Italy: Tour of Tuscany
With only a few days in Florence, S. and I wanted to make the most of our time in Tuscany. We found an amazing ‘Tuscany in One Day’ tour through Viator and booked it Friday night. While the package wasn’t cheap, we both found it to be a good deal (£60/€70) for what was included.
The tour was 12 hours and began at 8:30A. We got up bright and early and headed out of our hotel around 7:45A to grab morning goodies and get there a bit early. After departing, our first stop was Siena, a little town (p. 50,000) about an hour or so from Florence famous for its horse races and the color with its namesake (Burnt Siena). The city was much smaller than Florence but incredibly charming. We learned (during our tour) that banking as we know it today effectively began in Italy (in Tuscany, actually) and that Siena is currently home to the oldest working bank in the world (founded in the 14th c. or so):
I’m not sure where I thought banking started, but I definitely didn’t think it was Italy. Fun tid bit, indeed. After seeing the bank, we explored the city center, saw seven of the seventeen districts in Siena and got to see where the famous horse races take place during July and August. Despite it’s small size, Siena is split up into 17 districts that are represented by their own flag and animal. Each district has its own fountain, its own church, etc. and there are rivalries (sometimes intense) between the districts. The horse races that happen each year take place between ten of the districts; the winning district gets to hang their flag for everyone to see/admire. The rhino district (it has a much better name than that in Sienese) won last time:
Our last stop was the church in Siena. While nearly all of my travels have included gazing at cathedrals (since churches tend to be some of the most amzing examples of architecture), I have yet to become tired of seeing the façades of these cathedrals – so incredible. Admittedly, I get a bit tired of exploring the insides, but it was nice to check it out and hear our Italian tour guide tell us about the church’s history:
After our tour and some free time in Siena, we boarded our coach once again to head to an organic farm where we had lunch. S. and I were the only vegetarians in the group so they had to make up a special lunch for us (sadly, we couldn’t have the ‘wild boar sauce’…). We got a tour of the farm, including the wine cellar (they produce 200’000 bottles of wine a year!), and got to check out some incredible views of San Gimignano. Pretty breathtaking:
Fittingly, the lunch included wine tasting. Everything that was served up was organic and produced on the farm (except for the pecorino cheese which was brought in) and was absolutely delish! You know S. and I were way too excited for some organic action in our lives! After lunch, a glass of white, two glasses of red and a (strong) dessert wine (note: I had but a taste of the reds since I’m not a big red wine-drinker… I have yet to learn how to drink red wine like grown-ups), we re-boarded our coach to head to nearby San Gimignano, a medieval town that has been left untouched.
Now, San Gimignano (San Jim-EE-jee-ohn-oh), while small, was completely darling. The views were great and the streets of the city are dotted with cute wine and cheese shops and little restaurants and cafes. San Gimignano is perhaps most famous for their gelato (aside from their white wine and saffron). A gelateria in town has won ‘Best Gelato in the World’ on two separate occasions, so you know that we had to test it out (despite being disgustingly full from lunch). After exploring the town, we headed down to the gelateria as our last stop before heading back to the coach. In true San Gimignano fashion, the gelateria even has white wine and saffron-flavored gelato! Although I could have been more adventurous, the line was out the door so I made my order quick: mint (at least I moved away from lemon)! S., staying true to her chocolate-loving roots, got a scoop of plain chocolate (her defense was that if this was supposd to be the best gelato in the world, the chocolate should be the best she had ever tasted… I understood her thinking on that one). The gelato was good, but the best in the world? Not so sure… You’ll have to try for yourself.
After San Gimgnano, we headed to our last stop of the day: Pisa! S. and I had wanted to go to Pisa, but I didn’t think it was worth a day trip on its own (much like I didn’t think Siena was worth a day trip unto itself). This tour ended up being pure perfection since it brought in all of the Tuscan cities we were interested in with just the right amount of time in each. We arrived in Pisa after a scenic one and a half hour drive (where we passed by a sunflower patch).
There was little to do in Pisa. We took quintessential tourist pictures (unashamedly) and laid out in the grass in front of the leaning tower. Bonus: the leaning tower of Pisa is one of the wonders of the world – got to check one off of my list!
After our time in Pisa, we headed back to Florence with our tour bus and our oh-so-amazing tour guide, Becky. It was a long, long day of exploring but it was so worth it. The £60 seemed more than worth it for all of the sightseeing we got to do, the information that we got and the amazing lunch that we had! If you’re a big wine drinker, you could definitely get your money’s worth; I saw a girl swoop on a half a bottle of red wine left at the end of lunch and enjoy the entire thing! After seeing the best of Tuscany, S. and I are on our way out. It’s been real, Toscana! Now, off to Cote d’Azur where we’ll be staying in Nice!
Love from the train,