Tuscany! That quintessential Italian dream of great food, amazing art and fine wine. Located above Rome on the North Western coastline of Italy, this region literally has it all. Tuscany has a number of cities and hidden hilltop towns that are all worth exploring, including the well known cities of Pisa and Siena. This post however, focuses on the Tuscan capital of Florence, it’s surrounding towns and the wine region of Chianti.
Word of Warning – Buy your train tickets early! I’m not sure how it works with the Eurail Pass but we had such a hard time getting tickets last minute. We ended up having to buy business class as there were no more trains that day from Milan to Florence. Please don’t repeat our mistakes!
The birth place of renaissance, if you’re into art and architecture this is probably your dream city. Florence is teeming with history, culture and art from this period and still houses pieces from many famous artists that were all born in the region including Donatello, da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo (and this is only the tip of the iceberg!).
With all of these artists comes a multitude of museums and to be completely honest, as someone who isn’t very passionate about art or architecture I found this extremely overwhelming. In saying this, Florence gave me a new appreciation for art and I think it’s near impossible to walk through the streets of this city without being in awe of the old renaissance buildings and its many beautiful piazzas. If you are like me and a little unsure of what to see then here are some of my recommendations (and if you book early enough online you can skip the queues!).
Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery – If you can only choose a few galleries because you’re on a timeline or budget (or just not so keen on the art scene) than these are the two you have to see! Both of these museums have so many amazing, well known pieces of art but by far my favourite was Michelangelo’s statue of David at Galleria dell’Accademia. The detail in the sculpture including the veins in his arms and contrapposto stance (learnt that one in Florence 😉 ) makes you appreciate how difficult it must have been to carve this sculpture, especially from ONE piece of discarded marble.
Piazzale Michelangelo – If you’re not all “David’ed” out yet than make your way up to see Donatello’s bronze statue of David. This is by far the BEST view of the city and looks like something from a travel magazine.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo of Florence) – Climb the 463 stairs to the top of this 600 year old church and take in the rooftops of Florence. The stairways are a little tight so people with claustrophobia may struggle a bit but the top is well worth the climb. With most entry passes you will also get entry to the museum, bell tower, crypt and main section of the church.
Ponte Vecchio – This medieval stone bridge over the Arno River was built in the 14th century and is a must see icon of Florence. Take a walk across this bridge and admire all the jewellery stores lining its walls.
Fiesole – While Fiesole is its own town and not exactly apart of Florence, this area is only about 8km northeast of the city and is easily accessible by bus. With stunning views, roman ruins, museums and a monastery you could easily spend a day (or more) in this beautiful hilltop village. A great spot to visit especially if you wont get the chance to explore much more of Tuscany.
Food and drink
We really did hit the jackpot quite a few times with the restaurants we ate at. While I’m not too sure if we were lucky or if you simply cant go wrong in Florence these are my top picks:
1/ Signorvino (For the food and wine pairing) – On the banks of the Arno river, this restaurant has a massive selection of wines and will actually help you choose your meal depending on your wine of choice. Everything here was incredible but you will definitely have to reserve a table as they will not accept walk ins.
2/ The Continental (for the views) – Another one where you will have to call and reserve a table before hand. While this bar is on the pricier side, the views from this rooftop are absolutely worth it!
3/ Colle Bereto (for the Aperitivo) – Sit back and enjoy the great atmosphere while having a few drinks to ‘prepare’ your stomach for dinner. An aperitivo is usually something along the lines of a negroni or spritz and is accompanied by free food which can be anything from a few olives and nuts to a full spread of salads, meats and cheeses. Colle Bereto is a classy bar with amazing aperol spritz and a full buffet spread… You cant really beat that.
4/ La mengere (for the breakfast) – Where industrial style cafe meets florist this place had such a cute atmosphere. Very decently priced and the coffee here made me feel like I was back in Melbourne ❤
5/ Piazza Santo Spirito (for the nightlife) – So I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t actually make it here! While we hit the jackpot quite a few times with the restaurants we ate at we actually had a really hard time finding places to go out at night. Since leaving Florence I have been told multiple times that Piazza Santo Spirito is the place we should have gone so if anyone has been to this area please let me know what you thought. All the locals we asked kept directing us to Piazza di Santa Croce and you will find a few wine bars and clubs lining Via Dei Benci however they seemed a bit too quite for us. Red Garter is one of the more happening clubs in this area however a very young scene with the average age looking like it was about 18. A lot of people we met on the streets were also heading to space club but once again that seemed like a very young demographic.
As girls in our mid 20’s it was not as easy as we assumed it would be to find a cool bar / club so any suggestions or comments would be appreciated! You might save someone else from having the same problem.
We decided to do a Tuscan wine tour to Chianti and some medieval towns surrounding Florence and I am so happy we did! Castles, sunflower fields and grape vines, the Tuscan countryside is absolutely stunning. Chianti is known for its red wines with the Sangiovese grape being the main grape produced in this area. In fact all wines from Chianti must be at least 75% Sangiovese with the rest of the wine being made up of either red or white grapes.
Chianti Classico -To be classed as Chianti Classico it is not enough to simply be in the region of Chianti. Chianti Classico is in the centre of Chianti and must adhere to stricter rules in order to maintain its premium status. Symbolized by the black rooster, Chianti Classico must be at least 80% Sangiovese with the remainder being composed of only red grapes. It has also been given DOCG status meaning its wines are tested for quality in a lab prior to sale. Cennatoio winery is where we did our tasting of Chianti Classico wines. Owned for generations the views from this tuscan villa are amazing and the wines and port were exceptional!
Greve – This beautiful old town in Chianti was the home of the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, an important navigator in the 16th century in the discovery of the new world. When you come to Greve you should be sure to enjoy a meat and cheese platter from the old butchers in the main piazza (Piazza Matteotti) while overlooking the statue of Giovanni de Verrazzano.
Montefioralli – Do yourself a favour and make sure you fit this into your schedule. One of the oldest towns in tuscany dating back to at least 1000AD this town is believed to have been named after the fig trees that surrounded the village. Take a walk through the old village and you will feel like you are back in medieval times.
When I make it back to Italy I will definitely be spending more time in these small villages as opposed to the nearby cities of Florence and Sienna. Tuscany has so much to see and I have by no means seen anywhere close to all of it. If anyone has been or has anything they’d like to add please comment or let me know 🙂
Amberlee Jane xx