After a quick and very comfortable train trip to Florence we checked into the Hotel Goldini and then after a short rest we headed over the Arno river to the Piazza santo Spirito to the same restaurant we ate at three years ago.. It was then up the hill to the Bobble gardens that form part of the magnificent grounds of the Medici Palazzo Pitti.
The views over Florence and back up the hill to classico Tuscan countryside were stunning and it was such a perfto day for garden viewing.
We walked back down to the Ponte Vechio and onto the Uffuzi so that we could buy tickets for visit later in the week.
The views from the Uffuzi galleries to the Ponte Vechio and the tuscan countryside beyond. we spent hours in the galleries and then more hours inside the amazing Duomo with its pink and white marble facade and beautiful vast interiors. I believe it to be the most striking Duomo in Italy externally.
From inside the Uffuzi and around the locality there is so much of the Renaissance going on its no wonder that this is where it all began.
We wandered all over the place again in Florence, up alleys and down lanes and enjoyed every second. but it was the masterpieces of the Uffuzi that stuck in the mind.
So if Florence has the most beautiful Duomo what were Siena going to do about it, after all they are arch rivals and often at war? So they intend to build a bigger one but in the end ran out of money. What they did finish was a stunning piece of one-up-manship that defies logic as this was to be just a side of the main building which would have rivalled Domes Saint peters but alas what we have although immense still strikes the senses with overload. Its ornate facade is similar to Orvieto’s Duomo and its Black and White stripped marble is simply stunning but even more so on the inside.
The interiors are out of this world and even though it could not rival Florence in size they blew it out of the water with decoration. the floors are amazing and the details everywhere are so precise.
We lunched in the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena horse races are run every year and enjoyed a classic Margherita Pizza while watching the Italian world go by..simply beautiful.
The Palazzo Publico and its tower are striking and just as much Siena as the Duomo and inside the vast open public hall and its frescos are amazingly beautiful.
CASTELINA IN CHIANTI :
It was onto the Autostrada and before we knew it we were turning to San Donato and then a lovely drive through the hills to Castellina where we stopped for lunch as it was raining. wow what a great lunch of Zuppa, a local hearty soup which was perfect in the wet and cold. the restaurant was full of locals so it was a great introduction to Tuscany for us all.
We did some shopping and picked up the key to Villa Casamonti and it was off to the Villa. it was stunning but our section was a bit average but we warmed to it.
The gardens were lovely and we had free rein of the vegetable gardens which was great.
The familia at Villa Casamonti Karen. Our first night was very eventful as we tried to light a fire and misunderstood the caretakers instructions and ended up smoking out the apartment and had to open everything up to air it which in the cold was interesting. we eventually got it going and ended up cooking a sensational meal with local fresh chicken and leek and beans from the garden with fresh local garlic…it was yummy.
We ate out on the terrace to escape the smoke smell as the cold crept in we rugged up in blankets and had lots of laughs until we decided to head in a get the fire going properly.
We stayed at the villa the next day and as the sun was out we did some washing and then reading and relaxing before a walk in the grounds to see the local countryside and rugged hill vista. the next day was full of adventure and we headed off to Monteriggioni, the walled town that inspired Dante’s inferno and had a coffee at a cafe inside the walls. next was san Gimignano but the traffic was shocking so we turned around and had lunch before driving through some stunning country via Barberino, San Donato and back to Castellina. We ended up in the afternoon going to Castello di Brolio which was a very serious medieval castle with a Renaissance palazzo attached which was stunning and a real secret tucked away like it was. there were virtually no visitors so we took our time and explored it heaps. We stopped off at Gailole on the way back and scored the most amazing Truffle pasta meal at . We could smell it from the outside as we were walking by and had to go in and luckily they had just opened and we were first in to score the insane meal.
We returned to San Gimignano on a cold and windy day and explored the towers climbing to the top of one for the amazing vistas and had a great meal at a restaurant we had eaten at when we stayed here 3 years ago.
Another of our venturing days was heading to Pisa and we went via Volterra which is an ancient Etruscan city with an amazing history and a fascinating archeological museum which we explored in detail.
The fine work of the craftsman from 300 Bc was extraordinary asc was the burial chambers and coffins of such amazing design and detail.
Our day concluded in Pisa and an obligatory visit to the Leaning Tower and sinking Duomo and Baptistry . It is all set in a big green park and the contrast between the white stone and the grass is lovely. There was plenty to see around the complex and the lean on the tower is super serious but they are winching it back up and underpinning bit by bit over a ten year period so that it becomes safe again.
SIRMIONE, LAKE GARDA:
we had an exciting and fast drive up the Autostrada to Sirmione and then when we arrived we were gob- soaked by what we found. a stunning 14th century castello right in the water on the edge of a small Isthmus with a drawbridge and amazing big Lake Garda to wrap it all up. wow what a combo this place has and our room in Hotel eden was fantastic right overlooking the lake. The town is a buzz , small and easy going but full of life and restaurants everywhere.
It was straight up to the Roman ruins the next morning and a ride on the kiddy train to CATULLO ROMANA, the Roman pleasure centre and bath house got us there in style.
Sited at the end of the peninsular and right on the thermal springs this was Rome at its best and the perfect get away for your tired and cranky Emperor or aristocrat who needed a few months off from the grinds of ruling.
there was so much to explore and we found every nook and cranny whilst trying to figure out what was what
It was time to visit the Castello and boy was this a serious Fortress that apparently was well know as hard to crack.
It was designed to be defended from both water and land and no wonder it was never breached.
We had a day out on the lake omg our last day and caught the ferry to Gardone Riviera and the amazing Villa Vittoriale, the home of italy’s famous poet Gabrielle d’Anunzio.
It was like a mini Hearst Castle and a real pleasure palace going by the risqué sculptures and artwork. It was also amazing to see half a small battle ship stuck into the side of the hill that had been cut in half and winched up the hill.
Gabrielle was a ships captain in the WW1 and he got hold of his old ship when it was to be snapped so it is a mystery how it got to the lake in the first place but here it is
It was a classic over the top 1920’s take on excess and no expense was spared in making it all come together in a way that matched his own flair.