Everyone needs a break from time to time and a destination I love for a short break is Italy. This time, we decided to visit Tuscany. We travelled at the end of September which is a perfect time of year. Unlike home the weather is still ideal (with averages in the mid-20s) and we stayed for 5 days.
After arriving in Pisa and leaving the bustling city behind, we felt an instant sense of escapism when we were driving through the iconic rolling hills and winelands of the Tuscany countryside. It took us about an hour to reach out hotel, but the journey was truly enjoyable. We stayed at the beautiful Villa San Paolo, a 4* hotel on the hills overlooking San Gimignano. The resort was beautifully appointed with a great sense of old Italian villa charm but with all the modern amenities we could need. There is a lovely pool and spa for travellers looking for a bit of R&R and a free car park for those, like us, looking to explore. The highlight of this hotel though is its main restaurant, Lampolla which offers incredible panoramic views of San Gimignano and the countryside. Although the menu is a little on the pricey side, I’d pay it every time for the view alone, but the cuisine is also very good.
We started our exploration with the picturesque town of San Gimignano, just a 10-minute drive from the hotel. We parked in one of the larger secure parking areas (P4) rather than on the street and the walkway from here into the town. San Gimignano a wonderful mesh of small interconnecting streets filled with little shops, cafes and restaurants all eventually winding towards the two main piazza’s, Piazza del Cisterna and Piazza Duomo. The Torre Grosse dominates the centre of town and is one of the main attractions as you can climb to the top of its 218 steps for some incredible views of the town and surrounding countryside. After the hard work climbing to the top of the tower, we enjoyed a light lunch in the square and found the world champion gelato parlour, Gelateria Dondoli! I don’t think I have ever tasted better ice-cream, so the title is well deserved!
Next, we went to Siena, a beautiful city with a rich history famed for its amazing cuisine, museums and the Palio (biennial horse race). The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. We parked by the train station which was ideal as from here you can take a series of escalators up to the city and when you see how steep it is, you’ll be glad you didn’t walk! The main square, Piazza Il Campo was exactly how I had imagined it. There was a myriad of wonderful restaurants, but our favourite was Manganelli. They had a great selection of authentic Italian dishes and all at reasonable prices and a great central location - well worth a visit, especially for the pizza!
On our third day, we headed back to Siena as we wanted to catch a train station there to Florence. There is a direct service from Siena to Florence every hour and it is a great way to get into the heart of Florence without worrying about driving into the city and finding somewhere to park. Unlike San Gimignano and Siena, the buildings and plaza’s in Florence felt pristine because there were predominantly made of marble although there are still plenty of typical red brick architecture too. We visited the Basilica Santa Maria Nouvella, Piazza San Lorenzo, the cathedral at Santa Maria del Fiore and the Ponte Vecchio.
The absolute highlight of the trip though as a traditional Italian Cooking Class and Winery tour that we booked with Tuscany Private Tour. It took us about 45 minutes to drive from San Gimignano to Castellina in Chianti where we met our guide, Daniella. She escorted us to the beautiful home of Silvie and Marco, who run La Piaggia, a local organic farm and winery. Silvie spent the morning teaching us how to make tiramisu, hand-made pasta and bruschetta which was an incredible experience and then we had the opportunity to walk around the vineyard and learn about the process of creating wine before finally heading back to their villa and having a wonderful lunch which we’d literally prepared earlier and sampling some of the wide variety of wines they produce. We stopped into the quaint town of Castellina in Chianti before heading back to the Villa San Paolo.
On our final day, we said goodbye to our beautiful hotel and headed back to Pisa. And what trip to Pisa would be complete without visiting the Square of Miracles, home to one of the most iconic structures in the world, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was such a surreal experience climbing to the top, with its sloped marble staircase that feels like your falling down when climbing up and walking up when coming back down but if you have no issues with vertigo, it’s something that you’ve just got to experience. Then sadly, our adventure was over as we travelled from Pisa back home but bringing with us some wonderful memories, photos, newly developed cooking skills and a bottle of vino!
If you would like to know more about this wonderful destination or have anything at all that I can help with, please don't hesitate to contact me: Nicki on 01481 240467 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Member since: 8th June 2016
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