For our recipe of the month this May, Dievole’s Chef Monika Filipinska has invented a wonderfully light, summery ricotta soufflé topped with crunchy spring vegetables. An optional “caviar” prepared with our Rosato di Sangiovese, adds an unexpected gourmet touch. With a little patience and preparation, it is surprisingly easy to make, especially if you follow our illustrated recipe. Served as a starter, it’s sure to impress your guests.

Illustrated Recipe

souffle-ENG

Download a printable version of the illustrated recipe for ricotta soufflé in English and Italian.

Ricotta soufflé recipe

The finished dish

The finished dish

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 500 g fresh ricotta
  • 5 egg whites
  • 50 g choped mixed fresh herbs (such as thyme, marjoram, basili)
  • 200 g baby salad, thin asparagus, celery (or other crunchy seasonal vegetables)
  • A handful of edible flowers
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 50 g of “caviar of rosato Chianti Classico” (see below)

Instructions

  • Mix ricotta, egg whites, herbs, salt and pepper, and put into 8 molds
  • Heat oven to 140 degress Celcius. Prepare a pan of water and put the molds in it to cook in a water bath (double boiler) in the oven for 30 minutes. When done, bring to room temperature.
  • Meanwhile, wash the salad and thinly slice the vegetables. Put the vegetables in a bowl of ice water.
  • Place the soufflé at the center of the plate and arrange a selection of salad and vegetables on top. Optional: decorate the plate and soufflé with edible flowers and the “caviar” (instructions below)

For the “caviar of rosato Chianti Classico” (optional)

The "caviar"

The “caviar”

  • Ingredients: 300 ml Dievole rosato wine, 3 g agar agar
  • In a saucepan, bring to boil the rosato wine, add agar agar and stir the boiling liquid for 2 minutes.
  • Put the liquid in a syringe or baby bottle with nipple. Fill a bowl with cold sunflower oil and let the liquid drop into here. The balls will form by themselves. Drain and put on absorbent paper to gather the “caviar”.
Our chef!

Our chef!

Summer is coming and Tuscany during the bella stagione shows its best side. In the summertime, our region offers a wide range of beaches to enjoy the sun, towns where you can dine al fresco on locally grown produce and admire architectural masterpieces… But summer is also when every town or area is active in organizing cultural events, musical festivals, exhibits, special events and –what we Italians do best – food fairs.

Here’s a list of the best events in Tuscany planned in Summer 2015.

Exhibitions

Burri in Pistoia

Burri in Pistoia

May 10 to July 26

Pistoia / Burri and Pistoia, the Gori Collection and photos by Aurelio Amendola

Alberto Burri was a painter and artist whose career is celebrated with an exhibition that includes the most beautiful pieces of his wide artistic production paired with behind the scenes photos taken by his long-time collaborator, Aurelio Amendola. The exhibition is held at Palazzo Sozzifanti in Pistoia.

Info: burricentenario.com (only in Italian)

 

April 26 to September 27

Florence / Antony Gormley – Human

Antony Gormley’s exhibition “Human” explores the connections between art, anatomy and space. At the core of the exhibit there are two arrangements of the work Critical Mass created to evoke all the victims of the 20th century and reflect upon the dark side of world history. Yet the general tone is uplifting, as the exhibit presents incredible views of the city and encourages reflections about ourselves as humans.

Info: www.musefirenze.it

 

May 1 to October 31

Florence / Magnificent

Magnificent is a brand new audio-visual experience that presents, in an entertaining manner, the history of Florence. The 20 minute long digital work is screened both in Italian and English, within a beautiful room on the ground floor of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall.

Info: magnificentfirenze.it/en

 

Santa Fina

Santa Fina

May 9 to October 31

San Gimignano / Spezieria e Orto di Santa Fina

Santa Fina is the historic hospital of San Gimignano, which opened in the 15th century as a pharmacy in order to produce and sell medications. Until October 31th you can admire the kitchen where the herbs were prepared and the little shop just as they were at that time.

Info: www.sangimignanomusei.it

 

Music Festivals & Shows

July 1 – 28

Lucca / Lucca Summer Festival

This is considered the most important music festival of the Tuscan summer and it takes place in the main square of this beautiful medieval city. This year’s star-studded line-up includes Bob Dylan, John Legend, Paolo Nutini, Robbie Williams and Elton John.

Info: summer-festival.com

The Medici Dynasty show

The Medici Dynasty show

April 29 to November 29

Florence / The Medici Dynasty Show

A two-actor play that blends history and tradition with modern technology to trace the main events of the most famous family of Florence. The show is performed in English and it is held in the beautiful library of San Giovannino dei Padri Scolopi (near San Lorenzo Church).

Info: medicidynasty.com

 

July 1 – 24

Pistoia / Pistoia Blues Festival

Every year, great artists from around the world perform in Piazza del Duomo in Pistoia. The highlights of this year’s edition are Carlos Santana and Sting; the former will perform on July 21 while the latter will close the festival on July 24.

Info: pistoiablues.com

 

July 24 – August 30

Torre del Lago Puccini (Lucca) / Puccini Festival

This festival is devoted to the great Tuscan opera composer Giacomo Puccini and his masterpieces such as Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Turandot which are all are included on the billboard.

Info: puccinifestival.it/en

 

July 8 to September 5

Florence / Opera: Maggio Musical Fiorentino Summer Season

The Barber of Seville and Madame Butterly are the two main operas of the summer season of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. These two shows will delight viewers on summer evenings until September.

Info: operadifirenze.it

 

Fairs & Markets

April 6 to October 31

Siena / Assaggia Siena

The Agricultural Consortium of Siena hosts a series of food and wine tastings and guided tours of the city’s squares and churches in order to encourage people to get to know both the town’s foods and its hidden corners.

Info: visitaresiena.it (website only in Italian)

 

June 15 to June 19

Certaldo (Siena) / Mercantia Street Festival

Certaldo will host the 28th edition of this street festival full of music and delights. The program includes live performances, poetry recitals, local product tastings and sale, and various activities for kids.

Info: mercantiacertaldo.it (website only in Italian)

 

First Sundays year round

Arezzo / Antique Market

This major antique market is held on the first Sunday of every month, year round, in Arezzo’s Piazza Grande and throughout the center of city. Here you can find vintage pieces of furniture, clothes, accessories, handmade items and local culinary products.

Info: fieraantiquaria.org/1/ENG

 

Chianti Wine Expo photographed by Girl In Florence | Credit Georgette Jupe, on Facebook

Chianti Wine Expo photographed by Girl In Florence | Credit Georgette Jupe, on Facebook

First weekend in September

Greve in Chianti (Siena) /  Chianti Classico Expo

At this annual wine tasting event, you buy a glass at the front desk for 10 euros and taste the varieties of wines offered at the stands while walking through the tiny streets of this small medieval town.

Info: www.expochianticlassico.com/en/

 

Special Events

Palio di Siena | Photo Janus Kinase on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Palio di Siena | Photo Janus Kinase on Flickr (Creative Commons)

July 2 and August 16

Siena / Palio di Siena

The Palio is probably the famous Tuscan event, with live broadcast on Italian and European television. Horses run around Piazza del Campo guided by a jockey who represents his rione, or part of town. This event is a fundamental part of Sienese peoples’ identity and a truly unique experience for visitors who are able to secure a ticket to participate live.

Info: ilpalio.org/palioenglish

 

June 18-19 and June 24

Florence / Calcio Storico

Calcio Storico is a combination of soccer, rugby and wresting and it is a very important element of Florentine culture. The four teams represent the town’s four historic quarters, and they play off against each other, with the final match always played on Florence’s patron day, St. John the Baptist, on June 24th.

Info: calciostoricofiorentino.it/en

 

June 20 and September 6

Arezzo / Giostra del Saracino

The Giostra del Saracino is a re-evocation of a historical joust against the Saracens that today is carried out with a dummy. A similar type of this joust is also held in Sarteano – a small town near Siena – on August 15th.

Info: giostradelsaracinoarezzo.it (only in Italian)

 

July 3 to 12

Monteriggioni (SI) / Medieval Festival

The history of this small medieval town is relived for a week during the annual medieval festival with local and professional performers, music, demonstrations of mediaeval trades, food stands and activities – especially good for kids.

Info: monteriggioni.info

 

Pici Cacio e Pepe at Dievole’s restaurant

Despite what people might think, some of the best things about Tuscany are simple pleasures. From food to art to wine, Italy is often thought to be synonymous with decadence, supreme beauty and complicated feasts that take all day to prepare. However in the region of Tuscany, cucina povera or the peasant kitchen is the traditional, very modest and yet still incredibly delicious type of cooking that characterizes most family meals. Specifically, if you’re visiting the Siena area, there is one type of pasta that fits this description perfectly: the simple and yet oh-so-tasty, pici pasta.

It is thought that pici pasta originated in Etruscan times but exactly how is a hotly debated subject. Generally there are two main legends surrounding this simple dish. One is that it takes its name from the Etruscan foodie, Apicius. The second is that pici is a shortened word stemming from the Italian word, appicciare or “to stick”. Wherever the name comes from, it has been a staple in the kitchens in Siena and the nearby countryside for generations. Even within this small area though, there are variations. In Montalcino, for example, it is known as pinci instead of pici. These minor differences are not just found in the name, but also in how it is prepared.

The traditional and simple peasant recipe uses only water, flour, salt and a bit of oil. Other varieties include egg in the dough and this makes a heartier finished product (as well as a version that some say isn’t pici at all). In either case, the dough is rolled out, and then hand rolled into long strings, much fatter than spaghetti but thinner than penne. The irregularities in the rolling are though to make little nooks and crannies that sauce can cling to, creating the perfect pasta for hearty sauces.

The sauces to coat the pici pasta are an equally important part of the finished dish. Pici isn’t traditionally eaten with just any old sugo. It goes well with very specific sughi types, and from village to village these also vary. Four of the most popular (and conventional) pasta sauces to try are: cacio e pepe, ragù, aglione and pici alle briciole.

Pici pasta recipes – the right sauce for this pasta

Pici with sausage | photo by Flickr Luca Nebuloni

Cacio e pepe: This sauce actually has roman origins but it pairs perfectly with the hearty pici pasta. The sauce is simple using only two ingredients: pecorino cheese and pepper, which is added to the hot pasta, made creamy with just a little bit of the starchy cooking water added to the mixture. It is the ideal peasant sauce because pecorino doesn’t spoil easily and pepper is easy to carry. Intended as a filling dish for shepherds out in the field, it is sure to warm you up, as it did them, on a cold night.

Ragù: A ragù is a tomato-based meat sauce, that begins with a soffritto of onion, celery and carrot browned in olive oil (outside of Italy it is sometimes called bolognese sauce). It is flavorful and arguably one of the most popular Italian sauces as it has been recreated the whole world over. Despite what you may have eaten elsewhere in the world, nothing beats ragù made in Italy from a chef who has perfected the recipe over time.

Aglione: This is one of the most traditional sauces for pici in the region around Siena. It is made with lots of garlic, tomato, oil and chili peppers. Slightly salty, a bit sweet from the tomatoes, a tad spicy and with a finishing garlicky punch, it is a wonderful sauce. It works perfectly with pici because the blandness of the pasta allows the flavors of the sauce to shine through.

Pici alle briciole: So simple, so delicious, and a bit unlike the others, this one is a bread based sauce! It is made with thinly sliced day old Tuscan bread, chili pepper, salt, garlic, grated pecorino and a good olive oil. The crumbles cling to the rugged long pasta. When you’re craving carbs after a long day of walking, this is the dish to get. Full of flavor, yet extremely satisfying, it is sure to have you back out wandering the streets in no time.

A trip to Siena or the surrounding countryside just wouldn’t be complete without a plate of pici. Don’t miss this delicious delicacy next time you’re in the region!

While Tuscany’s famous artistic treasures have filled plenty a book, its “hidden gems” continue to be sought out by intrepid travelers in search of a sensation of discovery. You are likely to be one of a very few visiting the rather off-the-beaten track location of Certosa di San Pietro in Pontignano, located near Dievole in the comune of Castelnuovo Berardenga, just a short drive down the “Chiantigiana” road that leads outside of Siena and into wine country.

Great Cloister

Great Cloister

Founded in the mid 1300’s, the monastic complex was partially damaged following the War of Siena in the mid 1500’s and completely rebuilt beginning in 1569. The complex consists of multiple courtyards, cells, large spaces previously used for monastic purposes, a church and a chapel.

Main Cloister (with classic 500s for a wine event!)

Main Cloister (with classic 500s for a wine event!)

A main cloister gives access to the church and other areas of the complex, while the “Great Cloister” behind is in the Reniassance style and dates to the late 1600s, with an attractive large lawn and a stone well in its centre. In between them is an interior cloister named for the “conversos” or recently converted monks who were just starting their religious lives and probably had rooms adjacent to this space.

Conversos cloister

Conversos cloister

Luckily, the church, dedicated to Saint Peter, still displays its original filaretto stonework and has an impressive Renaissance portal as its entrance. Sunlight flows in from the outside through ample rectangular windows, providing contrasting light and shadow effects that bring out the decorations and arches that define the sections of the church.

Church

Church

The 16th-century interior was entirely painted in frescoes initially by Florentine artist Bernardino Poccetti, and finished by Stefano Castiani, representing stories from the Life of the Virgin, the Passion, and Saint John the Baptist. On either side of the single-naved space is an elaborate wooden choir.

Detail of the ceiling

Detail of the ceiling

Another well preserved and beautiful part of the complex is its Italian garden, accessed from a small balcony off the main cloister. Protected by monumental legislative constraint for its world-class value, this precious piece of paradise reflects all the traditional rules of an Italian Renaissance garden, with French influences found in the geometry and in the cut of boxwoods, which close the bottom of the garden, and the laurel tunnel leading to the botanical area. A limonaia on the right side of the garden is the winter home to hundreds of lemon trees that are brought out in the warmer months.

Garden

Garden

After the suppression of the convents by Napoleon, the church became a parish church, which permitted it to not fall into ruin. In 1959, the property passed into the hands of the University of Siena, which made it into a residence for some time, and it is now their conference center. Sharing the space with the university conference center is a historic residence.

Wines from participating local wineries

Wines from participating local wineries

Often the site of events, Pontignano was recently host to an event in which Dievole participated: all the neighbouring wineries in the Comune of Castelnuovo Berardenga, in collaboration with the Chianti Classico consortium, teamed up to offer a wine tasting to afictionados of classic Fiat 500 cars. The adorable vintage vehicles led colour and cheer to the otherwise quiet monastic space.

Classic 500s

Classic 500s

 

The Certosa di Pontignano is open to the public and free to visit without reservation on Sundays.

Montalcino is one of those idyllic Italian towns that, once visited, is difficult to forget. Part of its intrigue is because it still looks almost exactly as it did in the 16th century. In fact, it is still surrounded by complete, fortified walls. The location of Montalcino only adds to its splendor, as it is situated just south of Siena, in the beautiful Val d’Orcia nature park. Breathtaking Montalcino is bordered not just by imposing walls, but brightly colored wildflowers, rows of cypress trees, softly rolling hills and charming vineyards and olive groves. In a place so perfect, there is a lot to see and do, but there are few things in particular that absolutely should not be missed.

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photo by Flickr Antonio Cinotti

What to Savor in Montalcino

Wine

photo by Flickr Carlo Tardani

photo by Flickr Carlo Tardani

Montalcino has become prosperous in recent years thanks to the success of the Brunello wine. Brunello was invented in 1888 when Ferruccio Biondi Santi decided to leave out some of the grapes used to make traditional Chianti and use only grapes of the Sangiovese variety. Today, this Brunello di Montalcino (which is in essence simply a Sangiovese wine) enjoys immense popularity, even earning the prestigious DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) designation in 1980. For a more economical option, you can also try the Rosso di Montalcino, which is aged for less time than the Brunello but still enjoys an impressive DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status.

Donzelline

Donzelline is a famous fried appetizer (antipasto) that often resembles ravioli. Made from buttery dough, these puffy treats are filled with anchovies, Parmesan cheese, salami or tomato and then fried. They were originally made to celebrate the lively Festival of the Thrush (Sagra del Tordo), which is always held on the last Sunday of October in Montalcino. After you’ve had your fill of the donzelline, be sure to dig into plate of pinci pasta. Pinci, also called pici outside of Montalcino, is a thick spaghetti-like pasta, usually made with only flour and water. The blandness of the pasta lends itself to heavy or extra flavorful sauces and there are almost countless varieties to sample and enjoy!

What to See in Montalcino

Fortezza di Montalcino

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photo by Flickr Fulvio Ghiringhello

Dating from the 14th century, the fortress is incorporated into the historic city walls. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Montalcino and is a great place to “time travel” and imagine how the city must have looked in centuries past. Besides checking out the inside of the impressive fortress, be sure to head to the top-most ramparts. The fortezza is situated on the highest hill in town and the views of the surrounding countryside and the rest of Montalcino are outstanding.

Il Centro Storico

The historic center of Montalcino is truly the heart of the town. The tiny alleyways, winding streets, and picturesque palazzi make it postcard perfect and a photographer’s dream. There are also plenty of shops in this section of Montalcino and you can find “something for everyone” souvenirs, ranging from wine, to art, to artisanal products. Lastly, be sure to check out the 600 year old main square, Piazza del Popolo, and marvel at the six Renaissance arches that adorn the nearby loggia.

Museo Storico del Vetro

The glass museum is something unique to experience among the many marble and terracotta treasures usually found in Tuscany. This museum is located about 20 minutes by car from the historic center of Montalcino. Located inside of the beautiful castle of Poggio alle Mure, you can learn everything there is to know about the history of glassmaking in this stunning setting. They boast a wonderful collection of glass too, dating from ancient Roman and Egyptian times all the way to more modern examples from Murano in Venice.

The Duomo of Montalcino

Originally a Romanesque church from the 11th century, the Duomo of Montalcino is now an excellent example of 19th century neoclassical architecture. When the original church was demolished, the Sienese architect Agostino Fantastici constructed the building we see today in a standout style from the rest of the town. It was completed in 1832 and therefore is one of the newer buildings you will see when visiting Montalcino. Architecture fans will love analyzing the differences between this church and the more popular medieval and renaissance buildings that surround it. Don’t forget to head inside as well to check out the beautiful columned nave and various paintings that adorn the walls.

photo by Flickr Antonio Cinotti

photo by Flickr Antonio Cinotti

Whether you decide to spend an afternoon or an overnight, Montalcino has something for everyone from the foodie to the art lover to the history buff.

If you’ve seen the Harry Potter films, you can easily picture what an old steam engine train looks like. It’s the stuff of fantasy, yet in Tuscany, it’s reality! Not every train here, of course, is a historic steam train, but there is a special “Nature Train” (Trenonatura) that can give you the opportunity to slowly discover the beautiful places of the Val D’Orcia and Siena areas.

The Nature Train is scheduled all year long and has many different thematic itineraries across the province of Siena, offering the possibility to appreciate the extreme beauty of this area and taste great Tuscan food.

The following is the calendar for Summer and Fall 2015 historic train trips, but note that these trip descriptions and essential dates will likely remain true for the following years. Each trip revolves around an annual event, fair or market, so they repeat each year, usually on the same weekend. The information available online is in Italian, so we’ve thought to translate the description of each trip for you here.

Treno Natura in Poggio Pinci | Photo Flickr User Antonio Cinotti

Treno Natura in Poggio Pinci | Photo Flickr User Antonio Cinotti

Summer 2015 historic steam train Siena

We’re focusing here on the trains that depart from Siena – if you’re staying at Dievole and your holiday here coincides with any of these dates, we highly recommend taking this train day-trip!

May 10th : stream train from Siena to Asciano

Asciano is a small town in the province of Siena and this year’s host of the “Mercatino delle Crete” with pecorino cheese tasting and the opportunity to visit the Etruscan Museum, the Museums of Sacred Arts and the Cassioli Museum.

May 17th : stream train from Siena to Torrenieri

2015 marks the 150 years anniversary of the opening of the railway line between Asciano and Torrenieri. The “Train Festival” celebration will include food tastings, historic walks and a market with handcrafted products made by the artisans of the area. There is also the opportunity to hike for 7 kilometers with the members of the athletic association “Scarpe Diem”.

May 31th : stream train from Siena to Chiusi Scalo

Chiusi Scalo hosts the “Mercatino di Porsenna” with local products, food tastings and the possibility to visit the historical centre, its excellent Etruscan museum and archeological areas.

June 7th and 14th : stream train from Siena to Asciano

The train will leave from Siena in early morning and will arrive in Asciano after three hours with various stops at specific points that offer breathtaking views of the area. A guided visit to the historic centre of Asciano can be booked for an extra cost. There is also the chance to visit the thermal baths of Rapolano during the afternoon, but you have to make a request 10 days before the trip and pay an extra cost of 35 euros per person.

Treno Natura | Photo User Flickr Antonio Cinotti

Treno Natura | Photo User Flickr Antonio Cinotti

This year’s calendar also offers day trips during the fall for the Autumn Festival of Asciano, the Truffle Fair in San Giovanni d’Asso in November, and the Oil Festival of Val D’Orcia in December. Further information for this events will be released later this year on ferrovie turistiche official website.

Booking information for the trips departing from Siena:

The stream train ticket costs 32 euro for adults and 3 euros for children up to 10 years. To book, send an email to info@visionedelmondo@com or [email protected] . For more information visit www.ferrovieturistiche.it (in Italian)

Fall 2015 historic train trips departing from Florence

During the Fall, a stream train departs from Santa Maria Novella train station and arrives in Borgo San Lorenzo with various stops in small and rather quaint train stations such as Fiesole, Cecina and Fontebuona. These many towns and places are worth a visit: the latter two are part of an area of Tuscany called Mugello that stretches in the northen province of Florence. The Mugello is very green and known for its pastures, cows, and dairy products.

Chestnuts | photo by Alexandra Korey

Chestnuts | photo by Alexandra Korey

This stream engine runs for special occsasions only, such as the Marradi Chestnut Festival. This sagra takes place during October every year in Marradi with food and wine tastings, organic food sells and workshop about how to create delicious recepies using chestnuts and other products of the area. The official dates for 2015 edition will be announced soon, along with the dates that you can reach it by historic steam train.

Booking information for the trips departing from Florence:

The cost for an adult is 45 euros and it includes entrance into the fair, there is a discount for children up to 10 years. For early booking and further information, you can visit pro-marradi.it/en or antologiaviaggi.it.

 

Visiting Italy, it is easy to be overwhelmed with religious imagery and after some time, the saints and images of the Virgin Mary can tend to blur together. Sometimes, even more confusing, it is hard to know who a particular saint is, or why they are so important. In Italy, cities, towns, churches and monasteries often take their names after specific Catholic saints and knowing a little bit about who is important and why can help make the experience a lot more enjoyable. This knowledge gives you insight into the history, beliefs and ideals of the people and places you visit, and can even help with identifying which monuments and churches are not to be missed. One particular saint worth remembering is St. Catherine of Siena, one of only two patron saints of the whole country of Italy, as well as being patron saint of Siena.

Siena, a medieval city in Tuscany, was a major power during the middle ages as well as a popular spot for trade and commerce. St. Catherine was born there, on March 25, 1347 to a dyer and the daughter of a poet. She was one of many children (some reports indicate she was the 24th child of the family!) and from about age six she had already begun her road to sainthood. At this very young age, she was reportedly having visions of Christ and by age seven she had vowed to give her life to the church. She joined the Dominican order at age 16 and shortly thereafter became a major force in religious affairs. One of St. Catherine’s most famous acts was when she helped convince Pope Gregory IX to move the papacy out of Avignon, France and back to Rome, a huge undertaking that ended years of scandal and unrest. She also served as a peace ambassador for Florence and helped maintain neutrality in Pisa and Lucca during various wars.

"Divae Catharinae Senensis Vita", frontespiece, illustrated MS, Florence, 1500, preserved at Stanford Univ. Libraries (click to see the whole book on their website)

“Divae Catharinae Senensis Vita”, frontespiece, illustrated MS, Florence, 1500, preserved at Stanford Univ. Libraries (click to see the whole book on their website)

Despite not having any formal education, St. Catherine was an eloquent speaker and dictated many letters to be written on her behalf. In fact, she was so skillful as an orator that her dictated works in the Tuscan dialect of the 14th century are still highly regarded as classics in the Italian language. Even more impressive, regardless of her inability to read or write, she was named a doctor of the church almost 600 years after her death because her letters, prayers and writings contributed so greatly the Catholic Church.

During her short life, St. Catherine lived in absolute poverty and she traveled often, aiming to inspire her countrymen and women to follow Christ. When not traveling, she spent much of her time in the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico of Siena, now the site of some of her relics. St. Catherine died on April 29, 1380 at age 33 in Rome, and the tale of her how relics returned home to Siena is an interesting bit of history.

Interior of the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena (photo: wikipedia)

Interior of the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena (photo: wikipedia)

Legend states that one of her faithful followers so strongly disliked the idea of Rome being her final resting place, he decided to do something about it. However, the man also knew it would be very difficult to take her body, unseen, from Rome without being caught. So, in the cover of night, he removed only St. Catherine’s head and put it into a plain bag, hoping to fool the guards and not raise suspicion. However, his plot didn’t work and he was stopped and questioned. Praying to St. Catherine for help, when the guards finally looked inside the bag, all they saw were rose petals, and so they let him pass, bag in hand. Upon his return to Siena though, her head had miraculously re-appeared. Siena was therefore successful in obtaining a part of St. Catherine for themselves and today; her head and a thumb are still on display in the Basilica.

Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Michelino da Besozzo, Pinacoteca Nazionale of Siena (Image: wikipedia)

Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Michelino da Besozzo, Pinacoteca Nazionale of Siena (Image: wikipedia)

Despite her importance to Siena, the Pope and Catholic affairs, Catherine wasn’t officially made a saint until almost 100 years after death. Today, in Siena and throughout Italy, her image, in the form of statues and paintings (often shown with either roses or lilies) can easily be found. Her feast day, April 29 marks the anniversary of her death and Siena in particular, continues to honor her impressive legacy every year on this day.

Did you know that Tuscany is home to seven UNESCO world heritage sites? Of the 981 heritage sites in the world, Italy has the largest number (49) and Tuscany is the region with the most of them (as of 2014). From entire city centers to gardens and villas, Tuscany is an art and history lover’s paradise.

The following infographic video made by the newspaper The Florentine compares Tuscany’s UNESCO heritage sites to those in the rest of Italy, made on occasion of the addition of the Medici Villas to the list in 2014.

UNESCO sites in Tuscany one by one

Historic Centre of Florence (1982)

Florence’s historic center was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1982. Often referred to as the “cradle of the Renaissance,” the UNESCO status recognizes the status of this city during the 15th and 16th centuries, when the city was a major center of European trade, art and politics. Its visually impressive center is the culmination of centuries of extraordinary artistic activity.

The city has Roman origins, and was called Florentia. In the Middle Ages, it and other Tuscan cities became “communes,” following an early form of democracy. Buildings like Palazzo Vecchio (begun 1290) reflect this. In the 13th and 14th centuries the city was very rich thanks to the many merchants who lived there and contributed to it, and in the 15th century important banking families also had a hand in commissioning art and architecture. The Renaissance was born here, as were artists Donatello, Ghiberti, Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo.

The city is a remarkable repository of architecture and art. If you visit, you’ll be able to see the Duomo topped by Filippo Brunelleschi’s feat of architecture; the Baptistery and its the gilded bronze “Gates of Paradise” sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti; the church of Santa Croce, where Machiavelli, Galileo and Michelangelo are buried; Fra Angelico’s frescoes in San Marco Monastery; and Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery.

Historic Centre of San Gimignano (1990) 

(San Gimignano view, by Flickr user Antonio Cinotti)

(San Gimignano view, by Flickr user Antonio Cinotti)

The historic center of this walled Tuscan town, not far from Siena, was added as a World Heritage Site in 1990. Often referred to as the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages,” San Gimignano was a thriving center of trade and business and an example of urban organization. Part of the Via Francigena trade and pilgrimage route, the town was controlled by two rival families, the -siding family and the, a clan.

15 impressive towers that still remain out of the original 72 tall tower-houses that were built as testaments to the wealth of the rival Ardinghelli and Salvucci families (who sided with the Guelphs versus the Ghibellines, respectively – a division that characterized much of the peninsula’s politics). The town is also home to other noteworthy examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture – for an idea of what to see in San Gimignano, see our blog post here.

Historic Centre of Siena (1995) 

Siena

Piazza Campo in Siena

The art city of Siena became a World Heritage Site in 1995. Artists associated with this medieval city include Simone Martini and Duccio di Buoninsegna, and their artistic style (about which you can learn more here) was different from that of the rest of Tuscany. The way that the city itself was planned to integrate with the surrounding landscape is considered influential for town planning in Italy and all of Europe.

Visitors today will find that Siena has excellently preserved its medieval character, with the evocative Piazza del Campo, where the Palio is run, serving as its centerpiece, the early Renaissance Santa Maria Nuova nearby, and the medieval headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the longest-running banks in existence and an important regional economic fixture.

The Siena Cathedral or Duomo is one of Tuscany’s most striking monuments. This prime example of Romanesque architecture was begun in the 12th century and houses art by Donatello, Michelangelo to Bernini. Its elaborately inlaid marble floor with biblical stories and figures was described by Vasari as “the most magnificent” church floor in the world.

Historic Centre of the City of Pienza (1996) 

Piazza Pienza

Pienza’s main piazza, Photo Marco Caruso (creative commons on Flickr)

Pienza’s innovative Renaissance urban planning is what landed the city’s historic center on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1996. Pienza was a key player in the birth of the concept of the “ideal town” thanks to its early application of Renaissance Humanist principles of urban design.

Pope Pius II Piccolomini was native to a small town in the Val D’Orcia area of Tuscany called Corsignano. During his pontefice, in 1459, he visited home after a period of absence and found it unacceptable, so he set out to rebuild the town. He named it Pienza after himself, and had built the Palazzo Piccolomini (his family name) and other buildings around a central piazza. See our article about the ideal Renaissance town of Pienza and what to see there.

Val d’Orcia (2004) 

Val d'Orcia sunrise | Photo by Marco Caruso creative commons on Flickr

Val d’Orcia sunrise | Photo by Marco Caruso creative commons on Flickr

The Val d’Orcia is a large area of Tuscany extending from the hills southeast of Siena to Monte Amiata. Containing some of the world’s most unusual landscapes, it was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2004. This part of Tuscany is traversed by the historic Via Francigena, an important trade and pilgrimage route that provided a constant flow of new people, ideas and institutions.

Through its representation in Renaissance art and the way it has been thought of by Tuscan inhabitants over the centuries, the Val d’Orcia has played a significant role in altering the entire concept of a “landscape”—rather than implying a sort of wild terrain, the term has come to mean something inspired by human ideas and cultivated by human hands.

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa (1987)

The leaning tower of Pisa and the Cathedral behind | Photo Neil Howard Flickr creative commons

The leaning tower of Pisa and the Cathedral behind | Photo Neil Howard Flickr creative commons

Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli is possible Tuscany’s most recognizable icon, as almost everyone has seen a photo of a tourist “pushing the tower”. This large parcel of land in the city contains four major medieval monuments—the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Cathedral, Baptistery and Monumental Cemetery. This is what is called a “cathedral complex,” an architectural composition almost entirely limited to Tuscany. The whole complex was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.

The main architectural style here is Romanesque, although given the size of the complex, as you might imagine, some later works are present here, such as the heavy bronze doors on the church made by Mannerist sculptor Giambologna.

Although the cathedral is a highlight, most people come to see the Leaning Tower, which started leaning almost immediately since it was built on marshy land.

Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany (2013)

Villa Petraia and gardens | Photo: author

Medici Villa la Petraia and gardens, Florence | Photo: author

12 Medici villas and 2 gardens were added to the list in 2013. These are: Boboli and Pratolino gardens (Florence), Villa di Careggi (Florence), Villa la Petraia (Florence), Villa di Cerreto Guidi (Florence), Villa Cafaggiolo (Barberino di Mugello), Villa Il Trebbio (San Piero a Sieve), Villa Medici di Fiesole (Fiesole), Villa di Castello (Florence), Villa di Poggio a Caiano (Prato), Palazzo di Seravezza (Lucca), Villa La Magia (Quarrata, Pistoia), Villa di Artimino (Carmignano) and Villa di Poggio Imperiale (Florence).

These amazing villas were owned by various members of the Medici family between the 15th and 17th centuries. The family used them alternately depending on the season or prefered activity (for example, Cerreto Guidi was a hunting lodge), moving the entire court around to follow the Duke. Almost all of them can be visited year-round, in full or in part.

Tuscany offers a range of thermal baths, from luxurious spas to truly local free experiences. Using these baths is a long tradition, one enjoyed by the Etruscans and Romans and by Medieval popes, and it is still considered a local treat by Tuscans.

Near Siena

Siena is a wonderful Medieval town, about an hour by superstrada away from Florence. If you are in Florence and want to visit Siena and the baths you can do so by local transportation, though having your own car is often an advantage. There are also discounted taxis available that will take you to your relaxing destination.

Bagni di Petriolo Close Up | Photo Flickr User Lorraine Ann Flack

Terme di Petriolo

The baths are located in the town Monticiano, a small town half an hour outside of Siena in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. The perfect time for use is during the icy winter days, when its water temperature is at around 42 degrees Celcius.

Location Bagni di Petriolo, Monticiano (SI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: termepetriolo.it

Terme di Chianciano

A resort packed with a wellness park, thermal baths and medical services. The medical services include nutritionists and personal trainers. During the summer the wellness park hosts music festivals, events, wine and food tastings.

Via delle Rose, 12, Chianciano Terme (SI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termechianciano.it

Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa

Fonteverde is a five star resort loaded with thermal baths, a wellness center for body, face treatments, and a spa. In 2014 this resort was rewarded with the Wellness Travel Award.

Località Terme 1, San Casciano dei Bagni (SI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.forteverdespa.com

Terme di Sant’Elena

Sant’Elena’s thermal baths are located on the hillside with a beautiful view of Chiusi, Montepulciano and Lake Trasimene. It offers thermal pools, wellness treatments, and recreational activities. It is also famously the town where the mineral water ‘Acqua Sant’Elena is bottled.

Via della Libertà 12, Chianciano Terme (SI)
Email: info@termesantelena
URL: www.termesantelena.it

Terme San Giovanni – Rapolano Terme

In the heart of Chianti there is Rapolano Terme, a place that offers thermal baths, fresh water pools, beauty treatments, and a nutritional center that advises those who want to eat healthy.

Via Terme San Giovanni – Rapolano Terme (SI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termesangiovanni.it

Near Pisa and Lucca

Pisa and Lucca are two beautiful towns with a lot of art and history. After a visit to the Leaning Tower and a long walk on Lucca ancient walls, you can take some free time to relax and enjoy healthy beauty treatments.

Lucca Thermal Baths (Grotta Piccola) | Photo Flickr user ARPAT

Terme di Casciana

Located in the Pisan Hills, this bath is notorious for using Acqua Mathelda. Acqua Mathelda is commonly used for modern rehabilitation therapies, digestive functions and respiratory treatments. Spa pools, massages, and thermal pools are also available.

Piazza Garibaldi, 9 – Casciana Terme (PI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termedicasciana.it

Terme Villa Borri

This resort is neighbors with Terme San Casciana and features a large open air pool, as well as wellness treatments for the face and body. Skin care is one of the specialties of this center with a cosmetic line based on the exploiting properties of Acqua Matelda. In addition Terme Villa Borri has a rehabilitation center

Via Galilei 34, Casciana Terme (PI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termevillaborri.com

Terme Bagni di Lucca

Featuring an open air pool with a green garden, comfortable lounging chairs, and fresh fruits cocktail are just some of the things you can get if you visit this resort. It also has a restaurant for romantic dinners and exclusive cocktails. Packages and discounts are also available.

Piazza San Martino 11, Lucca
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termebagnidilucca.it

Terme di Uliveto

One of the most unique resorts on the list boats multiple open air thermal pools with beautiful garden. In this resort you can schedule a meeting with a “Ben-essere” expert who will analyze your physical situation and give advice for the best treatments for your body.

Via Provinciale Vicarese 124, Uliveto Terme (PI)
URL: www.termediuliveto.it

Bagni Pro Palace & SPA

This five star palace comes with thermal pools, massages, beauty treatments, and a spa. This structure doubles as a hotel with restaurants, bars, and conference rooms. A perfect choice for quality memories whether you are here for work or for pleasure.

Largo Shelley 18, San Giuliano Terme (Pisa)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.bagnidipisa.com

Near Florence

Gambassi Terme

Gambassi Terme is the perfect solution for a quick break from everything else Tuscany has to offer. Its water is very similar to the one of Vichy with a temperature of 14.6 degrees and is very useful when it comes to curing respiratory diseases.

Piazza Giuseppe di Vittorio, 1
50050 Gambassi Terme – Florence
Email: l: [email protected]
URL: www.termedigambassi.it

Near Grosseto

Grosseto is a town on the coast of Tuscany where the crystal seawater meets the beautiful woods.

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Saturnia’s Thermal Baths | Photo Flickrs user Jarle Refsnes

Saturnia

The biggest, most southern, and one of Itay’s most known thermal pools is Saturnia. This resort has both indoors and outdoor pools, an olympic-sized pool, thermal walks, beauty care services, and a spa. It also has a very large golf camp and a very popular restaurant. If you decide to stay for more than one day, a visit to the small and beautiful town of Saturnia is highly recommended.

Loc. della Follonata, Saturnia-Manciano (GR)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termedisaturnia.it

Other Areas

Venturina’s Thermal Baths | Photo Flickr user ARPAT

Terme di Venturina

Located in the countryside of Livorno, these thermal pools are not very far from the sea and the town. Hot water, beauty treatments, and personal trainers for gym and other physical activities are available.

Viale delle Terme 36/40 Livorno
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termediventurina.it

Montecatini Terme

One of the well-known and beloved baths in Italy, it offers a complete wellness experience ranging from thermal baths and body and facial treatments to healthy eating consiliences. A fun fact about this bath is that it has been the official venue for Miss Italia for nearly sixty years.

Via Verdi 41, Montecatini Terme (PT)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termemontecatini.it

Grotta Giusti Resort Golf & Spa

Grotta Giusti is a four star resort with outdoor and indoor thermal baths as well as a millennial grotto for thermal steam bathing and hydro massages. There is also a large golf camp that your significant other can use while you are busy with your beauty treatments.

Via Grotta Giusti 1411, Monsummano Terme (PT)
Email: [email protected]
URL: grottagiustispa.com

Sassetta’s Thermal Baths | Photo Flickr user ARPAT

Terme di Sassetta

Thermal baths, body and face treatments, gym and walk camps, restaurants and beautiful villas to rent. A perfect place for few days of total relaxation and tranquility.

Via Campagna Sud 143, Pian delle Vigne, Sassetta (LI)
Email: [email protected]
URL: www.termedisassetta.it

If you’ve never had Pecorino cheese directly from Italy, you’re in for a treat. This sheep’s milk cheese can be hard or soft and comes in hundreds of varieties. Despite this, there are four main types, which boast being the “holy grail” of Pecorino. All four enjoy protected PDO (Protected Destination of Origin) status (known as DOP in Italian). This means that pecorino accompanied by this distinguished label is produced in a manner and location specifically outlined by the European Union, often adhering to ancient standards. Everything from the aging of the cheese, the type of sheep that can produce it, to the way it is cured, is tightly controlled. The following four protected variations of Pecorino are all unique, delicious and absolutely should not be missed while you’re in Italy – they only place where you can truly enjoy them in their freshest (or oldest) form.

Pecorino for sale in Pienza | Photo Flickr user Dan

Pecorino for sale in Pienza | Photo Flickr user Dan

Pecorino Romano PDO/DOP

This hard, salty, aged cheese is produced in Sardinia, Lazio and the Tuscan province of Grosseto. It is one of the most popular varieties of Pecorino that can be found outside, and inside, of Italy. Additionally, it is one of the oldest varieties of cheeses in Italia, dating back almost two thousand years. Famous ancient Romans, such as Pliny the elder and Virgil extolled its virtues as part of a healthy diet and Pecorino Romano was even rationed to solders before battle to help ease fatigue. It has a strong flavor and is produced by aging for about one year (although it can sometimes be aged for shorter or longer).

How to enjoy it: This cheese is best grated, due to its salty, hard nature. You can try it in place of parmigiano reggiano if cooking for yourself, or find it on the menu in such dishes as cacio e pepe or l’amatriciana at restaurants.

Pecorino Sardo PDO/DOP

Also know as Fiore Sardo this is a raw, hard cheese produced on the Italian island of Sardinia. Strict standards indicate that each cheese must be made from a single flock of local Sardinian sheep. The cheese is aged six months and is less hard than its Roman counterpart. It has a dark brown rind, and boasts a sour, earthy smell. This Pecorino is rich and can come in a variety of flavors, ranging from caramel sweet, to salty, to spicy or even floral.

How to enjoy it: Because of the complexity of flavors in this cheese, it is wonderful served as an antipasto. It also makes a great counterpart to wine, and enjoying it with both mature and young varieties would bring out the some of the distinctive underlying tastes and scents. Alternatively, it can be grated on top of dishes in place of Pecorino Romano, although eating it this way disguises some its uniqueness.

Pecorino Toscano

Tuscan pecorino cheese aging on shelves

Tuscan pecorino cheese aging on shelves

Unlike the other two Pecorino cheeses, Tuscan Pecorino is a soft or semi hard ewe’s milk cheese and only aged for 1-6 months, on average. The rind is often straw yellow and isn’t very hard to the touch like the previous varieties. It can also be found with a red rind, made from tomato dye, which is a clear indication that the Pecorino is a Sienese variety. This cheese is flavorful and fragrant, sometimes smelling of the local herbs and grass that the sheep ate. It is not however a pungent cheese and it shouldn’t smell strong or biting to the nose.

How to enjoy it: Pecorino Toscano is a pleasing mild cheese that is good for those who don’t like strong cheeses. It can be enjoyed as part of an antipasto, with other richer meats and sides, or in a panino. The younger varieties are a great choice for kids, as those who already know and like mozzarella will find it has a similar, pleasing milky mildness.

Pecorino Siciliano

This is easily the most unique of the four PDO varieties. The cheese is aged in fasceddi or special rattan baskets, giving the rind a particular, identifiably wrinkly exterior. It is then cured with salt a day after production, further distinguishing it from its other PDO counterparts. Pecorino Siciliano is made from sheep milk of free grazing animals and the specific pastures of the Sicilian countryside impart an earthiness to the finished product. However, this is not a mild cheese; the flavor is intense and sometimes spicy due to the fact that it is aged for four months. Interestingly, this cheese may be one of the oldest cheeses in Europe, as in 900 B.C. Homer quoted Ulysses in The Odyssey saying, “he curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers”. The wicker strainers give an indication that he was likely referring specifically to Pecorino Siciliano. Pliny the Elder (who must have really loved his Pecorini) also wrote in the first century A.D. that he found the Pecorino Siciliano to be the best of all the varieties.

How to enjoy it: With multiple millennia of history behind it, this is a cheese you need to try. Enjoying it plain as part of an antipasto definitely the easiest way to appreciate its textures and flavors. Alternatively, if you can find arancini di riso (delicious fried balls of rice and cheese) they are sometimes made with this pecorino variety.

The best way to enjoy pecorino: straight!

The best way to enjoy pecorino: straight!

Enjoy your pecorino!

The best way to enjoy pecorino is straight up! Slice and display on a plate, either plain, or enhanced with local honey and jams. Figs and grapes are a great accompaniment. If you’re tasting multiple types of pecorino at once, arrange them on the plate from mildest to most aged, and start your tasting with the mild one to get the most out of its delicate flavours. Of course, it goes without saying that pecorino cheese is a born accompaniment for red Chianti Classico wine. The aged pecorino, for example, goes great with a Dievole Novecento Chianti Classico Reserve.

Next time you’re looking at a vineyard, take your eyes off the grapes for a moment and look at the ground between the vines. What do you see? If you see a rigorous assortment of plants growing there, it’s a good thing!

Dievole’s agronomist, Lorenzo Bernini, explains what plants we see here and why. “Our philosophy is to regenerate the earth, to increase its physical and chemical fertility in a natural way in order to encourage a more vigorous growth of flora and fauna.”

Green between the vines | Photo Marco Badiani

Green between the vines | Photo Marco Badiani

How do we do this? Right after the grape harvest, we go in and work the earth between the vines in an important and very deep process. Piercing the earth to about 60cm down, we oxygenate without turning the earth. This favours the activity of the roots of the vines, as well as creating happy microflora and microfauna.

After the oxygenation process, in October, we plant a variety of seeds between the vines. We’re still experimenting to find out which plants are best for our particular terrain. These plants include:

Facelia: This pretty purple flower, commonly called purple tansy, attracts bees. This increases bio-diversity as well as cross-pollination.

Facelia in our fields

Facelia in our fields

Mustard: this plant has deep roots that help lend structure to the terrain; as with all plants, it helps avoid soil erosion.

"Brassica juncea wild mustard" by Petr Pakandl / Wikipedia

“Brassica juncea wild mustard” by Petr Pakandl / Wikipedia

Trifolium incarnatum: Known in English as Crimson Clover or Italian clover, its oval-shaped leaves grow in threes. It produces beautiful red flowers throughout the summer. Being a legume, it enriches the soil with nitrogen.

Trifolium Incarnatum (photo: Wikipedia)

Trifolium Incarnatum (photo: Wikipedia)

Field Bean (favino): The Latin name of this little bean is Vicia faba minor L., and it’s a variety of the edible bean. In our fields its function is to enrich the soil with nitrogen.

Favino (photo: nicobio.it)

Favino (photo: nicobio.it)

While these are the seeds we’ve planted, the terrain is so fertile that other seeds often take hold, and we’re happy to welcome them! On a recent visit between the vines we photographed a number of other little plants with different coloured flowers which Lorenzo says are an indication that “we’re working in the right direction!”

Spotted in the fields (photographed with a macro lens)

Spotted in the fields (photographed with a macro lens)

At the end of April, we go through and mulch the plants, leaving them on the surface in order to not be invasive – we don’t want to expose any microorganisms or any of our nutritive earth. The mulched plant material provides an excellent organic fertilizer for our vines.

All in all, as Lorenzo explains: “We want to create a favourable habitat for our vines, seeking a perfect balance through earth that is not compact but rather vital with nutrients and oxygen. This lets our vines create deep roots in the best possible expression of our terroir.”

Monteriggioni is a small medieval village, idyllically situated on the top of a hill, still surrounded by an entirely intact, formidable wall. It is on the medieval road, Via Francigena, a famous pilgrimage route that connects Rome to France and Canterbury. Additionally, Monteriggioni was even mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who noted the towns impressive towered walls, comparing it to a crown. Tourist groups often pass by this small hamlet, in favor of the nearby San Gimignano, but Monteriggioni is worth a visit all on it’s own. Below are five reasons this tiny hilltop hamlet is sure to steal your heart.

1) It’s entirely walkable and easy to get to

Via Francigena, Monteriggioni | Credits by Flickr user @Paolo Ramponi

Via Francigena, Monteriggioni | Credits by Flickr user @Paolo Ramponi

Parking in Monteriggioni is a breeze as there is a huge parking lot right below the town. The lot can accommodate everything from huge tour busses to your average car or motorino. Once parked, there is a clear path leading to the entrance to the town, and while the walk is a bit steep, the resulting views are worth it. Once you’re in the down itself, you can begin to wander without ever fearing getting truly lost. This little town is so tiny that the whole perimeter can be walked in about 20 minutes. Enjoy the luxury of wandering aimlessly without ever having to consult a map; it’s a truly rare treat. You’ll feel instantly safe and peaceful here, but to avoid big crowds, try to come in the morning or late afternoon. Additionally, the lack of traffic and few cars makes it a great place for kids.

2) The views

Monteriggioni | Credits by Flickr User @antoncino

Monteriggioni | Credits by Flickr User @antoncino

Monteriggioni is on a hill, and that means the views of the valley below are outstanding. You can take a minute to appreciate it for free while walking around the town and peering through the old gated entrances such as the Porta di Ponente, which faces in the direction of Florence. Alternately, you can pay to climb up and walk around the, mostly original, 13th century stone walls and 14 towers, which are still intact. From this vantage point, you can see much more of the valley below and truly take in every direction.

3) The history is alive

Camminata di Ronda, Monteriggioni | Credits by Flicker user Paolo Ramponi

Camminata di Ronda, Monteriggioni | Credits by Flicker user @Paolo Ramponi

Coming to Monteriggioni you will feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. The cobblestones, the winding alleyways and the quaintness give an aura of centuries past. The fact that you don’t need a map to appreciate it makes it that much easier to soak in the historic atmosphere. Additionally, for history buffs, Monteriggioni does not disappoint. The hamlet was founded in 1213 as an annex of Siena in their everlasting feud with Florence. As a fortified town, it survived many attacks from Florence and even Volterra. The buildings on the interior are mostly all original and made of beautiful stone. Additionally, be sure to check out the quaint church in the center of town, Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta. It was built in the 13th century, and while the interior has been renovated recently, it still has its original facade and church bell, which dates from 1299.

If you’re going to be going to Monteriggioni during the summer months, be sure to check out their historic festivals. In July, they host Monteriggioni Medievale, which draws adults and children from all over Tuscany. Jugglers, musicians, markets and dancing, this festival truly has something for everyone. Since the town itself is so well preserved, you will feel as if you’ve stepped directly into the middle ages.

4) It’s the perfect place for a break

The town's main square with the historic well. It's all here!

The town’s main square with the historic well. It’s all here!

A full day of touring can be exhausting, but Monteriggioni is a great place to unwind and relax. Turning off Via Maggio, consider stopping in the main square, Piazza Roma and getting a glass of wine, cheese and meat to enjoy in the sunshine. You will be able to listen to the buzz of the natives, observe their daily rituals and soak in the distinguished atmosphere of this adorable town.

5) Nature lovers, rejoice!

If nature is your thing, the hills around the Monteriggioni offer unparalleled hiking and exploring. You can find a tour guide and information on available hikes by checking out their tourism website here. Additionally, the other castles and towns that dot the countryside below can be easily added to your day trip to Monteriggioni. This is a great place to enjoy some truly unspoiled Tuscan countryside and the guides and hikes available are for various skill levels and time commitments. You can find everything from 2 hour, easy hikes to full-day advanced level excursions.

Monteriggioni is a great addition to any trip around Tuscany. This little hamlet, while small, has something for everyone and is sure to please even the most discerning traveler. Consider adding it to your trip, if you want to experience the perfect slice of historic, untouched Italy.

 

If you’re visiting Tuscany at any time of year, there is so much to take in, from art and culture to food and wine, that it’s hard to come up with the perfect itinerary to fit it all in. But one of the most authentic things you can do is to participate in a local event, where you are bound to pick up some local culture, meet new friends and bring home memories. With guests at Dievole in mind, we’ve compiled this list of recurring annual events in Siena Italy and also in the surrounding countryside.

January

Siena Guitar Festival (Siena)

The philosophy of the Siena Guitar Festival is that good music should not be defined by genres. Thus the festival is instrument-based, i.e. anything guitar. Creativity and experimentation are welcome in an open usical dialogue that takes place at Siena’s Teatro dei Rozzi.

For info: http://sienaguitarfestival.blogspot.it/

February

Carnival

February means it’s Carnival time in Italy, the “party time” before the lenten solemnity that precedes Easter. Every small town has its own Carnival parade and events, so ask around, don a mask, and make sure to taste some of the local sweets that abound at this time of year.

March

Palio dei Somari (Torrita di Siena)

Palio at Torrita di Siena (wikipedia)

Palio at Torrita di Siena (wikipedia)

Torrita di Siena’s palio is in honour of Saint Joseph, protector of woodworkers, inspired by the values of simplicity and hard work. There are parades, flag throwers, and much fanfare to celebrate the day that ends with a ball game played by the city’s eight contrade near its historic walls. Unquestionably a very local event!

For info: www.paliodeisomari.it

CiocoSì (Siena)

This is for chocolate lovers! A fair to taste and purchase various kinds of chocolate, made locally and around Italy. Each year there are new and special events, such as liquid chocolate barman shows, cooking shows, and areas dedicated to specific types of chocolates. The fair takes place the second or third week of March in Piazza del Campo, and also travels to other cities.

For info: www.chocomoments.it

April

Gran Premio delle Palme (Montepulciano – Siena)

An important horse race in Montepulciano takes place at the city’s main racetrack, usually the first Sunday of the month of April. Riders ride bareback as this is a traditional event, and visitors can taste local products in between key moments.

For info: Unione Polisportiva Poliziana A.S.D., Via dello Stadio, 1 – 53045 Montepulciano (Si), tel +39 0578 767539, www.unionepoliziana.net

Val d’Orcia Wine Festival (Val d’Orcia – Siena)

Towards the end of the month, the city of San Quirico d’Orcia hosts a wine festival at which it is possible to taste local wines through special wine tours, aperitivi, or at the booths. There is also poetry and music and various activities.

For info: www.comunesanquirico.it

May

Maggiolata S. Angelo Scala (Val D’orcia – Siena)

Trenonatura | Photo Flickr Antonio Cinotti

Trenonatura | Photo Flickr Antonio Cinotti

A May 1st tradition in this area is to take the historic steam train that departs from Siena at 8:50am and takes you through the marvelous scenery of the Crete Senesi, Val d’Orcia and Amiata mountains. The destination is Sant’Angelo Scalo, where there will be a lunch, folk dancing, a fair and more. But as you know, the destination is just a pretense for the voyage!

For info: to reserve, contact Agenzia Viaggi Visione del mondo, [email protected] / tel. +39 0577 281834, organized by Ferrovia Val d’Orcia, [email protected], tel. +39 0577 207413 / 338 8992577

June

Festa Medievale (Monteriggioni – Siena)

Monteriggioni's medieval festival \ Photo flickr user @marco "Il Pensatore"

Monteriggioni’s medieval festival \ Photo flickr user @marco “Il Pensatore”

Two weeks of July (in 2015, the dates are July 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12) and 2 days in June (in 2015, June 27-28) are host to a medieval fair that has nothing to do with the kind they have in other countries. Monteriggioni’s fair is known to be one of the best as a representation of Tuscan tradition, medieval style. The quaint little medieval town is a natural backdrop to the celebration, which includes everything from jugglers and firebreathers to jousts and playacting. There are activities especially for kids, too.

For info: www.monteriggionimedievale.com

Festa del Barbarossa (San Quirico d’Orcia – Siena)

The Barbarossa reinactment

The Barbarossa reinactment

Frederick I of Hohenstaufen, known as “red beard” or Barbarossa in Italian, entered San Quirico d’Orcia in the year 1155 for a meeting with Cardinals, which was the last step towards his coronation as Emperor. For the village of San Quirico d’Orcia, Barbarossa’s visit and the events surrounding it represent the most important episode in its history; at this time, the town was made into a Imperial Vicariate, a political-administrative role which it maintained until the fall of the Republic of Siena. The festival in June celebrates this moment with a historical re-evocation full of costumes and music, flag throwing and a parade put on by the town’s areas, who compete to put on the best show.

For info: www.festadelbarbarossa.it

Torrita Blues (Torrita di Siena)

The town of Torrita di Siena has been hosting this imporant musical event since 1989. An occasion for all jazz and blues-lovers to hear some good music played by local and national talents. The event is usually held in the third week of June.

For info: www.torritablues.com

July

Palio di Siena (Siena)

The Palio of Siena is probably the most famous event in Tuscany, if not in all of Italy – when horses run, guided by jockeys that represent the town’s rioni (areas), in the picturesque Piazza del Campo. For the Sienese it’s not just an event but part of their identity. Some of the rules date back to the first year that it was run, in 1644. The Palio is on the same 2 days every year: July 2 and August 16.

For info: www.ilpalio.org

Concerts at Parco Sculture del Chianti (Chianti senese – Siena)

10km outside of Siena and just a few kilometers down the road from Dievole is the Chianti Sculpture Park, where in July and August there is a weekly performance of music or dance.

For info: www.chiantisculpturepark.it

Settimana Musicale Senese (Siena)

The prestigious Accademia Musicale Chigiana puts on a calendar of classical concerts in the month of July in various churches and theatres in Siena. A don’t miss if you’re in the area!

For info: www.chigiana.it

Mercantia (Ceraldo Alto – Siena)

This street festival in the medieval town of Certaldo Alto is truly magical! With the whole town lit up and full of music and delights, you’ll be enchanted by performers of every type, on stilts, in costumes, reciting poetry, being funny for kids, and everything else you can imagine. An event of exceptional quality that has been continuing for 28 years.

For info: www.mercantiacertaldo.it – The 2015 dates are July 15-19.

August

Giostra del Saracino (Sarteano – Siena)

August 15th is Ferragosto, an important holiday in Italy. In Sarteano the day is marked with the Giostra del Saracino, a re-evocation of a historical joust against the Saracens that is today carried out with a dummy. No animals or humans will be hurt, but a good time is sure to be had.

Corsa dei ciuchi (Sovicille – Siena)

Have you ever seen a donkey run? It’s quite a scene at Barontoli, outside Sivicille in the province of Siena. Seven contestants from different areas near the town compete for the victory in this show of very local, very countryside tradition.

Bravio delle Botti (Montepulciano – Siena)

One of the most amusing events in the area is the “Bravio delle botti” in Montepulciano, where men push a barrel weighing 80 kilos over one kilometer. He who goes fastest wins, of course.

September

Palio dei Ciuchi (Asciano – Iesa – Monteroni d’Arbia / Siena)

The towns of Asciano, Iesa and Monteroni d’Arbia get together to compete in the annual donkey race (see above) in September, which isn’t just a race but really a town party, with plenty of food and fun.

October

Boccaccesca (Certaldo Alto – Siena)

Boccaccesca stand

Boccaccesca stand

Boccaccesca is a much awaited annual event in the town of Certaldo Alto. The town is transformed into a wonderful assortment of foods to taste, including things made with the local red onion. Beyond food stands, all very cute and in line with the town’s medieval look, there are games, cooking demonstrations, and even nutritionits on hand to help you improve your diet.

For info: www.boccaccesca.it

November

Giallo come l’Oro (San Gimignano – Siena)

Saffron is the star of this food fair in November in the medieval tower-town of San Gimignano, which is historically known for the production of this “yellow gold”. The event helps you imagine the vastness of cooking possibilities of the flower, which you can of course purchase to bring home.

December

Mercato del Campo (Siena)

The medieval Christmas market of Siena is set up in Piazza del Campo, with artisan treats as well as enogastronomic delights.

 

When it comes to romance and intrigue, Tuscany is the perfect backdrop. Its range of landscapes and cityscapes is a directors’ paradise – from the rolling hills of the Chianti Senese to the monumental beauty of Florence or the charming sidestreets of. Over the years, many films have incorporated Tuscany either as a backdrop or as part of the plot of a film. Here’s five important ones.

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Tuscany is well known and regarded for its red wine. But you might be surprised to know that Tuscany also produces a sweet dessert wine called Vin Santo. When visiting the region, you will often see Vin Santo wine on restaurant dessert menus served along with cantuccini. Cantuccini are long and rectangular-shaped, hard  cookies (what in America is called “biscotti”) that are meant to be dipped into the Vin Santo before eating – just as you might a circular, chocolate cookie into milk. Like the wine, these cookies are native to Tuscany. Vin Santo may also be served alone in small glasses for sipping as typical with sweet dessert wines.

dipping-vin-santo

Dipping Vin Santo

There are several types of dessert wines but Vin Santo is different for several reasons. Vin Santo is unique not only in its taste, but also in how it is made. Unlike port or sherry wines, Vin Santo is not fortified with spirits. Vin Santo is typically made with two types of white grapes from Tuscany called Trebbiano and Malvasia. There is also a red version of Vin Santo, called “occhio di pernice” (translated as “eye of the partridge”), and is made out of sangiovese, malvasia nera and/or cannaiolo grapes.

How vin santo is made

1. Harvesting of the grapes. The selection and picking of the grapes is completed by hand to ensure the grapes are handled with extreme care. The grapes have to be perfectly healthy and free of damage or impurities because they have to dry out for weeks – sometimes months – without going bad.

2. Drying period. Once picked, the grapes are laid on nets or hung in windy locations in the shade to dry out for several months until they become raisins. As the water within the grapes evaporate, the concentration of sugar increases.

grapes

grapes

3. Pressing and barreling. Once properly dried, the grapes are pressed and the resultant must is placed into small traditional wooden barrels (15 to 50 liters) called “caratelli”. Along with the must, the wine maker will add either yeast or “mosto madre” (mother must). Mosto madre is a small portion of the must leftover from the previous years’ batch and it helps with the creation of yeast in the wine over the long fermentation period.

4. Fermentation and aging. The caratelli barrels are then kept perfectly sealed without any contact to the air for several years. Traditionally, the barrels are kept in a room, such as an attic, without temperature control. It’s believed that a room with frequent temperature changes between night and day and between seasons will increase the quality of the aroma and the taste of the Vin Santo. The period of time the wine is allowed to age in the barrels varies between wine makers, but it is frequently six years or more.

wine barrel

wine barrel

With this lengthy and highly variable production process, it is understandable why the resultant wine is so uncommon and special. It is also why the taste of the wine itself can vary so widely between different wine makers. It should also be noted that traditional Vin Santo is different from wine you will find in the supermarket labeled Vin Santo Liquoroso which is is a fortified product and further sweetened with concentrated must.

The exact origins of the name “Vin Santo” are unknown. As directly translated from the Italian language, Vin Santo means “saint wine”. There are several stories which have propagated through time to explain the origin of the name. The two most popular stories come from two of the largest cities in Tuscany – Siena and Florence.

Vin Santo e cantucci

Vin Santo e cantucci

The story coming from Siena dates back to 1348 when a Franciscan friar started to use the wine that was normally used by the friars during mass to cure the plague. The Sienese people started to believe that the wine was actually curing them and so they started to call it “saint wine”. The story originating from Florence dates back to 1439 when a Greek priest referred to the wine using the word “xanthos”, which means yellow in Greek. The Florentines thought that the priest was saying the word “santo” and started calling the wine Vin Santo from that time onward.

If you love art, you may get to Florence, Italy, and decide to stay a lifetime. But sometimes, a day trip is all you can manage. That’s okay, we’re sure you’ll be back later.

If you love art and have one day in Florence, what should you see? Should you try to see the biggest highlights in the most important museums, or should you hit up lots of churches? It really depends on your interests as well as on your resistance to standing on your feet all day! Unless you’re a really die-hard museum-goer, the best idea is to find a balanced way to enjoy as much of what the city has to offer and come away with a positive impression that will make you want to return soon, for a longer stay.

Church of Santa Croce

Santa Croce by Bruce Stokes

Santa Croce by Bruce Stokes

Start the day at the Church of Santa Croce, located near the Arno river – if you arrive before the church opens at 9:30am (daily except Sundays), head over to the river for a good view and a photo! The reason this is a good place to start is that the church was begun in the late 13th century (although its façade was made only in the 19th century!) and it’s an opportunity to experience art in situ. Wealthy families commissioned frescoes for their chapels, and altarpieces also decorate these spaces. You can also explore the cloister, chapter house and refectory to the side of the church; these were the practical areas of the monastery, where monks could walk, talk, and eat.

Bargello Museum

Bargello by Giuseppe Moscato

Bargello by Giuseppe Moscato

Depending on how long you’ve taken at Santa Croce, we’d suggest going into one of the less crowded museums in town. The Uffizi and the Accademia both have long lines, even if you reserve in advance, and the Uffizi takes half a day to visit in and of itself. The Bargello is the city’s sculpture museum and it houses a few important monuments in the history of art. There’s a statue of Bacchus by the young Michelangelo, whose flesh-like figure you can admire up close, and a whole room dedicated to the great early Renaissance sculptor, Donatello, whose various standing saints were fundamental to the progress of Western art. In the summers it’s open until 5pm, while in the winter it’s open only in the mornings.

Piazza Duomo

Duomo by Tim Rawle

Duomo by Tim Rawle

The Duomo Complex – as it’s called since it contains more than one important building – should take some time to visit. You can experience it quite well from the outside, but you might also want to go inside either the church or its baptistery with its golden mosaic dome. If you are wearing comfortable shoes and have enough time, you can also consider walking up either the dome or the belltower. The view is pretty much the same from each. A cumulative ticket for 10 euro gets you full access, though it’s free to enter the church itself.

Historic shops

Zecchi from the store's website

Zecchi from the store’s website

If you’re at all interested in creating art yourself, Florence’s most historic art supplies store will be heaven for you. Zecchi, located on via dello Studio, a tiny street to the side of the Duomo, has a lot crammed into a small space. We could gaze all day at the display of pigments in jars behind the cash.

Not an artist? Another historic shop that is a delight to the senses is the Officina Profumeria Santa Maria Novella, a historic pharmacy that was run by the Dominican monks of the church of the same name. Their highly scented products are all natural. While it’s a pricey place, it’s perfect for picking up a special gift.

A note about Gelato

After any church or museum, we recommend a gelato break. While walking towards the Duomo from Santa Croce you may hit the very famous Vivoli’s, or go to Gelateria dei Neri on via dei Neri – owned by the same people as Vivoli’s but less well known, they have a ton of flavours and have kept their prices down a bit. Between the Duomo and the Accademia, there’s a tasty place called Le Parigine, which specializes in ice-cream sandwiches made on the spot. Finally, there’s Sicilian-owned Carabé, whose granite (a kind of fresh slushie) is a real treat.

Salsa verde

Salsa verde

I use freshly collected Tuscan capers often in cooking as they add a nice kick to dishes. One of my favorite recipes which I like to keep in my refrigerator as a sauce is Salsa Verde, a parsley based sauce which is one of the sauces used with many Tuscan recipes. The street food Lampredotto  (a tripe sandwich) is served with salsa verde and a chili sauce. Bollito misto, a classic meal for Christmas has salsa verde, mayonnaise, olive oil, salt and pickled vegetables as condiments.

I recommend serving the salsa verde with a potato and green bean salad, either hot or cold in summer. When I make my stuffed hard boiled eggs, I mix the egg yolks with salsa verde instead of mayonnaise and then drizzle with some balsamic vinegar.

Salsa Verde recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup parsley leaves, no stems
  • 2 tbs capers, salt packed or in vinegar 
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 anchovies, packed in oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • pine nuts
  • bread soaked in vinegar
  • hard boiled egg, minced

Instructions

Mince the parsley, capers and garlic together.

Add the anchovy filets and mince until fine.

Place the mixture into a small bowl and add extra virgin olive oil. Add vinegar to taste.

The mixture should have a nice tang. The richer version also has pine nuts finely chopped and a piece of bread soaked in red wine vinegar and crumbled into the sauce.

One of my favorite versions adds a minced hard boiled egg to the sauce for additional richness.

(fresh capers)

(fresh capers)

 

 

 

 

Going on at least one wine tour should be a requisite for every visit to Tuscany. I’ve been on quite a few winery tours over the last couple of years – some fun and fascinating ones – and few less so. Yes, a good tour is always aided by a fun and engaging tour guide, but regardless of your guide’s enthusiasm, you can have a good time and learn a lot about wine.

The following are a few recommendations I have on how to maximize your good time and make the most of your experience.

Be inquisitive and ask questions.

Degustation (photo by Dievole) 

Degustation (photo by Dievole)

Ask the sommelier or winery representative good questions. Here are some suggestions for what to ask:

  • What makes their winery and wines special and different from the rest? Learn about the different kinds of wine they make and which variety they are most well regarded for producing.
  • Is there a story behind the design of the labels or behind the name of the winery? The labels and winery names often have interesting histories behind them.
  • Does the winery have other properties in Tuscany? Wineries in Tuscany usually have more than one piece of land in different areas to take advantage of the different terroirs.
  • How many grape varieties does the winery grow? While the most common grape grown in Tuscany is sangiovese, you’ll be surprised to find that many wineries grow international varieties as well such as merlot, cabernet, and petit verdot. Wineries use these international grape varieties in the wines commonly known as Super Tuscans.
  • If you purchase a bottle of wine, how long can you store it for and when would be the best time to drink it?
  • What type of food goes best with the wine you are tasting?
  • What vintages have been the best in the last decade?

The most important thing to remember while on a tour is to not be shy and ask any and all questions!

Mingle!

(photo by Dievole) 

(photo by Dievole)

Unless you’ve reserved a private tour or it’s a quiet day at the winery, there will be other people you don’t know on the tour with you. These fellow wine enthusiasts could be from anywhere in the world. Make small talk with them and perhaps make some new friends – even if it’s only for the duration of the tour. I’ve met some very interesting people while on wine tours and have learned a lot about the world from them. Making friends along the tour also makes for a more convivial atmosphere as you wander from cellar to cellar.

Learn about the history and work behind the wine!

(photo by Dievole)

(photo by Dievole)

There are several reasons that we taste wine. If you ask a random sampling of people, they will likely tell you that we taste wine because it compliments or enhances food, because they like it, or because it helps them relax. These are all good reasons, but I believe that the most important one is because of the unique history and craftsmanship behind the libation.

Wine isn’t made overnight and the Chianti hills have been producing wine since Etruscan times. Any labor and time intensive beverage that’s been around for that amount of time must be special. There aren’t shortcuts when it comes to making a good wine and while the technology behind the production of wine has improved over the years, the basic methodology and traditions remain the same which is impressive. On your next tour, take a moment to think about this heritage and the wine making process from start to finish.

 (photo by Dievole)

(photo by Dievole)

Take your time and drink all the wine that is poured into your glass. Don’t necessarily spit or pour it out as you might if you were professionally tasting wines. When you are at a beautiful winery in the Tuscan countryside with your friends and family on vacation, really just relax. Truly enjoy yourself and the wine!

Certaldo, a town about halfway between Florence and Siena, boasts an idyllic medieval village and a one very famous inhabitant. Giovanni Boccaccio, who wrote The Decameron in the 14th century, was born here (we think) and Certaldo continues to celebrate him, even 700 years after his death.

(view from Certaldo, photo Francesco Sgroi)

(view from Certaldo, photo Francesco Sgroi)

The town is divided into lower and upper parts, the lower being much larger and more modern, where people live but not so much for tourists to visit. To enjoy a leisurely day, there is a convenient car park in Piazza Boccaccio, directly below Certaldo Alto. You will know you’ve arrived when you spot the 18th century statue of Boccaccio himself, made to commemorate 500 years since the illustrious author’s death.

(Certaldo Alto, photo Peter Gorman)

(Certaldo Alto, photo Peter Gorman)

Heading up to Certaldo Alto on Via Costa Alberti, either by foot (10 minutes, uphill) or funicolare, one arrives in a well-preserved historic town. Via Costa Alberti turns into Via Boccaccio, a pedestrian street that serves as the main drag. Most buildings are made of brick and overall, it doesn’t look like it has changed much since Boccaccio wandered these same streets. In fact, wandering is easy to do without getting lost as almost all the main buildings are on this road.

(photo Alexandra Korey)

(photo Alexandra Korey)

A little ways up his namesake street, on the left you’ll find Casa Boccaccio, which now functions as a museum. On January 15, 1944 an air raid destroyed almost all of the original building, but it has since been restored to reflect what it likely looked like around Boccaccio’s lifetime. Interestingly, the only part of the house that remained after the attack was a frescoed wall by Pietro Benvenuti. The painting dates from the early nineteenth century and depicts Boccaccio sitting at his writing desk. On the first floor is a library with an impressive collection of works from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries as well as rare translations of The Decameron.

Continuing up the hill, you may notice an interesting tall tower. This tower is located at the Palazzo Machiavelli and made almost entirely of brick. It is remarkable because the tower has not been reworked since its construction sometime before the 1350’s. In the middle ages, towers were used to indicate the power of the family that built them, and as such, were often destroyed by warring factions. In later years, towers were also lopped off at the top, to be repurposed as building material for new projects. You can still see, by observing the pockmarked surface, where wooden balconies and scaffolding would have been. This tower, remaining in its entirety and in such excellent condition, is a rare architectural treat.

(Certaldo City Hall, photo Andrew Magill)

(Certaldo City Hall, photo Andrew Magill)

At the far end of Via Boccaccio is the church of Santi Jacopo e Filippo, or the church of the saints James and Philip. It was built in the early part of the thirteenth century, originally to function as a priory for the Pieve di San Lazzaro at Lucardo. In the fifteenth century, it became property of the Augustinian monks and remained so until the Augustinian order was suppressed in 1783.  The building has undergone some renovations and changes but largely remains in its original splendor. One more recent update came in 1900 when Provost Pieratti had the original stucco removed and commissioned the redecorating of the church with neo-Romanesque floral murals.

Walking through the church towards the altar, Bocccaccio’s cenotaph and epitaph come into view. A bust of Boccaccio holding his famous Decameron, which was carved in 1503 by Giovan Francesco Rustici, resides over Boccaccio’s marble tomb slab. Continuing past this, heading into the chancel area, are two Della Robbia tabernacles worth stopping to admire. Also nearby is an altarpiece by Della Robbia’s workshop, which marks the tomb of Blessed Giulia, a saint born in the fourteenth century, famous for saving a child from a burning building.

(Detail of painting by Ugolino di Nero in Certaldo's sacred art museum, photo Lisabelle)

(Detail of painting by Ugolino di Nero in Certaldo’s sacred art museum, photo Lisabelle)

After you have had your fill of saints and history, head back out into the daylight and consider stopping for a snack or a glass of wine at one of the quaint restaurants that dot Certaldo Alto’s tiny streets. Aim to have a dish with the famed red onion named after the town: Cipolla di Certaldo. In the winter there’s onion soup, in the summer panzanella, a cold bread salad with cucumber and red onions. On a nice day, sit outside and admire the impressive brick town that you have just explored, and raise a toast to the notorious author who helped ensure its extraordinary preservation.

If you’ve ever dreamed of time travel, consider adding a day trip to San Gimignano to your itinerary when visiting Italy. This medieval hillside village, an hour from Florence or half an hour from Siena by car, boasts an impressive skyline dotted with tall towers. Even though there are no direct train routes, San Gimignano can be reached easily by car or by bus. To arrive by bus from Siena or Florence, you will need to take a bus or train to Poggibonsi and from there, a local bus to San Gimignano.

When approaching the town, you will most likely notice first, the 15 impressive towers that still remain out of the original 72. At one time, these served to protect the tower-home’s inhabitants from warring factions. Now, they serve as beautiful relics of the past and seeing them gives us a rare glimpse into how a bustling city or town would have looked in the 13th and 14th centuries.  In these same centuries, the town really began to flourish when their economy of wine, wool and saffron took off. Today these products are still important to San Gimignano and serve as their major exports.

(San Gimignano view, by Flickr user Antonio Cinotti)

(San Gimignano view, by Flickr user Antonio Cinotti)

After arriving, make your way on foot, through Porta San Giovanni up the Via San Giovanni, heading towards the town’s Piazza Duomo. The church (that isn’t technically a duomo (cathedral) because the town doesn’t have a Bishop) has a plain facade but the interior is worth exploring. It is decorated almost entirely in trecento and quattrocentro frescos that show evidence of both Florentine and Sienese artistic influences on the town. Don’t miss the Last Judgement scene by Taddeo di Bartolo (1393). This fresco gives us a glimpse into the mind of God-fearing Catholics of the late 14th century. Depicted are various interpretations on the horrors of Hell, with no sin unaccounted for and no crime unpunished. After you’ve had your fill, move deeper into the church and appreciate it in its entirety. The Collegiata, as the church is called, was begun in 1056 and while it has seen a few renovations since then,  it remains in much of its original 14th century glory.

After leaving the Collegiata consider checking out the nearby “clock tower” or Torre Rognosa. This tower is one of the oldest and best-preserved towers in San Gimignano. Built in 1200 and standing at 51 meters high (167 feet), it is an impressive architectural relic. It is also the second highest and affords amazing views of the town below if you’re brave enough to climb it. You can even buy combined tickets and climb additional towers, if getting an excellent work-out is part of your ideal itinerary.

(San Gimignano towers, photo by Flickr user Rodrigo Soldon)

(San Gimignano towers, photo by Flickr user Rodrigo Soldon)

If all those stairs have left you exhausted, consider taking a break in a caffè or trattoria and enjoy some of San Gimignano’s famous white wine, Vernaccia. In 1966 this wine was the very first white wine in Italy to be labeled DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), which is the highest certification that a wine can obtain. Today, only a handful of wines are bestowed this exclusive labeling. Aged in oak barrels and produced under the strictest of standards, it is definitely something to relax and enjoy. After a rest, consider wandering down a picturesque side street and finding a shaded spot that might be a little off the beaten path in this tourist-heavy town. While drinking your wine, consider ordering one of the many saffron rich dishes you will likely encounter, as this area produces very high quality saffron.

(Vernaccia by Flickr user Smaku)

(Vernaccia by Flickr user Smaku)

In the afternoon,head back out onto either of the main streets and make your way towards the other end of town, towards Porta San Matteo, to the Piazza Sant’ Agostino. This piazza is home to a lovely church, with free entrance, where you can marvel at a 15th century fresco cycle depicting the life of Saint Augustine. The artist, Benozzo Gozzoli, treats viewers to an interesting glimpse into life as a child long ago, with his two scenes depicting St. Augustine as a young schoolboy, an accurate representation of Renaissance schooling. Don’t miss seeing Saint Augustine getting his bottom spanked by a cane and the familiar scene of a mother sending her young boy away from home for the first time.

Benozzo Gozzoli affresco (Wikipedia)

Benozzo Gozzoli affresco (Wikipedia)

After leaving Piazza San Agostino, wander back towards Porta San Giovanni. A little way past the Collegiata, is worth stopping in the Piazza della Cisterna, which is the one of the most beautiful piazzas in San Gimignano. The middle of the square has an octagonal travertine well, which was built in 1273 and enlarged in 1346. This gorgeous piazza has an inlaid brick floor with irregular triangular patterns and one can easily get lost in the unique geography of the pavement when visiting here.

(Piazza della Cisterna, photo by Flickr user 7Bart)

(Piazza della Cisterna, photo by Flickr user 7Bart)

San Gimignano is truly a place to delight all five senses. From the rich taste of saffron, to the scent of the Vernazza wine, the sight of incredible medieval towers and the sounds of bells and a bustling center. In fact at the end of the day, you may find that you never want to leave. Luckily, it’s impossible to forget this beautiful Tuscan town and the memories created here are sure to last a lifetime.

While most people think of Tuscany as a playground for adults due to its wine, art, gorgeous landscapes and sophisticated food, its artistic heritage also makes it a very kid friendly place. Italians understand that art plays an especially important part in the lives of children and there are plenty of opportunities to inspire and engage them on your trip. Why not harness this and allow your children to create unforgettable memories in some of Italy’s most alluring places?

Playground

(playground at Dievole )

5 tips for traveling in Tuscany with kids

Before you get going, it may be helpful to consider the following five tips for traveling with children in Italy:

  1. Some hotels offer discounts for children, such as second rooms at half off or free breakfast for children under 6. Be sure to inquire before you book.
  2. Plan ahead if visiting locations requiring a lot of walking or driving by being prepared with extra sunscreen and snacks. It may also be wise to do some pre-vacation preparation to get kids interested in visiting Italy. Reading stories (such as those about medieval nights or Pinocchio) that have their roots in things the children will soon experience is a great way to keep their interest piqued.
  3. It is also good to plan ways to engage the kids between destinations once you’ve arrived. If you make the journey as fun as the arrival, they are sure to have a better time. Why not play a unique game of “I Spy” using newly learned Italian words, listing things that are unique about Italy versus back home, favorite memories so far or even learning an Italian children’s song and singing together. For older kids, having them read the map or feel otherwise helpful to the trip is a great way to keep them engaged.
  4. Allow the whole family to help decide where you will go and what you will see. If each child is able to pick a place they want to visit, they will be more excited to go and try something new.
  5. Make reservations. In Italy, you can make reservations for most museums online. Standing in line for hours is never a good way to spend your precious time in Italy.

4 things to do with kids in Tuscany

Palazzo Vecchio – Florence

Palazzo Vecchio childrens museunm

(Actor in costume at the Palazzo Vecchio childrens’ museum ( Photo MuseFirenze )

This medieval palace, outside of which the David by Michelangelo once stood, today is a museum and government office building. You can take advantage of the museum’s host of kid and family activities offered in English upon reservation (see here). These 1-2 hour tours are sure to keep even the most fickle travelers entertained. One possible option whisks visitors away into the daily life of the Medici family. Children and adults will learn about what being part of one of the most famous families in the world meant and how their days were different from ours today. Guides will dress in costume and speak in historic language, further adding to the appeal. The Palazzo Vecchio also offers an adventure with fresco painting. Children will be able to try their hand at creating art, just like the old masters used to do.

Parco di Pinocchio – Collodi (PT)

Collodi Park

(Collodi Pinocchio park by Sonia Fantoli)

If being outside is more your family’s ideal, consider the Parco Pinocchio near Pistoia. Many people are familiar with this famous tale about a wooden boy and a nose that can’t lie, but few know that he actually has roots in Tuscany. The author Carlo Lorenzini (Collodi) was from Florence. Collodi, where the park is located, is where the author’s mother was from, and he took the town’s name as his pen-name. The park itself is a large garden space where characters from the book and movie are depicted in statues or topiary. These artistic renditions of famous parts of the book are sure to delight any Pinocchio fans. There are some rides, though we’ve heard that they are not terribly up to date, so consider this more a garden than a theme park.

Garzoni Garden and the butterfly house are two other parks within walking distance and both are wonderful to visit as well. Garzoni boasts fountains, statues, beautiful flowers and a picture perfect Tuscan landscape. The butterfly house, open from March to October, has a more exotic setting that is populated by thousands of colorful butterflies.

Leonardo Museum – Vinci

Vinci

(View of Vinci by Bernd Thaller )

An hour west of Florence is the newly renovated and just reopened Leonardo Museum. It contains many drawings and models of Da Vinci’s various inventions. Many exhibits are interactive and encourage curious children to participate. You can take a guided tour exploring Leonardo, “The Technologist and Engineer” or “Leonardo’s Gaze” on his artistic pursuits. There is also a tour called, “Leonardo’s Machines” in which, through an interactive, hands-on lesson, children can try out working models of various inventions. While you’re there, take some time to explore Leonardo’s hometown and maybe inhale some of the same air that inspired him centuries ago.

Chianti Sculpture Park

Cipollone Chianti

(Cipollone Chianti,photo by Alexandra Korey)

The Chianti Sculpture park, which we’ve described for parents here, is also a really good place to help well-behaved children approach art, since the sculptures are all in a natural setting. Although the provided app does not have a channel designed for children, this kind of art is very open to interpretation and you might actually let your kid be the guide for you! Ask her what the works represent and you’ll get surprising, untainted impressions.

  • 8 uovaCantucci
  • 800 g di zucchero
  • 1 kg di farina
  • 8 g di lievito per dolci
  • Vaniglina, semi di anice, gocce di cioccolato (a piacere),500 g di mandorle tostate intere

PROCEDIMENTO: Sbattere le uova con lo zucchero. Raggiungere la farina, lievito e mandorle. Formare dei filoni di 30 cm larghi circa 3 cm. Infornare. Cuocere a 170 ° per 35 minuti. Toglierli dal forno e tagliare. Rimettere al forno e tostare per altri 10 minuti.

  • 1 kg di polpa di cinghiale
  • 1 carota
  • 1 cipolla
  • 6 spicchi d’aglio, vino rosso, olio d’oliva, peperoncino, bacche di ginepro, foglie d’alloro,1 cucchiaio di concentrato di pomodoro, sale, pepe, brodo vegetale

PROCEDIMENTO: Metti a bagno nel vino rosso il cinghiale per 12 ore. Prepara un battuto con aglio, carota, cipolla. Scola il cinghiale, taglialo a pezzetti e mettilo in un tegame largo con L’olio, il battuto preparato, il sale e peperoncino. Fallo rosolare per 15 minuti rigirando tanto in tanto. Quando pezzi di cinghiale sono ben rosolati, bagna con il vino rosso e fai evaporare a fuoco vivace, aggiungi il concentrato di pomodoro e aggiusta di sale. Cuoci con il tegame coperto a fuoco basso per 2 ore, se necessario raggiungendo brodo.