Undoubtedly Italy is a country with so much to offer, from the Colosseum in Rome to the Venice canals, from the world famous pizza of Naples to the majestic mountains of the Dolomites. Nestled in the middle of all this is Tuscany, known for its stunning rolling hills covered by endless rows of wine grapes…famous for its world-class wines and delicious food!
Florence, Italy is the capital on Tuscany and is home to some of Italy’s most famous landmarks including Michelangelo’s “David” statue, the Duomo basilica and the Uffizi Gallery. Florence is the epitome of Italian culture.
The narrow cobblestone streets filled with small restaurants and cafes on every corner are right out of a romance novel.
The Arno river snakes through the entire city of Florence passing below the famous Ponte Vecchio and Santa Trinita bridges. If you are there on a hot summer day, grab a scone of creamy gelato and go for a walk across the bridges. The views are breathtaking and dreamy no matter which way you go.
Many people go to Florence for the art, museums and Renaissance Florentine architecture. We however, being wine lovers, decided to visit the Tuscan countryside. What an experience! We booked a private wine tasting tour (so we didn’t have to drink and drive) and off we went exploring the beauty of Tuscany. Rolling hills covered with grape vines and olive trees lining the streets as far as the eye could see. The Italian wines did not disappoint either…aromatic reds and refreshing whites are the norm. We learned quite a bit about the Tuscan system of identifying and qualifying Italian wines. Tuscany has 33 Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and 11 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) classifications. These classifications were put in place in the 1960s to ensure that Italian wines met a high standard of wine production and quality. Restrictions were placed on the areas that the grapes can be from focusing primarily on the local grape varieties. You are probably familiar with the most famous Tuscan wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which are primarily made from the Sangiovese grape. In the 1970s however a new type of wine emerged known as the “Super Tuscan”. These wines were made without strict regard for the DOC/DOCG regulations, however over the years they became high priced and highly valued wines. Our tour guide was fantastic and brought along an aroma bar to help us identify the various aroma and taste properties of each wine. Driving through Tuscany is like being in a fairy tale for wine lovers. You can literally drive for hours without seeing the end of the rolling hills, vineyards, Tuscan Villas and the occasional castle. It was a dream come true for us!
Florence’s central location makes it ideal to see other parts of Tuscany on a one-day trip. Once again we decided not to drive in Italy, so we hired a tour to drive us around. Our first stop was the medieval city of Siena, Italy. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site it is famous for its fan-shaped central square called Piazza del Campo. It is a site for the popular Palio horse race of Siena held twice a year. The beautiful plaza is surrounded by medieval brick buildings, restaurants, cafes and people just hanging out and enjoying the location. This is a perfect place to people watch and soak in the beauty of this medieval city.
While in Siena, Italy, one of our most memorable activities was to simply enjoy a cup of exquisite Italian cappuccino. On a side note, when getting a cappuccino at a local cafe you have the option to drink your coffee sitting at a regular coffee table or standing by a bar high table. If you decide to sit, your coffee may cost you upwards of 4 Euro/cup however, if you choose to stand by one of the bar high tables your cappuccino price goes way down to less than half in some cases. Fantastic deal!
Besides strolling along the picturesque streets of Siena, Italy, if time permits, visit the Siena Cathedral. This beautiful cathedral was originally constructed in the 13th century and will mesmerize you with it’s detailed and intricate floor, wall and ceiling art.
For lunch we stopped at a local organic farm and vineyard where the hosts had prepared a delicious meal for us. The meal was prepared with locally grown, organic ingredients from the farm. We got a tour of the vineyard and then sat down to a feast with an unforgettable view of our next destination, San Gimignano, Italy.
San Gimignano, Italy is a beautiful hill top town famous for its stunning towers. Surrounded by a city wall, the small town has managed to preserve fourteen towers of various heights. Many have been destroyed over the years due to natural disasters, wars and urban development.
If you are looking for something a little more out of the ordinary then maybe the Museo delle torture (Torture Museum) in San Gimignano, Italy would be of interest to you. Learn about some of the torture techniques used way back…what better way to experience the medieval times?
Our final destination for the day was the city of Pisa, Italy famous for its leaning tower of Pisa. This world famous landmark is quite fascinating not because of its magnificent constructions but rather the lack thereof. Built with a faulty foundation the structure has been slowly leaning since it was completed in the 14th century. Efforts during this and the last century to correct the tilt have been partially successful. Let’s see for how long!
Staying in Florence offers a variety of accommodations options. You can pick from a wide array of world famous large-chain hotels to more cozy boutique hotels to traditional Italian Villas. We opted for the traditional Italian villa with a spectacular view of the city. Torre di Bellosguardo is a stunning resort located in the hills right above Florence. The view from the hotel is absolutely breathtaking.
Aside from sightseeing Tuscany’s famous landmarks, one of our favorite activities was just a simple walk through the fields. Just a 20 min walk down the hill from our hotel was the city center. Few things can beat the peace, quite and beauty of a simple stroll through the Italian country side.
While in Italy make sure to try some of their fresh produce available at small markets around town. It will be a delight to your taste buds and of course it makes for a beautiful photo.
There are a thousand great reasons why you should visit Italy, but be sure to choose the ones that will make you smile the most. Don’t just visit the ones designated “must see” by the tour companies, follow your heart and see the ones off the beaten path. Sometimes those are the ones that will leave you speechless and steal your heart! Cheers!