliffs, its harbor sheltering sailboats and fancy yachts — feels like a poor man’s Portofino. On Porto Azzurro’s elegant main square, I lick gelato on a bench under a genteel trellis. Low in the sky, the sun shines on the piazza like a spotlight — illuminating a vivid tableau of island Tuscany. Kids are playing soccer, their grandparents are gossiping on the benches, and cops are taking a break from walking their beat to chat with neighbors.

Sitting there on that square, feeling a world away from Michelangelo’s David or the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the turrets of San Gimignano, I am very happy I decided to take a chance on island Tuscany. If — and I’m not saying this is likely to happen, but if — all of the Botticellis and Brunellos and giant rare slabs of Chianina beef start getting a bit old… well, then, Elba is the perfect seaside counterpoint to your Tuscan vacation.

Italophiles, stay tuned! More Tuscan tips are coming in the next few days.

The Elba chapter I was researching will be included in the upcoming 18th edition of our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook — available in fall of 2019.

Elba is also a stop on our brand-new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour. This is a fantastic itinerary that highlights both Tuscany’s big, famous stops and some off-the-beaten-path gems…including a seaside break in Elba.