Art Holiday in Tuscany and Umbria

Are you looking for a holiday in Italy that includes instruction and dabbling in artistic pursuits?

If you’ve read my post from Feb. 6, you will know that I had an amazing photography holiday in France in 2008. So last spring I decided I wanted to go on a similar holiday in Italy.  Again, I looked for a course that was affordable and found a wonderful website … …and knew from looking at Julian Hyzler’s video clip and photographs that it would be the perfect place for me.

I took this one morning when I went for a stroll before breakfast

I phoned Julian for more information and within moments I was excited about heading off  to Tuscany for an experience of a lifetime.  Julian has years of experience teaching art and he is also a very knowledgeable art historian.  He and his wife Amanda moved their family from Britain to Italy and spent over two years following their dream of renovating a rustic old farmhouse into a home away from home for art students from all over the world.  They chose the location with great care and brick by brick and countless hours of toil they reconstructed their villa into a beautiful set of apartments for guests.

front of Julian and Mandy's villa in Chiusi

Julian’s vision…and labour…turned a huge stable area into a fine, well-stocked, studio.  He provided us with paints…watercolours, acrylics, goauche, gooey inks….and all sizes and shapes of brushes…, textured papers and easels, assorted pencils and charcoal, leather bound sketchbooks, and lots and lots of ideas and techniques to try. He encouraged us to branch out and experiment with different media.

Amanda would start us off each morning with a hearty breakfast and strong, aromatic Italian coffee. Julian would give us art exercises that got our creative juices flowing and limbered us up for the hours we would spend behind an easel or camera lens.

The food was delicious, fresh, and plentiful.  Amanda would tease our palates before dinner with gutsy toasts…bruschetta… slathered with olive paste, or cream cheese and baked garlic, or cherry tomatoes and red peppers roasted with balsamic vinegar….every meal was a satisfying adventure. Amanda loves to make soups and pasta dishes and her fennel risotto was one of the best I have ever tasted.

a delicious lunch of beans on toast

Dinners were special as we’d sit around for hours, wine glass in hand, and swap stories of our lives far away from the charming, rural countryside of Tuscany.

one of many dinners in the studio

Although I have experience painting in watercolours, I wanted the focus of my holiday to be on photography. Julian would help me develop assignments and I’d go off happily trying to come up with images that met the criteria.  For example, I chose to try to capture round, oval or other curved shapes on our day in Arezzo….another time I was busy taking pictures of people going about their everyday lives. He taught me how to say “may I take your photograph” in Italian which came in very handy…“posso prendere la vostra fotografia?” Other times I just quietly snapped away from a distance. Three of the guests wanted to paint, create collages or spend time making mono prints on Julian’s big glass table.

at work in Julian's studio

I was truly impressed with Julian’s expertise and passion for all things artistic. He met us where we were at on our artistic journeys…beginners are welcome…and inspired us to stretch our imaginations. He arranged forays into Tuscan hill towns where we had the chance to wander the streets and soak in the atmosphere.  He would take us into churches and museums and explain, in hushed tones, the history of what we were looking at. In Arezzo, he talked us through some of the frescoes from “The Legend of the True Cross” painted by Piero della Francesca in the early Renaissance. One day we went to the Umbrian town of Citta della Pieve, a town built almost exclusively of bricks…my father worked with bricks and I could feel the presence of my Italian ancestors…somehow I felt like I belonged there.

Our last dinner together was in Castiglione del Lago on Lake Tresimeno…an enchanting hilltop village in Umbria with vistas in all directions.

Julian critiquing my work

I have put together a collection of some of photos I took on the course with Julian.  You can see them at Marion’s images from art holiday in Tuscany

This short post cannot do justice to the amazing experience I had with Julian, Amanda, their two daughters Freddie and Isabella, and their friendly dog, Tuffo…I wanted to bring him home.  Art just naturally brings people together and it was great to make friends with Nina and Andrew from Britain, Ingrid from Australia, and Sylvia and Derek from England.

sunset in the Valley of Fireflies

Although I had been to Italy years before, I was fortunate to experience many “firsts”…strolling on cobbled streets between ochre and sienna coloured walls while savouring a creamy gelato with toasty hazelnut bits…watching an evening parade in Castiglione del Lago with marching marjorettes and red-jacketed tuba players…seeing the sun sink…glowing red, orange, and purple…as it went down in the Valley of Fireflies just below the villa.   Imagine seeing fireflies…little flashing lights in the grasses and inky night sky. Julian captured one in his hands and let us take a peek before releasing it….this was Tuscan magic.

Check out Julian’s website at and while you’re there be sure to read Mandy’s blog.

Julian’s courses fill up quickly so don’t delay if you have a yearning to go there.  Non-participating partners are welcome to enjoy the outings and meals…and, of course, the friendly ambience.

All photos copyright © Marion McCristall

One thought on “Art Holiday in Tuscany and Umbria

  1. Thank you for this post. We are going to attend the course beginning June 12. and cannot wait. It certainly sounds as though your experiences met all expectation. Thanks for sharing. Your photos are beautiful.

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