Just a short bus ride from Florence up into the hills brings you to the town of Fiesole. The quick side trip lays fabulous views of Florence at your feet. The city is laid out before you as a marvel of the Renaissance in Tuscany that it is.
The first thing you see upon arrival is the Medieval Cathedral.
We spent the day exploring the ruins of the Teatro Romano an archaeological site that includes a temple, the Roman theatre and the Baths.
The Roman Theatre was built somewhere between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. The half-round ampitheatre allowed easy seat access and was used until the 3rd century A.D.
The thermal baths date back to the 1st century B.C. and included a Frigidarium to cool off after your hot bath, a Tepidarium which was the lukewarm space and a Calidarium the hottest water which was warmed by two ovens.
The Etruscan walls partially enclose the city of Fiesole and were a defense against enemies until 1125 when Florence conquered Fiesole.
After exploring the town on an insanely hot afternoon we walked partially down the hill to grab lunch at the Belmond San Michele. This is a very special property in the Belmond chain and again overlooks the city of Florence. It was well worth making a reservation to join them for lunch. The property is stunning and I cannot wait to go back so I can experience the property properly as a guest!
Remember when travelling get off the beaten track! If you can’t afford to stay somewhere plan to go there for lunch. No restaurant that I have ever visited denies non-guests lunch. Just make a reservation!
Santa Margherita Ligure is part of the Ligurian region on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Imperiale Palace Hotel. We chose this specifically because they had both a pool and a beach area so we could unwind after two weeks of traveling around Italy and it was close to the train station and a quick walk into town.
Here and in Portofino you find the outside of buildings painted with Trompe L’oeil frescoes typical of this part of the Riviera during the Art Nouveau period. They used the painted exteriors to identify and distinguish their homes. Painting fake balconies, 3D effects, window sills, etc.
There are many lovely hotels here and in this old fashioned town there is more room to spread out than in The Cinque Terre or in Portofino. It is a great place to make your home base when staying in the area. Day trips to Portofino, Genoa, The Cinque Terre and Milan are easy day trips from Santa Margherita Ligure. You can catch a boat to Portofino or the Cinque Terre from the Pier right in town and buses run daily down to Portofino as it is a very short trip.
We arrived via an easy, convenient train ride from Florence. The old town center is so charming with shops, bars and restaurants lining the streets while its glitzy neighbor, Portofino is filled with yachts and movie stars. Santa Margherita Ligure has a beautiful harbor and beaches with room to enjoy it all since the crowds typically head to Portofino and The Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre is any easy train ride from Santa Margherita Ligure so you can go for the day. This area is well known for its 5 quaint towns. You can swim, shop, eat or hike your way from town to town. The scenery will take your breath away. Sadly, these towns are very crowded with tourists just like us. Be considerate and don’t ruin this beautiful place for the next group to come. We headed down to Monterosso and hiked to Vernazza (be prepared and dress appropriately and bring water and snacks) then a ferry to Manarola and the train back to Santa Margherita Ligure in time to hit the pool for a quick swim and cocktail!
Be sure to spend time wandering around in Santa Margherita!! Loved it!
There are farmers markets to enjoy near the Basilica in Piazza Caprera. Fresh fruits and veggies but the flowers were calling my name!!
There are statues of both Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel II in town commemorating the town’s history.
We walked into town to the Basilica of Santa Margherita. Be sure to go inside!! The Italian Baroque interior is ornate and the altar features a statue of Our Lady of the Rose since 1756. The inlaid marble floors and glass chandeliers are remarkable to say the least!
Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia
After the Basilica we walked up to Villa Durazzo with its Italian and English Gardens and Chiesa Di San Giacomo Di Corte – wow- gorgeous! They were decorating for a wedding. It’s well worth the walk up the stairs!! Also the views of the entire harbor are striking. This Baroque church dates back to 974.
As you wander you will find other gems: some were closed when we stopped by in our wanderings.
This was the last stop in our two week adventure this time and a nice place to slow down and revel in living in Italy, even if just for a few weeks!! We will return!!
Have you been? I’d love to hear your favorite places.
The entrance to this village is through the Porta Sant’Agata (know as the ‘city gate’) and offers absolutely stunning views across the valley to Pienza from its perch high on a hill overlooking a magnificent valley. This extraordinarily beautiful region of Tuscany, the Val d’Orcia, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.
Montichiello is a perfectly restored village set among the 15th century landscape with its dotted cypress trees and farms and in the shadow of Pienza and Montepulciano. It is a small village and easy to explore.
The Church of Santi Leonardo and Christoforo, is Roman-Gothic in style and dates back to the 13th century and can be found in the center of Monticchiello and is the principal historic monument containing ancient frescoes.
The remaining towers were originally fortifications to defend the village. As with many towns throughout the Val D’Orcia one can imagine these towns have changed very little over the years.
As you wander around you can’t help but notice the pride these towns’ people take in their homes. Lovely flowers overhang the balconies and surrounding the doorways. Just like in Siena the laundry hanging overhead tells the story of the residents within and invites you to explore further.
The view from the Porta Sant’Agata looking over the Val d’Orcia toward Pienza.
Greve in Chianti was our home base while in the Chianti region of Tuscany. From here we travelled to Siena then to Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, San Gimignano, Arezzo and Montichiello. As I detailed in a previous blog we were delighted to stay at Villa Bordoni for our time after we left Venice and Florence. The countryside around Chianti is very fertile and a patchwork of vineyards, ancient olive groves, dark cypress trees and the miles of hay fields. You see many small and ancient villages, magnificent Renaissance palazzos and churches.
Greve in Chianti is a medieval town not far from Florence in the heart of Chianti Classico territory and has developed around a central Piazza over the last 500 years. . Piazza Matteotti, a triangular shaped square is surrounded by shops and restaurants and is home to the Saturday market. In the center of the Piazza is a statue of Giovanni da Verranzano. If you have ever been to NYC then you know of the Verranzano bridge. He is credited with discovering NY harbor. At the far end is the church of Santa Croce.
Sangiovese grapes are the very soul of Tuscany. In fact, their fruity, aromatic fragrance is present in almost all of Tuscany’s top wines.
– Classic: is reserved for wines produced in the region where a particular type of wine has been produced “traditionally”. For the Chianti Classico, this “traditional region” is defined by a decree from 1932.
– Riserva: may be used only for wines that have been aged at least two years longer than normal for a particular type of wine.
“Chianti Classico, produced in the provinces of Firenze and Siena is characterized from the exclusive and compulsive “Gallo Nero” label. Chianti Classico and Riserva is made with 80-100% of Sangiovese grapes, and a max 20% of Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. ……also the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (grapes must be grown by the winery itself and minimum aging requirement: 30 months, including 3 months of bottle aging).”
Since the 1970s, Tuscan wine producers have begun to experiment with foreign grape varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. By combining these with the Sangiovese grape, they have created the Super Tuscan wines (an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognized within the Italian wine classification system), which are high-quality wines that are popular in international markets. Some of the most famous names are: Tignanello and Sassicaia.
Montefioralle is a tiny hamlet set on a hilltop west of Greve in Chianti paved with stone houses and narrow cobblestone streets and is supposedly the ancestral home of Amerigo Vespucci, the mapmaker, navigator and explorer who named America. This town dates back to the 11th century and is exactly how you expect a Tuscan village to look with its medieval buildings still standing. Widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and still enclosed by its original defensive walls. Charming!!!! It was absolutely magical and I felt transported back in time.
We stopped by during the day when it was very quiet and then came back in the evening for a fabulous dinner including the infamous Bistecca Fiorentina! Let me just say we had this steak everywhere! Steak is really not the right word to describe this thick slab of beef it is like a T-bone steak from a large oxen. It is always seared on both sides and served rare. As all the guide books suggest- don’t ask for it well done!
Want to read more about Villa Bordoni? or Villa Vignamaggio in Greve? Here is a link also back to the beginning of this adventure which began in Venice. From there you can continue with me or jump to Florence, Siena, Pienza…. well you get the idea! Stay tuned still to come are Montalcino and Montechiello.
Lucca is known for its Renaissance walls that encircle the historic center of this city lined with cobblestone streets and mostly closed to car traffic. This is the former home of Giacomo Puccini the famous opera composer. We loved this town and you can totally picture living here. (Do you see a theme here? I think I said that in Ravello , then again in Positano, then again in Florence. My heart is in Italy no matter where I am.) We did not get to venture out of the historic walled center to the rest of the city however. Next time!
Lucca is surrounded by high mountains and is a short drive from Pisa and located southwest of Florence. The walls were finished in the 17th century and remain intact. The city was built along the rectangular Roman grid formation seen elsewhere in Italy. Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC.
Some of the fun sights are the Cathedral, the Guinigi Tower, the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, San Michele in Foro and of course walking, running, biking or just sitting and people watching on the wall. However, the best thing was just to wander the streets, get gelato, watch people and if you are lucky be here for the Lucca Music Festival. We missed Imagine Dragons by 3 days and at the end of the Festival the Rolling Stones! Bummer!
The Cathedral di San Martino is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin is located in a secluded area of the old city center. The Cathedral is Gothic and Romanesque style with a marble facade like the one found in Pisa. The front facade has 3 arches where pilgrims on their destination route to Rome traded. The marble inlay floor is a mix of religious themes like the floor we saw in Siena dating back to 1233. Next to the Duomo is the crenellated bell-tower finished in the 13th century. Inside you see the famous crucifix bearing an image of Christ wearing a long sleeved garment. The Cathedral is found when walking on the main street called Via Fillungo filled with shops and restaurants.
Piazza San Michele which including a statue of Puccini and the Church of San Michele in Foro is a Roman Catholic church built over the ancient Roman forum. What a fancy exterior on this church. There is a winged Archangel Michael standing at the top and there are also busts of Italian patriots. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries with its twisted columns, each different and carved marble details. It is a very extravagant example of the Pisan-Romanesque style. There is an obvious lack of Christian detailing except the larger figure of St. Michael.
Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi) a Romanesque Gothic structure built in the 1300’s and one of the few remaining towers within the city walls is unique for the holm oak trees planted at the top to symbolize rebirth and renewal. It is the only remaining tower of the original four. From here take in the magnificent view of the entire city!
Santa Maria Bianca is a Romanesque-style Roman Catholic church. Each church has its own unique personality.
Church of San Frediano is a Romanesque church that dominates one end of the Piazza San Frediano. It has a stunning 13th century mosaic that glows brilliantly with gold, blue and pale pinks and pastels. It was begun in the 6th century and originally dedicated to St.Vincent. The mosaic is of The Ascension of Christ the Saviour.
The Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is now a public square in the walled center. The square is elliptical shaped with four gateways and reveals the old structure of the Roman amphitheatre. This Ampitheatre originally held 10,000 spectators and was created for gladiator games and other events. Today it is surrounded by open air restaurants and shops and is a real lively spot in the evenings.
Palazzo Pfanner goes back to 1660 originally commissioned by the Moriconi family who when forced into bankruptcy in 1680 sold the building to the Controni family of silk merchants. They were responsible for the building of the grand staircase and upgrading the gardens. The Pfanner family became involved in the middle of the 19th century. This was the site of the historic Pfanner Brewery until 1929. They are responsible for the restoration of this property that is now open to the public. The gardens have extraordinary 18th century statues depicting the deities of Greek Olympus and the Four Seasons. The baroque garden is visible from the city walls and the grand staircase and is right near the Basilica di San Frediano.
Even I managed to have my share of gelato here in Lucca! I highly suggest Gelateria Veneta!
Have you missed any of the other towns? Pienza was the last town we visited but you can search the blogs by town if you are looking for one in particular.
Here the Arno River continues from Florence dividing the city into 4 distinct areas as it flows to the sea. There is much to see in this city beyond just The Leaning Tower of Pisa!
The area of Santa Maria is one of the most ancient districts and during the Roman Empire was a flourishing city. Surrounded by the 12th century wall the Piazza del Duomo consisting of the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Tower complex is one of the most dramatic settings in Italy.
The Piazza is also known as the ‘Field of Miracles’ or Campo deli Miracoli with its magnificent lawn.
Pisa heralds from as early as the Bronze Age and was populated by Etruscans and eventually became part of the Roman Empire. It was an economic powerhouse in the Middle Ages and was a mighty Maritime city along with Amalfi, Genoa and Venice. The city was heavily damaged during WWII but thankfully the Duomo and the Tower were spared as well as some other Romanesque structures.
This is also a city to explore on foot like many other Tuscan cities. Be sure to explore the area around the Arno River after visiting the Field of Miracles and taking your kitschy picture trying to hold up the Leaning Tower. You know you will!!!
We only had a few hours to explore Pisa so our journey will have to continue on our next adventure. The Gothic Baptistry is directly across from the Duomo and is known for the pulpit carved by Nicola Pisano in 1260. In a not to be missed event every half hour an employee will close the doors and chant demonstrating the remarkable, unbelievable acoustics in this amazing place. It was amazing!!!!!!! Video below!
The cathedral employs horizontal striped marble, a technique borrowed from Moorish architecture which is found in other Tuscan cathedrals. It is renown for the Romanesque panels depicting the life of Christ on the transept door facing the tower. Note the beautiful carved pulpit done in the 14th century by Giovanni Pisano.
The Leaning Tower or the Torre Pendente rises high above the Field. Supposedly Galileo conducted experiments on gravity from the 187′ tower. Historians disagree- go figure! The story goes that the tower started settling when construction reached the third story. There was an attempt to compensate by making the remaining floors slightly taller than the leaning side but- alas- it didn’t work and only made the problem worse. You must have reservations to climb to the top. Sadly, we didn’t know that so we couldn’t get up there but I understand the views are crazy!
In 2007 David and Catherine Gardner opened Villa Bordoni, Country House Hotel and Restaurant, a small luxury hotel immediately above the town of Greve right in the heart of Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.
This 16th century villa has remarkable views of the Tuscan hills and is conveniently located to explore the entire region of Tuscany. We travelled east to Arezzo, south to Montalcino, west to San Gimignano and then onto Pisa and Lucca. You will need a car to stay at Villa Bordoni as it sits high in the hills with amazing views of Montefioralle.
The hotel has 10 bedrooms and suites each named after a vineyard, Chianti peak or Castle it looks towards and individually decorated with attention to detail including stenciled walls and all the amenities.
The pool, exercise space, and restaurant are all just waiting for you to indulge yourself and relax! It is a magical place that I personally had on my bucket list for 10 years! I was not disappointed. The staff are friendly, knowledgable and always ready to accommodate your every need.
The restaurant has 2 rooms but why would you sit inside when you can sit in the lovely gardens surrounded by boxwood hedges and flower beds in the walled garden for breakfast and dinner and revel in the scenery and just being in Tuscany! They serve gourmet food highlighting seasonal ingredients. Of course, if you are there in cooler or rainy weather dining by candlelight and a warm fireplace is just as romantic!
“Villa Bordoni is a ‘Patrician Villa’ – the former country residence of the Bordoni’s, a family of wealthy merchants from the city of Florence.
“To understand the history of the Villa, one has to understand the history of the Greve Valley and beyond to the cluster of city-states that are known today as Italy.
Florence and Siena were separate countries in the Middle Ages – great rivals, frequently at war with one another. The valley of the river Greve, which gives its name to the nearest town, was of great strategic importance, and all too frequently the battleground of the Florentine and Sienese armies; hence the concentration of castles and fortified villages present in the area. The origins of Villa Bordoni date back to the 11th century … Over the centuries a network of fragile alliances brought relative peace to the region, and permitted the structure to evolve into a farmhouse, albeit a fortified one.
During the 17th century, this ‘casa colonica’ was purchased by a wealthy family from Florence, as a form of summer country residence and hunting lodge, and was slowly transformed into a Villa, with its stuccoed façade and Italian garden. During the 18th century, Giuseppe Bordoni made this Villa his permanent home and invested heavily in the vineyards, producing a renowned Chianti Classico …
After the Second World War, the heir to the dwindling family fortune tried her best to defend the family property, but over the years found herself having to sell off parcels of land and entire farmhouses in order to preserve the Villa and the core of the farm…”(Source: excerpted from Wikipedia)
If you long to visit Tuscany I highly suggest a stay at Villa Bordoni! Follow the blog as we continue exploring Tuscany one ancient town and vineyard at a time! Next stop is Villa Vignamaggio just outside Greve in Chianti and a short trip from Villa Bordoni for a fabulous wine tasting and lunch and tour of the cellars and vineyards.
What a wonderful wine tour and tasting we experienced here. You are surrounded by eras of ancient history. The Badia di Passignano is located in the heart of Chianti Classico in Tuscany. The Badia dates back to 395 when it was founded by the Archbishop of Florence and is still inhabited by monks. Can you even fathom that! The Antinori family owns the vineyards surrounding the monastery producing Chianti Classico Riserva “Badia di Passignano” here.
The Badia di Passignano is located halfway between Florence and Siena. Passignano is a tiny town with only about 13 permanent inhabitants but is a popular vacation getaway for the Florentine community.
The Osteria di Passignano itself sits in the middle of the vineyards that surround it with lovely views. There is an antique press in the center of the elegant dining room reminding us of the past as well as the vaulted ceilings and ancient stone walls. The Osteria was awarded a Michelin Star in 2008. The menu here is based on local fresh ingredients paired perfectly with the Antinori wines and highlighting Tuscan flavors.
We started our tasting with a tasting of Olive oils from various countries served with a Cervaro Della Sala 2015. Our next course was a Wild Herbs Flan, crispy egg and Parmesan fondue (pictured below) served with Chianti Classico GranSelezione Badia a Passignano 2012. Did you know to only buy Chianti Classico that has the Black Rooster to indicate the DOCG designation as authentic Chianti Classico. Our next course was The Passignano vegetable garden with zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper and sweet onion ravioli served with their premier Tignanello 2014. Is your mouth watering yet. This meal was insane!! Our main course was a Roast Veal shin, celery, carrots with candied lemon serviced with Brunello di Montalcino pain dell Vigne 2012. OMG I love Brunello!!! Last, but not least, dessert was a cheese selection with pear-filled puff pastry and honey (pictured below) served with Muffato Della Sala 2011 and then winding down with Petit Fours and Espresso.
We were treated to a tour of the vineyard and the ancient vaulted cellars. The cellars are beneath the Abbey of Passignano where about 2000 barrels of Chianti Classico are aged. It is a true flashback to the Middle Ages. Production began here 2000 years ago.
The original part of the cellar is under the monastery and was originally built in the 15th/16th century. The walls are 12′ thick. When they were smoking the prosciutto below the heat rose thru holes above that allowed the spaces above to receive heat. The walls are black here due to smoking the hams.
In the cellar, the floors are washed down to keep the humidity level up sometimes twice a day in summer. The grapes need the sweet perfume of the oak barrels but this varies by vintage and determines whether they use larger or smaller barrels depending on how “Oakley” they want it.
Italian food uses a lot of lemon and oil and needs refreshing wines to go with the meat and cheese (protein). The tannins in the wine help with digestion so Chianti Classico with meat- YUM! and melts the proteins. Who knew?? This is why Spanish and French wines are totally different and pair differently with foods.
The Tuscans planted the first vineyards here and they trained them as trees. Today they train the vines differently to enhance the sugar in the grapes. Previously the grapes were so heavy they would pull down the tree. They planted both vines and olives until the 20th century. They felt the quantity was more important than the quality. What they didn’t understand is that if the plant was feeding all the grapes the level of the sugars, the acidity, the aroma of the grapes would become much lower and eventually become vinegar because the level of the sugar was 6-9% alcohol without antioxidants there was not a way to preserve. Now chemicals can be added and influence our health.
Most wines in Italy are very good at small trattorias since they are consumed quickly – no headaches!!! They suggest not to buy table wine in the US since chemicals are added like sulphate for preservation and that is what gives us headaches! They also feel it is best to eat local just like we encourage people to. Fresh is best!
Wines from Italy have classifications which identify the region it is from. We learned that Super Tuscan is not an actual classification. DOCG is the designation you look for when buying wines. Different regions have varied climates. For example, Montalcino is warmer than Chianti so the Sangiovese is different from different regions. DOCG has been professionally tasted and analyzed. “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) This is the highest classification Italian wines can be awarded. It means that there are (controllata) controlled production methods and (garantita) guaranteed wine quality with each bottle. “May 16, 2016 (Wikipedia) Here is a link to DOCG designation wines.
There are rules to follow when producing a Chianti Classico Riserva. The altitude of the vineyard is determined and is between 260-600 meters. There is a controlled number of plants per hectare. The vines to be used must be declared and 2 bottles per plant maximum are all you get in order to have enough sugar. Every 45-50 years the vines must be replanted. They graft the top on a healthy root when necessary.
Antinori planted 5000 new plants on February 27th of this year but it was so extraordinarily dry in March andApril that they received special permission to irrigate the new vines so they wouldn’t lose them. If you lose the vines you would be out of business for 5-8 years. (pictured below on the right)
The best Sangiovese grapes are found near the trunk of the plant vs. the grapes at the top of the plant so the grapes are selectively thinned feeding the remaining grapes better. Irrigation is not allowed but the oldest vineyards have it there for emergencies. The plant sends out all the sugars that turn the grapes from green to pink to purple and then to black in about 100-200 days to fully ripen depending on the weather. They say about 1,640 hours of sunlight has been calculated for Sangiovese which is the grape of Chianti Classico. Stones are placed next to the weaker plants to reflect the sun back onto the plant.
The first grapes on a plant are not worthy of wine. There are different temperatures in different parts of the same vineyard and the amount of sun varies too. Some grapes mature differently and when it is too sunny they need to cover the grapes with the leaves to shade them. In France this year we learned that they lost 50% of the champagne crop due to a strong frost but the French warned the Italians so they got their workers up in the middle of the night and lit fires to heat the vineyards.
Usually by the end of September the grapes are ready to harvest but all things must fall into place at the same time: the air temperature must be really low when harvesting and not humid; you need the workers immediately available and they pick by hand here and you can’t pick after noon time since it is too hot. So many factors go into selecting the right moment, literally, when to pick the grapes.
The largest predator for the vines is the wild boar who breaks the plants. The wild boar are a problem because there are no more wolves since it is too warm so they have left the territory and they are the only predators of the boars. The boars though are actually only looking for the truffles and are not intent on destroying the vines. Of course, they have lots of swallows which eat a lot of the fruit flies. Bats are protected since they also eat fruit flies and with all that sweetness around you can be sure they are lots of them. If the swallows leave before the harvest only the bats are there to control the fruit flies.
I hope you enjoyed this short history of winemaking and I hope I did justice to our wonderful tour host. I took serious notes and hopefully I got the facts right! The Antinori family owns many vineyards around the world and produces a wide variety of wines.
Chose your favorite and let me know which you prefer! We loved the Tignanello!
Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael were stars of the Italian Renaissance and its artistic masterpieces. They were visionaries who changed the face of sculpture, architecture and painting.
Michelangelo was obsessed with portraying the body in all its splendor. He was 26 when he was commissioned with this project in 1501. In 1504 The David statue was installed in the Piazza della Signoria and it remained there until 1873. Now a copy is in its place and the original is in the Galleria dell’ Accademia. The David is widely known as one of the finest and most famous sculptures in the world. In the photo above note the detail of his face and of the slingshot. What is he thinking? There is still debate if he sculpted David before he was about to slay Goliath or just after. What do you think? Supposedly he chose to depict him in the moments before his fight with Goliath and the impending confrontation. This statue is the ultimate symbol of bravery and power. These qualities are reflective of the City of Florence!
The impact of seeing this statue in person is incredibly moving. You wonder if it is worth standing in line to see a statue. Then you walk into the rotunda and he literally reaches out and speaks to you as if alive. It is a very powerful statue and experience.