After our delightful day trip to Pisa, Haley and I were ready for another day in Florence. We decided to switch it up a bit and signed up for a bicycle tour! We met early and got fitted for our bikes and helmets and met our amazingly knowledgeable guide, Philip.
After some bike safety basics, we spent the morning riding around Florence, stopping at various monuments and historical sights for brief explanations and interesting tidbits from Philip. Our group consisted of about six people so it was not difficult to hear or stay together.
As the morning wore on, we made our way out of the city and up the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo.
The Piazzale sits on a large hill and offers the most stunning panoramic views of Florence and is well worth the walk or ride, especially at dawn or sunset!
We took in the views, took lots of pictures and then walked even further up hill to the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte, a beautiful church, considered to be the most scenic in all of Florence.
We continued our trek towards through the Tuscan countryside to Galileo’s house! This was his last residence before his death.
We stopped for a family style lunch at a quaint restaurant close by that was just opening for the day. The restaurant had beautiful views and a sweet courtyard garden out back.
After lunch we hopped back on our bikes and made our way to Villa Le Piazzole, a gorgeous historical Renaissance Villa that has been turned into a bed and breakfast.
We woke up bright and early the next day, ready for our tour of the Tuscan countryside. This tour, ‘The Best of Tuscany’ would turn out to be my favorite of the trip and I would highly recommend it (and the ArtViva Tour Company) for anyone looking for a fun day trip from Florence. The tour took us through three Tuscan hilltop towns; San Gimignano (My favorite!), Monteriggioni and Sienna and a winery tour, tasting and lunch…talk about bang for your buck!
San Gimignano was our first stop, surrounded by walls and famous for its many towers it was utterly charming.
Walking through it’s medieval gate felt a bit like stepping back in time.
Adorable shops lined the streets, including one that sold the most delicious wild boar salami that we couldn’t resist sampling.
We explored the small town’s architecture and took in the incredible views from it’s highest point.
On our way back through town we stopped for a gelato from the shop that had won “Best Gelato” in all of Italy for several years running!
After leaving San Gimignano we headed for the Palagetto Winery Estate.
We arrived in Florence via train and after a series of somewhat confusing bus rides, finally made our way to our hostel, the Tasso Hostel in the Oltrarno quarter.
The hostel was within walking distance to everything we wanted to see in the city. It was also very clean, had a full bar and a stage where local musicians and actors sometimes performed and a wonderful outdoor patio with a nightly happy hour.
We opted to stay in a three person room to save on costs. Our mystery roommates (we ended up with two throughout our 5 night stay) could have gone either way but both ended up being lovely people who we became fast friends with, but more on them later. After becoming acquainted with the hostel, we wasted no time hitting the streets of Florence to do a little exploring!
I quickly got the impression that Florence is a city that always has a lot going on and thus quite fun to visit at all times. Several big events were taking place during our time there, the first of which was one of the tri-annual Calcio Fiorentino (historic football) matches. A team from each quartiere of the city is represented, each with their own specific colors/emblems etc.
Apparently the matches can become really violent with choking, punching and head butting all being allowed, but before the games, everyone takes to the streets for a very civilized parade.
We enjoyed the parade but opted out of the match and did a little evening sightseeing around the Duomo instead.
Our sightseeing was interrupted by yet another parade, this one seemingly with Hindu origins?
After parade number two our stomachs were rumbling and we decided to find a restaurant nearby. We opted for the Ristorante Caffe Giotto, a reasonably priced pizza/pasta restaurant just outside of the Duomo.