Tuscany: Florence, Siena and San Gimignano
To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden flood, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature – Mark Twain
My final post from our trip to Italia is about San Gimignano, Siena and Florence. It took more than a few weeks but here I am. Siena and San Gimignano can be done in a day trip if you are pressed for time. Florence needs at least 3 days to cover all the famous museums and sights. Let’s dig into the details then.
I heard about this beautiful hill town in a wine class I took a few years ago. The way the instructor described San Gimignano and the name of the town stuck in my head. San Gimignano is a medieval hill town enclosed in 13th century walls and boasts of a skyline of towers. And it is home to Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine, a crisp and fresh white wine made only here. It is also a famous touristy destination for tour buses and most people visiting Florence or Siena take a trip here.
The drive is beautiful with breathtaking vineyard views and teasing views of the skyline, and the town itself is worth a visit for its towers. Make sure you visit a little late in the afternoon or early before 10am to avoid tour buses swarming the place. There are some churches to visit and I believe you could climb some of the towers. We spent time our time walking, window shopping and tasting truffles and gelato as we went.
- The church of Sant’Augstino is a nice place to stop for some photos.
- Duomo di San Gimignano is a good place to sit on the stairs and people watching.
- The historic center is full of restaurants good for people watching with a glass of Vernaccia or Cappuccino.
If you plan to visit San Gimignano, you might hear or read that it is a tourist trap and not worth visiting BUT there is a reason it appeals to tourists. Visit anyway and judge for yourself!
We only did a day trip to Siena but it soon became one of our favorite cities in Tuscany.That was enough for us to fall in love with the city! Located in central Tuscany, Siena, at its height during the medieval period went toe-to-toe with Florence.
These main attractions are a must in Siena and honestly, hard to miss!
Be ready to be stunned by the gothic architecture of this church. The intricate details of the interior and the black and white exteriors of this marvelous piece of architecture left me awestruck. No wonder it took more than 50 years to complete. For the cathedral alone, Siena is a must visit.
Piazza del Campo
This main town square is a vast scallop shell shaped open area and surrounding it are many restaurants and the famous town hall building and its tower. Even though I saw some pictures of it, being in the piazza was a totally different experience! We loved every minute of it. Even a rainy day could not stop us from exploring every bit of this Piazza. While you are there, Siena is the best place to taste some Cinta Senesi (wild boar) prosciutto and tuscan truffles paired with a full bodied Chianti.
Siena is a must visit in Tuscany. The city is full of breathtaking views and all you need to do is walk around to find them.
When you think of Florence, you think of the renaissance and its stalwarts like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Boticelli, Dante Aligheri. Of course, they would not have achieved such levels without patrons like The Medici. To say that the Medici left an indelible imprint on Florence would be an understatement.
Every corner of Florence screams art with artisans, sculptors working on their crafts, workshops, apothecaries, cooking schools etc. It was a beautiful thing to experience. In this day and age of technology, it was heart warming to watch people methodically working on their handcrafts.
I had high hopes for the renaissance capital and it lived up to certain extent. But for such a small city, Florence was too crowded with tourists. But that did not stop us from enjoying it and having fun. For Florence especially, you need a lot more days to absorb the artistic marvels and get a feel of the city.
Florence is the mecca of art and renaissance. The famous museums and cathedrals are a must visit when you visit. Here is a list of THE most famous places to visit in Florence with some not-so-famous ones thrown in between.
The Dome itself was breathtaking and the most famous landmark of Florence! You can see the effort that was put in to build this great cathedral. However, after visiting the Siena Cathedral, the interiors left more to be desired. But of course, the dome itself is an architectural marvel!
This is a palace turned into gallery and it is beautiful to just walk around. It also, incidentally, houses some of the best artworks in the world!
- Leonardo Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi is one of his best works of art to see because it is unfinished. The unfinished painting provides a glimpse into his mind and his working process with a blank canvas. And the interesting part was also watching the restoration of this piece which took years to complete.
- Boticelli’s Birth of Venus is another magnificent exhibit in the gallery. I could’ve admired that painting forever. The details, the facial expressions are so subtle but hard to miss! Loved it.
- There are many more exhibits from other great artists like Rafael’s self-portrait, Titian, Giotto, Parmigianino, Medusa by Caravaggio, Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s Anunciation. The museum is also a great place to witness the evolution of 3-dimensional art and the idea of perspective.
Accademia is all about Michelangelo and his David! While David is the star attraction, his prisoners’ sculptures add more intrigue as an opening act. As for David, one can sit there and stare at him all day admiring the sculpting prowess of Michelangelo.
For the best view of Sunset over Florence, head to Piazzale Michelangelo.
Make note of a few things if you are planning to go: Go early to find a spot. You will find all the tourists in Florence here during sunset. 😀 Don’t forget to take a picnic basket with wine.
Church of Santa Croce
The streets leading to this church were so busy that we wondered if it was worth a trip. But once we went inside, it was so peaceful and quiet that we wished we had more time. This church is the home to the tombs of Michelangelo and Dante Alighieri. The grounds of the church were wonderful and quiet too. Definitely worth a visit.
We did not go inside the palace but it looked gorgeous and humungous. We had a view of the palace and the Boboli gardens from our hotel and it was beautiful. If you have time, I highly recommend touring inside.
This is the local, trendy neighborhood where are all the locals hangout. The vibe is lively with dancing, singing and outdoor restaurants. Head to Oltrano for a nightout and dinner. You won’t be disappointed. We also participated in a fun group dance!
This bridge is hard to miss when you visit Florence. It is a great place to window shop for fine jewelry and the walk along Arno river is beautiful.
If you are into shopping, you will love Florence. From fine Italian jewelry to handmade leather goods to high end clothing, I loved shopping in Florence and here are a few tips!
- If you want to buy gold jewelry, skip the shops on Ponte Vecchio and head to the neighborhood of Santa Croce. You will find gold in all colors from standard white, yellow to rose, chocolate, black!
- Care for some engraved leather bags, head to the Leather School which is also in Santa Croce area. The leather school’s store is the cheapest option for high quality leather. As you watch the students at work, you could also get your items engraved. Pretty sweet deal I’d say!
- Shoes and designer clothing stores are everywhere if you would like to shop Italian brands.
Visiting Tuscany had been a dream of mine for a long time and I loved every minute there. I suggest spending some time in the countryside of Tuscany to really appreciate the beauty.
To say Italy is magnificent would be an understatement. I still wonder how such a small country has so much beauty and we can’t wait to go back again!
And this is the final post of our Italian adventures. Ti amo Italia, Arrivederci..!!
More Italian destinations –
I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.