We spent two fantastic weeks in Tuscany and Liguria in the summer of 2009. We kept our itinerary slow and limited sightseeing to about 2-3 hours every day. The rule of thumb was only one church or museum on a day. We worked the meandering road of the cities - walking in Rome, Sienna and Florence, biking in Lucca, hiking in Cinque Terre, we stopped at every piazza, and sat and watched the beautiful country around us.
We picked up our rental car only after finishing Rome and Vatican. It allowed us to move freely in Tuscany, allowing us to stop whenever we wanted to. Most drives in the region are short, the longest not more than 3 hours, the average just under one. The car gave us the “bummer” that every trip needs. Italy showed us its character through that event. We enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed everything else.
Day 0 minus 1: Seattle to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Roma.
Day 1, we walked the cobbled streets of Rome, stumbled upon the Colosseum, wandered the historic political power center at Roman Forum and climbed the Palentine Hill. In the afternoon, we gawked at the magnificent dome covering the Pantheon and followed the sun drop from the oculus on the walls of the most ancient temple in service. We dined at the Piazza Navona.
Day 2, we crossed the Tiber to reach the Vatican. We started with the Musei Vaticani and soaked in Michelangelo, Pinturicchio and Raphael’s iconography. We enjoyed Bernini’s warm baroque embrace in the sunny Piazza de San Pietro before climbing Michelangelo’s Dome of San Pietro’s Church for a sweeping view of Rome. Then we entered the Sistine Chapel and rendered speechless by the greatest fresco of all times. We picked up our car and drove to Volterra and put ourselves up at Fattoria Lisceto (recommended), our Tuscany base-camp.
Day 3, after enjoying a lovely country morning on the farm-hotel, we drove towards Volterra through the rolling Tuscan landscape. The Etruscan walls enclose a myriad of pretty streets, roadside ristorantes and a main plaza called Piazza de Priori. We were the only ones at the 1st century BCE Teatro Romano amphitheater, as were we at Fonte Docciolo – the thirteenth century water fountain. A local artisan carved a chess piece out of a piece of alabaster for Rhea and engraved her initials on the bottom to her endless joy. We then returned to base-camp to witness a mind-blowing lightshow.
On day 4, Sienna beckoned. There is no better place to start in Sienna than Piazza Il Campo where the historic Palio that the James Bond movie made even more famous. We then entered the Duomo where 172 popes watched us with unblinking eyes. We stopped at Piccolomini’s altar to witness Michelangelo’s prototype of the David’s hand before stepping into Piccolomini’s brightly lit and decorated library, felt pious in Bernini’s chapel before climbing the vertigo inducing Torre del Mangia to watch the sun soak the Siennese roof tops.
On day 6, we picked up the bicycles from the hotel and pedaled aimlessly witnessing the city wake up to receive the day trippers. We had a lazy lunch at the beautifully restored Piazza Anfitheatro, then promptly burned down the calories by climbing the Guinigi Tower to watch the Lucca red rooftops, and finally enjoyed riding the fortress walls.
On day 7, we packed our bags for Liguria. On the way, we made a brief stop at the Leaning tower of Pisa to take a few touristy photos. For the only time on this trip, we decided to pass climbing the tower. We drove up the coast to Cinque Terre and put ourselves up at the scenic coastal village of Rio Maggiore. After all, this is where Italians go for a vacation.
On day 8, we hiked the scenic Cinque Terre National Park. The trail connects the five villages of Cinque Terre, hugging the west coast of Liguria, precariously dangling over the deep blue crystal clear water of the Mediterranean. It is a must do and has segments that can be done by any and all. If you are too tired, on the way back you can take a train or catch a ferry.
On day 9, we packed for the last leg of our trip. Entering Tuscany from the west, we were put up at the historic millhouse called Mulino della Abate converted into a quaint B&B, in the heart of the Chianti wine country.
On day 10, we were in Florence. We had our first look at Brunelleschi’s awe inspiring dome from Piazzale Michelangelo. After lunch, we used our pre-booked tickets to beat the lines and enjoy works of masters like Giotto, Michelangelo, Titian, Caravaggio, Donatello, Raphael at the Uffizi. After an expensive coffee at the roof top cafeteria of the Uffizi, with a booming view of the dome, we soaked in Giambologna’s sculptures at the Piazza della Signoria, before winding down at Ponte Vecchio – the bridge that melted Hitler’s heart.
We had left day 11 for rest and recovery. We used it well to visits the gods of fashion – Fendi, Valentino, Armani, Balenciaga - at the nearby Arno della Vale before tasting some lesser known labels that create the magical elixir they call Chianti.
On day 12, we lit a shuck for Florence. We started by admiring the David’s immaculate proportions at the Academia. We had played hide and seek with the dome of St. Santa Maria for two days, so today we climbed it and enjoyed an incomparable vista of Florence before being stendhaled in front of Ghiberti’s gate of the Paradise at the Baptistery.
Day 13: Open day. Drive to Rome.
Day 14: Roma to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Seattle.
While we went from city to city, we were working on the Tuscan food. By no stretch of imagination can one call me foodie. By the time I am done applying my filters, the only thing left for me to eat is spicy Indian stuff. Tuscany was different.
Simple recipes that use fresh, local ingredients. Tomatoes, garlic, asparagus, bell pepper, egg plant. Lots and lots of olive oil and exotic herbs. Small servings presented beautifully without fuss.
For lunch, we usually ordered a bruschetta with bierra or a local white/rouge. (Vernaccia in San Gimignano was the find of the trip). We then ordered a plate of pasta and a plate of sea food. An espresso to round it off.
For dinner, we went for a local red or plain old house wine, inexpensive and delicious. We tried several soups. Ribollita was a revelation, as was bread soup – Focaccia dipped in tomato soup has never tasted so delicious, a dessert (lemon tart, Tiramisu, even a chocolate cake once in a while), ending with “un cafe”. Then on the walk back, we would get dollops of fresh gelato. By the end of the trip, we seemed to have tried every flavor and loved them all.
We did not pick out restaurants. The restaurants picked us. We walked into the nearest trattoria when we were hungry. There is no disappointing meal in Italy. They were uniformly delicious. Yet no two plates ever tasted the same.