Sunday 7 July 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun

June 13, 2013

 Thursday morning saw us up early again so we could venture out from Florence and seek a little taste of the countryside. The weather was great so we were really able to have our very own ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ experience.

The Tuscan landscape easily lived up to all the hype and
our not inconsiderable expectations.

First stop was the medieval, hill top town of San Gimignano.

As most were at the time, our first stop, San Gimignano is a walled town for protection from marauders from near and far. Italy only became a unified country in 1871. Previous to that everybody seemed to fight everybody since the fall of the Roman Empire. Back in the middle of the last millennium not even the Tuscans could get along. Florence was constantly at war with Pisa and both seemed to be at war with Siena and all the smaller places in between were sort of caught in the middle so to speak. With its strong defences San Gimignano grew wealthy as a safe stop over for traders and travellers heading to Rome from Europe in the middle ages.
San Gimignano is incredibly well preserved and it was a delight walking through the town gates and along its narrow streets. Unfortunately it’s so beautiful it has become a tourist magnet. Despite us being there very early in the season the place was pretty packed. We’d hate to see what it’s like in the height of summer. Now obviously we’re tourists but that doesn’t mean we like being surrounded by thousands of other tourists. Quite the contrary, we hate it. So we made our way through the town squares which now  look more like a church jumble sales than a town market and headed down quiet lanes to seek the true character of this gem of a place.
From the moment you walk through the gates of the town wall it’s easy to see why
San Gimignano is such a tourist magnet.

Unfortunately the traditional fresh produce markets of yesteryear have been
replaced with awful stalls crowded into both the town’s squares selling mainly
cheap imported junk.
Why tourists looking to find a little slice of medieval Tuscany would want to
by cheap Chinese manufactured socks and underwear during their visit we
have no idea.
The high towers were originally the fortified houses of the rich. The higher the
tower, the wealthier you told the world you were.  It was all about image
even in medieval times.
Many of the towers have now been converted to boutique tourist accommodation.
By escaping from the hordes in the main squares and café areas we discovered
scores of incredible old buildings and really enjoyed our time in San Gimignano.


The views over the surrounding countryside were spectacular.

What better way to cap off our visit to San Gimignano than with a refreshing
glass of the local vino bianco.
A nice drive through the endless vineyards took us to our lunch stop.  Which was at a winery of course. Our host kindly explained the varieties of grape used to produce the most famous wine of the region, Chianti Classica. We’d both had Chianti at home in Australia and, to be honest, were never too impressed. But here in the heart of Tuscany, we discovered what this wine is truly like, excellent. Obviously it must be the cheap rubbish they export downunder. We also enjoyed a great, typical, multi-course Italian lunch featuring plenty of breads, olive oil, cheeses, prosciutto, incredibly fresh salads and other locally grown produce. Not wanting to add any weight to our already bulging backpacks, we resisted the temptation to stock up and limited ourselves to buying just one bottle of Chianti Classica.

Magnificent scenery is unveiled virtually at every turn as you drive through rural Tuscany.

Our lunch stop was in amongst the barrels at an excellent winery with each of the five light
courses accompanied by a tasting of a different wine from their excellent range.
While we were at lunch a ‘Tour Tuscany on a Vesper’ group arrived.
Then it was on to Siena, the home of Tuscany’s famous horse race around the square. Here we found another beautiful ‘old city’ area and wandered around admiring the medieval architecture of the buildings. Amazingly we even shared a table in the town square with a couple of Australians, Ted and Jenny, who turned out to be formerly of Proserpine where Karen went to school.  It turned out they had many mutual acquaintances. Talk about a small world.
It’s hard to imagine this square in Siena is the site of one of the most famous horse races in the world.

Siena is a major financial centre with banking being big business. While the city
centre is mainly vehicle free, those bankers just HAVE to park outside the front door.

Yes it’s ABC time. (Another bloody cathedral). They are beautiful but by now
we’re used to there being one on every second corner.

A little hidden gem we found in a private courtyard in Siena. It could turn into
one of Karen’s paintings one day.
In a very packed day, there was time for only one more short stop. This was Monteriggioni, a fortress the Sienese built high on a hill a few kilometres from the city on the road to Florence.  It was their early warning and forward defence base. Apparently it wasn’t a total success as the Florentines did eventually overrun and capture Siena anyway which seems to still be resented by the locals. These days a small community made up of just a couple of extended families live inside the walls of Monteriggioni in a beautiful little settlement. It was well worth the diversion off the motorway to call in for a look.
Our last stop was the fantastic little hilltop fortress of Monteriggioni that now houses a small
community within its walls.

From the walls of Monteriggioni  the approach to Siena from Florence was watched.

Other than power cables, visible concessions to current times were very
few inside Monteriggioni.
Back in Florence we missed our planed train by about two minutes so had to catch a later one to Pisa and then wait for an even later connection back to Livorno. We were certainly two exhausted backpackers by the time we reached the boat well after 11.00 and delighted in collapsing into our rocking bunk.

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If you only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway! We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.



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