By Drew Ostroski
Remember the television commercial that starred “the most interesting man in the world?” The humorous ad for Dos Equis beer featured a silver-haired, debonair gentleman who was so interesting that his signature won a Pulitzer Prize and he was fluent in all languages, including three that he alone speaks.
Well, to hear Ugo Petrillo tell it, the great Leonardo da Vinci would put that fictional fellow to shame. And Petrillo — a former Philadelphian and a renaissance man in his own right — is eager to share da Vinci’s incredible story with those who want to dig deeper.
Through his Tuscan Treasures Tours, Petrillo is planning a package of trips for next year to honor the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death (May 2, 2019). The travel agency will be soon be releasing details, but the unique tours are sure to please anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the life and times of da Vinci.
Says the ultra-passionate Petrillo: “We are going to bring the time that da Vinci lived alive again.”
Tuscan Treasures Tours is well known for its high-end, original tours of a specific region of Tuscany, Italy called Val d’ Elsa. The Miami-based agency offers seven packages (not including da Vinci), but tours can also be customized to fit a group’s tastes.
Petrillo, born in the province of Florence, came to the United States in 1966, when his engineer father took a job with an oil company in New York. The family then moved to Philadelphia, where Petrillo graduated from Father Judge High School.
He earned a degree in International Studies at the University of Miami and worked for 12 years for the U.S. Intelligence Agency before becoming as a self-employed marketing consultant. Petrillo met Teresa Gail Sosby in Miami in 2014 and the two established Tuscan Treasures Tours, LLC. Sosby is managing director of the company’s American headquarters.
She says Tuscan Treasures Tours’ target market includes people who are already familiar with Italy and seek a deeper connection and understanding of its history.
Sosby notes that the company’s elegant itineraries include stays in four- and five-star hotels, private villas and provide mini-buses and chauffeured limousines for transportation. An art of cooking tour, for example, features star chefs preparing meals with guests.
The tours are open to groups of 12 to 16, all people who are familiar with each other. The mission of Tuscan Treasures is to take the road less traveled. Tours purposely avoid the most known and crowded sites of Florence and introduce people to an undiscovered region of Tuscany — Val d’ Elsa.
“We’re taking them to a place they’ve never been,” Sosby says.
They do this through exploring art, culture, literature, culinary tradition and artisan products in Val d’ Elsa, a strip of land that meanders through the Valley of the Elsa River and winds through Florence, Siena and Pisa. The region has been referred to as the “heart and soul of Tuscany.”
This place of rolling hills, Medieval castles, Romanesque churches and country farmhouses nestled amid sprawling vineyards and olive groves, is where da Vinci achieved some of his most important works, says Petrillo.
To date, Tuscan Treasures Tours packages have included traveling the ancient road of pilgrims and merchants once guarded by the Templars; arts and culture tours of Val d’Elsa dating to the Etruscans, Roman Empire and the Renaissance; a cycling tour and a culinary tour that explores grape and olive harvesting and truffle hunting.
Petrillo likes to point out another difference between his company and others.
“The difference between us and other agencies is we do research,” he says. “We do deep research with scholars and professors. We go in-depth. A tour should be educational. If it’s eight days — every day is different.”
‘2019: Leonardo, The Universal Man’
Leonardo da Vinci has been referred to simply as “genius.” Born in Tuscany in 1452, da Vinci became an acclaimed scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Thus, the title: “The Universal Man.”
Petrillo wants his clients to journey into the countryside of Vinci, near Florence, to meet the young da Vinci and follow him throughout his amazing life.
As a travel brochure describes it: “You will be immersed so deeply in the character of Leonardo that you will know him intimately, not only as a painter, designer … but also as a man — eccentric, mysterious, fascinating. Leonardo will no longer be a famous name, but a genius whom you knew and truly appreciate.”
Petrillo himself has spent hours in libraries and at universities researching da Vinci. He has also picked the brains of some of Europe’s top archaeologists to create tours that are both educational and enjoyable. One such expert is the well-known and respected Marco Valenti of the University of Siena. Some of these experts will also serve as tour guides, lending even more authenticity to the experience.
“We go in-depth,” says Petrillo, who has settled in Italy, but still visits the Philadelphia area. “We don’t just brush through, but give a thorough knowledge of Tuscany.”
A sample itinerary for Day 2 of the da Vinci tour, for example, begins with a drive from Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, where travelers spent their first night, to Anchiana, Vinci — the birthplace of da Vinci. The tour visits the maestro’s birth home and library in an “attempt to discover the coded secrets of ‘the Vitruvian Man,’ da Vinci’s most famous sketch,” according to the brochure.
A short drive along gentle hills and bell towers ends at the intact medieval village of Vinci and Museo Leonardiano, where visitors enjoy a collection of sketches and inventions by da Vinci.
Then the group heads to Villa Medicea di Artimino for pranzo (lunch) and to learn about da Vinci’s famed rivalry with Michelangelo. The day ends back in Florence with dinner and cocktails on the rooftop terrace of a medieval tower, overlooking the beauty of the “City of Gold.”
You can feel the excitement as Petrillo continues to describe what sets his Tuscan Treasures Tours apart: “We establish a personal feeling. We want to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We want people to take something back with them.”
For more information, visit www.TuscanTreasuresTours.US.