Portofino, Italy

Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!

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The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats.  Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!

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It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown.  The views from both spots will not disappoint you!

Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier.  This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.

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Chiesa di San Giorgio
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Chiesa di San Giorgio

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Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up.  We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.

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Castello Brown

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Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town!  The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.

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Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza.  Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.

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Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo.  We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

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See Santa Margherita in the distance

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If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido.  This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.

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Day tripping in CT at Lavender Pond Farm

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In their effort to make the world a more beautiful place the owners of Lavender Pond Farm have created a little slice of heaven right here in Connecticut on 25 acres now filled with all sorts of lavender varieties.

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Located in Killingworth, CT the Farm caters to lavender and garden lovers alike.  Lavender typically blooms from June into August but can last later depending on the weather.  With almost 10,000 plants in the fields there are 12 varieties including: Grosso, Munstead, Edelweiss, Hidcote Giant and Provence.

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Children old and young enjoy walking thru the fields, taking their family photos and just enjoying the outdoors. Check out the Rooster and his harem or play some chess on the life size board.

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To help with the necessary pollination they have honey bees which play an important role.

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Honey bees hard at work!

Recently they built an authentic covered bridge on the property and there is a lovely gazebo to sit and just surround yourself in this sea of lavender! Stay tuned as they are planning to open a bed and breakfast!

Want to take some home? No problem, they sell lavender plants and a variety of lavender based products in their on-site shop, including sachets, soaps, scrubs, linen sprays, oils and lavender lemonade to name a few.

 

A Day in the Country- Trade Secrets

With Trade Secrets being this weekend in CT I thought you might be interested in this blog I wrote several years ago on the Saturday event which is always a widely anticipated event by plant geeks everywhere.  People come from far and wide to attend, booking their hotel rooms a year in advance!  Many of the vendors come every year so although this blog is from several years ago the information is very relevant to this weekends show in Sharon!

Trade Secrets is a two-day event which started 18 years ago in Bunny Williams backyard. This event is the foremost fundraiser for Women’s Support Services which offers crisis intervention, counseling and education, as well as legal, medical, and housing assistance to fulfill its mission of creating a community free of domestic violence.  Women’s Support Services is a nonprofit organization that provides free and confidential aid to victims of domestic violence and abuse. WSS provides a 24 hour hotline, (860) 364.1900 short-term emergency shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, education and emergency support for those in need.

The proceeds from Trade Secrets 2018 will help WSS fund programs that teach children about healthy relationships and conflict resolution and will help fund operation of their 24-hour hotline. If you missed it this year mark your calendar for next year like Martha Stewart.

“Sadly 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lives” (National Violence Against Women Survey, 2000)

The mission of WSS is to create a community free of domestic violence and abuse through intervention, prevention and education.

Trade Secrets is the premiere Rare Plant & Garden Antique Sale of the season on Saturday with Private Garden tours on Sunday! Today I will take you on a tour of the Rare Plant & Garden Antique Sale.

The plant and antique sale is held yearly at Lion Rock Farm in Sharon, CT.  This is a stunning property overlooking Amenia, NY located in one of the most scenic areas in northwest CT. There were antiques of every variety, rare plants that you can only find here as well as perennials, vegetables and annuals for sale.  There are trees and shrubs, containers and planters, statuary and towers, peonies, roses, and lavender.  You name it and I am sure you can find it here.

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Lion Rock Farm
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Plant towers

Plants in every shape and color to buy

 

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Lion Rock Farm
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Pool at Lion Rock
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Lion Rock
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Pots from Campo de’ Fiori, Sheffield, MA
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Topiaries in all shapes and sizes

 

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Ready for take off

 

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Every garden needs one of these

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Need backyard furniture?

 

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Splish, splash!

 

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I want this gate!

 

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Antiques

 

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Lilacs

Bye till next year!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Churches of Verona

Duomo Di Verona is the city’s cathedral and can easily be reached from the Ponte Pietra. It was constructed on the remains of two earlier churches that were destroyed in the earthquake of 1117. An absolutely beautiful church in the historic medieval center. The Basilica has striped brick and stone walls not unlike other churches I have seen throughout Italy.

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Verona’s Cathedral

Basilica di Santa Anastasia is the most important religious monument in the Gothic style in Verona. Funded by the Scaligeri family it was built around 1290.

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Basilica di Santa Anastasia
Verona’s majestic Basilica Di San Zeno dates from the 12th century in Piazza San Zeno. The Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore is a striking landmark especially when viewed from the across the river. This Romanesque church’s bronze doors have 48 carved panel Bible Scenes and beautiful frescoes inside from the 12th – 15th centuries.
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Basilica di San Zeno from Ponte Scaligero
Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli, is an ancient Roman Catholic church built in the early 12th century on a pre-exiting Roman cemetery. Located right near the Porta dei Borsari mentioned in the previous blog on the Corso Cavour. A striking Veronese Romanesque bell tower stands apart from the church.
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Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli

 

Did you miss the last 2 blogs on Verona? Romeo, Romeo and Verona’s Bridges? Link to them to read more about this lovely city.

Also travel to Asiago near the Swiss Alps.  Looking for more Italy?  There are blogs on many different areas.  Here are links: Amalfi Coast; Puglia, including Lecce, Matera, Alberobello, Borgo Egnazia; Florence; Venice (stay tuned for some new Venice ones also); Tuscany including: Siena, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Lucca, Pienza, Pisa, Arezzo. Montalcino, Montefioralle, Greve and Montechiello.  Whew!  That’s a lot of trips to Italy in the last few years!

Can’t wait to return!!!!

The Magic of Venice

This city is abundant with art and architecture.  Millions of people arrive daily to take in it’s atmosphere and wander its narrow streets. Hopefully, there will soon be a ban on those mega cruise ships that are destroying the lagoon!
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The Grand Canal from The Rialto Bridge
Surprisingly, although there are no cars and everything is delivered via boat, there are surprisingly few accidents. How they navigate around is crazy!
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The Grand Canal at The Rialto Bridge
The gondoliers are a special bunch.  Did you know they must know the city’s history? They don’t just serenade you! Whether via gondola or vaporetto (water taxi) be sure to explore the city from the water.  You will see it from a completely different perspective than just walking around.
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Gondola rides
The city’s history is fascinating and the Grand Canal is lined with more than 170 13th – 18th centuries old Palazzos.  These buildings appear to sit on the water but their construction goes way back when they were constructed on pilings set into layers of sand and clay. (See my blog on Venice from 2017)
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The smaller side waterways are called Rio’s and are crossed by over 400 small bridges. Over time the canals were deepened and widened to accommodate traffic.
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There are only a few ‘Canals’ in the city: The Grand Canal- a giant “S” curve that winds its way through the center of the city; the Cannaragio Canal and Guidecca Canal.  The Grand Canal has four bridges that cross it: The Rialto Bridge; The Ponte degli Scalzi; the Ponte dell’ Accademia and the Ponte della Costituzione. Who can believe the Rialto bridge has stood for 400 years.
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The Rialto Bridge
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Ponte degli Scalzi
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Venice is an amazing city in every way. Every piazza features another magnificent church. These are works of amazing art and extraordinary masterpieces of architecture.  We will explore these in another blog. Stay tuned!
Did you miss my recent trip to Asiago? As always, if you are traveling to Italy I am glad to recommend experienced Travel Agents who can make you trip memorable and tailored to your needs and desires. Of course, if you are traveling with a larger party and would like a photographer to document your adventures so you can just enjoy your trip, I’m your girl!

Val d’Orcia – Montalcino

Montalcino sits on top of a steep hill with acres of olive groves and vineyards surrounding it. It was heavily fortified behind defensive walls and an imposing 14th century fortress topped with tall lookout towers built in 1361 to a pentagonal plan.  It is famous for the production of Brunello di Montalcino.  My favorite!

Fields of Sunflowers cover the breathtaking countryside from Siena to Monte Amiata called the Val d’Orcia.  Sunflowers often appeared in the background of Renaissance art works. This area has flat chalky plains with fortified medieval settlements on top of hills. Everywhere you look there are rows of those iconic cypress trees.

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Sunflowers in the Val d’Orcia
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Cypress trees

Chiesa della Madonna del Soccorso is a Roman Catholic church located on the Via Spagni.

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Chiesa della Madonna del Soccorso

As with other Tuscan towns there are a multitude of Catholic churches.

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Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
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Sun setting over Montalcino

Some history on Brunello:

“Tuscany is one of the best wine destinations around the world, with its triangular shape it seems made for cultivating vineyards. In fact, wine is produced in all ten of the region’s provinces. There are more than 70 DOCG wines in Italy, 11 of which are produced in Tuscany. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or controlled designation of origin guaranteed) is the highest recognition that can be awarded to a wine.”

Brunello di Montalcino (normal and riserva) is obtained from Sangiovese grapes. Did I say enough it is my favorite wine ever!!!

“The Brunello di Montalcino is a visually clear, brilliant wine with a lively garnet color. It has intense, persistent, wide and ethereal scent. We recognize scents of undergrowth, aromatic wood, small fruits, light vanilla and composite jam. The taste is elegant and harmonious body, nerbo and breed, it is dry with long aromatic persistence. Due to its characteristics, Brunello di Montalcino has long aging, improving over time. Hard to say how many years this wine improves in the bottle. This, in fact, depends on vintage. It ranges from a minimum of 10 years to 30, but can be kept even longer. Of course, it must be kept in the right way: in a fresh cellar, but above all at constant, dark, noisy and no odor; the sealed bottles.”

Matching food with Brunello di Montalcino

The elegance and the harmonious body of the wine make it possible to combine with very structured and composite dishes such as red meats, feather and coat, possibly accompanied by mushrooms and truffles. It also finds optimal match with international meat dishes or sauces.

Brunello is also an excellent wine with cheese: seasoned tomatoes, Tuscan pecorino cheese, structured cheeses. Moreover, because of its characteristics, it is also enjoyable as meditation wine.

The Brunello di Montalcino wine should be served in glass-shaped glasses with a wide, stitched shape, in order to be able to grasp the composite and harmonious bouquet. It should be served at a temperature of about 18 ° C-20 ° C. For very aged bottles it is advisable to decant in crystal carafe, in order to better oxygenate it and propose it in its total purity.”

Characteristics and requirements for Brunello di Montalcino 

The Brunello di Montalcino – Below are the rules laid down in the current Disciplinary Code as provided by Decree 19/5/1998.

– Production area: Montalcino commune – Vineyard
: Sangiovese (named, in Montalcino, “Brunello”)……
– Minimal wood finishing: 2 years in oak
– Minimum bottle aging: 4 months (6 months for Riserva type)
– Color: intense ruby ​​red tending to garnet for aging
– Smell: characteristic and intense aroma
– Taste: dry, warm, slightly tannic , robust and harmonic
– Minimum alcohol content: 12.5% ​​Vol. ……
– Bottling: only in the production area
– Consumption: after 5 years from the vintage (6 years for Riserva type)
– Packaging: Montalcino Brunello can be marketed only if packed in Bordeaux bottles.”

 

Source: http://www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it/index.php?p=5&lg=it

Looking for more on Italy? Check out Florence, Venice, Siena, Amalfi Coast

You get the idea there are tons of towns to explore here!

Val d’Orcia – Montichiello

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.

Pienza blog-3Montichiello 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.

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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.

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Pieve dei Santi Leonardo e Cristoforo

 

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.

 

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Montechiello

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The view from the Porta Sant’Agata looking over the Val d’Orcia toward Pienza.

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Pienza from Montechiello

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Did you miss Montepulciano, Pienza or Siena in the Val D’Orcia region of Tuscany?  Here are links to the those blogs.  From there you can also find Blogs not he Amalfi Coast, Venice, Florence, Lucca, Pisa and the Puglia region.  Next up is Montalcino.

I am off to Italy in January so stay tuned.  Headed back to Venice, Vicenza and Verona.

Greve in Chianti and Montefioralle

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.

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Villa Bordoni
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Vineyards

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.

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Piazza Matteotti and Giovanni da Verranzano
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Church of Santa Croce
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Wild Boars roam the countryside in Tuscany

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).”

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The Rooster is the symbol of Chianti Classico

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.

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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!

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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- Walled Historic Center

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.

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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!

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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.

Cathedral di San Martino

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.

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Church of San Michele in Foro

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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!

Guinigi Tower

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.

Basilica di San Frediano

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.

Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

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.

Palazzo Pfanner

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.

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