A Week in Tuscany… Put It on Your Bucket List

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra, Manarola from the Water

Our group, actually 22 people, recently spent a week in Tuscany. It was well beyond, and very different from, my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone. What you will find is lush rolling hills, a temperate climate, interesting hill towns, culture and fine art… and of course great food and wine.

Tuscany is a product or it’s history and civilizations. The Apennine culture dominated the late second millennium BC, followed by the Villanovan culture (1100–700 BC). Tuscany, and the rest of Etruria, was then dominated by City-states before the Etruscan civilization rose in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Then came the Romans in the first century AD followed by the medieval period. Tuscany (Florence) is often referred to as the birthplace of the Renaissance. I didn’t realize how many people died in the “black death” which started in 1348, 50% of the population overall and up to 75% in some cities.

We spent about two weeks in Italy but “the group” all stayed at Villa Ponte in Bettolle for 7 days (previously called Il Casale Del Marchese or La Bandita). The villa dates back to the 18th century but has been beautifully restored and the manager/chef, Gian Luca, is a hoot. While at the villa we did day trips on our own, mostly by car.

Below is the list of towns and places visited:

Cinque Terra:
Actually 5 towns on the Italian Riviera, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. It’s a fairy tale land with multicolored houses built on the steep hills and terraced gardens. Take the (underground) train and the ferry. Be prepared for lots of walking up and down the steps.

Lucca:

1929 Mercedes

1929 Mercedes SSK in the Mille Miglia

A very quaint walled city. We just happened to be there on the day that the 1000 Miglia, passed through town. The Mille Miglia started in 1927 as an open road endurance race and is now limited to cars made before 1957. I lost count at 100 vintage racing cars.

Castello Banfi and Banfi Wines:
A very large vineyard and winery producing 12 million bottles per year…..plus olive oil. We had a tour then a great lunch in the restored castle.

Montalcino:
Yet another quaint hill town/commune famous for the Brunello di Montalcino wine made from the sangiovese grosso grapes grown within the commune.

Siena:

Siena Cathedral

The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral

Spend some time people watching in the Palazzo Pubblico where the Palio horse race is held twice a year. The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral is a must see as well as the home of Saint Catherine of Siena, one of the two patron saints of Italy.

Florence:

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio on the Arno River; Get out Your Wallet

What can you say about Florenza?….Santa Maria del Fiore, The David, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica….the cradle of the Renaissance. And of course Ponte Vecchio, the Medieval bridge over the Arno river, now home to jewelers, art dealers and souvenir shops.

Bagni San Filippo:
Hot springs, a great surprise and change of pace. We “sort of” stumbled on hot springs that were a bit of a hike back into the woods and with few other people there. There was a series of rustic pools people had damned up going down the hill with the top pool at the source about 96 degrees F.

Pienza:
A hill town/commune with beautiful panoramic views. The town was originally called Corsignano, the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Picolomini who later became Pope Pius II and entirely rebuilt it as an ideal renaissance town.

Civita:

Bridge To Civita

Don’t take the bridge to Civita if you are afraid of Heights

A very interesting hill town, less restored then the others because it was isolated for years after the original land bridge collapsed. You can still see Etruscan caves in the area. I got vertigo for the first time in my life while walking up the bridge.

Orvieto:
Another interesting hill town perched on vertical cliff faces with a subterranean city of caves and tunnels one can tour. The Duomo, the Orvieto Cathedral, is striped in travertine and basalt.



Other cities people in our group visited included Rome, Venice, Pisa, Cortona, Bologna and Milan.

RO 6-14

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