by Ellie O’Brien – Student at Gonzaga in Florence University

As a student studying abroad in Florence, I knew I could not spend four months here without spending a day in Chianti Classico country. When my mom visited this October, we chose, after many recommendations, to explore Tuscany with a woman named Monika Iris. We are so thankful for our choice as our day in Tuscany was so much more than anything we had imagined! Meet Monika Iris, originally from Germany, she moved to Italy years ago and after a day together, if you had told me she was Italian, I would’ve believed you. Today, she is known for her tours through Tuscany. My mom and I wanted a whole day in Tuscany. When we mentioned that wish in an email, Monika promptly replied with an opportunity for a special private lunch on an olive estate. How could we refuse? Our tour began at noon on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon. Monika’s friend, Eleanora, picked us up in Florence and took us to her olive farm and home in Impruneta. We were in heaven. My mom remarked many times that she would drink olive oil, if it were socially acceptable. Therefore we were overjoyed when Eleanora drenched our bread in her farm’s oil and salt. I felt as though they were letting us in on a little bit of real Italian life. My favorite part about our day was that we had the freedom to choose. When we got in the car, Monika asked us, “do you want more wine or more sights?” When she noticed the sun was setting, we changed our route in order to see the sunset over the vineyards of Tuscany. Our day ended with a final wine tasting with Fernando, yet another of Monika’s friends. We sat inside his home and tried five years of his Chianti Classico’s while I struggled to converse with him in my elementary Italian. Before writing this article, I contacted Monika to make sure it would be okay. She told us on our drive that she does not advertize and her clients find her through word of mouth. Again, I was struck by her authenticity. I know I saw some of the most beautiful countryside in Italy with the best guide. Customized does not begin to describe how unique and special our day was. Meeting Eleanora and Fernando, while listening to Monika’s stories of life in Tuscany are things that I will never forget of my time in Florence.