Now usually the last day of a holiday is the one on which you have to fight the thoughts trying to prematurely drag you back to the real life that awaits you at home. Thoughts that distract you from enjoying every last moment by badgering you with lists of things that need to be packed and remembered; thoughts which make you check continually for your passport and read and reread flight departures and airport directions. This constant mental preparation can make the last day feel like a waiting day and no joy can be found in that.
For our final day we had saved the best for last. Tuscany.
I had booked Dear Husband and I on a wine tasting tour in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy including the towns of San Gimignano and Siena.
We were to be those tourists on a bus; a first for us. We met our guides bright and early again at the Santa Maria Novella, and we were herded onto the promised air-conditioned bus; about 6 different languages accounted for.
Leaving Florence the bus made its windy way into the Tuscan countryside and I felt certain that at any minute they would drive us into Fairview to look at stinky goats. Living as we do in the Cape Winelands, Tuscany had for us a very familiar feeling. The spring vines still wore a dormant winter look, and despite the obvious trades of Tuscan villa for Cape Dutch homesteads and rolling hills for our Paarl basin valley, the Tuscan countryside felt very much like home.
Our first stop was outside the towering walls of the Italian medieval town of San Gimignano. To get your bearings, San Gimignano is in the province of Siena, north-central Italy. I do not say this lightly – San Gimignano was captivating.
The main history of San Gimignano is easily Googled but I cannot ignore here the tale of its towers. In a most Capulet vs Montague battle two families battled it out for control of the city. Not so much a bloodbath as a battle of the build for these Italians. This particular feuding required building tower houses of increasing height. As in – the tallest one wins!
Anyway towards the end of the Medieval period there were 72 towers in San Gimignano, up to 70 m tall. The town council put an end to this ego malarkey by ordaining that no tower be built taller than that of the Palazzo Comunale. And that showed those town folks who was actually in charge.
Says Wikipedia: While in other cities, such as Florence, most or all of their towers have been brought down due to wars, catastrophes, or urban renewal, San Gimignano has managed to conserve fourteen towers of varying heights, for which it is known internationally.
Don’t you just love history?
San Gimignano is famous for its Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine, saffron, and Santa Fina pottery. We used our free time in the city to sit in the sun and drink café lattes, enjoying the fact that once on the ground we could escape the big bus vibe. Later we strolled the streets and perused the little shops, buying an olive oil pourer that reminds me every day of this little town.
From San Gimignano we headed to the Chianti Classico area to the Tenuta Torciano Wine Farm. This wine estate produces Chianti Classico wines, olive oils, and balsamic vinegar and truffle oils. We thoroughly enjoyed the tasting of five of the estate wines, their balsamic vinegar and their truffle oils during a lunch of Italian charcuterie, bruschetta, cheeses, pasta and almond cantuccini (biscotti) in the wine cellar of the estate.
Our host was the charming, funny and very flirtatious fifth generation son of the family. We laughed out loud and ate like kings on the simplest fare. A meal of excellent ingredients, simply prepared, eaten in a wine cellar in Tuscany can match in both flavour and enjoyment that of a fine dining restaurant. Pure pleasure is hard to quantify.
Dizzy with wine and Italian charm we were guided back onto our bus, this time enjoying some rugby banter and laughs with a group of kiwis in the back of the bus who recognized our accent. We set off en route to our next stop which was the Monteriggioni fortress another medieval walled town just outside Siena, located on a natural hillock. I stand to be correct but I think the town has only 56 families in residence.
Monteriggioni has a charming town square the Piazza Roma which boasts a restaurant, coffee shops, ice-cream, wine shops and a hotel. You can actually walk around the walls of the fortress to see the great views of the beautiful surrounding countryside, but from its vantage point, the views are unmissable and after our lunch we declined the climb.
The final stop was into Siena itself. Here we were divided into our language groups and became part of a walking guided tour through the streets of Siena. Our guide pointed out the different architectural styles as well as the Cathedral and Palazzo Comunale (Municipal Building) in Piazza del Campo.
The main theme of the guided walk focused on the apparently very famous Palio horse race run in the city twice every summer. Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards in a horse race that sees the whole town in the main square, and secures the winners a victory they carry and uphold throughout the year.
I am not going to lie to you, it was to us a rather comical pastime given the size and shape of the Piazza del Campo. Between the fact that the horse does not need to carry a rider all the way to win and our guide’s ceaseless enthusiasm to describe in detail the race to us, it was hard to decided which was most bizarre.
Arriving back at our apartment in Florence that evening, we were weary. But, we also were richer and fuller after a day spent basking in Italian heritage, custom and lifestyle. It really was the perfect ending to an amazing time together.
Heading to the airport and back to our kiddos was wonderful. At the end of the discomfort, stiff legs and swollen feet would be waiting Pretty Girl hugs and Handsome cuddles.
We had seen Munich, Venice, Rome, Florence and now Tuscany. Let it be know my friend, that those faces are two of the best sights to see in all the world.
Before I go, my top tips for Florence
- The Florence public transport system is buses. There are so many buses that you never wait longer than ten minutes for a bus. Buy tickets at the tobacconist, newsagents or ATAF accredited sellers. You can buy single ride fare or multi ride fares. Again its more expensive to buy on the bus from the driver.
- To get on the bus you must use the front or the back door. To get off the bus you use the middle doors.
- Validate your ticket on the bus – there are heavy fines for non-validated tickets.
That being said, walk rather than take the bus if you can. There are wonderful things to be found on foot.
- There is a Florence card the Firenze Card if you want to visit all the museums and churches. It was not worth our while to buy one however.
- There is free wi-fi in the Florence City Center. Thank you Florence.
- At the leather markets be sure to haggle. I am no haggler but Dear Husband did a great job and we certainly paid less than the asking price.
- Many of the stalls sell the same things but at vastly different prices – it is worth checking some other stalls for a better offer.
- Like any other tourist destination Florence has pick pockets. Look after your things.
- We used GET YOUR GUIDE services for our Tuscany tour and we were very happy with both the guides and the service.