Local towns and historical cities to visit plus some popular daily itineraries. There are dozens of little off the tourist track villages to explore, perhaps a day at the beach, wine tasting in Chianti or how to visit Cinque Terra in one day if you are on a time limit. Siena and San Gimignano are lovely drives across a breathtaking landscape (Siena 1 hour, San Gimignano 40 mins). Lucca is a 1 hour drive and the beautiful beaches of the Italian coastline only 1 hour.
FLORENCE 30Km m Florence is a only a 30 min drive but we recommend guests leave their car at Empoli station and get the train instead to avoid parking stress in the busy and chaotic city centre of Florence.
The train ride goes along the river Arno and there are some beautiful views of little hilltop towns. The train takes 30 mins and goes right into Florence centre where it is only a ten minute walk to the Duomo, Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. .The train costs 8 EURO return and trains are very frequent from Empoli station. (www.trenitalia.com) A living monument to the Renaissance, Florence is the crown jewel of Tuscany. Revered for it’s Cathedral (duomo), with its stupendous dome by Brunelleschi and Michelangelo’s “David at the “Galleria dell’ Accademia to name but a few masterpieces.
Michelangelo’s David, sculpted from 1500 to 1504, is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture and certainly holds the title of the most recognizable statue in the history of art. The 5.17 meter (17 ft) statue carved from one single piece of marble portrays the Biblical King David at the moment that he decides to do battle with Goliath. It is advisable to book tickets to see the statue of Michelangelo’s David housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia or the Renaissance paintings in the Uffizi Gallery because during the summer months the queues are very long and you can sometimes wait more than three hours to get in.You can reserve tickets by ringing 0039 055 294 883 (Mon–Fri 8:30–18:30, Sat 8:30–12:30, closed Sun). The line is often busy but if you try during lunchtime (1-3) you are more likely to get through.Have a pen ready because they give you a booking number which you need to get in. You pay at the entrance. You can also book directly online for the Uffizii Gallery and Galleria dell’Accademia. The Uffizzi and the Accademia are open from 8.15 until 6.30. Both galleries closed Mondays.
Many guests have enjoyed the ‘jump on jump off’ double decker bus’s that go around Florence and up to Fiesole the Etrustcan hill town just a few kilometres outside Florence www.firenze.city-sightseeing.it Each tour has a multi-lingual commentary in most languages.Adults €20 children €10.
The Vinci museum displays innumerable working examples of his inventions including devices for movement through air, water, and on land, as well as weapons and working machines. Leonardo’s ancient dreams of the future that today populate our everyday life.
The collection brings us the parachute, floats for walking on water, and … the bicycle.
LUCCA 50 Km
Very high walls enclose this beautiful unspoilt city that are twelve metres above the city level. The ancient walls have been transformed into a walkway making the level the same height as the roofs of the houses. This view point allows a unique way to admire this marvellous city which is full of palazzi, towers and almost countless churches Lucca also boasts an amphitheatre, where gladiatorial shows and games were traditionally held in the second half ofthe Ist century A.D
Also in Lucca is “The Giacomo Puccini Museum” where Italy’s famous composer of La Bohème and Madama Butterfly was born . He lived on Torre del Lago which lies between the Lake of Massaciuccoli and the Tyrrhenian Sea, 4 kilometres from the magnificent beaches of Viareggio on the Tuscan Riviera.
Some guests have enjoyed a morning sightseeing in Lucca and then a relaxing afternoon on the beach of a seaside town in the province of Lucca called Viareggio
Viareggio was effectively created in the mid-16th century, when it became the only coastal base of the Republic of Lucca. It is now one of the most famous and traditional seaside resorts in Tuscany with wide, endless beaches excellent cuisine and a famous boat yard. Viareggio is one of the worlds major luxury yacht builders and moored in this elite boat yard you can see unique sailing boats and yachts belonging to the Italian elite. Or you could take time off from sightseeing and hire a sun lounger and umbrella for approx 18 Euro and soak up the Mediterranean sun for the day. Many guests have hired bikes in Viareggio and cycled a special cycling track parallel to a promenade of colourful bathing establishments, small shops and cafés. This 10 km track passes through Lido Di Camaiore a lovely palm tree lined sandy beach where numerous villas are set amidst delightful gardens. Ask Riccardo for the address of a friendly café right on the promenade where you can sit in a haven of taste and well-being with a pitcher of cold white wine and a delicious ‘Tuna fish and Rugola salad’ and schiacciata bread for 10 Euro.
The end came when the River Arno started to change it’s course, preventing large ships from reaching the city’s port . During the15th century the port silted up completely and Pisa was cut off from the sea. Thanks to Duke Cosimo II, Pisan scientist Galileo was saved from execution for his heretical view that the Earth revolved around the sun. The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa on February 15, 1564. and is regarded as the “father of modern science”. For example, the famous Leaning Tower, built in an impressive medieval style and leans out 4 metres from it’s southern base , was used by Galileo to disprove Aristotle’s theory of falling objects. If you want to book tickets to go up the ‘Leaning Tower’ click here It costs 15 Euro to go up the tower
SAN GIMIGNANO 38 Km There are few places that evoke the atmosphere of medieval Tuscany more powerfully than San Gimignano built on a hill 334m high dominating the Elsa Valley and famous for its towers.
Only thirteen of the original seventy five have survived which represented wealth during medieval times and the higher the tower the more affluent your family. A lovely drive across a breath taking landscape. We recommend you visit the Duomo a remarkable monument of Romanesque architecture and see the newly restored frescos by Taddeo di Bartolo’s showing The Last Judgement. (for 1 Euro you can hire a set of headphones that explain in most languages the art in the church) Along the main street there are lovely little shops selling ceramics, leather and local food.
SIENA 62 Km
Siena, Florence’s biggest enemy in medieval times, is only a 40 minute drive from San Gimignano.
You will find the atmosphere in Siena easy going and pleasantly relaxed compared to Florence with it’s trafficcongested streets . You will be able to appreciate much more the beautiful Gothic architecture strolling along mainly pedestrianized stone streets all built around the Piazza del Campo, where the world famous horse race the “Palio” is run twice every year. The Palio is a traditional horse race and has been a real emotional ritual for the inhabitants of the town for hundreds of years some of whom literally live for the crucial dates in July and August The race is preceded by a spectacular pageant, which includes Alfieri, (flag-wavers), in medieval costumes. Siena’s duomo is already considered one of Italy’s greatest cathedrals and it would have been the largest cathedral in the Christian world if 14th century plans would not have been abandoned due to the plague of 1348. The Duomo consists of masterpieces from Donatello, Duccio di Buoningegna, Giovanni & Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio.
COLLE VAL D’ELSA 40 Km
The architecture remains unchanged since the middle ages with ancient fortifications and little back streets. It is know as the “Town of Crystal” because 80 % of the worlds production comes from here. Visit the lovely little shop which sells all kinds of local foods beautifully packaged called “La bottega delle cose belle e buone” in Via san sebastiano.
EMPOLI Staying local .
You might find one day you would like to just take it easy, go into the local town, browse around the supermarket or go to the local swimming pool (5 minutes away by car) where for 7 Euro you can spend a day relaxing in the sun. This is a vacation, after all.! So linger over breakfast, stroll over to Rolando and taste the local wine at Fattoria di Piazzano the wine makers on the next hill. They make a delicious Sangiovese which comes under the name of Ventoso, (windy) as the wind tends to whip over hill and dale around here, especially in November and one year, 1989 to be exact, Rolando found their vines covered with sea salt as the wind had blown inland with some vigor that year! Empoli is a large and busy town who’s biggest industry is fashion and leather and off the tourist trail where you see Italians going about their daily jobs without the tourist mobs. Every Thursday there is a big market that gets very crowded with lots of people travelling in from all the little nearby villages to buy fresh vegetables, ‘porchetta’ (roast pig) , fish and also the latest fashions copied from top Italian designers, including shoes and handbags. During July on Tuesday and Thursdays the shops are open until midnight and there is a wonderful atmosphere.
From the late 15th century until the 18th it was a major producer of majolica – tin-glazed earthenware painted with bright and accomplished patterns. This famous town produces some of the most beautiful terracotta and ceramics in Italy and on the third week in June holds it’s annual ceramics festival. Here all the local artisans show examples of their work and give demonstrations revealing age old secrets of hand painting and glass blowing You can watch pots being thrown and also have the possibility of buying these traditional hand painted Tuscany ceramics in the little back streets and stalls.A lively bubbling Italian atmosphere with everything open until midnight. http://www.comune.montelupo-fiorentino.fi.it/ Ask Riccardo for information and addresses of artisans where you can buy unusual terracotta wall plates and pots directly from the family factories
A walled medieval city perfectly restored and closed to traffic so to reach the top you can either walk or take the funicular.
It’s memorable summer Renaissance festival is held in July and becomes a stage for street artists, actors and musicians. It gets very crowded with locals and is packed way beyond midnight.
VOLTERRA 40 Km
Scenic routes winding through an unspoilt evocative landscape lead to castles, villas, Romanesque churches and medieval villages.
Volterra boasts more than three thousand years of history and its beginnings as an Etruscan settlement are still clearly visible. From this walled city, 550 metres above sea level, you can look over the rolling Tuscan hills affording spectacular views as far as the sea. The city still retains traces of its majestic past which you see as you wander through the narrow streets and explore the Etruscan Museum, the Art Gallery and Museum of Sacred Art. Volterra’s charm lies not only in its historical past but also in the surrounding countryside where there still remains a traditional way of life with its age-old tradition of alabaster carving. Stop for a coffee or ice cream in Bar L’Incontro on Via Matteotti 18 and admire their handmade chocolate sculptured into everyday objects. The local specialities include Zuppa Volterrana, a thick vegetable soup served on a layer of bread.
MONTECATINI TERME 30 Km
The ancient cult of taking the water is due to the exceptional therapeutic properties of the hot springs.
Tuscany is the region in Italy which boasts the biggest number of such centres, each chosen for different ailments. They are just place to spend a day in total relaxation while improving your health.
Chianti is the famous land of vineyards and hilltop towns and the THE CHIANTI WINE ROAD called “Le Strade del Gallo Nero” (The Black Cockerel wine road) runs along the N222, which winds up and down through the hills and valleys of this most popular area.
Some of the towns on this famous road which produce Chianti wine are Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Greve in Chianti all near Montepulciano the most famous wine town of all. A “Gallo Nero” (Black Cockerel) is the trademark which guarantees a bottle of real Chianti wine. To have the “Gallo Nero” label, producers have to put the wine through a rigid taste testing. A Farmers Union guarantees its quality and establishes its characteristics.Two kinds of wine are available on the market: “Normal” and “Reserve”. “Normal” is Chianti Classico labelled with a “Gallo Nero” surrounded by the red border. “Reserve” is labelled with the ancient trademark surrounded by the golden border and it is produced with the best grapes which, after a minimum of 27 months aging, give the wine a special full-bodied flavour.
The wine of Chianti is perfect to accompany all foods, but especially the traditional food of Tuscany, such as game dishes, roast meats and cheeses. “The best place to unravel the mystery of wine tasting is Cantine di Greve in Chianti, an ultra modern and progressive enoteca (wine tasting centre) in a 19th Century cellar, in the heart of Chianti. Customers buy a chip card, like a bankcard, loaded with 10 or 25 Euro. The card is used to select and pay for wines from a dispenser which releases 38ml price according to the individual bottle. A 10 Euro card typically provides five to seven samples. It is a super simple system which offers you a unique opportunity to try many wines from different vineyards..” Judy Armstrong. Global Magazine. For those of you who prefer the traditional method of wine tasting Riccardo can recommend individual winemakers where you can go and taste wines directly from the wine cellar.One of our personal favourites is LILLIANO near Radda in Chianti .Here you can sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine while looking over the vineyards of Castellina in Chianti. ‘Vignacatena’ one of their wines (17 Euro) is delicious but they also do a simple table wine for 4 Euro.
AREZZO 105 Km The famous Antique market of Arezzo takes place the first week end of every month and is set among the medieval town. A fascinating experience where you can buy an array of artisan works and rustic antiques, as well as true works of art. From Arezzo you can reach Cortona: (28 Km from Arezzo on the S71) the town that inspired Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun From Arezzo you can also visit Castiglion Fiorentino, Montepulciano, Pienza
Yes, it is possible to make Cinque Terra a day trip from our B&B. We have many guests who have done just that. It is about a 2 hour drive. Alternatively Another way to see this area is to drive to Portovenere the enchanting little town perched on the peninsula where Lord Byron the poet lived
From here local boats take you on excursions to nearby islands, along the coast of Cinque terra or over to Lerici, the town across the bay .On the harbour of Portovenere, next to colourful bobbing boats are waterfront restaurants—perfect for al fresco dining. They feature local specialities such as trenette pasta with pesto and spaghetti frutti di mare