Tuscany: Florence, Siena, Chianti and San Gimignano

Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and historic regions in Italy, Tuscany was the second stop on our multi-city Italy vacation.  From its lush vineyards and rolling hills in the countryside to the delectable cuisine paired with bold and oh-so tasty wine to the endless views and medieval history, I can truly say Tuscany embodies all that Italy is.

We spent 4.5 days in Tuscany with Florence as our home base.  A lot of people confuse Tuscany as its own town when in fact it is the fifth largest region in central Italy made up of cities, hill towns and small villages.  Florence is the most populous city and the capital of Tuscany and is celebrated as the birthplace of Renaissance known for it exquisite artwork, museums, churches and palaces.

Day 1:

We took a high speed train from Venice (included in our package) on Friday afternoon and arrived in Florence in under 2.5 hours. We didn’t have anything scheduled on the first day so we spent the day wandering and exploring our neighborhood.  We had drinks at La Ménagére, a trendy and eclectic restaurant, flower shop and cocktail bar followed by dinner at Ciro and Sons.  I would definitely recommend going to both if you’re ever in the area.

Where we Stayed:

We stayed at Hotel Cerretani Firenze by Sofitel located in the heart of Florence’s historic center (stones throw away from the Duomo di Firenze) and a 10 minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station.  For as much as there is to see and do in Florence, it’s still small enough to be able to walk everywhere and see all the major sites in the four days we had. The most popular and important sites in Florence that we made sure to visit include:

  • Uffizi Gallery (world-renowned art museum)
  • Palazzo Vecchio (town hall)
  • Palazzo Pitti/Pitti Palace
  • Boboli and Bardini Gardens
  • Duomo Firenza/Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (Florence’s main cathedral)
  • Santa Croce (principal Franciscan church and burial place for Michelangelo among others)
  • Accademia Gallery (houses Michelangelo’s David)
  • Ponte Vecchio (oldest bridge in Florence)
  • Piazzale Michalangelo (square that offers panoramic views of Florence)

Since there’s quite a bit of history and important sites to visit, we weren’t exactly sure where to begin so we booked a couple of tours through a company called Walks of Italy.  I would highly recommend scheduling a tour or two when visiting cities like Florence and Rome so you can appreciate the history and culture that much more.  Unlike other tour companies, Walks of Italy keep their group sizes small (10-15) and their tour guides are not only extremely knowledgeable, but they’re also passionate and engaging making the tours so much more enjoyable.

Day 2:

We booked The Best of Florence Walking Tour with David and the Duomo, a 3.5 hour tour of Florence’s most famous sights including express entry into the Accademia Gallery for an up close and personal experience of Michelangelo’s David and his unfinished Slaves.  I took an art history class in college, but I never appreciated art history more so than after our tour.

5 fun facts about Michelangelo:

  1. He was never married or considered a “womanizer” unlike his younger male counterpart and rivalry, Raphael. One theory as to why Michelangelo focused so much on the male physique while also portraying women as muscular and manly is that he was homosexual.
  2. He lived off of only bread and water because he had a hard time keeping food down as he often dissected cadavers to understand the human anatomy better, yet lived to be 88 years old.
  3. He considered himself a sculptor not a painter even though he was often commissioned to decorate and paint for the pope resulting in his most famous frescoed ceiling inside the Sistine Chapel.
  4. He only completed 5 sculptures in his entire career.
  5. It took Michelangelo 4 years to complete the 2,000 square foot ceiling inside the Sistine Chapel while standing on a wooden plank of a scaffolding sixty feet in the air while working looking up.

Our tour also included visiting the Duomo di Firenze (Santa Maria Cathedral) which is the third largest church in the world and the last to have been built in Florence.  It took 140 years to complete.  There is no fee or express entry to go inside the cathedral and sometimes the lines can be long, but luckily there was a short line so we had time to visit the inside of the church as well.  If you really want to see the Duomo in all its glory, you can purchase tickets to climb to the top of the cupola for an incredible view of the city (we did not).  The Gothic style architecture, design and fine craftsmanship that went into building the cathedral is just incredible.  John and I concluded our day of exploring with a walk to the Piazzale Michelangelo square which offers a panoramic view of the entire city.  The view during sunset was absolutely breathtaking.

Day 3.

On our third day in Florence, we had an early morning tour of the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Vecchio.  The Uffizi Gallery is the most prominent and one of the largest art museums in the world that houses some of the best pieces of art from the Italian Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and is one of Florence’s top tourist sites.  The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall and the history of Florence as it was the house of government and power for the republic.  It also holds a replica of Michelangelo’s David.  After our tour, we explored more of the city with a stop at Santa Croce (the burial place for all the greats such as Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei) followed by a little hike up to the Bardini Gardens. The Wisteria tunnel in bloom was really pretty to see. For dinner we decided to venture out of our neighborhood and go south of the Old Bridge.  They have some really cute restaurants in the area and I would suggest checking out the neighborhood of Nicchio if you have the chance.  We assumed that we’d be able to find a restaurant and walk in without reservations, but this area seemed to be where most of the locals hung out and a lot of places were already booked.

We stopped at a local wine bar called Enoteca Obsequium which offers wine tastings for €30 a person and includes your own sommelier.  We skipped the tasting this time around since we got there late, but we will absolutely make reservations on our next visit.  We concluded our evening with dinner at Paoli restaurant for La Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) which is 1kg of a Porterhouse with the filet and contre-filet separated by the T-bone, cooked rare.  It was delicious!  Although the restaurant came highly recommended with 4-star online reviews, our overall experience was tainted by the lousy service we received and how rushed and dismissed we felt.*Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence and one of the most famous and beautiful bridges in the world.  There are many shops built on it and rumor has it that Adolf Hitler saved the bridge from destruction during WWII because it was just too beautiful to destroy.

Day 4:

On our last day in Florence, we took a day trip to Siena, Chianti and San Gimignano also through Walks of Italy.  We literally booked this tour the day before and since we had such a great experience with them, we thought this would be the best way to venture out and explore the hill towns.  We were picked up in the early morning with Siena being our first stop where we walked around at our leisure while also going inside the Siena Cathedral.  We then had lunch at a local farm house in Chianti where we were served a four-course homemade meal complete with a tasting of their very own wine before concluding our day in San Gimignano, a small hill town best known for its medieval towers and stunning views.  The Tuscan countryside is about a 45 minute drive from Florence.

Our hostess with the mostess at il vecchio maneggio! Our Walks of Italy fam!

John and I both fell in love with Tuscany and we can’t wait to visit again.  I would highly encourage you to visit this beautiful region at least once in your life and you may just come back feeling like you left a piece of your heart there.  I know I did.  Until next time..