An escape to Tuscany

I’ve successfully escaped! From what? From the reality, my daily routine and my daily life in Bucharest. I’ve left them all behind. For four days… I know, it sounds funny… Maybe there were only four days on the calendar, but it seemed like an eternity to me. I can’t stop smiling, while I write this article, thinking back to those four days. So bear with me, it’s going to be a long one…

I left my heart in Tuscany. I’ve been there several times before, visited some of its major cities and towns (Firenze, Pisa, Siena), but this time my focus was on the the countryside. How can I describe it? Simply breathtaking and as close to perfection as a destination can get. The cradle of Renaissance, with green fields and fortified small towns, built on top of the hills and dominating all the surroundings, with stunning old villas, popping up along the road, that have small alleys and trees on both sides, with amazing food and flavours and with some of the world’s best wineries. This is Tuscany.

Stunning Val d'Orcia

But that’s enough day dreaming, back to the trip itself. Spring is the perfect season for visiting Tuscany. The weather is mild, everything is green and life is blooming. Seeing as much of what Tuscany has to offer, in just four days, is definitely a big challenge. Luckily, I’ve already visited Firenze lately (you can read all about it here), so the masterpiece of the region was excluded from the itinerary. This helped me a lot and made the organizing much easier. Finding a cheap flight to one of the airports in the area isn’t hard at all, even with just a month in advance. I arrived in Bologna on a late Thursday evening, and rented a car right away (a tiny Fiat 500, of course), in order to move around easier and at my own choice, in the next few days.

Houses in San Gimignano


Accommodation

Since the arrival in Bologna was quite late, I’ve tried to find a convenient accommodation, still open past midnight, somewhere in the south part of the city (as close as possible to Tuscany). So I’ve booked a room at Hotel Falco d’Oro in Tolè, with weeks in advance. But surprise… With just a few days prior to the trip, the hotel gave me a call, informing me that, due to some internal issues, they cannot give me a room anymore, although the reservation was made throughout the Booking.com website. It was the first time I’ve encountered such a situation.

The good part was that they did offer me an alternative, at no extra cost: SHG Hotel (Via Risorgimento 186) in Zola Predosa, just outside Bologna, a town where you would definitely not go in vacation. But I took the offer, because it was quite late to check for other places. The second night was spent in Pisa, at Grand Hotel Bonanno (Via Carlo Francesco Gabba 17), a large hotel, with free parking and breakfast, situated at a ten-minutes walk from the city center.

Now here comes the special part. The third night was spent in Siena, at Salicotto 56 (the name of the street and the number of the building), a guesthouse with friendly and kind owners, with a nicely decorated room and an awesome view of the old town houses. It was right in the middle of the action:

Houses in the historic center of Siena

Finally, the last night was spent in the picturesque town of Anghiari, at Nero Gioconda (Via del Castello Antico 14). Its location was amazing, inside the city walls, the room was clean and comfy, and the panoramic view of the Tiber Valley, from inside, was stunning.

Old town building in Anghiari


Guide to Tuscany

Describing my Tuscan experience in one article is hard enough, because it was incredibly intense. That’s why I’ve decided to split it by days:

  • Day 1 (Zola Predosa – the Apennines – Lucca – Marina di Pisa – Pisa)

The first day was really exciting. The curvy, narrow roads of the Apennines were a joy to drive on. The experience was uplifted by the villages forgotten by time, by the nature bursting with life and by the fresh air. Along the way, you will discover secret gems, like the commune of San Marcello Pistoiese or the bridge Ponte della Maddalena, a remarkable example of medieval engineering.

San Marcello Pistoiese

Ponte della Maddalena

Lucca, the first major town visited, is marvellous. The historic center is still protected by the impressive and intact city walls, built many centuries ago. Have in mind that you are not allowed to enter by car inside the walls, so you need to find a parking place outside. And this applies to many old Italian cities. You can wander for hours the streets of this charming town. While doing so, don’t forget to enjoy its popular landmarks: Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, Palazzo Pfanner, Torre delle Ore and Torre Guinigi (climb either one for a panoramic view of the town and its surroundings), Duomo di Lucca and the church of San Michele in Foro.

Torre Guinigi, Lucca

Chiesa di San Michele in Foro, Lucca

Marina di Pisa is the perfect location for a romantic sunset. It’s a Ligurian coast resort, about 12 kilometers west of Pisa, that was mainly built at the beginning of the 20th century. Just have an espresso or a latte macchiato at one of the cafes next to the beach and relax, while the sun and the sea do the rest.

Marina di Pisa

Dawn in Marina di Pisa

The day ended in Pisa, with a walk around the old quarter, between Piazza dei Cavalieri and Piazza dei Miracoli, a bowl of gnocchi ai quattro formaggi and a glass of Tuscan wine.

Piazza dei Miracoli at night, Pisa


  • Day 2 (Pisa – Volterra – San Gimignano – Monteriggioni – Siena)

Who hasn’t heard or seen a picture of the leaning Torre di Pisa? The city’s most famous landmark, this tower began to sink during its construction, back in the 12th century, and now leans at an angle of 4 degrees, after reaching a maximum of 5.5 degrees, some decades ago. The beauty of the entire site is multiplied by the Battistero di San Giovanni and the Duomo di Pisa. I was also fascinated by the architecture of several palazzi: Palazzo dell’Arcivescovado, Palazzo della Carovana, Palazzo Blu, and by the old houses, along the Arno river.

Cattedrale di Pisa and Torre di Pisa

Palazzo dell'Arcivescovado, Pisa

After a few hours of ambling the streets of Pisa, it was time to get in the car and travel to Siena, but not before connecting with the green countryside (and the local wineries, there are plenty on the road) and making stops in three of Tuscany’s most picturesque small towns: Volterra, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni.

Tuscan countryside

Volterra is a hilltop town, not as popular as the other two, which offers a wonderful landscape panorama, with rolling hills and large meadows. It’s a town with a lot of history behind and with architecture dating from different historical periods. It’s peaceful and quiet, since there aren’t many tourists around. Piazza dei Priori is the heart of the city, dominated by two medieval palazzi: Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo Pretorio.

Volterra historic town

Volterra

30 km from Volterra is San Gimignano, a town known all around the globe, thanks to its fourteen Middle Ages defensive towers. This skyline led to one unique nickname for San Gimignano: Medieval Manhattan. It is very crowded, and you might tend to consider it as being a tourist trap. But it has its charm and beauty, there’s no questions about that. Plus, it’s home to one of the best ice-creams (gelato) in the world, produced at Gelateria Dondoli (Piazza Della Cisterna 4) by the former gelato world champion, Sergio Dondoli. You have to try his greatest creation: the Vernaccia (local wine) flavour. I think it sounds pretty interesting, don’t you?

San Gimignano towers

Ice cream from Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano

Monteriggioni is one of the most important and well-preserved walled castles in Tuscany. Although small, it’s a great place to enjoy a few drinks at one of the restaurants or cafes in its main square, Piazza di Roma.

Piazza Roma and Chiesa di Santa Maria, Monteriggioni

The second day was all about adventure and discovering new places, as you might have noticed. The evening was spent in Siena, doing things I would highly recommend to everyone who visits this city: having a glass of wine and some crostini at one of the restaurants overlooking Piazza del Campo. There are plenty, I chose Liberamente Osteria ().

Quick tip: once you’ve reached Siena, you need to find a parking spot outside the city walls. My advice is to park as close as possible to one of the gates, but not in the car parks, because those are quite expensive (between €20 and €30 per day), but on the street, next to the sidewalk – for example, I parked for free, near Porta Pispini.

Palazzo Salimbeni at night, Siena

Celebration flags in Siena


  • Day 3 (Siena – Val d’Orcia – Montepulciano – Anghiari)

Wow… waking up in the morning with such a beautiful view of Siena’s old district is first class. Right in its middle, you’ll find the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, along with the town-hall, Palazzo Pubblico, and the bell tower, Torre del Mangia. This is the scene where the Palio (the silk banner horserace, inaugurated back in the 17th century) takes place each summer.

Houses in the historic center of Siena

Inside the court of Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

The streets of Siena are filled with artisanal boutiques, tempting pastry shops and nice restaurants. Take your time and enjoy some of the local sweet specialties, at Consorzio Agrario di Siena (Via Giuseppe Pianigiani 9): ricciarelli (biscuits), cavallucci (pastry with honey and almonds), panforte (thick dessert containing mainly fruits and nuts) and cantucci (crunchy biscuits). And don’t leave Siena before seeing the imposing Duomo, a medieval gem, both on the outside and on the inside.

Duomo di Siena façade

Italian sweets at Consorzio Agrario di Siena

Time to head south and see the green hills of Tuscany, around Val d’Orcia. I can’t find enough superlatives to describe the scenery. But believe me, you have to see the Tuscan countryside at least once in your lifetime! Its beauty is sublime…

Stunning Val d'Orcia

Stunning Val d'Orcia

Montepulciano is a true food and drink heaven, renowned for its pork dishes, pecorino cheese, pici pasta and one of Italy’s finest wines: Vino Nobile. It keeps the same Tuscan “tradition” as the other towns: it’s situated on top of a hill and it’s car-free (except for the residents). Piazza Grande, the highest point in town, is surrounded by impressive buildings, including the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Palazzo Comunale, the town hall. Nearby, you will find many restaurants and cafes.

Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

Italian dinner


  • Day 4 (Anghiari – San Marino – Bologna)

Due to the late arriving hour in Anghiari, there was no sightseeing in the evening of day three. Anghiari is a village enclosed in tremendous 13th century walls, with windy streets, stone houses and Renaissance palazzi. On a rainy Monday morning, there were just a few people around, including some tourists, so everything looked unspoiled. It felt like going back in time.

Old town streets in Anghiari

Anghiari, Province of Arezzo

The final stop, before dropping the car off at Bologna Airport, was in San Marino, an enclave within Italy, one of the smallest and oldest independent states. It was my second visit, 15 years apart from the first. Well, I have to say that not so many things have changed. The old, 11th century fortress, Guaita, built on top of Monte Titano, was still there, offering a 360° panorama of the whole country. And so was Piazza della Libertà and Palazzo Pubblico, the official Government Building.

There’s one major thing that I disliked about San Marino: the huge number of souvenir shops. But it’s not something unexpected, since the country is tax-free. If you’re not into shopping, at least take into account that the gas is way cheaper than in Italy (10-15 eurocents per litre), so before leaving, don’t forget to fill up the tank.

Repubblica di San Marino

Piazza della Libertà, San Marino


I can’t believe that I am at the end… Writing this article and reliving the trip to Tuscany felt great. Now you see why I left my heart in Tuscany? It’s a fairy tale land, where time stands still. I can only hope that my four days experience will help you organize your own trip, because, as already mentioned, you need to see Tuscany at least once in your life.

Lucca arches

Ci vediamo quando torno, Toscana!

Author: Marian Bulacu

Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.

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