Town Square at Siena, Italy

Touring Tuscany

Author’s Note: This blog is #8 of nine detailing my trip to Rwanda and Italy in 2020. See links below for the rest of the series. “Winning A Trip to Rwanda” features a more comprehensive introduction.


Si, si. Tuscany. Si. – Older man on Seinfeld

Tuscany.

The name elicits all sorts of connotations doesn’t it? Romance, royalty, Italian, awe and even money. However you see it, Tuscany indeed offers a great area of Italy to visit and travel.

Tuscany is a region of Italy and much wine comes from the area which comprises many cities and towns. You can drive yourself or let someone else do the work on a tour. We opted for the tour. If you want to digest a significant area of Italy, taking a tour offers the most efficient means to really see a part of the country and feel like you actually saw it.

We splurged a bit and opted for the VIP tour with FlorenceTown. It cost a bit more but you don’t tour around with 20 other people and deal with the headaches that can come from trying to corral so many visitors. And on this day, my wife and I were the only ones to book a seat so we really had the VIP treatment.

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Taking a Tour of Tuscany

The tour of Tuscany included stops in Siena, San Giacomo, Chianti, Pisa and Lucca. We learned, however, Lucca was a mistake on the brochure but because my wife really wanted to visit Lucca they relented and offered the extra trip, but we’d need to cut it short in Pisa. We agreed.

Siena

St. Catherine's Church in Siena, Italy
Basilica San Domenico in Siena, Italy

Siena was an amazing historical town. We were dropped off and met with a fully Italian tour guide who walked us through the city.  We learned the Netflix movie 6 Underground was filmed there (which I had recently seen) but the entire city was an extraordinary view of eons past. Nothing like it (nothing in Italy really) in the United States. We visited Basilica San Domenico where you can see St. Catherine’s mummified head and thumb, roamed the city streets and took in a shop where we bought some local eats. A horse race occurs in the town square (top photo) twice a year.

San Gimignano

A beautiful view from San Gimignano, Italy
A view from San Gimignano

On to San Gimignano. Another very interesting city with amazing views of the Italian landscape. We had coffee at a coffee shop but mostly to use the toilet. (They say toilet there not bathroom.) We met some cats but mostly enjoyed the small alleys and mass cluster of homes snuggled everywhere. The town was founded on a hill, as so many other Italian towns were, so you can get a real nice view of nearby wine country and farms.

We also learned the handful of towers were built by competing families and the winner (I forgot how the winner was determined) could demand all others to be cut down or stop construction. We spent about an hour here but you could easily spend a few hours depending on your walking patience and whether you want to spend money in local shops.

Chianti

Wine Cellat at Castello Sonnino Winery in Italy
A 1,000 year old cellar at Castello Sonnino Winery

Oh boy, this visit was one for the memory bank. We toured Castello Sonnino a perfectly preserved historic wine estate that overlooks the Chianti Hills. Or as I call it, living history, as we ventured into this 1,000 year old castle. We got to enter the area where the Chianti wine sits in large oak barrels waiting to be freed then bottled. This old, musty area of the castle probably looks just as it did 1,000 years ago, minus the oak casks. Yes, 1,000 years! You cannot possibly get your mind around the age of this place and knowing people hundreds of years in the past, even a millennium ago!, walked the grounds.

Castello Sonnino Winery in Italy
Where we ate lunch and wine tasted at Castello Sonnino

We then were treated to an amazing wine tasting and lunch at the winery which also serves as bed and breakfast. This was the first time I had truly tasted a smooth wine that resonated. We, in fact, tasted three wines but the first, and cheapest as it turns out, proved a standout. We bought two bottles. We also met the baroness who stopped by and said “Hello.” It was indeed a pinch me moment as soon as we stepped out of the minivan and carried through until we boarded for out next stop.

Pisa

A photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
It indeed leans quite a bit

After our letdown in Rome I fully expected the Leaning Tower of Pisa to disappoint a bit, and so did my wife. As it turns out this nearly 700 year old structure was a highlight. It does lean, quite a bit actually, and an amazing sight to see this grand, free standing, bell tower I had heard about since grade school. I did not know the Leaning Tower of Pisa was accompanied by two other large buildings in what amounts to a courtyard.

Because of the agreed upon timetable with the touring company we spent only about 30 minutes at the Tower and did not have time to walk to the top. Like everything in Italy, you pay to enter, and reservations via designated time slots to climb were required. To ensure we were not late, we opted out of walking to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and instead took more than enough photos from as many angles as possible including the goofy ones pretending to push the Tower up straight. As my embarrassment was noticeable, an elderly, probably local man smiled and said “It’s OK.”

Lucca

Photo inside Lucca, Italy
A view from inside the walls of Lucca

I had never heard of Lucca until this trip and too bad FlorenceTown dropped this city within a city from the tour. Lucca actually begins outside the famous Renaissance-era city walls – the focal point of Lucca where Julius Caesar once walked the streets. Lucca offers another ancient historical sight that inspires awe and wonder. Today, the main square serves as a concert venue during the summer where some of rock music’s biggest acts take the stage. Locals could drive their car along the top of the walls back in the 1970s but that practice was eliminated but you can still walk, run or ride a bike.

The entire Tuscany tour took about 11 hours and in addition to the various towns on the docket you experience the Italian freeway and backcountry roads all around the Tuscany area. Even just the driving tour, for people like me, elicits a certain amount of joy to see the countryside allowing you to not only experience a significant chunk of Italy like a local, but offers a feeling that you belong here.

When touring foreign countries you begin to notice the similarities to where you live. Tuscany represents Italy’s wine country as does Newburg, OR for the Beaver state. Both areas share a familiar feel and look, so for Italians who want to visit Oregon for their wine they only need to look in their own backyard and vice versa. OK, not exactly that cut and dry but you do realize the smallness of the world despite an 8,000 mile gap.

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