Nothing epitomized Tuscany more to me than Italian Cypress trees, rolling hills, world-famous wineries, the renaissance in Florence, and as the movie Under the Tuscan Sun showed us: a great place to get away from it all. With a few days to spare during my trip to England for a wedding, Mark and I made our way south to explore Pisa, Florence, and the Tuscan countryside. Here’s how we spent our three days.
Start with… Florence
Gelato early on turned out to be a mainstay of our time in Florence, having it in lieu of lunch one day and for breakfast another. Our AirBnB host had recommended Gelateria La Carraia, so naturally I had to sample the tiramisu, lemon, caramel, and strawberry cheesecake flavors – for research’s sake of course. I never had really gotten the appeal of gelato over ice cream before this trip, but my mind may have been changed.
On the recommendation of a friend, Mark made us a reservation at Trattoria Pandemonio, which is known for their Florentine steak. Even though steak isn’t a specialty I would have associated with Italian cuisine, it was truly one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever had. A Florentine steak is a simply prepared Porterhouse, grilled over a wood fire and served with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It was fully worth splurging on for the first night of our trip, accompanied by red wine and complimentary limoncello.
There’s more Tuscany than food though (although let’s be real, that is a big part of it) – so we also wanted see what made Florence such an inspirational place for art and architecture alike.
The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge crossing the Arno River that dates back to medieval times. It has always hosted shops and merchants lining both sides of the bridge, most of which are souvenir and jewelry shops today. In my mind, what is most impressive is that it can hold so much weight, even in the past. I just love the green shutters adorning the windows along the bridge!
A brisk twenty minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo provided a widespread outlook overlooking Florence and the surrounding area. We could spot the Ponte Vecchio , the River Arno, and Florence’s famous duomo in the distance.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as Il Duomo di Firenze, is the third largest church in the world and was the largest church in Europe when it was completed in the 15th century. We got to the cathedral shortly before it opened and there was already a line waiting to get in to see its splendor (don’t worry, the line moves fast). There’s no admission to enter, unless you want to climb the top of the cathedral, in which a ticket will be required.
The dome itself was an engineering feat for its time, and the interior of it has the most intricate ceiling frescoes, painted by Giorgio Vasari until his death in 1574, and completed by Federico Zuccaro in 1579.
Escape the city in… the Tuscan countryside
Wanting to escape the city and go out into the Tuscan countryside, we did this Florence to Greve tour with wine tastings. After getting picked up in central Florence, we drove an hour into the Chianti in Greve countryside to tour and taste at two wineries.
Panzanello was our first winery, positioned atop a hilltop. We toured the cellars briefly, and then tasted a few wines. Chianti, as the name of the town implies, is the most commonly produced wine in the region and is the mainstay of most of the wineries. One thing I loved about the wine tastings in Tuscany is that finger foods are always offered alongside it – we had bread drizzled with olive oil, cheese, and charcuterie to nibble on.
Our second winery was Molino di Grace, where we sipped on a few more Chianti wine tastings. We found the wine prices to overall be more affordable at Molino di Grace than at Panzanello – and equally as good, which is something to consider if you want to take a few bottles home.
Along the way back to Florence, we stopped at some vantage points that gave wonderful, picturesque vistas over the Tuscan countryside. This landscape, just outside the village of Panzano, is called the “golden valley” for the rich colors it shows off.
Wrapping up another night in Tuscany, we dined at Trattoria da Giorgio in Florence. Trattoria da Giorgio is a true bustling Tuscan restaurant, with artwork all over the walls and ceiling. The restaurant offered a great prix fixe dinner – for 15 euros I got a two course meal with a side, a bottle of water, and a glass of wine. It was a great budget-friendly dinner to balance our steak the night before.
Get your souvenir photo in… Pisa
With Pisa just a hour away from Florence, it was essential (sarcasm intended) that I get my very own Leaning Tower of Pisa photo (this is also the point of the trip where Mark walked away from me as I practiced my selfie taking skills for the perfect shot).
Pisa the city was actually nicer than anticipated; it basically looks like a smaller Florence, but I didn’t get the big hype about the Leaning Tower except that its fun to take pictures with. Alas, I’m glad we went since we were nearby and I could cross another UNESCO World Heritage site off my list.
For a panorama overlooking Pisa, head nearby to the Hotel Pisa Duomo rooftop. There’s a restaurant atop the hotel, and although it was closed when we were there, we were still able to go up to the rooftop to snap a few photos and take in our surroundings.
After that, it was time to leave sunny Italy (and the wine, and the carbs), and head back to England.
Have you been to Tuscany? Would you want to go?