Craving for Old Europe? Here are Top 7 Cities to Visit !!!

It’s not just the European food or people or cultures that attracts millions of people to visit the continent each year. Yes, those are appealing, but for the most part, it’s the unique medieval charms of Europe that people can’t get enough of when they are getting lost in the narrow alleys of small towns in Europe, looking at centuries old cathedrals or  ruins of ancient fortresses,  or walking on cobbled stoned squares from the middle ages.

Every time I’ve visited the big or tiny towns in Europe, I was taken back in time. I could feel and see the life that existed hundreds of years ago. It was like an open museum that has surprises in every corner of it. From big cities like Rome to one of the smallest ones, like Cyprus have medieval elements scattered though the cities.

After visiting more than 130 cities in Europe (it’s not enough for any continent, let alone for Europe), I had hard time hand-picking cities that will give the tourists most medieval experience of Europe. Oh yes, there are plenty of these towns where you can go and feel like you traveled to the past thru a time machine in this continent. But here are 7 not-so-common places that you should visit to experience some enticing old European charms. They are not in any particular order…enjoy

  1. Toledo (Spain): Once the capital of Spain, Toledo, is a must-see city when you are in Madrid. The history of this town dates back to 192 B.C. which became a UNESCO World Heritage site for its rich cultural and historical monuments. Some spots to hit in Toledo are Cathedral of Toledo, Monuments of Greco, Old city wall, the synagogue, San Martin Bridge, and finally the magnificent Alcazar.
An overview of Toledo with River Tagus and Puente de St. Martin

An overview of Toledo with River Tagus and Puente de St. Martin

2. Volterra (Italy): This is a perfect day-trip if you are in Florence or Sienna in Italy. Volterra is one of many walled cities of Toscana and it attracts thousands of tourists every month. Other than its sweeping beauty of its countryside and other small hill-towns, it has those cozy piazzas, like Piazza dei Priori, a roman theater, couple good museums like Alabaster Museum and Pinacoteca Museum, and finally an old baptistery…Santa Maria Assunta Church. To finish off the day, have some gelato from a local store.

Old Town of Volterra, Italy

Old Town of Volterra, Italy

3. Plovdiv (Bulgaria): Dating back to more than 4000 B.C, Plovdiv is one of the oldest towns in whole Europe. The town is very well-preserved and many old buildings, paved streets, fortifications, walls, water-supply, and sewerage survived from its early period. Visit the Virgin Mary Church, St. Dimitar Church, Roman Theater, ancient Stadium of Philippopolis, and Djoumaya Mosque from the 14th century. Plovdiv would make a perfect trip if you are in Sophia and have an extra day to taste the old Bulgaria.

Roman amphitheater from the 1st century in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Roman amphitheater from the 1st century in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

4. San Marino (San Marino): This is one of the littlest countries in Europe yet it claims to be the world’s oldest republic. San Marino not only  offers impressive views of the surrounding hills, countryside, Adriatic Sea, and Italy, but it also has spectacular historic landmarks for its visitors. If you are in the Tuscany region in Italy, San Marino would be a perfect day-trip from there. Visit the Old Town, 1st Tower – Guaita, Basilica di San Marino, Piazza Publica, and enjoy its great Italian cuisine in any restaurants.

Walking thru the old cobble-stoned alleys of San Marino

Walking thru the old cobble-stoned alleys of San Marino

5. Luxembourg City (Luxembourg): This is probably one of my most favorite capitals to visit in Europe. The history and the beauty of Luxembourg City will truly make your trip a memorable one. Here are some places to see here: Gella Fra Monument, Notre Dame Cathedral, Grand Ducal Palace, Bock Casamates, and finally the whole town. This should be on your top list if you are visiting Belgium…too good to miss.

Walking around the old ruins of Luxemburg (Casamates)

Walking around the old ruins of Luxemburg (Casamates)

6. Valletta (Malta): This is a unique place where rich history, good Mediterranean food, scenic beauty, and colorful atmosphere come together in harmony. Malta’s capital, Valletta, was one of the earliest sites that got listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site for its old world splendor and magnificent Baroque architectures. While in Valletta, make sure to take a boat ride to the unforgettable Islands of Gozo and Comino. But in the city, roam around its old part and enjoy places like, St. John’s Cathedral (and many other old churches), Upper Barracca Garden, National Library of Malta, St. Fort Elmo, and Great Siege Square.

Valletta, Malta -the whole city is A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Valletta, Malta -the whole city is A UNESCO World Heritage Site

7. Dinant (Belgium): Situated by River Meuse, Dinant is a French-speaking (Wallonia) part of Belgium. This is the hometown of Adolphe Sax…the inventor of saxophone that dates back to 800 B.C. Visit the Dinant Citadel (and enjoy stunning view from there), Collegiate Cathedral of Dinant, Saxophone Bridge and River Meuse, and get lost in the old alleys that are packed with local goods and cafes. Another sweet trip if you are ever in Brussels.

Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium

Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium

 

 

Itinerary Florence: the Chianti Wine Route – Discover Tuscany in a unique way

It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful panoramic drives through Tuscany: the Chianti Wine Route. Chianti is one of the oldest and famous wine regions in Italy. This route, the SR222 (Strada Regionale 222) passes five small Chianti Classico towns and is about 100 km’s (62 miles) long. For a long time it was the only road between Florence and Siena.

This winding road takes you along the most spectacular sceneries Italy has to offer. View the typical rolling Tuscan hills filled with tall cypress trees. And see thousands hectares of fertile soil, ready to grow the sangiovese grapes for the divine Chianti wines. Touring the area let’s you experience the true ‘la dolce vita’. Do some wine tasting, try out the olive oils, visit the medieval towns and enjoy the local specialities along the way. These little towns are also perfect for a daytrip from Florence or Siena.

Before you take this trip it’s wisely to book your rental car in advance. Find further information at EasyTerra. Also book a B&B or agriturismo, so you can literally can eat, sleep and drink Chianti. Do remember: it is not safe to drink and drive at the same time.

What’s a Chianti wine?
The Chianti is one of the most sold Italian quality wines, recognisable by it’s Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) Label. It used to be bottled in a typical curved wine bottle in a straw basket (called fiasco), nowadays it’s more and more produced in a standard shaped wine bottle.

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Typical Chianti wines bottles

Image Source: 123rf.com

The red wine is so special because of the use of sangiovese grapes. A minimum of 80% and up to a 100% must be used, supplemented by other grape varieties.

It has a characteristic intense aroma of fruit and flowers. A typical Chianti wine has a soft aftertaste and an intense color. The taste and quality can vary due to microclimates (height and location of the vineyard). The best Chianti’s come from the Chianti Classico region and have an DOCG-status to ensure the best quality.

Florence
Start your road trip in Tuscany’s capital: Florence. Or as the locals say Firenze. With millions of tourists a year visiting, it’s one of the most popular cities in Italy. And no wonder: it’s a perfect mix of history, art and culture. Book yourself a hotel and get lost in the city for a few days. Read more about Florence’s attractions.

After wandering around in Florence, it’s time to get into your car and hit the road: on to Greve.

Greve
Greve is also called ‘The Gateway into Chianti’, because it’s the first Clasico town to come across from Florence. The triangular square, Piazza Matteotti, forms the heart of the town. Each side is surrounded with small indoor shops, galleries and restaurants. There’s a large market held every Saturday.
Each year, around mid September, Greve organises the famous Expo del Chianti Classico. The Piazza gets filled for four days with stalls of all the local Chianti Classico wine producers. A tradition of nearly of half a century! For about €10 you can buy a empty wineglass, which you can refill 7 or 8 times.

If you can’t make it to the Festival, visit Le Cantine di Greve (Enoteca Falorni). Buy a ‘wine card’ for a certain amount and fill your glass with an automatic dispenser. You can choose from over 140 different kind of wines! To learn more about the history of Chianti’s wine culture, visit the Museo del Vino. For some historic sightseeing you walk or drive up (1,5km) to the old castle of Montefioralle, a medieval village nearby. On your way up you will see some great panoramic views.

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Cobbled street in Montefioralle – Greve

Image Source: 123rf.com

Don’t forget to check out the many small shops at the Piazza Matteotti like Antica Macelleria Falorni, an old butcher shop. And try some of the local delicacies. The shop has been there since 1809. And don’t miss La Bottega dell’Artigianato, a shop known for it’s hand-woven baskets and olive wood carved products.
Take a relaxing seat at one of the little bars and watch the town’s life go by.

Panzano
Next stop is Panzano. A little hilltop town situated exactly halfway between Florence and Siena. Due to it’s location is the perfect stop to take a look at the charming scenery of Tuscany.

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View – town Panzano

Image Source: 123rf.com

Take a walk through Panzano’s historic cobbled streets and visit the castle, built at the highest part of the town. The modern market square, Piazza Gastone Bucciarelli, is now a meeting place for the locals. Panzano has quite a few bars and restaurants who offer wine tasting. You can also visit Fattoria Le Fonti and Fattoria Montagliari, just a few minutes drive outside Panzano. At Fattoria Montagliari you can also take a cooking lesson or spend a night at their farm.

Panzano’s main attraction is the butcher’s shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, owned by butcher and chef Dario Cecchini. He’s a lively personality and very welcoming. Across the street is his restaurant, Solociccia, where you can try his famous specialities. He also runs Dario Doc. Make sure to make a reservation!

Panzano also has an annual Chianti Wine festival, Vino al Vino, held on the third weekend of September. Just like the Expo in Greve you can taste several local Panzano’s wine products.

Castellina
Castellina’s Rocca castle is the evidence of once being a strategic strategic headquarters between Florence and Siena. Despite multiple attacks and destructions of the city, the castle is still standing tall. Climb the tower of the castle and get a great view over the town and countryside. Inside the castle is the Archeological Museum of Chianti. Showing all kinds archeological findings from the region from the Bronze Age, Etruscan and Medieval times. Next to the castle, is the Via delle Volte, an arched passage round the eastern part of the city.
Here you can find small artistic and food shops.

Worth visiting is the church of San Salvatore, rebuilt after WW II, and displaying a 14th-century fresco of Lorenzo Bicci. Not far from Castellina’s center is the Etruscan excavation of Montecalvario, dating from the 6th century BC. You can enter the tomb and see four burial chambers facing the east, west, south and north. Some remaining tombs artifacts are shown in the museum.

In Castellina you can also do some wine tasting. Try visiting Gagliole and Villa Trasqua.

Radda
Radda is quite a small village situated upon a hilltop, situated 600 meters above sea level. Surrounded by woods and located between the valleys of the rivers Abria and Pesa. The streets are narrow and mostly traffic free, so you can feel free to wander around by foot. Radda is charming, peaceful, quiet and ideal for a short stop. The ancient city walls, cobblestone alleys and the cities architecture take you right back to the Middle Ages.

Like the Palazzo del Podestà (Palace of the Major), located in the middle of the town. It was almost destroyed in 1478, but it still has the original facade displaying the Medieval architecture. Or visit the Pieve di Santa Maria Novella, this Roman church is considered to be one of the best examples of Roman architecture in Tuscany.

Also visit the Castle of Volpaia, a sandstone castle with a rare dark color. Complete your visit with a glass of wine in it’s winebar. Other great places for wine tasting are: Castello di Albola and Casalvento Winery.

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Radda – View from Castelo Alboa

Image Source: 123rf.com

Gaiole
Gaiole is our last stop of the Chianti Classico towns before heading to Siena. Because of it’s position at the lower part of the valley, it has never been a strategic place like Radda or Castellina. So the Gaiola developed more into a marketplace for the nearby castles and churches.

One of these nearby castles is Castello di Brolio. Take the winding and narrow driveway of the Castello and watch this pentagonal fortress appear. For 8 euros you can enter the castle and gardens (wine tasting included) and enjoy the views of the Arbia valley. In the distance you can see Siena (20 km/12 miles away).
Or visit the Castello di Meleto. Nowadays it’s an hotel and also available for parties. You can get a guided tour at the ground floor of the castle which also has a theatre. At the end you can taste three wines. When you’re a hotel guest the wine tasting and tour are included. It’s the perfect place to spend the night and end your Chianti tour in a unique way!

chianti-wine-route

Chianti wine route

Image Source: 123rf.com

Guest Post: Europe – The Most Famous and Beautiful Places for Sightseeing

Europe is a continent where history is very close. It is a dream destination to millions. Tourists from all around the world flock to gaze at different masterpiece architecture, to take in the awesomeness of European street life and to admire the great variety of scenery and climate, the mountainous regions, thick forests and lakes.

Europe – It Measures Up Every Time

You just have to ask any travellers and from their observations and opinions, you can quickly round up a list of the most famous and beautiful places that they would recommend – places known for their recreation and leisure opportunities, the good restaurants, fascinating shops and museums, nightlife and architecture. Here are some of the must see destinations in Europe.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

(Source: Florence (John Marino/Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0))

Florence – Italy

This awesome Italian city nestling in the Tuscan hills has been the inspiration of many artists. There is no much to see in Florence that you may be tempted to cancel the rest of your European trip and stay put. The Santo Spirito Square for starters offers a host of different events to enjoy – fairs, food festivals and exciting workshops. September is great with mild temperatures and traditionally the period of harvest and making of wine. There are heaps of events around the harvest of grapes and wine making. If you didn’t know, France and Italy together make 40 per cent of world’s wine.

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

(Source: Innsbruck (Leo-setä/Flickr, CC BY 2.0))

Innsbruck – Austria

If you’re looking for postcard beauty, this city, host to the Winter Olympics several times already, is extremely picturesque. This alpine city has a myriad of city- and nature- inspired activities waiting for visitors. From bobsleigh riding to alpine skiing to curling up in front of an open fireplace in an Alpine lodge, this vibrant city offers marvelous unbeatable restaurants, Christmas markets, hotels and nature. You’ll want to have photographs of yourself and the gorgeous mountain scenery as a recall of your sightseeing and cheap posters of quality paper, of any size and in different formats is THE way to remember all the tiniest details of such splendid times.

London, England

London, England

(Source: London Panorama (Davide D’Amico/Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0))

London – United Kingdom

No trip to Europe would be complete without visiting London. Welcoming more than a record-beating 18.82 million visitors just in 2015 alone, this city has won awards as the most popular city on the planet time after time. With its awesome blend of the most wonderful assortment of restaurants, its culture and history, this city just simply continues to dazzle, excite and enthral visitors who stream to it from every corner of the globe.

Keep Your Memories Fresh

Europe is a magical place to visit with a limitless number of fabulous and famous places to explore. The range of destinations and events can be overwhelming if you’re planning a getaway, from the Golden Circle, Reykjavik, Iceland to the Azores, Portugal to Germany and Spain. Unfortunately you will be forced to narrow down your choices. Remember to take lots of beautiful photographs which you can here have enlarged to gaze upon and recall how Europe measured up to every one of your ideals.

The Spell of Florence

FLORENCE, ITALY: I don’t think I need to say much about Florence…after all, Florence is Florence. It’s not only the capital of Tuscany but it’s also the capital of Renaissance art and rich culture. In fact, Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and was the most important city in Europe for couple centuries in the Middle Ages. Florentine architects from that era also invented Renaissance and neo-Classical architecture which later gained much popularity in whole Europe. Scientists and explorers like Galileo and Amerigo Vespucci are just to name some more Florence’s talented sons. This is also the city where Opera was invented. And finally, dominating artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo called Florence or Firenze their home.

Florence or Firenze in Italy by River Arno

Florence or Firenze in Italy by River Arno

Located in Italy’s irresistible region Toscana (or Tuscany) and by romantic Arno River, Florence is a city with endless enchantment sites and timeless tranquility. It’s not easy to escape the spell of Florence when you are surrounded by such astonishing culture. It is one of those places that offers too much to its visitors and one of those cities that is sophisticated with very down to earth mood. When you enter Florence, you enter the Renaissance time…that connection with time is made instantly and involuntarily. It’s hard not to wander off and be distracted with Florence’s mesmerizing history and atmosphere.

Florence can be a great point to start off your Tuscan journey or it can be a perfect base to tour around this region. Making day trip to Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano, or other close by towns are very easy if you have your own car or if you take help of public transportations. Old part of Florence has several parking garage surrounding its city center and closer to the main sites. We parked our car in Garage Giglio where we kept our car for the whole day for a reasonable amount of fee.

Piazza della Signoria - one of the most energetic squares of Florence in Italy

Piazza della Signoria – one of the most energetic squares of Florence in Italy

TIME of TRAVEL: It was our second time visiting Florence. First time we were in Tuscany was in February of 2012. Winter was bad in whole Europe that year, even in Tuscany, which was very rare. It was not really enjoyable walking in below freezing temperature for us. During our next visit in October of 2013, the weather was perfect and the summer tourists were almost gone. We still carried a light sweater for the evenings, but walking under the sun during day time was pleasant.

OUR HOTEL: First time we were in Florence, our hotel was Hotel Castri in Piazza del Independenza. It was conveniently located within walking distance from Florence Duomo and all the other attractions. Second time, we stayed in “My One Hotel in Radda” for the whole time in Tuscany. It’s located in the hills of Chianti…a place which is not only famous for its wine, but also for its art, history, natural beauty, and simplicity. This was a 4 or 5 star resort. We had free grand breakfast buffet, spacious room, clean linens, and excellent customer service. But above all of those, the best part of it is the view from our balcony or from the hotel terrace. Standing on the upper terrace one early morning, I got the perfect glimpse of Tuscan hills and trees hugging the autumn clouds…it was a breathtaking feeling. I felt like I didn’t need to get out, I could have just sit in my hotel balcony all day and enjoy Tuscany right from there. Florence was about an hour drive from our hotel in Radda in Chianti.

View Chianti from our hotel terrace in Radda in Chianti, Italy

View Chianti from our hotel terrace in Radda in Chianti, Italy

EATING and SHOPPING: When in Florence, you would want to try almost everything from street food to fine Italian gourmet cuisines. If you are yearning for something extraordinary, treat yourself in a dinner theater with good food and good time. Visitors don’t have hard time finding a place that will serve delicious food with local colors, aromas, and flavorings. Don’t forget to enjoy some gelato afterwards or stop at local bakeries for divine Italian desserts.

You will never regret buying anything like honey, trendy jewelries, and leather boots from Florence. All the pasta packets, olive oil bottles, leather goods, brand name shops, ceramics, potteries, scarves, shawls, and jewelries got me over excited for some little shopping in Florence.

Purse vendors in Florence, Italy

Purse vendors in Florence, Italy

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: It was the second time we were in Florence. First time we visited few medieval churches and piazzas mostly. Second time we visited more churches, and other sites. But Florence is a city where you can spend weeks visiting museums and still be longing for more. Its churches are stuffed with some of the finest arts in the world and the art galleries are packed with brilliant paintings and most famous pictures. While Uffizi Museum is probably the best one to visit, many basilicas, medieval churches, artistic fountains, art galleries from different eras, outdoor markets, more than 80 museums, numerous historic buildings and palaces, public parks, and finally relaxing piazzas can keep any visitor busy for a long…long time. Walking along River Arno or crossing any of its bridges can be nice if you have some extra time. If you are in a tight schedule, best thing is to pick up a map from your hotel or a local store, see which sites interest you the most, and plan your trip accordingly.

Walking by River Arno in Florence, Italy

Walking by River Arno in Florence, Italy

We explored Florence mostly on foot without using any public transportations. It was a bit exhausting but we got to see more of the city that way. It’s always better to park your car outside the historic center and take on from there.

1) BASILICA SANTA MARIA NOVELLO: After parking our car, we crossed a big road to come to this bold edifice. This bigger version of an original church begun in 1279. Its internal structure resembles that of Cistercian Gothic churches. The major 14th-century decorative schemes date from the years after the Plague of 1348. Among many beautiful frescoes in this basilica “Last Judgement Hell”, “Paradise”, “Trinity with the Madonna, “Scenes from the life of Noah” are to name some and most of these frescoes are from the 14th and 15th Also, look for the fresco “The Passion and Resurrection of Christ” from 1367. Some of this basilica’s key attractions are its high ceiling, many over-sized medieval paintings and artworks, tombs of some famous Florentine sculptors and bishops.

 

Basilica Santa Maria Novello in Florence, Italy

Basilica Santa Maria Novello in Florence, Italy

Don’t forget to spend some time in its cloister, few courtyards with old paintings, tombs, and museums which are beside the main church. Chapterhouse from 1355 is also accessible to the tourists. The square in front of the basilica, Piazza Santa Maria Novello, is a tourist-packed center with hundreds of pigeons.

 

Main altar of Basilica Santa Maria Novello in Florence, Italy

Main altar of Basilica Santa Maria Novello in Florence, Italy

The church is open until 5 pm everyday. Guided tours are available Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 2pm and 3:30pm. Ticket is 5 euros for anyone above 8 years.

2) BASILICA di SAN LORENZO: Basilica di San Lorenzo is known to be the first cathedral of Florence from 393 A.D. and another haven for Renaissance neo-Classical splendor including few Michelangelo sculptures.

San Lorenzo was consecrated in the year of 393 by St. Ambrose of Milan. Rebuilt in the 11th century, it was completely restructured in 1418 and finished in 1461. Michelangelo’s New Sacristy can be reached through the Chapel of the Princes. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the 15th– century cloister. This is a big basilica with beautiful golden and white ceiling, nice artworks, gorgeous dome, and frescoes from the 15th century. Donatello’s last work of art, the bronze pulpit from 1465, is a must-see treasure here.

Inside Basilica de San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy

Inside Basilica de San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy

The basilica is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 – 5pm. Entrance was 4.50 euros per adult and free for anyone 8 years or below. The ticket includes church, cloister, and museum. Library beside the basilica needs separate ticket. Audio tour costs extra but worth it. Photography isn’t allowed inside San Lorenzo. Once you are out of the church, indulge yourself in the leather stores for jacket, purses, boots, and etc.

3) CATHEDRAL di SANTA MARIA del FIORE or FLORENCE DUOMO: Duomo di Firenze in Piazza del Duomo is the iconic landmark of Florence and number one attractions for any visitor. The Renaissance dome of it is the third largest in the world and dominates Florence’s skyline. The construction started back in the 1200s. An excavation from 1965 shed some light to the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata which today can be visited more than two and a half meters below the floor of Santa Maria del Fiore.

If you ask me, Florence Duomo has a grand interior like many other cathedrals in Europe, but may be not as fabulous as its outer appearance. Its signature stripes all over the outer wall instantly catch everyone’s attention. Inside the basilica, the frescoes on the main dome and its marble floor are elegant and fiery. Be sure to visit its crypt which is an important archeological site in Florence.

Magnificent edifice of Florence Duomo in Florence, Italy

Magnificent edifice of Florence Duomo in Florence, Italy

Although we didn’t do it, climbing the Dome of this cathedral or Giotto’s Bell Tower offers some spectacular views of the city with a small fee. Just keep in mind that you have to climb 414 steps to get there and there is no lift. In front of the dome, in Piazza San Giovanni, is the medieval Baptistery which is famous for its bronze doors from the 14th century. Decorations for both of these buildings are examples of transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

It is free to enter the cathedral itself, have to pay extra to visit the dome, tower, Baptistery, or the museum. Audio tour is highly recommended and costs only few euros.

4) CHURCH of ORSANMICHELE: Another of Florence’s old church is Orsanmichele. The origins of this building go back to the 8th century but was demolished in 1239. The present look is from 1337 and the image of Madonna and Child which gained much attention those days is from 1346. It is a small church with gorgeous interior and exterior. No photos are allowed inside the church, but it is free to enter and look around.

5) PONTE VECCHIO: Surrounded by the ultimate grandeur Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most famous bridge over River Arno. It’s a pedestrian bridge with beautiful views of River Arno on the both sides, if you can manage to see the river over the countless jewelry stores and tourists.

 

Ponte Vecchio over River Arno in Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio over River Arno in Florence, Italy

This bridge was probably the successor of an ancient Roman bridge that, some believe, was a bit further upstream. The first mention of the bridge dates from 996 A.D. It was ruined by floods several times, especially the collapses from 1117 and 1333. Finally in 1345, it was rebuilt so sturdily that it has survived to the present intact. The bridge belonged to the Woolmakers’ Guild, butchers, and green grocers until the end of the 16th century when the Grand Duke Ferdinando I ordered that they be taken over by gold and silversmiths which it continues even today.

Standing on Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Standing on Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

The uniqueness of this bridge come from the small, projecting shop windows featuring jewelry with their old-fashioned shutters and doors. This was the only Florentine bridge that survived WWII bombing raids, but the two areas at either end were destroyed.

6) SANTA CROCE: Santa Croce is one of the finest Gothic churches in whole Italy and a must-see in Florence. It shelters numerous masterpieces, like 14th century Florentine paintings, 15th century sculptures, and funeral monuments of great Italians.

Santa Croce in Florence, Italy - the final resting place for Galileo, Michelangelo, Dante, and many more Florentines

Santa Croce in Florence, Italy – the final resting place for Galileo, Michelangelo, Dante, and many more Florentines

The present basilica was built in 1295 on the site where the first Franciscan friars to arrive in Florence had a small oratory. Upon entering this Florentine Gothic style basilica, the attention immediately is drawn towards the stained glass windows piercing the walls. One of the fundamental features of early Franciscan style that this basilica carries is the frescoed narration including stories of Christ, St. Francis, and other saints. The carved Renaissance pulpit from 1475, with Scenes from the Life of St. Francis, is one of the most beautiful in Florence. Of the great 14th century Florentine frescoes survived ‘til today and can be seen in Santa Croce. Some of the 14th century paintings can also be seen inside this basilica. Pazzi Chapel from 1429 is a great example of harmonious building of the Florentine Renaissance. Other Renaissance architecture and works include Annunciation and Crucifix – both by Donatello and Madonna of the Milk by Antonio Rossellino. The Statue of Liberty that illuminates New York with her torch, has a precursor in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. But this Florentine statue represents The Liberty of Poetry, and thus the freedom of art and of creative genius in general.

 

Inside Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

Inside Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

It is significant that Santa Croce, which was to become the resting place of so many great Italians, has the first truly Renaissance funerary monument in Italy. Sepulchers and memorial tombs include many notable Italians like Leonardo Bruni, Chancellor of the Republic Rossellino, Galileo Galilee, Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo, and so many others.

 

In the courtyard of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

In the courtyard of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

During our visit the altar of Santa Croce was under renovation. The church museum and many of Santa Croce’s chapels house countless centuries-old artifacts. The attached cloister is magnificent to tour also and the plaza right in front of Santa Croce is a bustling section of Florence.

The basilica is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm from Monday to Saturday. 6 euros entrance fee gives you access to all the areas of the complex.

7) PALAZZAO VECCHIO: This used to be the City Hall of Florence at one point. With its gorgeously adorned exterior, a replica of Michelangelo’s David stands outside by the main façade. Also known as Palazzo della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio is a sleepy beauty with aristocratic homes and many fashionable apartments in Piazza della Signoria. This place exhibits some of the greatest pieces of art of all time and many important collection of Renaissance paintings, sculptures, and arts. You will see sculptures by Verrocchio – a Florentine artist and sculptor who was much appreciated by the powerful Medici family. The ceilings, hallways, and old furniture in each section are something to admire. You will find many old maps in the archive too.

Entrance of Palazzo Vecchio  in Florence, Italy

Entrance of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

The Palazzo is open until midnight and charges 10 euros per adult. It didn’t take us more than an hour for the whole palazzo. One thing to keep in mind is that every information here is in Italian, so may be getting an audio-tour would be helpful.

 

One of the grand rooms of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

One of the grand rooms of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

The piazza itself is a big place to hang around while enjoying few statues, fountains, and old buildings. Day or night, this place can be a nice spot to relax or stroll.

8) PIAZZA della REPUBLICA: This was one of many piazzas of Florence and a beautiful one too. We were there around evening, after visiting all the above places. While my girls hopped on to the merry-go-round, I went around the square to enjoy some live music. There is a big arch/gate at one side of the square. I found many cafes, restaurants, and shops where I only wish I could spend hours…only if I had that much of time.

 

Piazza della Republica at night in Florence, Italy

Piazza della Republica at night in Florence, Italy

 

A Small Hill Town of Tuscany – Volterra

VOLTERRA: Volterra is another medieval charm of Tuscany and another town that attracts thousands of tourists every month. Like San Gimignano or Siena, this is one of many walled cities of Toscana.. Situated on a hill, Volterra gives beautiful views of the countryside and nearby small hills. Getting lost in the cobble-stoned alleys and being surrounded by enchanting old buildings make this city awesome. For us, it was a small and sweet trip. If you are in Florence or Siena, making a day trip to Volterra would be perfect for few hours.

Looking over the countryside from Volterra, right before entering the Old Town

Looking over the countryside from Volterra, right before entering the Old Town

TIME of TRAVEL: It was our second time in Tuscany in October of 2013. After visiting Siena, Florence, and San Gimignano, Volterra was our last town to visit in this region of Italy. When we arrived here it was almost dark and it got a bit windy because of the elevation. I think it’s always a good idea to carry a light sweater, especially around this time of the year.

Scenic drive from San Gimignano to Volterra in Tuscany, Italy

Scenic drive from San Gimignano to Volterra in Tuscany, Italy

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in “My One Hotel in Radda” for the whole time in Tuscany. It’s located in the hills of Chianti…a place which is not only famous for its wine, but also for its art, history, natural beauty, and simplicity. This was a 4 or 5 star resort. We had free grand breakfast buffet, spacious room, clean linens, and excellent customer service. But above all of those, the best part of it is the view from our balcony or from the hotel terrace. Standing on the upper terrace one early morning, I got the perfect glimpse of Tuscan hills and trees hugging the autumn clouds…it was a breathtaking feeling. I felt like I didn’t need to get out, I could have just sit in my hotel balcony all day and enjoy Tuscany right from there. It took us about hour and half from Volterra to our hotel, thru some winding and hilly roads.

EATING and SHOPPING: We were in Volterra for a very short time, only about couple hours. We had lunch in San Gimignano before coming here. But if you are hungry in Volterra, you can find plenty of bars, grills, and restaurants in the Old Town…unfortunately most of them were closed or getting ready to close by the time we were done visiting all the spots.

Volterra is very well-known for its alabaster items, ceramics, and pottery arts. There was a big souvenir alabaster shop right before we entered the Old Town, very close to the parking lot. Alabaster can be very heavy depending on the size of gifts you are buying but they all looked very gorgeous with reasonable price tags.

Some alabaster items in a souvenir shop in Volterra, Italy

Some alabaster items in a souvenir shop in Volterra, Italy

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We only got to spent couple hours in Volterra historic Old Town. We decided to take a trip to Volterra when we figured we still had enough time to kill after visiting San Gimignano.So made a short stop here before heading to our hotel in Radda in Chianti. The drive was absolutely breathtaking from San Gimignano to Volterra. But once we reached there, it was almost end of the day and it quickly started to get dark outside. We parked our car outside the Old Town and started walking towards the main sights as soon as possible. Here are some of the places we could see during our short trip in Volterra.

Old Town of Volterra, Italy

Old Town of Volterra, Italy

1) PIAZZA dei PRIORI: This is where we first stumbled while trying to figure out what we want to see and do here. Though it was late and the square looked empty, Piazza dei Priori is the main square here. Volterra Town Hall and Palazzo dei Priori were located in this square. Palazzo dei Priori was open till 5pm, so we couldn’t really explore what that really was. By the way, the tourist information center is also in this piazza, if you need to pick any maps or talk to anyone for help.

This is not a picture of Piazza dei Priori, but of a street very close to the piazza...in Volterra, Italy

This is not a picture of Piazza dei Priori, but of a street very close to the piazza…in Volterra, Italy

2) MARIA ASSUNTA CHURCH CATHEDRAL: After the piazza, we walked few minutes following the sign to go to the Duomo or Santa Maria Assunta. The first mention of Church of the St. Mary dates back to 992 AD. This is a Parish cathedral of Volterra in the heart of the town. Some of the most important sites of this church are the main altar, splendid pulpit, Bishop’s chair, and mesmerizing ceiling, which represents the heaven. The interior differs from the exterior in that only a little of the old Romanesque structure remains in it. There is a Baptistery in front of the Duomo and they both are located in Piazza San Giovanni. Inside the Duomo was very dark and Gothic looking. It was about to close, so we entered and exited after getting a quick peek inside the Duomo. Both the Duomo and the Baptistery are free to enter. The Baptistery was very small, had a marble wall and a painting…another brief look for me.

A portion of the main facade of Santa Maria Assunta in Volterra, Italy

A portion of the main facade of Santa Maria Assunta in Volterra, Italy

3) ROMAN THEATER: Roman Theater was about 10 to 15 minutes of walk from the Duomo. It was only ruins and the site was not a well-maintained area. We saw some ancient columns and grass-covered steps from the Roman times. Tourists can walk and go closer to the decayed site. We only browsed it from up above, where you can stand and enjoy some other views as well.

Ancient ruins of Roman Theater in Volterra, Italy

Ancient ruins of Roman Theater in Volterra, Italy

4) ALABASTER MUSEUM: We kind of got lucky with this museum. It was already dark to do anything else. But the Alabaster Museum was still open and we had only an hour to look around. If I can remember correctly, the museum had three floors in total with old alabaster items on display from different eras of Volterra. Volterra had its own alabaster mines at one time and all the items you see here are mostly local artifacts. It is 8 euros per adult for both Alabaster and Pinacotec Museum.

5) PINACOTECA MUSEUM: Alabaster Museum and Pinacoteca Museum are both in the same building. The building, known as Palazzo Manucci, is from the 16th The museum has a collection of paintings from the 14th century which includes religious arts and paintings on woods. You can see some medieval sculptures, some church ruins from the 12th century, and old altarpieces.

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