Rob at the breakfast spread at Hotel Globus
We arrived at the farm just outside of San Giamangano. Christine had promised us a spectacular view of the vineyard-lined hills, and we were not disappointed! The view of the rolling Tuscany hillside, and San Giamangano with its tall and narrow towers in the distance, was breathtaking. We got a brief tour of the farm, where nearly everything we were about to eat was produced. We toured a large barn for the cows (both for meat and dairy), a winery where 200,000 bottles are produced annually, and hillsides of grapes, olives, and other crops completed the scene. After the early morning tour of Siena and the tour of the farm (and despite the scents of bus sickness and the dairy farm!), our appetites were more than ready.
Lunch was held in a room with windows overlooking the hills.
We sampled 4 wines along with a traditional Tuscan meal: primo (first course) was pasta with meat, secondo (second course) was salad along with fresh tomatoes (which were sweet and flavorful), cured meats and cheeses; dessert was biscotti (dipped in the dessert wine). This was by far the best meal we had partaken of the entire trip! The food was all fresh and bursting with flavor, and the meal was authentically Italian – after several glasses of wine, the entire bus of 50-some people filled the lunch hall with boisterous talking and laughter. During lunch, we made friends with the family next to us (including the bus sick boy), who were from D.C. and taking their second trip to Italy (their first with their young children). (An important note: When lunching at a Tuscan winery, do sit next to a family with several children as this allows for an extra glass of wine or two). We decided to purchase a reserve bottle of Chianti (only €9 – we will be packing it for our journey home because it costs €60 to ship!).
Streets of Siena
Later on the tour, we had an Ohio moment upon meeting a boisterous group of fun women from Columbus! They informed us that on our next trip to Italy, we must visit Luca for its charm and for the sites of “beautiful men.”
Campo in Siena
After lunch, we boarded the bus again and headed to nearby San Giamangano. Without a tour guide, we quickly sampled this small medieval town. In some ways, it was similar to Siena, built of high stone walls and a maze of narrow streets. San Giamangano is known for its large stone towers, built as status of each of the owners (it was also made famous by the film "Tea with Mussolini" starring Cher). Over the years since the 1200s, the 70-odd towers now only number 14.
The feel of the ancient city reminded us of our trips to Santa Fe (the relatively “new city” at roughly 450 years old) with lots of winding paths, cafes, art houses, and galleries all with a peaceful quality that makes strolling the city a memorable one. The compact and curving streets are lined with very high-end tourist shopping, with clothing, alabaster, and world-renowned gelato (we sampled a scoop of dark cherry gelato and cone of saffron with pine nuts – delicioso!) The private homes, like in Santa Fe, must have been ridiculously expensive.
VIew of Tuscan hills from the farm
Our final stop, after another 2 hours of driving (just enough time for a brief nap) was Pisa, famous of course for its leaning tower. This was the most obvious tourist (even tacky) destination we visited.
There were vendors pushing all sorts of “leaning” goods, and the overall feel was much like Niagara Falls. The leaning tower is a fascinating site (especially up close), but even more interesting were the droves of tourists vying for the most interesting way to appear in their photos to be propping up the iconic tower. There is also a duomo and other historic buildings in Pisa, but our short stop didn’t allow for much touring (which was fine, the day was well spent on the other towns and lunch at the fattoria).
Primo (pappardelle carbonara)
We finally headed home after a long but fascinating day. Christina provided more interesting history of nearby towns. (Did we mention the entire cost of the tour was $80 each?!) After arriving back in Florence, we took in dinner at a restaurant (Zsa Zsa) near the hotel.
The menu was a mix of English and Italian (courses) meals, with seafood as a specialty. We had walnut ravioli and shrimp (gamberi) over spaghetti as first courses, followed by steak and potatoes (bisteca and patate) and shrimp salad with truffle oil dressing. We noticed the entire street of restaurants and bars would occasionally erupt in cheers, then we witnessed quite a scene when Spain won the World Cup. (We also wondered what it would have been like if we were in Barcelona, upcoming in our itinerary, when that happened!). This was a very good day.
Secondo (prosciutto, cheese, salad al pomodoro)
Rob samples the biscotti with dessert wine
While Rob and I are not big fans of guided tours, given our limited time in Florence and Tuscany, a day tour of the region seemed like a good idea. About a week before leaving, we booked a tour that included visits to three of the most popular rural towns in Tuscany – Siena, San Giamangano, and Pisa. The tour bus departed at 8:30AM from S.M.N. Stazione (where we arrived in Florence, a 5-minute walk from the hotel). Getting up early, we headed down to the breakfast provided at the Hotel Globus, and we were absolutely surprised. For free breakfast buffets, we were expecting something worse than the stale bread and long lines of irritable tourists that are typical of budget US hotels. Instead, we were greeted by the hotel supervisor, who made us our now-regular morning cappuccino. The spread was fantastic – fresh fruit, warm croissants, paté, goat’s milk yogurt, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses.
After breakfast, we went to the Marcato Centrale (a fabulous market of meat, cheese, produce, wine, and olive product vendors) for some souvenirs.
Don has a private wine tasting
We headed to the station to get on the tour bus. Our guide, Christina, began her charming overview of our trip immediately discussing the rich history of Florence and the region. The bus, holding about 50 passengers, was a collection of international tourists. Our first stop, Siena, was about a 90 minute drive, but her instruction and the increasingly beautiful and hilly landscapes of Tuscany made the journey pass quickly. (The journey was only slightly marred when a young boy got bus sick just behind Don. As the day passed, the hot Tuscan sun made the odor even that more pungent.)
Once in Siena, we received a guided tour from a local woman.
We loved her accent (she ended every sentence with an “ah” (e.g., “…at the bridge-ah.”). Siena has a rich history that dates back to medieval times. The entire city is surrounded by fortress walls, and the streets are narrow, twisting, stone-laid paths surrounded by high buildings, so tall that we were in shade most of the time. The very small city is divided into 17 even smaller districts (“contrade”), each with their own church and even micro-economy. In a tradition that dates back to the middle ages, 10 of the districts hold a 90-second horse race in honor of the Virgin Mary. Over 50,000 people attend the Palio, which is held in the July and August sun in El Campo (the outdoor arena in the center of town). The entire city seems centered around this event. We were surprised at the medieval feel to the entire city.
What a view!
We visited the Duomo (i.
e., church – in Venice the term Chiesa) of Siena, a very large cathedral that was constructed beginning in the 1200s. An expansion in the 1300s was abruptly stopped due to the outbreak of the Plague, which claimed over 80% of the town’s population. The Duomo was a wealth of medieval art, containing a marble mosaic floor, statues by Michelangelo, and a fresco from the 1500s that was incredibly preserved and appeared as vibrant as if it had been painted today.
Streets of San Giamangano
After our visit in Siena, we boarded the bus for our next stop – lunch on a Tuscan farm.