Amongst the memories of delicious meals, awe-striking art, beautiful hillsides, and idyllic beaches, one question lingers in the minds of every person who’s ever traveled to Tuscany- “when can we return?” Glenn and Anne-Marie traveled the region together, and when it came time to leave, they too found themselves asking that very question.
“Tuscany… The hillside towns rooted in the rolling green countryside filled with red poppies and fields of wild mustard will forever come to mind on the rainy winter days in Newport when the skies are grey. Picturing the Italian sun shining on the ancient cypress trees, we’ll remember a satisfying meal in Lucca ending with the lingering tang of garlic and olive oil and taste the crisp, robust wine in Chianti.
While in Tuscany this spring we found ourselves driving down roads that we imagine no American has seen; we breezed through villages so small that if you blinked they’d disappear. We had a chance to explore the much-loved towns of Lucca and San Gimignano and visited the renowned cities of Siena and Florence. We found that May, when all the flowers are blooming and the summer crowds have yet to arrive, is a great time to visit Tuscany. When we left it was with a heavy heart, but with warm memories and with high hopes of returning.
The Sights of Siena and San Gimignano
After a ferry ride from Capri to Naples, followed by a train trip from Naples to Rome and a two-hour drive from Rome to Siena, we arrived in Siena late in the afternoon a bit flat from our day’s travels. But the sight of the medieval walled city lifted our spirits.
After checking into our hotel just outside the walls, we walked through the winding streets to the main square. The Piazza del Campo, the pulsing heart of Siena, is lined with charming shops and sidewalk cafes and bustles with the foot traffic of locals and tourists. We settled down at a small, outdoor table to enjoy a little people watching and ordered a refreshing glass of Prosceco.
Siena enjoys the reputation of being one of Italy’s prettiest medieval towns and for many years it rivaled Florence as the ancient capital of the region. The main square sits at the center of the city’s 17 contrade, or neighborhoods, and flags displaying the symbolic animals of each neighborhood flutter over the streets. Competition between the districts is traditionally fierce, particularly during the Palio, the thrilling horse races that take place each summer. As we wound through the streets later that evening heading back to our hotel, we rounded a corner and were blessed with a stunning view of the expansive countryside around the city, courtesy of Siena’s hilltop position.
Exploring Lucca, Southern Tuscany and Chianti
We got another early start our first morning in Lucca and drove south into the hills on winding roads to the Villa La Marchietta. Visible just as we rounded a bend on a quiet country road, the terracotta-colored villa seemed like a dream emerging from the surrounding hillsides. When we stopped the car we could hear the tinkling of bells from the goats grazing in the fields around the villa. The front doors open onto a small, cozy library and beyond is a beautifully appointed living area with comfortable furniture and fabulous fabrics. French doors open onto a terrace that looks out over a spread of vineyards and olive groves. The house is close to a village and yet feels as if it is in a world of its own in the Italian countryside.
That evening we returned to Lucca to have dinner at the Ristorante Puccini, a local spot a friend had recommended. The composer Puccini was a native of Lucca, and the house where he was born now has a small museum dedicated to his works.
We had a chance to explore Southern Tuscany the next day and, unlike the mountains around Lucca or the rolling hills of Chianti, much of Southern Tuscany is very rugged and remote. Ancient towns like Montepulciano and Pitigliano seem to grow directly out of the rocky hilltops. Vino Nobile, the robust, rustic, robust wine of the region, is produced from grapes grown on the steep slopes surrounding Montepulciano.
We stopped in a village for lunch at small café where the menu was handwritten and no one spoke English. With our carafe of wine we had risotto with baby artichokes drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. The waiter served us a small tray of local cheeses including chunks of pecorino and blue cheese for dessert.
Finale in Florence
We ended our trip with one final day in the artistic capital of Italy, the vast city of Florence. After a week in the quiet countryside, the stimulation of the cosmopolitan city was at first a bit overwhelming, but after a tour of this Renaissance city and after a visit to a couple of villas and hotels, we ended our Italian holiday with a memorable lunch at the Villa San Michele. Surrounded by gardens and woodlands on the Fiesole hills, the charming and picturesque 15th century monastery is an oasis of peace just minutes from the center of Florence. We were treated to a relaxing al fresco lunch of Parma ham with melon, fresh salad and grilled chicken with rosemary on the Loggia overlooking the city. Looking down at the streets of Florence and the rolling hills of Tuscany beyond, we reminisced about our mornings in the Italian sunshine and dreamed of the day we would return.”
Read more about Glenn and Anne-Marie’s enchanting Tuscan vacation.