Italy’s most well-known and exceptionally picturesque region is no doubt Tuscany; a region best known for its fine art and is a combination of eminent cities such as Florence and Pisa and a scenic countryside like Chianti.
This part of Italy is home to a number of world-renowned artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci where their paintings lay at the Uffizi. The abundance of grapes in this area gave birth to the finest wines in the country, the Chianti wine. The region is also very rich in history – with all this, it is not surprising why Tuscany is a perfect escape for foodies, writers and for people who want an escape from the busy city scene. This is exactly why Diane Lane in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” bought a villa on a whim when she was vacationing in Tuscany one summer. She fell in love with the place and never looked back.
You can bike through acres of vineyards or take a bus to the different towns to really taste the Tuscan air but based on experience, to truly see Tuscany, you rent a car and rent a villa in Chianti.
We stayed in Tuscany for a week. There is always a pleasant surprise when traveling with my sister, I was expecting to be staying in a busy city but to my surprise, we drove 20km outside Florence where she rented out a villa in Greve in Chianti called Fattoria Sto. Stefano. The Villa was a very old beautiful building on a hilltop, it was quite dreamlike, actually, with its lovely gardens and pool (which we weren’t able to use); the superb views, and if that’s not enough, you can taste their olive oil served at breakfast and the well-known chianti wine for dinner which they grow right in front of their property!
The view outside our window all week long.
The vineyards that surround the farm town where they grow the grapes for their Chianti Wine.
Our home for the week had 3 bedrooms, a shared bathroom and living room with a fireplace that we abused as we were there at a really cold time and there was also a kitchen, which allowed us to prepare for dinner. If you want a mouthwatering authentic Italian dinner, Bar La Cantina is only a 15 minute drive.
The common area: Kitchen, dining and the fireplace
One of the rooms of the villa where mom and dad stayed.
If you are looking for a location away from the bigger towns or cities with a more country/rural setting, I highly recommend Fattoria Santo Stefano – only if you rent a car.
On the first day we drove to Siena. The events that unfold when traveling is as unexpected as it can be, we arrived in Siena two hours later than our estimated time of arrival. Traveling with kids is enjoyable and entertaining especially with the shockers that come along the way. My nephew, Matthew, was singing one minute and the next minute he started crying and puked everything he had for breakfast all over his clothes and the rented car. Naturally, it was hard to drive with the distracting smell so we cleaned up everything.
With a clean, fragrant car, and Matthew with his new wardrobe, we finally arrived in Siena. This Tuscan town is like a page from a storybook; it transports you back to the middle Ages. Walking along the cobblestone felt like I was in the movie “The Perfume: Story of a Murderer.”
View of Siena from outside the walls
The grand cathedral was built in the 1200’s and is still standing – truly an amazing work of art. Climb up the tower and see the entire city of Siena.
View of the city and Piazza del Campo on top of the tower of the duomo.
Their main square, Piazza del Campo is a UNESCO World Heritage site where my sister and I enjoyed a cup of gelato and coffee while her husband took the kids to the Torture Museum; while the parents were being fascinated with the trinket shops and while our brother was going bananas taking photos of every corner of the city.
This was easily one of my favorite places in Italy – I fell inlove with Siena in a snap of a finger. Siena is an easy daytrip by train from Florence if you don’t have a car.
On the 2nd and 3rd day, we took a bus from Greve to Florence since parking in Florence is tough.
We visited the Uffizi, the counter part of the Louvre in Paris. I suggest buying your tickets online to skip the line! Art enthusiasts or not, seeing the paintings of the Uffizi is truly a magical experience – for me it was. Especially seeing the Annunciation by Leanardo Davinci and The Birth of Venus and the La Primavera by Botticelli. What a beauty! To know more about this city by detail, read my previous entry titled, “Firenze: Museums, Museums…. And Shopping”
Family dinner after Florence day trip at Bar La Cantina
Day 4, we drove to San Gimignano, known as the “city of beautiful towers,” Like Siena this city is also a medieval dreamscape especially when you see the views from atop the 177-foot Torre Grossa. This city is also one of the most visited places outside Florence. I found myself lost and walking alone for almost an hour looking for my family. I had no money to even get a cup of hot cocoa! Finally I found them but the rain was too much and my nephews were getting sick so I had to babysit and took them inside the cathedral until the rain stopped which was a good one hour.
The gloomy yet still beautiful view of San Gimignano on top of one of its towers.
I didn’t enjoy San Gimignano as much as I shouldve because of the weather. Italy in March is not the perfect time to go; the weather is mostly wet and it’s freezing, although you get to escape large tour groups that are rampant on the peak season.
Other little towns in Tuscany
The very last day, we didn’t have a plan to go anywhere so we drove until we saw a town that grabbed our attention.
The village of Montefioralle is probably one of the most ancient in Chianti and is still today enclosed within its original walls and is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Tuscany.
Monteriggioni, like most towns in Tuscany is located on a top of a hill and is a completely walled medieval town. Its amazing how it has managed to preserve its medieval looks over the centuries.
Describes as the “touchstone of Renaissance urbanism.” Pienza was the birthplace of Pope Pius II. When he became Pope, he transformed his birthplace into a model Renaissance town and is now part of UNESCO World Heritage.
The view of Tuscany from Pienza
It was now time to say Ciao to beautiful Tuscany and it seemed like it was happy we were leaving since the sun came out on the very last day without a hint of cloud in the sky.
That silver vehicle is the car we rented for the week parked right in front of the villa.
Enjoying a day out in the gardens of Fattoria Santo Stefano on the only sunny day we had in the entire week.
Curious Matty looking over the vineyard.
Mom striking a pose with the pool, the garden and the villa at the back
Though we might not have seen Tuscany under the sun but “Under the Tuscan Clouds” was definitely something worth while. We had a very pleasant and memorable stay and I will always remember it.
(April 01-06, 2010)