A guide to Tuscany
It’s me again, straight from Italy to you! Let’s start our third part of my Tuscany guide :) Today with three of my favourite cities in whole Italy: Florence, Siena and San Gimignano.
From Pisa, where we left off, it is only an 85 km car trip to Florence. You just need to take the highway and in a little over one hour and a half you reach this beautiful UNESCO heritage, which is truly one of a kind! It’s a city full of charm, perfect to experience romantic and magical moments.
Let me tell you a few of the things I like to do in the city, it might give you inspiration for your next visit to Florence.
The historical centre is small and thus I like to wander it by foot. Start at the Piazza del Duomo, the heart of the 1.5-hour walking tour I’m going to give you! From the Piazza del Duomo, head to the Piazza del Signoria, which to me, is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Here you have the chance to get the Davide in front of your lens, even though it is not THE Davide by Michelangelo ;) (That one is in the Galleria dell’Academia and you might have to wait in line to enter the museum and see it.) On the Piazza del Signoria Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus are to the right of the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio. Next on the route is the Cathedral with the incredible Bruneleschi’s Dome, the Baptistery of San Giovanni and it’s Gates of Paradise.
After that it’s time to head to the picturesque Ponte Vecchio, the oldest ponte of the city, which does not at all look like a traditional bridge! It is a stone closed-spandrel arch bridge and has numerous jewellery shops on it. Don’t be afraid to take a selfie, it’s one to put in your travel album and look back to with your grand-children. Having done this walk, you’ll have seen a lot and you’ll be ready to sit down for a drink before the shopping can start ;).
Oh, I forgot to warn you! Don’t panic if you don’t immediately find a parking space! Trust the parking guys, you’ll see roaming around, they will fit your car into the smallest corner.
In Florence, when it comes to shopping, you will have no problems in finding what you are looking for, at any price range! Via Tornabuoni is home to a lot of famous designer boutiques like for example Prada and Gucci. Both of these stores a located in noble palaces and are worth a look even if you’re only window-shopping. For Designer lovers Florence is a dream city! But also, for people with a smaller budget, Florence has A LOT to offer! Just walk around the centre and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’d also suggest making a stop at one of the local restaurants where you should try local wines, peccorino cheese, ham or Tuscan Fettunta. My favourite place for such a culinary moment is definitely Vini e Vecchi Sapori in Via dei Magazzini, right off the Piazza Signoria. Plan ahead though and make a reservation for right when they open at 12.30 as the place is always crowded! The handwritten menu is changing daily which is a guarantor for the freshest food there is. They are known for their famous grilled meat. (P.s they don’t serve Pizza). I can recommend the Fegatini di Pollo (chicken liver) or the Pasta of the day – it is always d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!
Ok I think we can move onto San Gimignano now :) Little St Jimmy is only 57 km from Florence away and the small walled medieval hill town is famous for its fascinating medieval architecture and its 14 remaining towers. (Once upon a time there were 72!!!) Get ready to step back in time in another one of the Tuscany UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
You won’t believe me when I tell you that the reason why I always plan a stop here is to visit Sergio Dondoli, the master of ice cream makers!! His shop is located in Central Piazza della Cisterna which is known all over the world. Over the years and with his growing experience and tendency to experiment, he has created original and unusual flavours. By now his early creations have become famous: Crema di Santa Fina (cream with saffron & pine nuts) or Champelino (pink grapefruit and sparkling wine) for example J If you have the chance to meet Sergio himself, I’m sure you will like him! He’s such a welcoming guy.
It’s up to you how long you want to spend in the small town but I for my part, I’m driving on to Siena which is less than an hour away. I won’t give a full detailed tour with things to do, I’ll simply share the story of my first visit to Siena as I will never forget the first time I arrived in the city.
I arrived and found myself in one of the many streets in the city centre, not really knowing where to go. I followed my intuition and sound as I like to wander cities I’ve never been to without having a map in my hand. So, there I was, wandering the streets when I finally the narrow alleys led me to the Piazza del Campo. The Piazza was so different from what I’d seen so far, it was large, bright and filled with people. I remember the sky being deep blue that day. Somehow it truly was a breath-taking moment just standing there in the middle of the crowd and taking it all in. For me this Piazza is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
But that’s not all… my story continues: crossing the Piazza I walked into a small but long street in which I discovered a very long table (it almost seemed endless). I thought I was walking into an open air wedding as the people around me seemed to celebrate something. However the bride was nowhere to be seen so I asked one of the men what they were celebrating. It was what they call « Palio»! The Palio takes place every year on the 2nd of July and on the 16th of August. It’s a horse race, in which the various Sienese « contrade » (areas in of the city), challenge each other in a passionate competition in the heart of the city, the Campo. I just happened to walk into the winning Contrada where people were celebrating! J It’s very easy to see in which Contrada you are when you walk around Siena, you just have to look at the flags and emblems hanging at the entrance of streets. Each Contrada has its own flag. If you ever have the chance to be in Tuscany around both of these days, make sure you go to Siena and experience this traditional event. I fell in love with Siena on that day and I think you will too J
That’s a wrap guys! I hope you liked the small Tuscany tips I gave you over the last couple of weeks. As I really enjoyed writing these articles I will continue sharing my travel stories with you. Stay tuned to see where I will take you next :)