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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Exploring Tuscany

PART 87: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps and what we are learning along the way.


We love every minute of it, and what was once a dream is our life!


We live in Tuscany in the Fall, then back again in the Spring, and in California for the rest of the time (in a previous blog, I explained why we live in Italy only part of the year).


Step 1: As we explore areas in Italy, we discover some gems worth sharing. Some of these are well-known tourist magnets; others are lesser known but always amazing.



This week, let's explore Tuscany.


Step 2: The parts of Tuscany


In my experience, Tuscany consists of the towns/cities and rural Tuscany. Let's look at some areas we have explored up to now.


Step 3: Towns and Cities


Florence and Siena are two major cities in Tuscany. Still, many other beautiful and exciting towns are worth exploring, including Pienza, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca, Volterra, and many others.


Let's choose one since this is a blog and not a book. Florence.


Step 4: A day in Florence.


I've been to Florence four or four times, so for this visit, we decided to let our friend Sandro, who lives in Florence, organize our day.


I've seen the Uffizi, the David, the cathedral, the Ponte Vecchio, the historical churches, and the Boboli Gardens on previous visits. So we didn't feel an urgency to do what only first-time visitors to Florence must do and see.


"Show us things that you would do on a free day in Florence," we asked our friends.



So we piled in his car and started our day on Boboli Hill, from where the most beautiful panorama of the city puts the postcard photos to shame. Parking was easy, and we walked across a piazza and sat on the stone wall looking out over Florence. "I can't find the words," my partner said as we tried to absorb the beauty of the Renaissance city.


But we had the whole day before us, so we soon jumped into the car, drove down into the city, parked in an area that only locals would know about, and made our way to the Accademia Gallery. "Since it is off-season and opening right when we get there, maybe we won't have to stand in line." Our friend did not disappoint; when we arrived, there were only three people in line, and in five minutes, we were inside, standing before the David. Though I had seen it before, the statue still took my breath away. My partner had never seen it and kept circling, saying, "I can't believe I am here!"


We took our time here, viewing Michelangelo's unfinished works, struggling to free themselves of the stone and circling back to the pulsating life of the David.


But the museum started to fill up, so our friend bid us follow him, and we headed towards the cathedral.


"Are we going inside?" I asked our local friend as we stood in front of the Duomo. "Not this time," he replied. "Let's look at the 'Gates of Paradise' on the baptistry doors. They are copies but are still magnificent. Then, let's back up to see Brunelleschi's dome, which was almost a miracle of engineering. He pushed design and engineering beyond its limits."


Getting the grande view of the dome and the more intimate view of the baptistry doors introduced us to what is unique about Florence: the grand architecture and the beauty in the details.


"It's time for a coffee with a view," our guide said. Near the cathedral is the department store "La Rinascente," where, unbeknownst to many, there is an outdoor cafe on the roof. We had to navigate through racks of coats and shirts on sale when we found the elevator behind one of the racks. We were whisked to the top, exited, and immersed in the beauty of Florence from above. We grabbed the best table, ordered coffee and pastry, and relaxed in paradise for a few euros.


After our break, we visited the historical San Lorenzo Market, marveling at the incredible produce, meats, fish, and cheeses. We then took a stroll along the Arno, sat down for another coffee with a view of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), and ended up at the Piazza della Signoria, where we snapped photos.


"One last stop," our friend said as we made our way towards Palazzo Vecchio, built in 1299 as the City Hall. Instead of entering, our friend led us to an outdoor area with a grand piano with a sign that read "Play me." With lots of encouragement, my partner, an excellent pianist, sat down and started playing "Christmas Time is Near." Before long, we were surrounded by other visitors who wanted to be part of the feeling of Christmas below the Palazzo Vecchio on that cold December night.


We concluded our day at our friend's home in Florence, where we made pasta together, shared experiences from our day, and played music together on his piano.


It was a perfect day.


Step 5: Rural Tuscany: Val d'Orcia


When I lived in Rome in the 1980s, I never visited rural Tuscany. I saw the photos of the rolling hills and cypress, and I thought it was pretty but certainly not worth a trip.


Then, finally, a few years ago, we drove up to Tuscany, booked an Airbnb in San Quirico, and decided to explore the Val d'Orcia.


Rather than following a strict itinerary, we drove through the rolling hills, turned off on some gravel roads, and followed our instincts. "Shall we walk?" I suggested after we had driven for a while.



We saw a chapel in the distance, which we later discovered was the Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta. As we headed in its direction, at a certain point, we stopped and looked around. The winds had increased, and the golden fields swayed in the breeze. As we turned 360 degrees, we became aware of the interplay of the breeze and the wheat fields, which produced a beautiful, peaceful sound that I can't find the words to describe. After a few moments of silence, my partner said, "This is so beautiful that I can't believe it." He was right. Seeing a photo of the countryside and standing in the swirling fields was like the difference between seeing a painting of the Grand Canyon and standing on the edge.


At that moment, I understood what the fuss was about; rural Tuscany, the Val d'Orcia, is genuinely one of the world's most beautiful areas.


On our spontaneous drives, we discovered the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, an ancient stone monastery and Romanesque church that tries to keep the tradition of Gregorian chant alive. We drove further and came across a castle-looking structure; we parked our car, strolled right in, and met the owner, who was getting ready for the tourist season. "What is this incredible place? Do you own it?" we asked. "My family owns it. There are apartments where they live, but I organize wine tasting and other events. Would you like to look around?" We were treated to an insider's look at her family life and business within the huge stone buildings.


Hiking is another activity that we discovered on our spontaneous drives. Some well-marked trails in the Val d'Orcia (and some lesser-marked ones) gave us a different experience than driving. The people, panoramas, stone houses, and hamlets all seemed right at hand when we were on food, trekking through the hills. We decided to plan our next trip to the area around hiking.


Insights:


Tuscany has "layers," both in its town and its landscapes. We enjoy peeling away at these layers and discovering what is under by visiting a city or area more than once. Our experience of Florence was so much different than the first time I went because I didn't have a full itinerary of what I needed to see. It was more about experiencing the city through the eyes of our local friend.


Even the rural areas, especially the Val d'Orcia, have layers and can be experienced through a planned itinerary, a spontaneous idea, in a car, on foot, or a combination.


We have only scratched the surface of Tuscany and we are looking forward to seeing more of what is underneath.


More next time.


Now on sale for $2.99: My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CRKMKPWF?ref_=cm_sw_r_cp_ud_dp_X2WRQ3PTG2ZDD7AVF6GH


Amazon Italy- my book "Lei mi ha sedotto. Una storia d'amore con Roma": https://amzn.eu/d/13nuZCL.


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Tony McEwing
Tony McEwing
Apr 21
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What a fascinating account! I'm sure it's wonderful to visit all the touristy areas for which these places are internationally known. But being able to get away from the beaten path and experience the. country in ways most visitors don't is truly priceless!

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Guest
Apr 21

An older neighbor in our village recommended reading The War in Val d’Orcia. A quick but fascinating account of the area in WW2.

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ldemelis
Apr 21

I've been to Florence many times, but didn't know about the rooftop cafe at Rinascente. Thanks for the tip! Next time you're in the Val d'Orcia, visit La Foce, where Iris Irigo, a British woman married to an Italian rode out World War II. Her diary, War in the Val D'Orcia, is worth reading, especially if you are familiar with the locations.

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Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
Apr 21
Replying to

That sounds like a great read and I am going to look it up right now. Thanks!

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