FIRENZE, the city of art and romance. You can get lost in the many lanes or get tired clicking every picturesque corner you turn. While the popular belief is to stay near the Republica or the Duomo, I would suggest that you stay across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, towards the Boboli gardens.
Florence city centre stretches across in four directions and is cordoned off by the four gates – North, South, West and East. Staying on the fringes of these gates gives you an insight into real Florence, not taking away from the tourist attractions strewn across this city. The best way to experience Florence is to walk through its streets.
Walk till your feet hurt and your fingers get tired of clicking pictures because they will get tired! Then stop by the roadside to have a cone of gelato… not from the vendors who heap them up in piles but from the vendor who has gelato, that’s smooth and flat in the containers. That, my friend, is the best gelato in town. Go to Piazza Michelangelo to see the bronze replica of David overlooking the city and avoid the crowds at the Academia. Or walk to the San Miniato al Monte Church and take in the view that is Florence.
The best pizza is at Gusto Pizza in Santo Spirito and the best pear cheese ravioli is at the restaurant behind the Duomo – Coquinarius. Walk in the by lanes of Santa Croce and discover the School of Leather! It’s a mad time to be in Firenze on the holiday of San Giovanni. The city celebrates the holiday by playing medieval football and all the streets serve free aperitifs during the evenings.
There are parades and loads of music with a whole lot of cheering!
We took a bus from Firenze to Siena. The best time to visit Siena is during the first weekend of July as the Il Palio horse races are on then. One can buy a bottle of wine and sit at the Campo, watching and cheering. The interesting thing about Siena is that everything is vintage! So in-between the races, there are vintage car rallies and lots of wine. The easiest way to move around the Tuscan countryside is to drive. Also, most wine tastings happen on Saturday/Sunday mornings so be prepared to make it an early evening. Siena with its medieval charm is the beginning of many more beautiful stone structures and villas surrounded by vineyards. While at wine tasting pick up the bottles you like as they are way cheaper than the same ones priced in the cities.
If you are there during the season of Olives then be sure to go for some olive oil tastings as well. The best areas are Chianti and Montalcino with many smaller vineyards strewn across the Umbria region. From Firenze, if you take a short train ride over to the beautiful cluster of five small seaside villages, you will be lost in the quaintness of this region. These villages together are called Cinque Terre. An overnight stay in one of the five villages is a comfortable way to go about it. My favourites were Manarola and Vernazza but maybe your choices differ. Make sure the summer is up as the waters can be cold and can dampen the otherwise beautiful beach trip. Luckily, commutes between these villages are easy even if one chooses to take the train. Cinque Terre is a mix of both mountains and beaches. So go hiking the mountain trails and stop for an occasional beer as you take in the view. Each turn will surprise you with a new breathtaking view. This region is famous for their basil pasta and Trattoria Da Oscar in Monterosso has the best pesto pasta ever!
Come back, wine filled and fuzzy. The way you should feel after an Italian summer.
Until next week fellow trippers, the salt route is long but not weary…follow to see where it takes us next week.