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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Town with a Hundred Towers – San Gimignano, Italy

SAN GIMIGNANO, ITALY: Northwest of Siena, on the hills of Val d’Elsa, stands the medieval town of San Gimignano, also defined as the town “with a hundred towers”. Like many other towns in Tuscany, the historical town of San Gimignano is a walled city surrounded by breathtaking vineyards and olive groves. Its impressive architecture symbolizes power and wealth of locals from few centuries ago. Out of the original 72 towers, 14 of them are still standing today. The artistic and cultural treasures that San Gimignano possesses today derived from the Middle Ages, when trading developed and pilgrims crossed by this town on their way to Rome.

Some of the original 72 towers of San Gimignano in Italy

Some of the original 72 towers of San Gimignano in Italy

After visiting few other towns of Tuscany, San Gimignano became my most favorite town in this region, even more than Siena. Its small and dark alleys and medieval charm along with rich cultural background make this a gem of Tuscany. Best part was that the historic city center was not overloaded with tourists and lurkers. This hill city in Tuscany makes a great day-trip venue from nearby cities, like Siena or Florence. Additionally, it is small enough to enjoy leisurely even on a tight schedule.

Medieval buildings in the Old Town of San GImignano, Italy

Medieval buildings in the Old Town of San GImignano, Italy

TIME of TRAVEL: Our second trip to Tuscany was in October of 2013. That’s when we had the chance to really explore and appreciate Tuscany. Other than San Gimignano, we were blessed to visit other towns like Siena, Florence, Volterra in Italy and drove all the way up to San Marino. Weather was fantastic with some signs of autumn. Tuscany looked at its best with little bit of vibrant falls colors here and there.

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. San Gimignano was little more than an hour drive from our hotel but the drive was well worth it.

EATING and SHOPPING: After spending couple hours in the beautiful Old Town of San Gimignano, we had to sit down and enjoy some Tuscan food. And what other piazza would be better other than Piazza della Cisterna. We sat outdoor under a big umbrella of a restaurant, called Bar La Cisterna. They have panini, pizza, pasta, variety of soups and salads, gelato, and other sweet treats to choose from. We had some Tuscan bean soup and some breads with porcini mushrooms on top.

Lunch in San Gimignano, Italy - bread topped with porcini mushrooms

Lunch in San Gimignano, Italy – bread topped with porcini mushrooms

San Gimignano ceramics, potteries, and local handcrafts are particularly beautiful souvenirs for tourists. Their vibrant colors and artistic designs will attract anyone. Paintings by local artists are also very popular here…you can get typical Tuscan landscapes, vineyards, traditional houses, and many more in the galleries of Old Town. Packet food, such as different colors and shapes of pasta, olives, olive oil, spices, and cheese are well known too. But I would suggest to get authentic gourmet olive oils directly from olive presses from the countryside, out of touristic zones.

A pottery shop in San Gimignano, Italy

A pottery shop in San Gimignano, Italy

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We were in San Gimignano only for few hours before heading towards Volterra, another medieval town close by. San Gimignano’s Old Town is very small and can easily be covered on foot. But you must leave your car outside the city walls. The local Tuscans are very friendly and helpful here, so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you have any questions about anything. If you can spare some extra time, try visiting one of the original medieval towers here. Torre Grossa is the tallest one from the 13th century at about 200 feet and it allows visitors to go inside for tours. We didn’t go inside, therefore can’t say how the interior looks; but should be an impressive architecture to visit.

A beautiful Tuscan village in Italy - San Gimignano

A beautiful Tuscan village in Italy – San Gimignano

1) CHIESI de SAN FRANCESCO: This place kind up showed up when we entered and started walking towards the center. There is no church here at this moment. It’s now a gourmet shop to buy local souvenirs. Only the outside wall still stands.

Historically, this church was originally dedicated to St. John and belonged to the order of the Knights of Jerusalem. It dates back to the beginning of the 13th century, but the only part of the original building still standing today is the lower section of the façade which is marked by five bowed arches set on semi-columns. The various decorative patterns of the Romanesque façade are evidence of the influence of Pisa and Lucca.

2) PUNTO PANORAMICO: We were following a sign for “Punto Panoramico” and ended up on this spot which gives you some exceptional views of the countryside, vineyards, old houses, and distant mountains. Standing there was absolutely breathtaking and gave us the chance to get some stunning glimpses of Tuscany.

One of the most beautiful views of Tuscany from Punto Panoramico in San Gimignano, Italy

One of the most beautiful views of Tuscany from Punto Panoramico in San Gimignano, Italy

3) THE COLLEGIATA or DUOMO: San Gimignano Duomo, also known as Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, is located in Piazza del Duomo. Piazza del Duomo is the town church square surrounded by many thousand-year-old towers and another piazza that I fell in love with instantly. This piazza also house the Pinacoteca Civica, which we didn’t cover, is an art and painting gallery.

The Collegiata or Duomo in San Gimignano, Italy

The Collegiata or Duomo in San Gimignano, Italy

The Duomo is a must-see here. This is a parish church of San Gimignano from 1148. The interior consists of three naves divided by columns with capitals sculpted by local workers. Its splendid series of Biblical frescoes on Old and New Testaments are beautiful to look at. Although the church is not that big, it contains some pretty ceilings and artistic objects.

It is 4 euros to enter the Duomo and 6 euros if you add Holy Art Museum. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the church.

4) PIAZZA della CISTERNA: Connected with Piazza del Duomo with a narrow pavement, Piazza dell Cisterna is probably the most beautiful square of San Gimignano. It is bordered with nobility houses and centuries old stone buildings with an old well in the middle. You can find plenty of gourmet eateries here, one of the best places to enjoy a meal or drink in the old part. Originally, this was a marketplace with local performances and cultural activities. Currently, this is a gathering place with plenty of gourmet eateries and shops.

Piazza della Cisterna in San Gimignano, Italy

Piazza della Cisterna in San Gimignano, Italy

5) ROCCA: Rocca is a site where an old fortress used to be if I am not mistaking. We didn’t see any sign of fortress there really other than some ruins of walls, but it is a nice spot on the hill to get a beautiful panoramic view of the countryside.

Looking over the countryside from Rocca in San Gimignano, Italy

Looking over the countryside from Rocca in San Gimignano, Italy

6) PORTA SAN GIOVANNI: This is one of the old town gates from the 13th We didn’t really see much here, except some old ruins buried on the open ground. You do get a nice view of the hillside from a corner.

Castle of Montereggioni in Tuscany, Italy

MONTERIGGIONI, ITALY: This is a very small commune in Tuscany bordering with Chianti. It’s magnificent countryside and vineyards gave us an alluring look to beauty of this region. As the history goes, the town of Monteriggioni grew up on the sites of earlier settlements of Lombard origin. In 1213 the Sienese government built a ring of walls to protect the town and the garrison-post controlling the valleys in the direction of Florence, Siena’s historic rival.

 

Hillside of Montereggioni in Italy

Hillside of Montereggioni in Italy

TIME of TRAVEL: We were in Tuscany in October 2013. The best part of visiting Tuscany during this time was that we had this beautiful place almost to ourselves. The crowd slowly starts to vanish once the summer is gone and autumn shows up. While is very pleasant during the daytime, it can get a bit chilly on the mountains or in the countryside in the late afternoons, always better to carry a light sweater for those moments. We were on our way to hotel after visiting Siena at the end of our first day in Tuscany and had just little time to spend before the daylight was gone. We drove to Monteriggioni just in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset in the hillside of Tuscany.

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.

EATING and SHOPPING: There were couple restaurants inside the castle complex where people gathered for drinks and meals. But didn’t see any shops or souvenir stores there…I was rushing to capture the sunset, maybe that’s why?

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We barely spent about an hour in Monteriggioni right around sunset time. The hills and fields looked gorgeous as the sun turned bright orange and went down the horizon slowly. I roughly managed to see the castle from outside while my husband and girls stayed in the parking

CASTLE of MONTERIGGIONI: This was the only site I saw in Monteriggioni as it was already around sunset time. We didn’t do much research on this town either as far as what to see and do, since we just decided to show up here at the last minute.

Castle of Montereggioni from the 13th century in Italy

Castle of Montereggioni from the 13th century in Italy

Historically, the construction of the castle started in 1213 with the expense and labor paid for by the people of Siena. From the very starting the castle was enclosed completely by walls. The castle was traversed by countless armed clashes with its rival Florence, which on various occasions tried to destroy the walled hamlet. Monteriggioni, an unconquered and “unconquerable” fortress, fell only during the siege of 1553 under the imperial troops allied with the Florentines, who attacked and bombarded the castled until it surrendered. The rustic and simple character of the 560 meters of walls, 14 towers, and 2 gates convey an idea of the medieval world which are fascinating even today.

Walking thru Castle of Montereggioni in Italy

Walking thru Castle of Montereggioni in Italy

I am not sure if tourists are allowed to go inside any of the castle buildings or if there were anything else that we could have seen or done here, nevertheless it was a short but nice stop to take in more of Tuscan magic.

Sunset in Montereggioni, Italy

Sunset in Montereggioni, Italy

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