The former Republic of Siena is one of the highlights of Italy, declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. One of the country’s most important tourist destination, it is renowned for its art, history, gastronomy and the famous Palio, a horse race held in Piazza del Campo on the 2nd of July and 16th of August.
Park your car outside the old town, because it’s forbidden to drive through it unless you’re a resident or have a special permission.
You can’t miss the cathedral, with its mosaic floors recently restored. Inside the cathedral look for Piccolomini Library and you will be amazed with sixteenth century golden frescoes.
My choice for a nice and casual lunch is Antica Salumeria Salvini (Strada Statale 73, Ponente 46), outside the old town but worth the visit. Cold cuts made the old way, all natural and non-processed. The owner and butcher will tell you all you want to know about the delicacies of the Antipasto Toscano. There is a small gourmet shop in the restaurant so you can take home a piece of Tuscan gastronomy.
Return to the old town and have a coffee at Nannini (Via Banchi di Sopra, 24), the most famous cafeteria and pastry shop in Siena. My choice are cavallucci: pastries made with anise, almonds, candied fruits, coriander, and flour… to die for!
I have been living in Tuscany for the last fourteen months, and coming here for long periods for five years.
Since the beginning, my non-Italian friends were thrilled with the prospective of having a secret agent spying on the places where locals go: those teeny-tiny restaurants in hidden stone-paved alleyways, the best gelateria in town and the gourmet stores where Italians buy some truffle or porcini.
I started writing some notes for them and after some months I came across with an acquaintance who told me about my “Tuscan List”, that was by then being shared by quite a large number of people!
It was just some advice for people visiting Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra and Val D’Orcia.
As time passed, I discovered more nice restaurants, hotels, shops, panoramic views, little towns and amazing people worth meeting. But the very first tips, the original ones, still bright and conquer my cosmopolitan and well-travel friends 🙂
The list started with a disclaimer: “The first thing I recommend is to read a good travel guide, such as Lonely Planet, because this list is not a guide, just some places I liked and I want to share with you”.
So, disclaimers being made, here is “My Tuscan List”.
What can I say. Florence is the icing of the cake. For so many people it is the most beautiful city in the world. The gem of Renaissance, the hometown of Medicis, world class art center with Donatello, Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
All of it it’s worth visiting, every corner hides a treasure: the Cathedral with the unique Brunelleschi dome and the elegant tower bell and baptistery, piazza Santa Croce, piazza Della Signoria, Michelangelo’s David, Uffizi Gallery, il Ponte Vecchio…
Apart from them, I recommend going uphill and visit San Miniato al Monte basilica, a splendid romanic church with amazing mosaics. The view of the city from this point is superb. There is a cemetery next to the church; buried there are writer Giovanni Papini and Carlo Collodi, creator of Pinocchio.
Walking is the best way to visit the city, although you can rent a bike (an option is “Mille e una bici”, a city hall sponsored project) or a little car (with an app like “Car2go”).
There are two places I love for eating out:
– Trattoria Lo Stracotto (Piazza Della Madonna degli Aldobrandini 17): try truffle pasta and carbonara. To die for.
– Lungarno 23 (Lungarno Torrigiani 23): Think steakhouse. Think Italian al-fresco dining. So that’s it. The famous Chianina veal meat (the most tender meat to make the original bistecca alla fiorentina) is the star of this cute and modern restaurant. Prime quality organic meat for succulent steak tartare and hamburgers, both delicious. Super nice garden for summer dinners.
If lunch time arrives while you are strolling through Florence streets and don’t want to sit down, there’s also the Tuscan fast food: panini (sandwiches usually made with thick slices of Tuscan bread or also with schiacciata, that is a bread made with olive oil, filled with typical Tuscan salami, ham, cheeses, truffle spread o vegetables).
Best and most famous choice in town is
All´Antico Vinaio (Via De´Neri 65/R 74/R). No matter what panino you choose, you will be satisfied.
Now we have to deal with serious matters: bistecca alla fiorentina. Thick, tender, juice and raw florentine steak. Minimum 50€ per kilogram, you can eat it at:
. Trattoria Da Mario (Via della Rosina 2 at the corner with Piazza del Mercato Centrale): A simple place with superb Tuscan gastronomy.
. Trattoria Il Latini (via dei Palchetti 6/r (Palazzo Rucellai): A more expensive option.
. Trattoria Tiberio: Out of the city center, at Fiesole (Via delle Ruote, 26).
Shopping in Florence:
Typical souvenirs are stationery made of florentine paper, which is so nice and elegant, and leather goods, say bags, suitcases, briefcases, jackets, belts, and shoes! All hand made with the softest leather.
If nice deals are your soft spot, Florence has two fantastic outlets: the one at Barberino di Mugello (Barberino Designer Outlet) at half an hour by car/city bus and The Mall Luxury Outlets, 45 minutes by car/bus, with the greatest Italian luxury brands, like Alberta Ferretti, Bottega Veneta, Ermanno Scervino, Etro, Fendi, Gucci, Ferragamo and more, and also foreign brands.
My mother used to recite us this lines when we were little, when we were overwhelmed by the thought of beginning a new task, afraid to fail and full of doubts. “Start it, now, that’s the toughest part, it will flow once you start it”. It was this way, indeed. From school homework to skating, from the mathematics new book to speaking in public, it was this way.
Nevertheless, I seemed to forget it from one time to the other. I have struggled for the last four months to write The First Post of this blog (in my head it shines in capital letters, note the drama), a bit paralyzed by the thought of looking pretentious or writing a nonsense. The tiny detail of English not being my mother tongue doesn’t help to vanish the anxiety.