Rather than separate out all of the little day trips we took while we were staying in Tuscany, we thought we would just share a little about each place in one blog post. So here we go:
Siena is about 55km from Volterra, and is one of the more well-known destinations in Tuscany, if not all of Italy. The whole bunch of us – B&A, M&J, B&M – took a day to go visit Siena, although once we arrived we all spilt up to go check out whatever appealed most to each of us about the town.
One of the first things B and I did was to get a gelato from one of the many stores which can be found in any old town in Italy. These places sure know how to make gelato look appealing, and I’d have trouble avoiding them nearly everywhere we went. We needed to though, since they can also be pretty pricey – I think I paid something like €6.50 for that one, which was definitely not the most expensive we found (we also learnt not to buy anything in Europe, but especially ice-creams, which didn’t have a displayed price as it would inevitably be a huge rip-off). But they taste amazing. We saw Jeremy on the street shortly afterwards, also enjoying his own gelato from the same spot.
After our delicious treat we decided to go visit the Siena cathedral (Duomo di Siena), where we found Martin in the line to get in. Siena’s cathedral is one of the more unique-looking that we came across, and the inside is even better – the ceilings are incredible, all the walls are a rather striking black and white stripe, the stained-glass windows are very impressive, and much of the floor is covered in huge mosaic pictures. It’s also enormous, something which I don’t think comes across that well in the photos.
Once we were done looking around the main hall of the cathedral, we took a side door into a little room which I think was my favourite part of the whole building – the Piccolomini library. This place had an more impressive ceiling than what we’d just seen, but what made it special for me were the books. On display all around the edges of the room, mostly dating from the 15th century or so, and all covered in the most amazing hand-drawn pictures and text. They were beautiful works of art by themselves, but I was mostly just fascinated to think that someone had sat down and filled each page in a time at least 200 years before New Zealand was discovered. I spent so much time admiring them that I forgot to even take a single picture, unfortunately. You’ll have to make do by looking at the picture of the roof (below) instead, remembering that the books are even better, and then take a trip to Siena to see them for yourself.
San Gimignano is another small walled town in Tuscany, only about 30km away from Volterra. The two towns look very similar on paper, but we thought San Gimi (as we called it) had a totally different feel about it. B and I went there twice during our stay, once with everyone else and a second time just by ourselves. Both times, we found it to be a lot busier, and it just felt like it is geared a lot more towards catering to tourists than Volterra. Don’t get me wrong, though, it was still a lovely little town. On the first trip Bridget, Martin, Jeremy and I climbed (quite literally – there was a ladder up to the top part) the tallest of the 14 towers within the walls of San Gimi, and we were rewarded with some great views of the town and surrounding countryside. The towers are actually one of the main things the town is known for – once very popular in Italy, including in places like Florence, most towers like these have been destroyed by war or earthquake over the centuries. San Gimi is one of the few places which has managed to hold on to theirs in any numbers.
After we were done with that we all met up in the courtyard to cool down and have a drink. One of the cool things about the square we noticed was just how random the buildings all were – nothing ever matched what was next to it, and half the buildings had windows bricked up or doors smashed through what were obviously once walls, as purpose or tastes changed over time. The square is also the part of San Gimi where all the old folk go to engage in the favourite Italian pastime for retirees, which is to just sit together for hours and chat.
Castello Monterinaldi is the name of a little vineyard which we all visited one day for a tour and tasting (thanks Jeremy for the extensive Tripadvisor research on that one). We all had a great little time there – it is a very pretty little place, still family-owned (apparently concerns about excessive foreign investment are just as much a thing in Tuscany as they are in New Zealand), and in addition to their beautiful wines they also make their own olive oil (we learnt that an entire tree produces just one bottle per season). While we were trying some of the wines, I asked the guy why their logo was a picture of a turtle. ‘To remind people that sometimes it is a good idea to take things slowly and enjoy life, especially if it is with a good bottle of wine,’ was essentially his reply, which I thought was an excellent philosophy.
We did a fair bit of simply driving around countryside, looking for that quintessential Tuscan town. We had some great results, and some not so great results. Castelfiorentino is definitely in the second category. While all the road signs in the area point towards it, we decided afterwards they were probably put there as warnings. Don’t bother visiting – Castelfiorentino is Tuscany’s Ngaruawahia.
Fattoria il Palagio
This is another cool little winery we briefly visited. An awesome thing about most of the little places is that you can often just turn up and taste/buy some of their wines. We stopped off at this one (can’t remember which journey it was on, because I’d fallen asleep in the back of the car), and it deserves a quick mention for two reasons:
– The girl running the place knew all about New Zealand wines.
– This place had won awards for having the best sauvignon blanc in all of Tuscany (NZ-made was obviously much better. I settled for chianti).
All in all – Tuscany lives up to the hype. We absolutely loved our time there, and were sad to leave at the end of it.
Not too sad though, because we were off to somewhere new! Next stop: Innsbruck, Austria.