Tuscany, known as the Garden of Italy is renowned for its endless rolling landscapes, Medieval towns, wines, cuisine, vineyards, olives groves, cypress trees, and unique coastline. It has a rural feel but is also dotted with historic cities and villages.
Italy is divided into 20 regions, much like our states in America, and Tuscany is one of those regions.
But when visiting Tuscany, where does one begin?
Here are four suggested towns–one city and three villages. We will start with Siena in this part and visit the three villages in the second.
We visited these towns over two days, staying two nights in the resort town of Chianciano Terme at the Grand Excelsior Hotel. Terme in Italian means spa or hot springs. The hilltop town has narrow winding lanes and beautiful views looking down on the Tuscan countryside below.
We first went to Siena, which was about an hour south of Florence but north of Chianciano. We left early when the temperature was a chilly 40 degrees.
What makes Tuscany special is the rolling hills of agriculture. We saw some corn yesterday but there’s mostly olive groves and vineyards. We also saw another crop that looked like tobacco but I doubt it was.
In one place I saw two hunters in a field. Our Italian guide said that since the hunting season does not start until November, they were probably farmers hunting a nuisance animal, probably a wild boar. He said they have a terrible time with boars, a nuisance animal in Florida, too.
We booked our trip through Georgia Tech’s Alumni Association. So far we’ve met quite a few people from Ohio State, and last night we met a couple from the University of Washington. But we’ve only met one other couple from Georgia Tech so far on this pre-trip.
There were two other two-day pre-tours going to Florence and Rome, so maybe that is where the rest of our group has gone. The gentleman from the University of Washington works in the forestry industry so we had a nice chat.
Today we’re on Highway 1 which runs from France through Italy. Then we turned onto the Siena State Road. This is a lovely drive through the Chianti region with its hilltop villages, vineyards, and cypress trees.
My sister did a summer college program in Italy years ago and said that Siena was one of her favorite cities. I can see why.
Siena at one time was a very large city, but its golden age was before the middle ages. Today it has about 50,000 people.
It is a medieval city with twisting streets and beautiful architecture. There are bells towers, chapels, twisting streets churches and much more.
First, we went to the chapel of St. Catherine in St. Dominic’s Basilica where St. Catherine’s severed head is preserved and on display. I kid you not.
This basilica began in 1335 AD. St. Catherine is known among many others things for unifying the church when there were two Popes in power at the same time. Thank
In the basilica are different flags for the different contradas of the city. Contradas are neighborhoods. I’ll have more on that later. It turned out this was important to know.
The Siena Duomo began in 1179 AD. It is also an extraordinary museum of Italian art with pieces by Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo.
Inside was beautiful.
Notice the black and white marble columns.
The mosaic floors were amazing, too.
In the streets of the city were symbols that showed you when you walked from one contrada to the next. The contradas or neighborhoods are very competitive and some don’t get along with others. There is much rivalry between them.
We saw the first bank ever built in the world. It was started by a member of the Medici family.
We ended the walking tour in the Piazza Del Campo where the Palio Horse Race is held twice each summer. This is a Medieval horse race, done here in this piazza. The riders ride bareback. The Contradas compete with one another. Ten of the seventeen contradas compete.
Here we had lunch and some free time on our own. Below is a description of the horse race by Rick Steves. It is a great explanation of the Contradas, too.