Q&A with a Tuscan Tour Guide
I met Michela Ricciarelli in 2007 when I was planning a wedding outside of Lucca for some friends of mine. She helped me find a caterer, suggested excursions for some of the guests, and assisted with dozens of other little details. Since I take small groups to Tuscany from time to time, I knew I needed to keep Michela in my Contacts list for future trips. Little did I know at the time that she would become a much-appreciated fixture in helping me plan outings and tours for ALL my future trips!
A native Tuscan, Michela knows so much about the area and is always coming up with new and interesting ideas for what to see and experience. With her as our guide, my groups have been to a tour and lunch at an organic vineyard and were treated to a coffee/chocolate/gelato tour of Florence. She has very good English, boundless energy, an outgoing and generous personality, and a million insights and stories about her beloved Tuscany that she loves to share with her fortunate clients. I’ve included her contact info at the end of this post.
Q. How long have you been a professional tour guide?
A. In 2004, I began leading groups on tasting tours around northern Tuscany. Using my website and then through social media and word-of-mouth, I kept getting more clients and very much enjoyed the work. In 2017, I passed the exam to become a Certified Tour Guide.
Q. When you say “groups,” how many people are we talking about in general?
A. Usually I have small groups, around 8 to 10 people. But I have also taken individuals as well as larger groups up to 25 people.
Q. Which cities or areas do you specialize in?
A. I specialize in Florence and Pistoia, my hometown, but I am doing also tours through Chianti for wine tastings and walking tours of Lucca. I also love to get ideas from my clients about what they would like to do, then put together a special tour just for them.
Q. What are some of the unique “experiences” you can offer people?
A. As I have done for your groups, the organic vineyards are a fun day, but I have also arranged visits to small producers of sheep’s cheese and ricotta. I get requests for shopping tours, so I take people to the outlet malls around Florence or on a unique shopping trip to various city centers. With a local like me, guests get the full immersion into my world. They never, never have to feel like a foreigner!
Q. What are some of the most popular sights in Florence? Things everyone wants to see.
A. The most popular sights in Florence are the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedralsquare (the Duomo) which is the religious center of the city. Then also the political center — Piazza della Signoria — and of course the beautiful Medici palaces. The main museums like the Accademia (home of the David statue) and the Uffizi Gallery are on the list. And I always include a stop in an old cafe I know about for a yummy cappuccino with thick foam. There, it’s easy to breathe in the aristocratic atmosphere of historic Firenze.
Q. Can you tell us three things people SHOULD see in Florence (or Tuscany) but maybe don’t know about?
A. Three things you must see in Florence are: La Officina del Profumo di Santa Maria Novella. This is where they still produce perfumes, soaps, lotions and things from recipes originated for Catherine de Medici and other royals. It is in a prestigious location and offers excellent products, great for gifts and souvenirs. Another is Il Giardino delle Rose, the Garden of Roses. It is high on a hill and provides a special view of the city. Then you should find a nice cafe where you can get a real Florentine breakfast — a budino di riso(pastry with rice) with a sfogliatelle alla crema (a creamy cappuccino).
Q. You’re from Pistoia and love to take people there. What are some of the city highlights?
A. I love my birthplace, Pistoia. Just west of Florence, it is an authentic Tuscan town with Roman origins and has many treasures. The cathedral has the third biggest dome of any church in Italy and a silver altar that is a masterpiece in itself. The other churches are beautiful, too, with intricately carved pulpits and historic organs that are still in use today. The old hospital has a glazed ceramic frieze crafted by Giovannidella Robbia. The city’s narrow, medieval streets still are known by their original names and each one has a story to tell as we enjoy the relaxing life of a small town. There is a special sugar-coated confection with a unique shape that was invented in Pistoia in the 14th century. We can visit the small homemade factory where they are made. It’s a very special experience which includes a tasting, of course! And we do not miss out on tasting the panforte of Pistoia made of chocolate and dried fruits.
Q. Christmas is coming up! Any special suggestions you have for Christmas in Tuscany?
A. At Christmastime, it’s nice to visit the churches with their beautiful Nativity scenes. Then grab a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top, bundle up against the cold and then visit all the open Christmas markets in town. The Santa Croce Market in Florence is one of my favorites!
If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany and need a great tour guide for a day or more, drop Michela an email at [email protected].