Tips for Travelling in Tuscany


The travel season will soon be upon us!

With first-time and long-time travellers alike planning their spring, summer and fall vacations, I thought I would offer a few tips and pieces of advice for travelling in Tuscany.

1. If you’ve seen one hill town…You can probably stand to see a couple more.

Then, as charming as they may be, most Tuscan hill towns start to look alike. My top rated hill towns would have to be San Gimignano, Pienza, Montepulciano, and Castellina in Chianti. Monteriggioni is also worth a peek, but a 20-minute stop will surely be sufficient.

One Tuscan Hill Town

   

2. Book your accommodation in advance…  You thought it was a wonderful idea to travel to Tuscany during peak season. So did a ton of other people, and you certainly don’t want your sightseeing to be put on hold as you search and scrounge for someone to take you in.

Another Tuscan Hill Town

Another Tuscan Hill Town

3. Take a wine tour.   Tuscany is known for it’s wine, and even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, you should sample it. Plain and simple. Try Chianti,  Brunello or Vernaccia (my personal favourite), and visit a winery where at least one of them is made. Wineries are usually in idyllic settings, the information on the grape growing and winemaking processes is usually decent. The samples of wine usually leave travellers looking for more. Also, I suggest a tour because many tour operators can get deals on wine tastings and meals at wineries that the average tourist walking in off the strada, can’t.

4. Sample the local fare.  And loosen off a notch on your belt! Tuscany is known for its exquisite cuisine and its saltless bread, so eat it up! If you’re looking to be adventurous, I’d go for some pici (Siennese pasta), some cinghiale (wild boar), a bistecca fiorentna (Florentine steak, get roasted potatoes too!) and some pecorino cheese with marmellata.

5. Check out the festivals.  You might be able to watch some jousting in San Gimignano, or hear some jazz in Lucca, partake in the Palio festivities in Siena, or dress up for Carnevale in Viareggio if you plan your time right! It just takes a little research (hellloooo internet!), but is well worth the effort.

6. Rent a car to venture into the countryside. But don’t forget your GPS! While the drivers are rumoured to be crazy in Italy, the Tuscan countryside provides some excellent winding, hilly roads where you can practice your Italian driving in relative peace. The scenery never disappoints (even in the rain) and a car is often more practical than regional trains for getting from one hill town to another and back again.

7. Barter, haggle and demand a deal at local markets. Florence’s mercato nuovo and mercato di San Lorenzoare both excellent places to snag everything from beautiful Italian leather goods to kitschy souvenirs. I find that some of the best “souvenir” items to bring home are the ones you end up using in your everyday life, like jewelry, clothing and artwork.

8. Visit Siena. What can I say, I’m biased! Siena is like no other city you’ve visited. In my opinion, Siena has something to offer every traveller, including sports, cuisine, shopping, culture, architecture, religion and medieval traditions. And really, with a main piazza like this one, who could resist? It makes an excellent home base for exploring the countryside or taking a wine tour, and if you also plan to go to Florence, it’s only an hour away.

Piazza del Campo

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From Siena to Sant’Antimo


There’s nothing quite like jumping right back into the thick of things. I had been back in the office at work here in Siena for approximately 20 minutes before they asked me to accompany a tour into the Tuscan countryside, since they needed someone who could translate into English. First day back, and I get to go on a tour? No problem!

The first stop was a cantina where they make the renowned wine, Brunello di Montalcino. The guides aren’t allowed to participate in the degustazione (tasting) but it was fun to watch the 20 or so clients sip their wine, mop fresh olive oil off of their plates with home made bread, and contemplate which bottles of wine to buy and take back home.

Next we headed south to the town of Montalcino, complete with fortezza(fortress) and beautiful views of the countryside. The town was originally inhabited by the Etruscans, and dates back to the middle ages.

Montalcino

We, the guides, pointed out the town’s gelateria, places to buy wine, and suggested climbing the stairs in the fortress to take a walk on the ramparts for excellent photo opportunities.

After an hour or so of browsing, buying and photo taking, we climbed back into the pullmini for our last stop, the Abbazia Sant’Antimo (Saint Antimo Abbey).

Sant'Antimo

Sant’Antimo

As far as Italian churches, abbeys and religious buildings go, Sant’Antimo’s architecture is pretty plain, and un-Italian. The story goes that Charlemagne (Carlo Magno, in Italian) was on his way back to France when his men and horses were struck by the Plague. One night, he dreamed of Saint Antimo (from the neighbouring Tuscan town of Arezzo) who told him to go to the forest and indicated what plants and types of juices he needed to mix together in order to create a healing drink. Legend has it that he followed the saint’s instructions and of course, his men were cured. He then commissioned this abbey to be built in honour of Saint Antimo, who helped him in his time of need.

Gardens at Sant'Antimo

Gardens at Sant’Antimo

Today the abbey is a working monastery, complete with shaved-headed white-robed monks, gardens and a parking meter maid who will ticket you if you don’t pay up. It’s a great place to relax, go for a walk, pray, and take pictures.

Not such a bad deal for the first day back at work!