Florence

Highlights of a week in northern Tuscany

A week in Tuscany is not nearly enough time to gain anything but a preliminary knowledge of the region, even if just focusing on its northern part. However, it’s enough to feel the pull it has on the hearts of visitors and understand why residents are so proud of their home. It was also enough time for us to experience some wonderful activities that we can recommend for your own visits. In future posts, Mr. TWS and I will have more to share about the many reasons we loved Tuscany, but here are a few highlights of our Tuscan experience.

 

View of Val di Pesa from La Novellina in Tuscany

View of Val di Pesa from La Novellina in Tuscany

 

Seeing the famous sights

Florence and Pisa are well-known tourist-attraction venues, so be prepared for crowds of tourists but don’t miss their many must-see sights.

In Pisa, we took the climb to the top of the leaning tower which we thought was worth it for the views of the rooftops of the city and the surrounding area. Mr. TWS thought the tower leaned more than he’d expected, and I agree. I felt a little woozy because of the tower’s unevenness of the floor as we first entered the tower and started climbing. The tower itself actually seemed more beautiful to me than I’d seen in pictures. The subtle shades of the marble facade really stood out more than in photos. While waiting for your turn to tour the tower, have lunch or a coffee on one of the touristy, but still nice adjacent streets.

Famous attractions: Pisa — Leaning Tower of Pisa; Florence — Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo di Firenze

Famous attractions: Pisa — Leaning Tower of Pisa; Florence — Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo di Firenze

It’s no wonder that Florence is a top city for visitors to Italy. With its history, architecture, bridges, cathedrals, piazzas and museums, it’s an amazing place to visit. Even on this rainy day, for us Florence shined as a Renaissance treasure. While walking along both sides of the Arno River and from the bridges, we enjoyed views of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). The majestic Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral) mesmerizes with its size and beauty. We were focused on getting a good introduction to Florence during a short day trip so only admired its exterior, but we’ve put a longer tour of Florence and key sights on our must-do list for our next time in Tuscany.

Being surprised

Part of the fun of visiting places for the first time is learning about and doing things that are unexpected. These were just a few things that surprised us during our week in northern Tuscany.

The coastside city of Viareggio, quarries of the Apuan Alps, bicycling on the walls of Lucca, art in Pietrasanta, Santa Novella Pharmacy in Florence

The coastside city of Viareggio, quarries of the Apuan Alps, bicycling on the walls of Lucca, art in Pietrasanta, Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy in Florence

 

  • Tuscany is not just about vineyards, rolling hills, and quaint villages. The beach towns of Viareggio and Forte Dei Marmi attract summer vacationers to their resorts and villas along the Versilia coast of the Mediterranean.
  • I didn’t expect to see marble quarries on the hillsides of the Apuane Alps. These quarries extract the abundant high-quality marble there that has been used for centuries in great buildings and for creating the timeless art of sculptors such as Michelangelo.
  • Pietrasanta is a surprising artisic gem with its public art installations, galleries, and marble-carving studios. It is also home to master mosaic artist Piero Giannoni, whose creations are seen around the world.
  • In Florence, we admired the decor, artifacts, and product displays, while sampling fragrances at Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy which is said to be the oldest still-operating pharmacy in the world. Formulas of the monks who originally established the pharmacy in the 13th century are still being used. Imagine that!
  • I like bicycling (primarily on flat surfaces) and got a special treat riding bikes along the top of the ancient city walls of Lucca, an area designated for pedestrians and bicycles only. Not only did it provide an opportunity for fresh air and exercise, but it was great for getting an overhead view of the city while watching locals stroll the tree-lined path.

 

Walking and wandering

Each of the cities and towns, large and small, that we visited in northern Tuscany had its own charm and unique appeal, but all were a pleasure to explore on foot, even when getting a bit off track as we did one evening in Lucca. Our footsteps took us all around Florence, Certaldo Alto, San Gimignano, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Pietrasanta, and Lucca. On many occasions, we were aided by wonderful local guides who explained the importance, history, or uniqueness of the sights and introduced us to local shop owners.

Strolling the streets of Lucca, Certaldo Alto and Pietrasanta

Strolling the streets of Lucca, Certaldo Alto and Pietrasanta

Wining and dining

For me, quintessential Tuscan dining experiences are those enjoyed al fresco with views of serene countryside or bustling piazzas. Besides finding great traditional cuisine in the restaurants of Tuscany, we indulged in tasting the local fare at the villas where we stayed or visited, cheese makers, wineries, olive mills, specialty wine and food shops, and fresh markets. And let’s not forget the gelaterias!

Tasty specialties of Tuscany – cheese (Fattoria Corzano e Paterno), wine (Pasolini dell’Onda), ham (Enoteca e Convivio), gelato (Pappa Grappa),  and fresh produce (Frantoio Sociale)

Tasty specialties of Tuscany – cheese (Fattoria Corzano e Paterno), wine (Pasolini dall’Onda), ham (Enoteca e Convivio), gelato (Pappa Grappa), and fresh produce (Frantoio Sociale)

Dotting the hillsides and valleys of Chianti and other areas of Tuscany are vast expanses of olive groves and vineyards, many of which are small, family-owned operations that welcome visitors for tastings and tours. The large Antinori wine estate is visually impressive with its modern architecture in a pastoral setting in Bargino that offers public tours and tastings as well.

Driving

On our trip, we especially enjoyed our drives through the picturesque countryside and small villages. There were beautiful vistas at every turn and also some serendipitous finds. Renting a car as we did will give you spontaneity and flexibility in seeing Tuscany’s beauty. Driving a  Ferrari in Tuscany seems very popular (and we saw quite a few), but that didn’t fit our budget. Whatever you drive, make it a small car for maneuvering the narrow roads and tight parking spots in towns and villages. As much fun as it is to drive in the countryside, avoid taking the car into the city centers by using parking lots on the outskirts or traveling by train.

Our rental car, some of the beautiful scenery, and a not uncommon Ferrari

Our rental car, some of the beautiful scenery, and a not uncommon Ferrari

Staying in a villa

There are certainly many accommodation options in Tuscany, including hotels and B&Bs, but as we learned, villas offer unique ways to truly immerse in the Tuscan experience. And they can be particularly advantageous for family celebrations, reunions, weddings, and other special gatherings. Each villa that we visited or at which we stayed has its distinct characteristics and amenities appealing to different tastes and needs, accommodating a wide range of group sizes, and offering a great variety of services to make a stay special. During our tour of EsteVillas holiday rentals, we were guests of La Novellina in Fiano and Buonvisi in Lucca, and toured several others in northern Tuscany. We’ll share the details of these with you in future posts

Rolling out the red carpet for guests at Villa Buonvisi in Lucca

Rolling out the red carpet for guests at Villa Buonvisi in Lucca

But beyond all the beautiful vistas, historic towns and cities, and the wonderful food and wine, there were the friendly, helpful and generous people we met throughout our stay.

Have I piqued your interest? Would you like to hear more about our week in northern Tuscany? Do you wonder what it might be like to stay in a Tuscan villa? Stay tuned!

Posted by on june 1 2015
Travelling with Sweeney : A Touch of Tuscany
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Villas around Florence : Novellina, Egle, Borgorosa, Mattei
Villas in Lucca and Versilia Area : Santandrea , Buonvisi, Fattoria, Elisabetta

 

Wines  : Pasolini Dall’Onda     Barberino val d’Elsa (FI) tel  +39 055 8075019
Gelato:   Pappagrappa Capannori Lucca tel +39 0583 909 555
Cheese Producer:  Fattoria Corzano e Paterno San Casciano Firenze tel +39 055 8248 179
Marble Quarries Tour by Serena Giovannoni Estevillas Travel Consultant
Alice Dami villa host, cook and a concierge in Lucca, Tuscany
Susanna Civeli cook and a concierge at la Novellina, Tuscany
Wine Store: Vino e Convivio  Capannori, Lucca  tel+ 39 0583 403573   

 

 

Exploring Florence with kids in tow is a great opportunity to discover things we wouldn’t have noticed in an adults-only traveling party.

Palazzo Vechhio

Palazzo Vechhio

The Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum offers a number of attractions for children of all ages.

One such tour is Life at Court: An itinerary through the rooms – and through centuries – to discover the history of the Palazzo’s many masterpieces.

Today Palazzo Vecchio is a museum but during the sixteenth century it was the residence of Duke Cosimo I de Medici, his wife Eleonora de Toledo and their eleven sons.

At the end of the guided visit you can wear a cape or an overcoat, shoes and hats of the sixteenth century and even enjoy playing with some of the princes’ toys.

Children’s tour at Palazzo Vecchio – Florence by Jane Black

Whilst staying at La Novellina in Chianti with our young children aged 4 and 7, we were highly impressed with the number of fantastic children’s activities available to us in the surrounding area.

One of the highlights was our trip to Palazzo Vecchio in the center of Florence, where the

children were able to dress up in traditional Renaissance costumes.  My daughter loved the dresses and shoes of a true Renaissance lady, whilst my son could not choose which sword he liked best as a knight.

bellapp7

The first room we entered was full of costumes and the kids could pick and choose which ones they liked best. There were also some original and very old costumes (antiques) that they could look at and ask about, but not touch! The children were able to spend plenty of time trying on several different costumes, which was such fun.

After we had finished dressing up, the friendly English-speaking guide then organized a tour around the palazzo for the children, which was very interesting and interactive. They explained what used to happen in each room to the kids and how the people used to behave. They also showed the kids where the wives used to spy on their husbands through little holes in the walls and also where they used to eaves drop on conversations so they thought they had an idea of what was going on around them.

The children learned a lot about history and to this day (12 months later) still talk about the experience. It was not expensive and a wonderful way to spend a few hours in Florence with children. We highly recommend this to families staying around Tuscany.

-Jane Black, Italian Villa Vacations

 

The Palazzo tour was created for adults and families with children from 6 to 10 years of age. 
It’s available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Maximum number of participants: 25

Duration: 75 minutes

Where: Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Price: (2014):

€12,00 (25-65 years)

€10,00 (18-25 and >65 years)

€2,00 (<18 years)

Duration: 70 min.

Schedules: Everyday at 3.00pm; on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30am and 3.00pm

For private individuals
 Tel. +39 055 2768224 – +39 055 2768558

Monday to Saturday 9:30am – 1pm and 2:30pm – 5pm.

Sundays and Bank Holidays 9:30am – 12:30am

info@muse.comune.fi.it

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

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