There is a place in Italy where Italians were born before Italy was formed. A place where the Italian language was spoken before it was called Italian. A place of magnificent architecture, the cradle of Renissance and literature works by Dante Aligheri, Giovanni Boccaccio and Francesco Petrarca that became famous around the world.
Tuscany’s capital, Florence, and the surrounding areas offer spectacular views that attract more than 10 million visitors every year.
There is a lot to see and do in Tuscany, the difficulty is really where to start.
But why do 10 millions people come here every year?
Well, I didn’t know before, but now, having spent almost a week between Florence, Siena and the postcard-looking countryside of Chianti, I think I have a few answers.
Explore (Florence, Siena & Chianti)
Books & Bookshelves
Dream (where to sleep)
Via dei Neri, 32R, 50122 Firenze
Via De’ Ginori 8r, 50123 Florence
Via dei Tosinghi, 11/R, 50123 Florence
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– Firenze –
The best way to see and understand Florence, it’s to start walking on its narrow and cobbled streets, without a map or a smartphone and get lost. It’s basically impossible to do so as wherever you go you will always find a glimpse of the Cathedral or the Ponte Vecchio. But, unless you are in a rush, try and save some time for a wander without destination to really take in the city. Once you are done, make sure to check the followings.
The Old Bridge
Ponte Vecchio is Florence’s landmark and probably one of the most photographed bridge in the world. In fact, with the one in Bath it is one of the few remaining bridge with houses and shops on it. Originally built as the Vasari Corridor in 1593, the Ponte Vecchio was in fact a secret passageway built by Vasari for Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. Less then 30 years later in 1593, de’ Medici’s heir, Ferdinando forced the butchers that inhabitated the bridge to move somewhere else and collected some of the best jewelers instead, some of them still present today. One other interesting fact about this peculiar bridge, is that this is in fact the Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge), but it wasn’t the first ever built, but the only Florentine bridge still standing after the WWII. Legend wants that Hitler fell in love with the tresury of the Uffizi Gallery, which were stored here during his visit to Florence and decided to spare this and only this one during the 1944’s bombing of the city.
Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, is the main church in Florence and its foundation were laid in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris.
The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches, and it remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.
This is probably the most famous piazza in Florence and there is a good reason for it. With its magnificent panoramic view over the cathedrals and bridges, Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the most romantic spots, especially at sunset. The walk up there is quite stiff, but there are plenty of opportunities to stop to stroke a cat or to take another picture, so don’t rush it and enjoy the hike.
This is probably the least-frequented area of Florence and there lays its beauty. Towards the end of your visit, try and leave the crowded area of the center to see how florentine people actually live, eat and talk. Stop on the streets to chat with someone or grab a sandwich. This is also an area pregnant with history and craftsmanship: here you will be able to watch closely the work of wood carvers, mosaic-makers and gold-makers as well as grab an Italian aperitivo in one of the many bars on the traditional squares.
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Originally built as a marketplace, this is the main public space of the historic Mediaeval center of Siena and it is still regarded as one of Europe’s greatest squares. It is acclaimed worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity. With its shell shape, the Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia, Piazza del Campo hosts the Palio di Siena, the traditional bareback horse race held twice a year, on July 2 and August 16. During the race, ten riders compete representing their own contrade, or city wards, of Siena.
This peculiar church has a mostly white and black façade despite the Italian traditions, but the best part is its interior: the floor, full of esoteric symbols and religious stories; the Piccolomini Library with frescoes by Pinturicchio and the Chapel with the same name where Michelangelo worked from 1501 to 1504.
The Complex of Santa Maria della Scala
This building used to be a civic hospital for abandoned children, the poor, the sick, and pilgrims. Right in front of the majestic Duomo of Siena, the complex is now a museum. In the 1330s Santa Maria della Scala commissioned many important interior and exterior frescoes as well as several significant altar pieces. The whole complex hosts several museums and splendid monumental areas.
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EAT & DRINK in Florence & Siena
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Via De’ Neri, Florence
The perfect place for a huge, original Italian sandwich on the go. Also the most reviewed place on Tripadvisor globally (!)
Borgo degli Albizi 54, Florence
This is an organic bistrò, a little bit garden and a little bit parlor. An uncommon venue in the heart of the old city of Florence.
Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence
Despite some tourists have found out about this “secret” square, most of them remain in the centre, so it still has a local feeling to it. Watch the people walking their dogs out while sipping a drink by one of the all equally good places around the square.
Make the time to explore this florentine food market right in the centre of the city. Make sure to hit here with an empty stomach so that you can try and taste the freshest and most delicious local food.
Piazza Il Campo, Siena
You can find many traditional restaurant and dishes in Siena and I was very skeptical to go for dinner in one right in the main square. I thought it was a tourist trap, but as I was with a local who knew the owner I decided to go and see. After a few antipasti boards of hams and cheeses, we ordered a 1.3kg Fiorentina accompanied by a few glasses of Chianti.
Yes, always trust the locals!
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via dei Vagellai , 18/r,50122 Florence
Great little place in the heart of Florence, with a cool, hipster vibe. Food is great, I’m told, but I went there only for a freshly-squeezed juice to escape the Florence heat. Lots of interesting volumes and magazines.
The staff should work more on their service, which is quite rude and abrupt. Worth a visit for the books though.
Mostly unknown to tourists, this is mainly a local library for locals students. However, with its little cafe, free wi-fi and special views over Florence, it’s acquiring a top spot in the visitors list.
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Of course you could stay in Florence, Siena or Arezzo when visiting Tuscany, but why would you if you could rest your head and legs in the middle of the stunning Tuscan countryside? What if you could easily reach those stunning cities with a quick and short drive (about 30 minutes) among the grape and olive trees fields? What if you could have a dip in the swimming pool before starting your day of sightseeing?
The property is enclosed by endless vineyards that provides the grapes with which the family produces an excellent Chianti Wine called ‘Le Torri’ and by an expanse of olive groves for their ‘Primo di Lupinari’ olive oil.
This stunning resort consists in a beautiful B&B, a series of eleven apartments with gorgeous views of the vineyards. In the middle of the, a superb castle rises high as work of the Italian architect Gino Coppedè, with frescoes by the famous painter Galileo Chini, famous for the Terme Berzieri in Salsomaggiore and many others such as the Royal Palace of Bangkok.
Nestled in the middle of the Chianti hills, the property can be reached from Florence, Siena and Arezzo in about 45 minutes by car.
Originally built more than 300 years ago as a farmhouse, the restoration has kept the spirit and the history of the house, respecting the original architecture with use of hand-made special materials following the green architecture parameters.
The villa is in the middle of a 13-hectare (32 acres) private botanical garden (Giardino del Belvedere) as well as an amphitheatre, a open air yoga studio and two private swimming pools.
The owners only rent the entire villa -that can host up to 16 people- to ensure privacy and full access to it to each group of guests.
The Villa is a special, private and quiet place to enjoy la Dolce Vita.
While staying at La Selva, you should go and visit Montegonzi, a cute village perked up a hill, only one km away from the villa.
During the last event, we managed to explore some of the most hidden gems of the area and attend some interesting workshops, including an amazing one about calligraphy one hosted by Betty Soldi. The activities, as per the best Italian traditions, are always accompanied by gorgeous vino and tasty local food, see all the pictures from our last #kaleidotour here.
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