We rolled out of Assisi and Umbria on a brilliant but cool spring morning destination: Florence. We feel like we’ve cheated Umbria a bit, barely dipping a toe into this region with our short stay in Assisi. Both Umbria and neighboring region, The Marches, will be high on our list to explore, with a car next time, when we return to Italy. But in the meantime, to Tuscany we ride!
We rolled through Tuscan towns past hilltop villas with the Apennine mountains on the horizon framed by Tuscan cypress trees and footnoted by pastures of green fields, olives, grapes and spring flowers eventually meeting up with the Arno River as it guided us into Florence. One of our favorite ways to travel in Europe is by train. They are clean (most of them), efficient (when a strike is not called) and both of us can look out the window without the worry of driving off the road. They give you time to sit, think and observe as the thud of the tracks rumbles below you. This train, from Assisi, was particularly pretty with lots of unobstructed views of the countryside.
While in Florence, we took a day to walk to Fiesole above the city about three miles from town. We’d debated hopping a train and checking out some more far flung Tuscan locales and looked into a tour but most were going to upcoming stops on our Tuscany itinerary so, instead, and on the tip of a friend who’d lived here for a semester in college, to Fiesole we walked.
Fiesole sits atop a hill, overlooking Florence and has villas galore, a Roman amphitheater and other ruins (really ruined ones), a museum, a cute town square with several restaurants and a few churches including the Fiesole Cathedral right on the square with its distinctive bell tower.
It is definitely walkable from Florence and we weren’t the only ones taking the hill by foot (you could also take a cab or bus, it’s not too far). Often, when you hit Google Maps for a walking route it gives you a path you can walk but the question is should you? Sometimes it maps you through sketchy stretches of town, as we learned first hand in Athens several years ago. And often, and particularly in Europe, it will take you down a very windy, narrow road which appears to be one way but you learn it is, in fact, two way when cars hurtle toward you at what you think is an impossibly unsafe rate of speed given the berth, the other car, not to mention pedestrians. This, however, was not the case with the walk to Fiesole. The most direct path was a narrow winding road, but it happened to also be the road less traveled which made for some nice walking.
At the end, it’s steep but the views are worth it both from and on the way to town.
After Florence, we visited Siena and from there picked up a car to finish our Tuscan traverse. Our trip in Siena was shortened due to my trip to the hospital (I’m fine), but we did get some time to walk around briefly in the morning to check out Il Campo and the Duomo. Siena was, and alas remains, atop our list of places we want to spend more time.
From Siena, we detoured off the direct path to San Gimignano to have lunch in Greve in Chianti. Traveling through a combination of modes of transport (car, train, ferry, etc) enables a variety of different view points of a region and now, with a car, we wound our way through the hills of the Chianti region with its stereotypical, but not to be minimized by that word at all, views of the countryside. Tuscan cypress trees, miles of vineyards and olive groves, bright green budding and flowering trees, yellow flowers splitting lines of grapes: words can’t capture it. It does look like the movies.
Greve was in a guidebook we had. We knew nothing about it at all. The Greve River runs through town, Tuscany bikers and hikers stop for lunch in the town’s main square. Unlike so many of the towns it is not atop a hill, but down in the valley. We had salad and pizza in one of the aforementioned town square restaurants and we loved it. It feels like a place people actually live and don’t just make their livelihoods from supporting tourism. We’d stay here if we were doing a Chianti focused tour. We took the SR222, which is a beautiful road, and Panzano appeared to be a good runner up for an overnight. Alas, our Airbnb host was waiting so we mapped to San Gimignano without further Chianti exploration until next time.
Greve in Chianti
From San Gimignano we rode west towards our last stop in Tuscany, Lucca. On our way, we visited Pisa. After our obligatory “holding up the tower” photos (hard to resist, and everyone’s doing it, man) we visited the Bapistry and the Duomo. The Bapistry has Roman arches, a large dome and the light from the windows and lighting above filters down on the central statue of Saint John the Baptist and the arches in, dare I say, a Holy way.
The Duomo has an impressive altar with Jesus as the highlight both behind and in artworks depicting his life. It was once the largest cathedral in Italy and sits between the tower and Bapistry completing the Campo dei Miracoli.
We had already eaten our packed lunch, but spent the rest of our time in Pisa wandering down the Corso Italia through the old town to bid the Arno River arrivederchi. Pisa is a college town, walled and larger than we expected. We quite liked it and would stay a night or two in the future to get some more modern city into a Tuscany tour.
From the ride into Florence, to the winding roadways over the Tuscan hills and our stops in Siena, Greve, San Gimignano, Pisa and Lucca we loved our little Tuscan tour and are already strategizing for a future trip on where to return here, while building in more of Umbria, some of The Marches and more of northern Italy into the next foray. The food in the north has plenty of pizza and pasta but with more of a meat and cheese focus vs the emphasis on fish to the south. And while the Tuscan sun didn’t shine on us every day, our viewpoints from apartment windows, dashboard, train car and hikes will live in our memories fondly for years to come. For now, we say grazie mille, Tuscany, for two great weeks in your warm embrace.