We three ladies were becoming familiar with Florence. Fortunately, if you are in a central location, almost all the attractions are within walking distance. If you become tired, it is not too expensive to flag a cab because of the shorter routing that would be required. This makes Florence, a great city to cover a multitude of attractions within a reasonable time frame.
Two of us had climbed the many steps to reach the terrace of Forte Belvedere because this was the only way to see the vista of the entire city of Florence. However, three of us were able to find a taxi to take us to Piazzale Michelangiolo for another great view. The bronze reproduction of the Statute of David, ensures that the visitor will recognize this square. Pauline Frommer writes the following in her guide book: ” You shouldn’t leave Florence without getting a bird’s-eye view of town from…this reflective spot. The vantage point over the cityscape is phenomenal, particularly at sunset.” There is a café at this plaza to sit and enjoy a drink as well as admiring the scenery.
While we did take a cab to climb up to this Piazzale, we walked down steps, so that we could peruse the gardens that were terraced to the side as we descended.
Some of the other sites that we visited are the Basilica di San Lorenzo at the Piazza San Lorenzo; The Medici Chapels of the San Lorenzo Church and Basilica di Sante Croce at Piazza Santa Croce.
This is what Pauline Frommer writes about the Medici chapels: “Important Medici, who ruled Florence and Tuscany for generations, fought popes, became popes, wanted a church and memorial worthy of their ambitions. They had themselves entombed in great glory in their home parish. The first room is the extravagant Chapel of the Princes, displaying gaudy marble decorations of all shapes and sizes. Basilica di San Lorenzo is a very short stroll west of the Medici chapels. Brunelleschi, of Duomo fame, redesigned the interior in the 1440s. Donatello’s final works, the bronze pulpits, display dramatic crucifixion scenes. For his effort, the artist earned a tomb in the church.”
Pauline Frommer continues the discussion of the Basilica di Santa Croce with the following comments: “This church contains the elaborate, status-symbol tombs of the brightest and the best (or at least the richest) of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and Rosini. Dante has a tomb but he didn’t make the trip (He is buried in his adopted town, Ravenna). Over 250 others are interred below the visiting tourists. The church looks large but shabby from the outside, and massive and majestic inside.”
We three ladies did take some trips outside of Florence. One friend went on her own to tour the Tuscan city of Luca and Pisa, arranged by Ciao Florence Tours & Travel, at info@ ciaoflorence.it She highly praised how this trip was managed even though there were over 50 participants. This company simply had more guides, so those on the bus could be divided into smaller groups. Since I had previously traveled to these sites, I remained behind to keep company with my other friend who required rest. We did other activities at a much slower pace allowing for more down time.
The first trip that the three of us signed up for was a tour to Cinque Terre. It is about a two hour drive by bus to the coast from Florence to reach one of the 5 medieval villages which explains the name (five lands or Cinque Terre); which are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Cinque Terre has become very popular after 1997 when the entire region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that properties have to remain the same. The number of residents (about 1700) remains constant just as the stunning landscapes do. I was told that this area is famous for its limoncino. I did purchase a bottle which quickly disappeared.
Pauline Frommer muses: ” It’s not hard to figure out its popularity. Walk along a cliff pathway and the stupendous view of clear blue waters will stop you in your tracks. Above and below are terraced vineyards that cascade like hooped petticoats down the mountains, supported by mile upon mile of dry stone walling–a backbreaking feat that took over a millennia to create.” It is located on the Ligurian Sea and one can travel between the 5 villages by train, boat or by hiking.
The other trip that the three of us agreed to tour is the area of Tuscany. We signed up through the company, Walks of Italy at walksofitaly.com ; U.S. phone 1-888-683-8670 and within Italy, call +39-069-480-4888. For people who love food, this would be the trip for you. We drank more different wines and foods than we had done in years.
The day that we traveled to the region of Tuscany, it was raining. Propitiously, our expert and charming guide, Julia and the driver, Riccardo were able to circumvent the weather to ensure that all 6 of us on the tour had a grand time.
Our first morning stop was at the Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta in Sienna. The following excerpts are from the description from their guide book: ” The Cathedral is a splendid example of Italian Gothic. The building, begun in 1230… The cupola (or Dome) was added in 1264, but in the 1300s the church was completely transformed: the central nave was raised and illuminated by trifora (three-arched) windows, the façade was worked on by, amongst others, Giovanni Pisano. An ambitious attempt to transform the cathedral into the biggest temple of Christianity, was interrupted by the terrible plague of 1348 (as well as by the collapse of some of the structures). There remain traces of the structures effectively built on the left side of the current Duomo: the so-called ‘facciatona‘, the columns of the three naves and a part of the left side, where you can see what is certainly the most brilliant door of the Sienese Gothic.”
Because, it was raining, we were slowly driven past the Piazza Del Campo, Siena, where our lovely guide, Julia pointed out that this was the location of the annual El Palio Horse Race Festival. This is a major event in which every region has their own horse and rider compete in a race. The winning horse and rider can look forward to a great year for being the town’s heroes with all the bragging rights.
At lunch time we were driven to Casanova & Sant’ Agnese Farms Socirta’ Agricola to meet Silvano who owns this winery/ organic farm and Rita who manages the kitchen and the store. Silvano, a former veterinarian gave us a quick tour due to the rain. He provided information about his several products such as wines, truffle oils. olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and beauty products. He is deservedly very proud of his Chianti wines. I have footnoted a link below, so that you can go online if you wish to purchase his products.
Silvano and Rita had prepared a several course meal with the appropriate wines. Everything presented was unbelievably delicious. We were eating for at least a couple of hours.
After this huge lunch, Julia and Riccardo transported us to the old city San Gimignano to stroll within the city walls while we perused all the shops.
During the early evening, we were driven to another working organic farm with cows. This farm operates also as a Bed & Breakfast with rooms accommodating 1 to 4 guests at cost, less than about 15o euros. I did notice that both organic farms offer cooking lessons. I’ve footnoted information on this farm below. Again, we were presented with some snacks and wines to taste. At the end of this trip we were hugging Julia while thanking both Julia and Riccardo profusely for being such gracious hosts.
The next day, we were on our way to the Amalfi Coast by train.
1.) Casanova & Sant’Agnese Farms Societa’ Agricola Castellina in Chianti Siena Tuscany Phone: +39 335 6150760 – E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org – P.IVA: IT-(Silvano is owner)
Affiliated with: www.santagnesefarm.com – Wine tour Tuscany