Scenic Drive Through Tuscany
A bit unexpected, I decided to go to Tuscany for a few days, a once-in-a-lifetime must-see area in central Italy, known for its rich history, culture and cuisine. Tuscany has so many diverse experiences to offer, and you once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave again. It’s a sunny but cold morning when I arrive in Galileo Galilei Airport in Pisa. Later that day I will be meeting up with Tasya, a tremendously talented photographer, and she will be guiding me through the Italian countryside, and learning me some secrets about manual photography. Tasya is a true globetrotter: she was born in Siberia, grew up in Chicago, and is currently residing partly in Ibiza and partly in Tulum, Mexico. For more beautiful photography, besides the in this article inserted images, check out her website tasyamenaker.com.
The road trip starts just outside the airport, where we pick up our car. The best way to get around in Tuscany is probably by car, and it is in fact the ideal setting for scenic drives! Driving through Tuscany is a sight in itself, and is the perfect solution to really experience the atmosphere of this unique land. To really be in the right atmosphere, we’ll be driving a recent Fiat 500, a typical Italian car. Tuscany is crossed by roads built during the Roman times and connecting the most important areas. Some of the roads meander through the rolling landscape like a river, and during this autumn period, the colors are magnificent, varying from red and yellow, to brown and even some touches of gold. We decide to skip Pisa for now, and make our way to the city of Livorno.
Livorno is a port city next to the Ligurian Sea, on the western edge of Tuscany, Italy. It is the third largest port on the west coast of the country, and the capital of the province of the same name. The industrial atmosphere is well visible as we drive through it. We make our way to the center, to do some shopping. Given the hasty decision, I came here without any luggage. Livorno is not actually a pretty city with lots of sightseeing, but being one of the bigger cities in the area, it does offer the opportunity for shopping.
After having found what I need, we wander a little around. The sun came out, and the weather is nice and pleasant. It feels great to feel the rays of sun warming up my skin, since in my country the sun wasn’t showing itself since several weeks anymore at this time of year. After a quick bite and a coffee, we decide to hit the road again. Livorno has some museums, and some other interesting building, but does not have the charm and the attractiveness we are looking for. Tasya arranges a stay for the night, and we find ourselves heading for San Gimignano, a medieval, walled, town in the province of Siena. The place attracts many tourists, especially because of this special medieval architecture, and is known for its 14 towers that dominate the silhouette of the city.
After having parked our Fiat, we hit the city. It’s after the touristic season, so the city is calm and quiet. Desolated really. Combined with the autumn, and this 14th century architecture, it feels like being in a fairy tale.
Since Tuscany is famous for its exquisite food, and because the sun is slowly setting down, we order some meat and some cheese, along with a glass of wine and a beautiful view. It’s mostly locals at this time, and the true spirit if Tuscany really shows.
Back in the days, when San Gimignano was built, every wealthy family in the area built a tower in order to show its economical power. There were 72 in total and they all had different functions depending on the floor: workshops at ground level, bedrooms on the first floor and the kitchens on the top floor. Though today only 14 towers still stand, you can admire the unique architecture mixing different styles and influences from neighboring towns. The sun has not completely disappeared beyond the horizon, and we figure that climbing the highest tower will bring us the last breathtaking view of the day. From the top of the tower, the view is amazing, and slowly the sun sets…
At night we are completely alone in the old medieval city. There are some fine restaurants in the center, very cosy and all, but since it is outside the touristic season, we have to look for them. The food is marvellous, and especially the wild pork, and the local specialty truffles are amazing. Don’t stop exploring around, ythis is UNESCO World Heritage Site after all. And don’t forget to try the local wines. The red wines go well with the meat, but also try the local white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
One of the most visited destinations in Tuscany, is undoubtedly Siena. As we continue our road trip, we arrive in this slightly bigger town. It is home to the incredible Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta, or simply “Duomo di Siena, decorated with white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, and displaying frescoes by Renaissance artists like Donatello and Michelangelo. The Baptistery is built as an extension to the Cathedral. Both are really impressive, and very well maintained. Because the cathedral is so impressing, we decide to take a guided tour, bringing us all the way to the top of the cathedral, with some amazing views. The interior has some amazing detailing, and the nearby museum displays some of the most valuable treasures. Again the city is very quiet, and it’s perfect for us to see and experience everything and enjoying to the fullest. I would advise everyone to see this region outside the touristic summer season.
Duomo di Siena
The Siena Cathedral or Duomo di Siena is a medieval church, dedicated from its earliest days as a Roman Catholic Marian church, and now dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. It was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross, and the dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by famous sculptor Bernini. The black and white layers are the symbolic colors of Siena, etiologically linked to black and white horses of the legendary city’s founders, Senius and Aschius. They were brothers, sons of Remus, and therefore Romulus was their uncle? Throughout the city you will see the well known mother wolf and it’s two infants, just as you can see so many of them in the capital of Italy, Rome.
The façade of the cathedral is one of the most fascinating in all of Italy and certainly one of the most impressive! Each of the cardinal points (west, east, north, and south) have their own distinct work, but by far the most impressive of these is the west façadethat is also the main entry.
If you are interested in this kind of art and/or architecture, do take the guided tour. It seems a bit touristic, but it brings you to some backstage places that you would otherwise not be able to enter. The views are pretty amazing, and below the attic is a small “museum” where you can see how the construction and the sculpturing took place in the 13th century.
Piazza del Campo
The main square, Piazza del Campo, is where the infamous Palio di Siena takes place. Since 1644, a horse race is held biannually (on July 2nd and August 16th) to nominate the winner among 10 competitors – namely 10 out of the 17 city districts. Each rider is dressed in a colorful garb that represents the banners of his district. The entire city comes together for a day of celebration and cheering. End the day with great views of the city from the Mangia Tower. Foodie tips For a filling meal, go for the Fiorentina steak at Osteria Da Divo just a stone’s throw away from Piazza del Campo. For a lighter dish, choose an aperitivo at Toscana Golosa located in city center, but away from the crowds. Pair your meal with Bianco Vergine della Valdichiana.
Abbey of San Galgano
Perfect day trip from Siena The abbey of San Galgano is located 35 kilometers south of Siena and is perfectly accessible by car from this city. You only have to drive for about 50 minutes and it is absolutely worth it. Not in the least because of a sword that can be found in a stone. How is that? The knight San Galgano placed his sword as a symbol of peace in a stone and it can still be seen today. Just like the abbey itself, consisting of a monastery with a huge church without a roof. The hill Montesiepi is also part of this attraction. Are you in Tuscany, then a visit to the abbey of San Galgano should not be missed! First gothic church The abbey was built around 1218 by monks who always built their monasteries near a river, in this case the river Merse.
You can start your roundabout with a walking tour on the beautiful road with cypress trees towards the monastery. Once you arrive at the abbey you can be amazed by the church, which was the first Gothic church to be built in Tuscany. How special is it to see a church without a roof? You will be amazed by the beauty and mysticism of the old Italian abbey, which, although tarnished by the test of time, is a beautiful eye-catcher in the lush Tuscan landscape. When you walk around, you feel like you are in a bygone era and you will notice that the abbey has a history.
A history about which you naturally want to know everything. Visit the chapel After you have visited the abbey, you can follow the walking path towards the hill Montesiepi. It is a chapel built after the death of knight San Galgano in 1181. In the chapel you can find a fresco by the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti from Siena. In the middle of the chapel you will find the stone with the well-known sword in it. After your visit to the chapel you can choose to take a break and stop at the wine bar, where you can also get coffee, cake, snacks and other drinks. Children can play on the small playground, while you enjoy the beautiful view of the abbey of San Galgano. A real gem in the middle of Tuscany!
chapelle San Galgano de Montesiepi
The journey starts in Florence, center of the Italian Renaissance and home to some of the best cuisine in the country. Set at least two days aside here. Florence is Tuscany’s beating heart: don’t miss the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore and its innovative dome designed by Brunelleschi to withstand lightning, earthquakes and the passage of time. Only a few steps away, you’ll find one of Italy’s most beautiful bell tower, Giotto’s Campanile. It belongs to the same complex of buildings, so you’ll get a package of marvelous sights all-in-one. Just a five-minute walk and you’ve reached the famous Piazza della Signoria, the L-shaped square hosting Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall dating back to the 14th century, and is surrounded by a wealth of magnificent buildings, like the Loggia della Signoria, Tribunale della Mercanzia, and the Uffizi Gallery – the latter exhibiting masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance (Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, just to name a few).
At this point, head towards Ponte Vecchio for a romantic walk, if you can find your way among the crowds of tourists. Foodie tips Fiorentina steak? A Lampredotto sandwich? Or maybe in the mood for a Ribollita soup? Make sure to taste as much as you can, but take note: Enoteca Pinchiorri is the place to go if you want to play it safe! The chef, Annie Féolde, is the first woman to be awarded three Michelin stars in the Italian restaurant scene. Located in a 16th century palace, this restaurant houses an expansive wine cellar of over 70,000 bottles! On a budget? There are plenty cheaper options that will still give you the opportunity to taste high-quality local food. After all, Lampredotto is typically a street food. Aurelio in Bernardo Tanucci Square is considered the ‘King of Lampredotto’. No matter where you choose to eat, always accompany the food with a glass of Chianti wine.
Piazza della Signoria
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore