So we started off our visit to Italy with a bang with our visit to Cinque Terre which I wrote about in my last post on Italy. Our next full day in Italy took us to the Tuscany region on semi-private tour, aptly named The Best of Tuscany Tour. We woke up and took our time getting ready, figured out where we were going to go to meet up with the tour group, and started on our way. The tour’s office was really easy to find and after a brief introduction, we headed out. This tour was a little more expensive than some of the others we had seen but we liked the idea of it being a semi-private tour. What this meant was that there were 7 of us on the tour plus the tour guide and the driver and we were driven around in an air-conditioned mini-van. There wasn’t a massive bus where you and 40 other people were trying to get window seats; it was probably one of the most relaxing tours I’ve been on.
Enjoy the original Best of Tuscany Tour with a great tour guide to bring the past to life. Have free time to explore three fabulous hilltop towns of Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggione. Visit a a stunning historic Tuscan estate for a wine tasting and cellar visit. Taste top-quality olive oil and see the shimmering olive groves and glorious vineyards. Dine on a traditional Tuscan lunch with wine, surrounded by classic Tuscan countryside views on the very best one-day Tuscany tour!
Referenced from: http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours/13/best_of_tuscany
Our driver made his way to the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano. It’s s small, walled town that is known for its many towers. The tower-houses were built by families in the medieval days who would try and build their tower as the tallest one in the town. And so, of course, this caused their neighbours to build their towers higher and higher, and so the story goes. For us, we spent the couple hours we had walking around and enjoying the little alleyways, cobblestone pathways, and gelato! As it turns out, the big gelato shop in town had been the winner for the international best gelato competition for 2 years in a row; of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it out!! 🙂
Our next stop on the tour was a wonderful wine estate owned by the Palagetto family; we were told they were one of the biggest wine making families in Italy. We started the tour with a brief walk through some of the grape vines and descriptions of the different types of grapes that were used. Next we went inside to see that large vats where all the wine making magic happens. We continued on to the large rooms where they house the aging casks and finally made our way to the tasting room. This is where they had our gourmet lunch with some lovely, local meats, pasta (of course!), and various tastings of wine that the winery produced. After the very satisfying luncheon, we did some quick wine shopping from their store and headed back to the van to carry on with our tour. Next stop, Monteriggioni.
The small, walled town of Monteriggioni sits at the top of a natural hill. It was built on this location as a strategic defense town by the Sienese during the Florence/Siena war in the 13th century. The town boasts 14 towers giving them a panoramic view of the countryside they were defending. The most significant feature, and my favourite, of this town is the shear thickness of the defense wall. It is over 2m thick at some places making it almost impossible to break through if the town were ever attacked. We spent about an hour walking around the town and climbing up on the walls since there was really not much else to see apart from that. Even so, it was worth seeing it.
Last, but definitely not least on our tour of Tuscany was Siena. Like most of the other Tuscan hill towns, Siena was settled by the Etruscans circa 900-400 BC and inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. Over the centuries there were many wars and attempts at taking over the city whose major rival was Firenze (Florence). We spent another couple hours wandering around the city but there was simply too much to see in the little time we had. We decided to stop for a cappuccino, grab a quick gelato, and headed towards the duomo.
The duomo in Siena was unlike any of the other duomos we had seen until now or we saw on the rest of our trip. This duomo had a unique black and white design that started on the outside of the building but was most prevalent in the tower columns inside the cathedral. The black & white, as expected, were quite contrasting of each other and I found that distinct cut of colours to be quite beautiful.
Easy to say that we did not have enough time in Siena to see everything but it is definitely on our list to spend more time there when we go back to Italy in the future.
Thus ended our day and our brief, yet invigorating tour of Tuscany. We were driven back to Florence where we slowly made a tired walk back to our hostel to shower, eat, and rest up for our next day of adventuring!
The full set of photos can be found in this set on my Flickr page