Tuscany – Pisa to Saturnia and everywhere in between

I’m pretty sure Tuscany is on nearly everyone’s wish list to visit at least once in their lives. The rolling hills with perfectly landscaped trees that dance along the winding roads, the burnt orange sunsets and captivating cities and some of the world’s most iconic buildings are probably some of the reasons for this.

Tuscany captured our hearts from the second we arrived and this is why…

Pisa

It really is on the tilt! I don’t know why but I somehow expected it to be a lot straighter. Much to my delight, it wasn’t and I was happily surprised by how wonky the tower was.

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If you’re planning a visit to Pisa, I wouldn’t plan on spending more than a day there.  Besides the tower itself and the hour or so you’ll probably spend attempting to get the perfect novelty picture of you holding the tower up…

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… there isn’t a huge amount more to do.

But that’s ok. Sometimes short and sweet visits are good, and let’s face it the main (and probably only reason) we all go to Pisa is to see the leaning tower. Don’t get me wrong, you can climb the tower and explore inside the Cathedral and Baptistery also (which are both wonderful buildings as well), but all of this won’t take you any more than a few hours. Booking your tickets in advance to discover the inside of all three buildings is advisable; we didn’t realise this before we arrived and missed out, so we merely admired them from the outside.

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Florence

If you’re not in to art or history then Florence probably won’t be your ideal holiday destination. If you are, then strap in because Florence will probably blow your mind!

Florence is bursting at the seams with Renaissance art, history and architecture. It’s one of Italy’s most visited places year on year and whilst it can be extremely busy with eager tourists pretty much everywhere, you must spend at least a few days here to truly see it for what it’s worth.

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For all you history, architecture and art nerds out there (like us) here’s a piece of advice – buy the Firenze card. At €75 per person it might seem a bit steep but if you’re planning on visiting even three of the main museums, palaces, churches etc on your trip, the Firenze card will work out more cost-effective for you.

Second piece of advice – book everything in advance. If you want to go to the likes of the Uffizi Gallery or the Galleria dell’ Accademia, the Duomo or any other major attraction, book in advance. It will cost you a bit extra with the booking fee but trust me, it’s worth it. Our first day in Florence, we joined the queue for the Uffizi Gallery before we realised it was a three-hour wait and promptly went online to book advance tickets for the next day!

After swiftly removing ourselves from the monstrous queue for the Uffizi, we headed next door.  Eamo is a massive Dan Brown nerd and after reading his recent novel, Inferno, he wanted to geek out retracing some of the locations from the book which was how we ended up in the Palazzo Vecchio.

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Palazzo Vecchio is Florence’s town hall and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria as well as the gallery of statues next door in the Loggia dei Lanzi.

Just too really confuse you; the Palazzo Vecchio has a copy of Michelangelo’s David outside the doors. The actual David is standing in the Galleria dell’ Accademia, but if you’re not fussed about paying in to see him then this copy of him will do just fine…

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Be sure to climb up the tower too for a stunning 360 view of the city.

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Our next stop was the Duomo. An immense building that is the focal point of the city; it’s tremendously detailed and seems oddly large up close.

We didn’t get to go inside unfortunately as you had to book in advance (hence my second piece of advice) and even online bookings were three days or more in advance at that point.

Instead, we headed to the Leonardo Da Vinci museum which was a lot less busy with no queue. An interesting little spot where you learn about all the things he invented and even get to test some of them out.

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We arrived the next morning bright and early at the Uffizi Gallery for a crash course in Renaissance art.  It turns out that when I booked tickets for the Uffizi whilst standing in the queue the day before, I actually thought I was booking tickets to see something else in a different museum. Oops. Had I of done my homework and realised that the Uffizi was purely Renaissance art, I wouldn’t have booked the tickets. However, €50 down and much to Eamo’s irritation, we spent the next three hours being herded through the galleries three floors with a thousand other tourists that had absolutely no idea what they were looking at.

I even got a bit delirious at one stage and started taking pictures of statues in amusing poses…

When we finally got to a piece of art we recognised, we rejoiced!

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I like an art gallery as much as the next person but Renaissance art isn’t my forte unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re in to Botticelli, Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Michelangelo etc then this is your dream few hours.

Three hours of art will give anyone a thirst, so we quickly went and found some well deserved refreshments in the shape of Aperol Spritz and then ventured across the Ponte Vecchio up to Piazzale Michelangelo.

If you want an incredible shot of Florence then Piazzale Michelangelo is the place to get one. It’s a bit of a climb up to it but if you need a rest then you can always stop in the beautiful rose garden and refill your water bottle.

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At the top though, views like this await you…

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Florence was a jaw-dropping city and easily took the crown for the best city of our entire trip, so far. It was hard to leave Florence but the fact that we had so much more of Italy waiting for us was even more exciting.

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We stayed on the outskirts of Florence, high up in the hills. Our home for the few days (which turned into nine) was the utterly insane campsite Norcenni Girasole Club. A five-star campsite with everything you could dream of – four restaurants, four swimming pools, every takeout food you could want, supermarket, doctors, hair salon. You name it, they had it.

When we managed to pry ourselves away from this little bit of luxury, we made our way to our next Tuscan destination, Siena. There can be a catch to staying high up in the hills though – it means on very hot days when driving up and down through said hills that your brakes might overheat. Ours did exactly that. After pulling over for half an hour to let the brakes cool down, we set off for a second time…

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Siena

After falling completely and utterly in love with Florence, we weren’t expecting Siena to have us totally smitten, but guess what… it did. A glorious medieval city in the heart of the Tuscan region, Siena has some serious charm that makes it irresistible. The medieval city centre is, of course, a UNESCO world heritage site and whilst it can be done in a day, it should be a definitive stop on any Tuscan adventure.

We headed for the Piazza del Campo (Main Square) first to feast our eyes on the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia before making our way to the Cathedral.

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By this point on our trip, we’ve seen, what feels like every church in Europe and we’ve seen some seriously impressive ones, so as you would expect we’re getting a bit judgy and blasé about them. When they catch you off guard however, it’s a nice surprise and Siena Cathedral definitely did that.

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We found the perfect little lunch spot as we finished up at the Cathedral. Down a side street on a crooked cobbled path, we sat down for some well deserved food. I can’t tell you the name of the restaurant we ate in because I stupidly forgot to note it down (which is really helpful to you guys I know…) but, if it helps, I can tell you that the food was delicious!

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Delightfully full, mildly sunburned and feeling a bit lethargic, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon wandering through Siena’s side streets in the cool shade where we came across the most perfectly quaint shops…

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…and genius inventions.

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Assisi

We never really had a solid plan to our journey and we’ve made most of it up as we’ve been going along. We rarely fully know where our next stop will be and we tend to get side-tracked and end up somewhere completely different to where we originally set out. It’s last minute stops in towns like Assisi that makes our indecisiveness (and freedom to be this unorganised) totally worth it.

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A magnificent 13th century hilltop town, Assisi is the epitome of what we all imagine the perfect Italian town to be; ancient town squares, cobbled streets and buildings made out of dusky yellow stone that when the setting sun seeps over the town in the evenings, it gives off that luscious burnt orange Tuscan glow.

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For anyone that wasn’t listening in those dreaded Religious Studies classes, St Francis – the Patron saint of Italy and animals was born in Assisi. He’s kind of a big deal, with the Franciscan order named after him and even the Pope himself, today, took his papal name from St Francis.

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Assisi was looking particularly historic when we arrived with medieval style flags and banners hanging from windows and rooftops, street lamps and doorways. Drums were playing from the town square whilst knights rode on horses through the winding streets. A choir sang out from the local church whilst men, women and children dressed head to toe in medieval costumes strolled through the streets.

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No we hadn’t stepped back in time, but we had just arrived smack bang in the middle of the Calendimaggio. A three-day festival, including parades and shows, which takes place every May of which the residents of Assisi spend the whole preparing for.  It really is something and I would highly recommend you see it for yourselves!

As usual, we spent longer than anticipated in this brilliant place. There isn’t a huge amount to do as such, but once you’re there you kind of just don’t want to leave, it’s so captivating.

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Saturnia

We ended up in Saturnia by chance to be honest; a last-minute stop thanks to a well-timed post from another traveller on Instagram. The picture looked almost too good to be true so we thought we’d check it out for ourselves.

As we arrived at our stop for the night the heavens opened and the mightiest thunder-storm raged down upon us almost out of nowhere.  After about an hour of being cooped up in the van, eager to get out and explore, the clouds cleared and the rain stopped so we took our opportunity, grabbed out swim gear and went in search of the Cascate di Mulino (hot water springs).

One kilometre down the road, we found our spot at this fine-looking place…

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The natural hot springs in Saturnia have a temperature of around 37.5 degrees and are so relaxing and therapeutic, and it’s completely free! The Cascate di Mulino is probably the most famous natural springs in Tuscany and is open to the public all year-round.

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We easily spent a couple of hours just floating around. It was just like being in a giant bath… definitely the closest thing to a bath we’ve been in since last November anyway!

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C x

 

Distance travelled so far: Hmmm…about 7,468km

Days away: Somewhere close to 223

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