As I mentioned in my previous post, my mom and I decided to take a one-day tour of Tuscany while in Florence.
Actually, seeing Tuscany was the first thing my mom added to her “must-see” list when she booked her flight over months back. So it had to be done, and it had to be done well.
Well, it was. After some research and a little word-of-mouth, we booked two adults for a “Best of Tuscany Tour” through the company Walkabout Florence.
On Saturday morning, we rose bright and early to meet us with our group and get started. We and about 40 other English-speaking tourists loaded on to a brand new, comfortable coach bus. Our Hungarian tour guide, Olivia, laid out the itinerary and we were happily on our way.
Until about 20 minutes in to the drive, when a girl towards the back got carsick. And then more than a little carsick. Breathing out of our mouths, the 45 minutes until we hit our destination were long, but we managed.
Our first stop was Siena. Though much smaller in size, it is the rival town to Florence and home of the oldest bank in the world that is still in business, called Monte di Paschi di Siena. But the thing that may ring a bell in Siena is the Palio di Siena horse race.
Taking place on July 2nd and August 16th every year, the Palio is practically a religion in Siena. Ten riders and ten horses dress up in the most ridiculous looking Medieval costumes and ride bareback on a small, uneven track made up in the city’s famous seashell-shaped square, called Piazza del Campo. Riders represent ten of the 17 neighborhoods, called contrades (cone-TRA-days), and are carelessly bucked from their horses in the three laps to the finish. The entire event is just wild – go ahead and look it up for yourself
Of course, the treatment of the horses isn’t the greatest, and many animal rights activists groups have been attempting to shut down the event for years. But let’s be honest, this is Italy and that’s just never going to happen. So ride on, pony boys.
Besides the scenic Piazza del Campo, the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, and the stunning striped Siena Duomo – there isn’t too much to see. We had around two and a half hours in the morning here, and it was time enough to enjoy the sites and learn some history.
Back on a cleaned and aired out bus (!), we happily rode through the rolling hills of Tuscany to reach our lunchtime destination – a sustainable, organic farm where we would enjoy a meal and wine tasting.
As if it could have been bad.
Fattoria Poggio Alloro
After a short tour of the wine making facilities, cattle barn, and olive grove, we sat down on a terrace overlooking more rolling hills of olive trees and vineyards. It was picturesque – and then there was the food. All produced on the farm, all organic.
We started off with bruschetta and a Vernaccia wine – a sweet white that is special to this small area of Tuscany. It was our favorite. From there, we moved on to whole wheat penne with ragu and a Chianti wine (also a famous regional wine of Tuscany), then salad, cold cuts, and pecorino cheeses with a Cabernet. We finished it all off with a sweet, syrupy dessert wine which we dipped almond biscotti in.
By the end of lunch, we were full, a little tipsy, and very, very happy.
Just for fun, feel free to check out their website here.
Back on the bus, it was a quick trip up to the hilltop town of San Gimignano. Still surrounded by walls, everyone actually has to park outside of the gates, and walk in to the small village.
If that’s not Medieval enough, there’s the fact that San Gimignano is nicknamed Medieval Manhattan. Way back in the day, families displayed their wealth by building tall, thin tower houses – each one out doing the last. Not only was it a display of luxury, but it was a way to protect themselves. Residents would enter via rope ladder and pull it up to keep out those pesky barbarians.
Of course, they threw these towers up so high and fast that long-lasting durability wasn’t a huge thought. Of the 72 towers that once stood, only 14 remain to this day. That being said, their ancient silhouettes make the small city incredibly unique.
The longest drive our day was next, but the hour and 20 minute drive from San Gimignano to Pisa was a scenic tour of everything you would expect to see in Tuscany, with a sunset added in.
We even passed Volterra, which some may know is the city Bella and Alice rush to in hopes of finding Edward in the Twilight series New Moon. Home to the ruling (and terrifying) Voltorri family, it was pretty cool to see the actual inspiration for the setting. However, the movie scenes were shot in nearby town Montepulciano.
I know I’ll probably lose well over half of my audience as a result of the Twilight fangirlism – and I’m ok with that.
Lastly, was Pisa. I’m not going to say much about it simply because there isn’t much to say. We were pretty disappointed. While the “Field of Miracles”, which includes the Leaning Tower, has some beautiful architecture, Pisa itself is nothing short of one big tourist attraction fronting a cheap carnival like atmosphere.
And the tower doesn’t even lean that much.
Dissatisfaction aside, we snapped a few of the classic shots and were back on the bus and headed home to Florence. By 9 pm, we were back in our cozy apartment, faces sunned, feet tired, munching on popcorn and sipping wine.
It was a wonderful day. Tuscany, like Paris, is one of those destinations that carries such an aura of romance, luxury, and beauty. From the endless rolling hills painted sunny hues of yellow and green, to the twisting olive trees that tangle each other, contrasted then to the perfect rows of vines that have been doing the same, perfect job for hundreds of years: you could never take in too much of it.
The land, the people, and the traditions remain unchanged through generations upon generations. It’s living proof that once you learn to do something right, you just keep doing it.
When people talk dreamily of Tuscany, they mean the beautiful landscapes and wonderful food, yes, but more than that there is a lust in an idea that life could be both so simple and so wonderful at the same time. Unevolving, but still ever-satisfying.
Now I’m off to further ponder this – over a glass of Vernaccia.
Ciao, for now.