Written on July 19, 2019
Italy has my heart. As I write this, I am sitting on a bus passing through the Tuscany region overlooking grape vines, olive trees and sunflowers as far as the eye can see. My first trip to Italy, and specifically to this region, was 19 years ago. As I write that, it’s hard to believe I am now old enough to reflect on an experience that happened almost 20 years ago! Wow. I was 18 years old, discovering Italy, and myself, with a group of friends who I still regard as some of the greatest people I have encountered in my life. So many memories have flooded back to my mind as I’ve traveled through this country, this time with my husband celebrating 5 years of marriage.
Today’s trip took us to Siena, San Gimignano (pronounced: Saan-Jim-Ing-Yan-No) and Pisa, with a 5-course lunch at Il Vecchio Maneggio, a vineyard in Chianti. Frank can vouch for the wine…some of the best he’s ever tasted. I can vouch for the gelato, which won the “Best in the World”….twice! It was something out of a movie – eating family style talking about food and wine. Sharing stories and eating homemade pastas, meats and cheeses. Perfecto!
This country with its rich foods; good, hardworking people; and preserved history is hard to beat. Maybe it’s my nostalgia or my Italian roots or maybe it’s my full, happy stomach…but something about it speaks to my soul and helps put things in perspective. I feel happy here.
Here are a few of our favorite images from today’s tour through Tuscany and some of our favorites from our tour through Florence as well. It’s a mix of camera and iPhone shots and more storytelling can be found throughout!
Siena was the first stop on our day-long bus tour through Tuscany. Walking into the main piazza of Siena is like stepping back in time. It’s medieval brick buildings and gothic style architecture literally takes your breath away. Not much has changed since the 14th century. Most well-known for the “Palio”, a twice yearly horse race that takes place in the piazza, its easy to imagine this massive space overtaken by running horses and huge crowds. I loved walking these streets and looking at all the old buildings.
Travel tip: Siena is known for their biscuits. Sounds strange, but just trust me on this one! The “biscuits” are like a soft piece of biscotti. Just try one….actually, don’t just try one (like we did). Get yourself a whole damn bag!
Our next stop was lunch at Il Vecchio Maneggio, a family-owned vineyard known for agro-tourism. In addition to wine, they also grow olives and keep bees for honey. Three generations of this sweet, sweet family cooked a 5-course feast for our entire tour group. We ate family style while overlooking gorgeous, green scenery as far as the eye could see. And here we learned that if you aren’t eating cheese with a little bit of honey on it, you are doing it all wrong!
San Gimignano is literally a little town on a big hill. From Chianti, you can see it in the distance, with its seven large structures towering up above the town’s roofline. Our tour guide told us that it was once a town that tried to one-up each other for who had the biggest tower. Ha! Aside from that, it is also well-known for its gelato. Don’t be fooled by the impostors, it was Gelateria Dondoli that won the “World’s Best Gelato”, two years running! The climb uphill is totally worth the gelato prize at the top!
Best known for the iconic leaning tower, nothing can prepare you for seeing it in person! The tower started leaning in the year 1173 (no, that’s not a typo). With numerous attempts to fix it, most recently it reopened in 2001, after being closed for 11 years. Engineers say it’ll take 300 years for the tower to be upright due to the soft, sinking soil it’s built on. There was a picture I used to look at as a kid, of my father sitting at the top of the tower…waving with his legs dangling over the edge. I remember thinking he must have climbed up the side because it was so crooked. Haha! Walking into the gated tourist area of Pisa, the scene looks like a Hollywood trick. The closer you get, the more you think it’s just going to topple over on you right then and there. Crazy!
Travel tip: walking from visitor parking into the gated area where the leaning tower is located is pretty sketchy. The warnings about the “gypsies” are in full force in that area. Watch your stuff and don’t get sucked in to buying things from the vendors along the way!
Our second day in the Tuscan region was spent touring around Florence. Even having been there before, turning the corner to see the massive Duomo is still incredible. We took in the sights of the city from Piazza Michelangelo, saw the David, walked the Ponte Vecchio and tried our luck with a pig!
And those are the highlights from our time in Tuscany and Florence. For those that may be interested, we would highly recommend the tour of Tuscany. We booked through Viator and it was a one-day sightseeing tour. Our tour guide, Sara, was incredible! It was one of my favorite days of the whole trip!
If you’d like to see more, stick with me for the next 2 blog posts. I’ll be doing one highlighting our time on the Amalfi Coast and one with my favorite sights from Rome and Vatican City.
Fino alla prossima volta! Until next time!