How to travel from Florence to Pisa by train or by tour

Florence to Pisa trains, for a day trip or as a stop on your way to Cinque Terre. How to buy train tickets, walk from station to leaning tower and tips to plan your climbing on top of Pisa leaning tower. Half day escorted tour from Florence.

Florence to Pisa trains are fast and convenient. This makes visiting Pisa an easy day trip from Florence, or a stop while going to or coming back from Cinque Terre (it’s the same train line). This is what the itinerary looks like: Continue reading “How to travel from Florence to Pisa by train or by tour”

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Florence in a day

How to discover Florence in a day by foot, including some hidden jewels, off the beaten path. An interactive Google map will make it easier to follow your path.

Let me tell you before hand: visiting Florence in a day is possible, but this wonderful town would deserve more than one day of your Italian itinerary. But if you have to rush, here is a walking itinerary to have a glimpse of Florence in just a day.

Continue reading “Florence in a day”

San Galgano and the sword in the rock

Italy owns its peculiar Sword in the Rock: you can find it close to the awesome San Galgano abbey ruins. Galgano Guidotti, a knight and later a saint, stabbed it in the rock nearly 800 years ago as a cross pilgrims going to Rome could worhip (read here Galgano Guidotti full story).

San Galgano abbey and the sword in the rock in the nearby Rotonda di Montesiepi are an unmissable destination when exploring southern Tuscany.

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Sant’Antimo Abbey, a Tuscan romanic jewell close to Montalcino

The romanic Abbey of Sant’Antimo is a former Benedictine monastery a few kilometres from Montalcino. It’s located in a breathtaking natural setting, close to the Via Francigena, the medieval pilgrim route to Rome, and is an unmissable destination if you plan to visit the Val d’Orcia area.

Learn more about Sant’AntimoAabbey and nearby Val D’Orcia

Lucca cathedral masterpiece – Ilaria’s funeral monument

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Famous Iacopo della Quercia gorgeously sculptured the Ilaria del Carretto tomb in the 15th century.

Ilaria died when she was only 26, giving birth to her second child. This is not only one of the most awesome funeral monuments in Italy, but also a moving witness of teh ethernal love for this unfortunate beautiful lady.

The funeral monument can be visited in Lucca’s Cattedrale di San Martino.

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Climbing on top of Pisa leaning tower

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Pisa leaning tower and Pisa cathedral

Tips to climb on top of Pisa leaning tower and to visit awesome Piazza dei Miracoli

Pisa leaning Tower is one of the most iconic places in Italy and climbing on top of it is a not to be missed experience.

However, if you plan to climb on top of Pisa tower you should reserve well in advance your ticket and be prepared to share the monuments with a massive quantity of tourists. So here are some tips to get the most out of your Pisa leaning tower experience.

The first sight not to be missed is Piazza dei Miracoli (“Square of Miracles”), the huge square hosting the tower, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the monumental graveyard. The square is surrounded by a beautiful green lawn, and the contrast between the green grass and the dazzling white monuments has always struck me.

Santa Maria Assunta, the awsome Cathedral, dominates the square with its beautiful Romanesque architecture. It hosts many important works of art, such as the great mosaic of St. John the Evangelist in the apse (1302) by Cimabue, or the Pulpit, a masterpiece by Giovanni Pisano.

But the main attraction is of course the leaning Tower of Pisa (actually, it’s the cathedral bell tower!) and climbing on it is an absolute must!

Since the massive restoration at the end of past century aimed at increasing the tower stability, the once opened archways have been blocked, making the climb fairly secure.  The Leaning Tower is 55 meters high and is inclined 5° southward. One has to climb up 294 steps to reach the top,Therefore, be prepared to a rather steep and strange climb due to the sense of imbalance that comes from climbing the spiral stairs of a seriously tilting edifice!

That said, the view from the top of the tower is definitely worth the climb!

Visit tips

Campo dei Miracoli entrance is free, and if you have time you can easily spend hours laying on the grass and enjoying the amazing setting (and the funny efforts of the many tourists trying to avoid the tower to fall down, click here for a bunch of funny pictures…).

All the other monuments require an admission ticket and a reservation, even though the only real restriction is for climbing Pisa tower. The chances of you getting tickets by just wandering up and slim at any time of year are non-existent if you visit Pisa Tower in high season.

You only get 30 minutes to climb the tower, take in the view form the top, and climb back down—but that’s pretty much enough time. Note that you must pick up your tickets to the tower 30 minutes before your entry time—so, all told, a visit here takes at least an hour.

The official site offers all the explanation and the convenient opportunity to purchase your ticket voucher on line http://boxoffice.opapisa.it/Turisti/

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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures. And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates

One day in Lucca: best things to do including city walls biking

One day in Lucca

Best things to do if you manage to spend one day in Lucca, Italy. A walking and biking itinerary to discover Lucca in one day (even though spending 2 days in Lucca would give you a much better opportunity to enjoy this lovely town). Use the enclosed Lucca Map to optimize your Lucca in one day tour.

Lucca is an unmissable destination in Tuscany and one day is the minimum amount of time you should dedicate to its visit. Despite is relatively small site, its city center hosts amazing monuments and sights, dating from Roman age to renaissance. But what makes Lucca really unique are its  Renaissance-era city walls that have remained intact while so many other Tuscan towns saw theirs destroyed in past centuries.

Since Lucca isn’t a hilltop village, it is ideal for anyone with mobility issues as well as for families with kids.

Continue reading “One day in Lucca: best things to do including city walls biking”

Tuscany Castle hotels: how to spend the night in a true medieval castle

You may don’t know it, but it’s pretty easy to stay in a Tuscany castle hotel, and the good knew is that prices are very reasonable. Here is my selection of Tuscany castles where you can sleep and treat yourself like a king!

 

Have you ever dreamed to spend a night or two in a real castle? High rise crenelated walls, majestic dungeons, the echos of ferocious battles that took place centuries ago…

Well, let the dream come true! Tuscany offers an incredible variety of castles, and many of them have been turned into country houses and luxury resorts.

In this post I’d like to share with you my favorite Castle accommodations in Tuscany. Treat yourself as a knight, for a night!

Living in a Castle Map

 Tuscany castle hotel #1: Castello di Spedaletto

Castello La Grancia 1

The beautiful Castello di Spedaletto was built in the XII century along the old Via Francigena (the path pilgrims followed to walk their way down to Rome). It is a perfect example of a middle age castle  in a beautiful setting in the Val D’Orcia, close to Pienza, Bagno Vignoni and San Quirico D’Orcia (read my post Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: delightful Val d’Orcia to know what to do, eat and see)

It features a large yard, an “ecologic” swimming pool and a very relaxed atmosphere. Relatively cheap (it is an “Agriturismo”), Castello di Spedaletto is perfect for visiting the Val D’Orcia, especially if you are traveling with kids.

Tip: when reserving, ask for the rooms inside the castle, more scenic compared to the ones built in the old fortified wall.

Check current rates and availability here.

Castello la Grancia 2

Tuscany castle hotel #2: Castel Pietraio

Castel Pietraio dall'alto

Here we move to Siena Countryside. Castel Pietraio is a gorgeous castle from the XI° century. It is located in Strove, a very small hamlet close to Monteriggioni, and to the beautiful church of Badia Isola. Lovely vineyards and sunflowers fields surrounds it. It’s a 4 star small hotel, still belonging to the original noble family (Barone Neri del Nero).

Castel Pietraio is also a farm with an excellent vocation to quality wine-growing: you will be able to taste Chianti Superiore (of course!), Chardonnay, Merlot and Vin Santo.

A personal anecdote: this is the hotel I choose for me and my wife when we got married!

Castel Pietraio_3

 Check current rates and availability here.

Tuscany castle hotel #3: Castello di Meleto

Castello di Meleto

Massive, awe-inspiring, castello di Meleto stands in the beautifull Chiantishire valley, close to Gaiole in Chianti. Its striking location and its vaulted halls are often used to host weddings parties, but you don’t necessarily need to get married to sleep in one of the beautifully decorated rooms!

For longer stays, you can also choose to rent a self catering apartment in the nearby dependence.

Castello di Meleto produces an excellent Chianti, that you can taste in the modern wine shop after visiting the old cellars.

HAve a look at my post Fascinating Chianti wine tasting tour to learn what to visit (and drink!) in the Chianti area.

Castello di Meleto 2

Check current rates and availability here.

Tuscany castle hotel #4: Badia a Coltibuono

Badia di Coltibuoni 1

This is a fortified abbey, built in 1049 and transformed in a countryside villa in the XIXth century. It features a Romanesque church, beautiful cloisters, a gorgeous walled garden and huge cellars, as old as the abbey itself!

Regarding your stay, you can choose between the 8 rooms and the 5 apartments. Badia a Coltibuono offers also wine tasting, cooking courses and local delicacies tastings.

Hint: the abbey is 650 meters above sea level, which makes it a perfect place during summer. Winters and springs, on the other hand, can be really chilly.

Badia di Coltibuoni 2

 Check current rates and availability here.

Tuscany castle hotel #5: Monteriggioni

Monteriggioni

Strictly speaking, Monteriggioni is not exactly a castle, but a medieval walled hamlet located on a natural hill. Sienese built it in  1214-1219 as a front line in their wars against Florence. Said so, Monteriggioni is one of the most evocative medieval villages in Italy.

Located 14 km from Siena. Monteriggioni has became famous for its fourteen towers’ walls which are among the best preserved all over Italy. Believe me, it’s one of the most scenic places in Tuscany, not to miss even if you decide to sleep elsewhere (which would be a pity, indeed!).

Two possibility of lodging here: the Romantic Hotel Monteriggioni or the value for money Bed & Breakfast In piazza

Monteriggioni - borgo

Enjoy your night at the castle!


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Fascinating Chianti wine tasting tour

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For anyone but the true “wine aficionados”, Chianti is synonymous of Tuscany wine. There’s a reason for that: Chianti is by far the most produced and sold Tuscan Wine, and is produced in an area much wider than the so called “Chianti region”. It is also one of the first Italian Wines to be branded and marketed in a distinctive way.

The “Chianti” wine was created in 1837 by Barone Ricasoli, who defined a new recipe, a blend of  Sangiovese,  Canaiolo and Malvasia. The new wine was such a success that in 1932 the producers of the original Chianti Wine joint together to create the consortium of the “Chianti Classico”, with the black roaster (“Gallo Nero”) as its symbol.

Chianti Gallo Nero

Today’s recipe is a little different from Barone Ricasoli’s, and requires at least a 80% Sangiovese, with the rest being a different wine, often Canaiolo, but not necessary. Also the ageing in small Oak barrels (barrique) is optional. Add the difference in tastes and texture deriving from different sub-zones, and you’ll easily realize that you will hardly find two Chianti tasting exactly the same.

In this post I’d like to drive you in a one/two days itinerary to discover the beautiful Chianti country side, its history, its food and, of course, its wine.

Our trip begins by taking the “strada del vino” (222 ss route), just south of Florence.

Chiantishire Map

Soon, the view of the silver of the olive trees, the green geometry of the vineyards, the roads lined with tall green cypresses and the borders of the woods lined with yellow broom combine in a palette of colors that seem to create a unique painting.

The first notable stop in your Chiant Wine Tasting tour is the Castello di Verrazzano. The Castle of Verrazzano is located on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico area, overlooking a beautiful countryside.

Chianti Castello di Verazzano

The castle is known for being the birthplace of the family Verrazzano to which the Navigator Giovanni, the one who discovered the bay of New York, belonged. Today, Castello di Verazzano is a highly reputed winery. You can stop there for a guided tour and a wine tasting, often followed by a lunch in the beautiful lunch room overlooking the valley. I suggest to take the tour and the wine tasting, but skip the lunch, there are better options outside.

Wine - Castello di Verazzano

The next stop is Greve in Chianti, which  is considered by many as the gate into Chianti and is famous for its particularly shaped piazza or square that has been market place for the castles and walled villages in the surroundings since the Middle Ages. The square has a triangular shape and large porticos, dotted with nice shops and delightful restaurants. In the center stands the bronze staue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, explorer that discovered the Bay of New York.

Greve in Chianti - piazza

In Greve in Chianti you will also find the Cantine di Greve in chianti, probably the biggest wine shop in the Chianti area, and the best way of tasting up to 140 wines from different cellars in a vaulted, renovated ancient underground. Just purchase a card, choose the wines you want to taste, insert your carte in the tasting isle, put your glass under the nozzle, press the button and Voilà!

Chianti_044 Cantine di Greve in Chianti

You can also order local appetizers (cheese, ham and “bruschette” (grilled bread topped with many different sauces). If you prefer to stay outside, you will find a subsidiary of cantine di Greve on the main square.

If it’s lunch time, you will find many nice restaurants on the main square. I recommend Osteria Nerbone in Chianti, were I had a tasteful Lampredotto (traditional Florence dish, based on boiled cow stomach: it may sound weird, but it’s delicious).

Chianti_Osteria Nerbone

Chianti-osteria Nerbone 2

Going back to route 222, I suggest a stop for a cave visit and a dedicated wine tasting at the Podere casanova. Here you will meet Rita and Silvano, the land lords, who not only produce high end biological Chianti and Super Tuscan wines, but will also delight your tastes with their production of truffle oil, true balsamic vinegar, and even honey wine, which recipe dates from the middle age. Cooking classes are available for the happy few that can dedicate a full day to them (note: the wine tasting is only by appointment, to preserve the intimacy of the experience).

Chianti Cantine Casanova

Chianti - Tenuta Casanova - Wine Tasting

Next stop is Castellina in Chianti.  Set along the Chiantigiana road that connects Florence to Siena, it is one of the most important destinations in Chianti. Once a fortified village, you will discover along the ancient walls an impressive underground tunnel used by the guards, Via delle Volte. You will also like the impressive fortress, which gives its name to the village (Castellina derives from the word “castello”, castle in Italian).

Castellina in chianti - fortezza

Castellina in Chianti may be a good place to rest for an evening. My suggestions to eat and sleep? Restaurant Sotto le Volte, in the underground passage under the ancient walls, and, a few kilometers from the Village, Hotel Villa Casalecchi, an ancient countryside villa, immersed in a park of century old trees and surrounded by Chianti vine-groves.

Via delle volte _ Castellina in Chianti

On a second day, you can explore the beautiful countryside, dotted by middle age villages, abbeys and castles (all this area used to be a battlefield between Florence and Siena). Definitely worth a visit is Radda in Chianti. Radda was the headquarters of the Chianti League and the seat of the Florentine governor housed in the beautiful 15th century Palazzo del Podestà, its facade decorated with several coats of arms. The town maintains its medieval look characterized by narrow streets meeting in the main square where you’ll find the Church of San Niccolò, a church of Romanesque origins which displays a venerated wooden Crucifix from the 15th century.

If you are around Radda at the beginning of June, don’t miss the “Radda nel bicchiere”, an open air wine tasting with over twenty producers presenting their Chianti wines.

Greve in Chianti - palazzo de

Close to Radda you can visit the tiny Volpaia village, often used as a movie set (you may stop at the excellent La bottega di Volpaia, and savour your Fiorentina steak under the trees, on a terrace overlooking the vine-groves) and then have a guided tour at the nearby imposing Badia di Coltibuoni, once a fortified abbey, now a lovely B&B, and visit their huge caves.

Badia di Coltibuoni 1

You may end up your day at the Castello di Meleto, by visiting the 18th century interiors, its caves (of course!) and a really amazing authentic 18th century “family” private theatre. The tour includes, guess what? Yes, you got it: wine tasting! …and a Chianti bottle to bring home. Good deal for 15 €.

Chianti - Castello di Meleto

Chianti - Castello di Meletto - Teatro

Not tired yet? Still a little hungry (and thirsty)? Well, a nice place to have your last aperitivo (Italian cocktail) could be the Castello di Spaltenna,  another perfectly preserved middle age castle, now transformed in an exclusive hotel. On its terrace you will indulge with a glass of Chianti wine in your hand and the  delightful Tuscany countryside at your feet.

Chianti_Castello di Meletto-Degustazione

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Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures. And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?

Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: delightful Val d’Orcia

A one day itinerary in delightful Val D’Orcia starting from Montalcino: discover San’Antimo, Pienza and Bagno Vignoni

 

Well, you had a fair amount of Brunello – cheers! –  and you feel ready to discover the wondefull Val D’Orcia (the Orcia valley).

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The Val D’Orcia is a fascinating place, where man’s endevour have interacted with nature through the centuries in a way that has well reached perfection. Coming out from Montalcino, only 10 km away, your first stop has to be St Antimo Abbey.

Tuscany, Val D'Orcia: Sant'Antimo abbey

Sant’antimo is an extraordinary Romanesque abbey, one of the most important in the whole Tuscany, famous not only for the elegance of its lines, but also for its setting in a beautifull valley, surrounded by wooded hills, olive groves and wineyards. Founded by the Longobards around 770, the abbey received the seal of emperor Charlemagne on his return from Rome in 781. The present church was build in 1118, to replace the original “Carloingian chapel”. The interior will strike you with with its alabaster walls and columns.

Navata e altare di San'AntimoI

If you get there on Sunday morning, do spend some time to assist to the mass, and allow yourself the opportunity to hear the Gregorian Chant practised by the monks. Believe me, regardless to your beliefs, the atmospheare is unique, and, especially if you sit in the first rows, you will really get the feeling of assisting to a 12th century ceremony. Simply magical! (sunday mass: 9.00 AM and 11.00 PM; the church closes at 12.30).

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Getting back on track, you can continue your itinerary in Val dOrcia and head to Bagno Vignoni. It takes no more than half an hour by car, and the road twists and turns in the beautifull country side, letting you discover new breathtaking sights after each turn.

Tuscany - Val d'Orcia scenery

On the road, consider making a stop in the charming San Quirico d’Orcia, an important stage-coach post along  the Via Francigena, the ancient road and pilgrims route running from France to Rome. Just after passing San Quirico d’Orcia, you will see the white incrustations on the side of the hill, left over the centuries by the thermal springs of Bagno Vignoni.

Bagno Vignoni is quite a unique place. It’s thermal waters were already apreciated in Roman times. In the middle ages, a village developped around the large basin that constitued the ancient thermal structure. Caterina da Siena stood here several times before becoming a nun.

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After all these emotions, you are probabli rather hungry. Bagno Vignoni has several small restaurants, many of which give you the possibility of eating outside, and take advantage of the sun and the view. I suggest the Osteria del Leone, on the main square just behind the Loggiato di Santa Caterina, where I hd a delicious Tartare with olives and goat cheese.

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You can also take advantage of the local thermal waters spa and spend the rest of the afternoon induging in the warm water, with in front of you the astounishing view of San Quirico d’Orcia (Piscina val di sole, close to the entrance of the village). If you get here at the end of the day, you may also consider to spend a romantic night at the Locanda del Loggiato, which has kept the fascinating atmosphere of a 1300 century house, with part of the original characteristic wooden beam ceiling and antique floor in terracotta.

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Otherwise, if you are still hungry of culture, you can head to the delightfull Pienza, one of the jewells of Tuscan renaissance, which waits for you just 9 km away.

Pienza, a Unesco world heritage site, overlooks the Val D’Orcia and is the first example of Renaissance “ideal city”i.e. a town bult according to architectural critria of antique classics that would impact directly on the human soul, stimulating spiritual well being. The most famous Pienza building is the cathedral, dedicated to St. mary of the assumption. It combines a renaissance façade with a gothic interior.

Santa Maria

Also notable are the palazzo Piccolomini, the town hall, the Borgia palace and st. Francis. But, most of all, you will enjoy walking down the corso Il Rossellino (the main street), loosing yourself in the lovely shops selling local delicacies such as Porchetta and worldwide renowned Pecorino di Pienza (Pienza sheep cheese).

Porchetta

Before getting back to your car, don’t miss the walk along the old walls, for a last glance at the Val d’Orcia.

Vista sulla valle

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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

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Wine and food in Montalcino: discover the Brunello shire

I am sure you have seen in thousands of pictures the worldwide famous Tuscany round and gentle hills, topped by a handful of cypress, bathing in the soft, golden Tuscany sunset light.

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Well, if you are looking for such a magical place, you have to head to Val D’Orcia.

Val D’Orcia and the  hamlets that are part of it are a heavenly place, and since the middle ages have inspired generations of artists and, more recently, famous film directors such as Ridley Scott who decided to shoot one of the most famous scenes from The Gladiator in the wheat fields between San Quirico D’Orcia and Pienza.

Gladiator scene 1

But Val D’Orcia is not only one of the most beautiful places in Tuscany, it is also the home of some of the most prestigious and reputed Italian wines, among which the famous Brunello di Montalcino.

And this is exactly what this post is about: good food, excellent wine, breathtaking views. Nothing less than what you would expect from the Italian countryside!

So let’s start our tour from the home of Brunello: Montalcino.

castello

Montalcino is an extraordinary artistic and architectural testimony of the past, and you could spend hours wandering through its streets and lanes.

Montalcino palazzo comunale

And, when you are done with history, then you can dedicate yourself to the other Must in Montalcino: wine tasting.

Thanks to its worldwide renowned Brunello, Montalcino has developed an astonishing wine tasting industry. You will find tens of wine bars spread around the old town, where you will be able to sip the wine of your choice, while a passionate sommelier explains to you the subtle differences between the harvests of the past 20 years.

You will find one of the most famous Enoteca (“winehouse”) inside the 14th century fortress, and precisely in the donjon of San Martino. Just in front of the fortress, I suggest the Enoteca Franci, perfect to start your Tuscany Wine experience.

Wine Tasting Montalcino

You will of course taste Brunello from different vineyards and harvests (focus on 2006 an 2007!), but don’t neglect the Rosso di Montalcino. This too is a Sangiovese Grosso in purity, but produced to be drunk young (and, by the way, much less expensive than his more famous old brother Brunello).

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In your wine tasting pay attention not to miss the so called Super-Tuscans, such as Sassicaia or Tignanello, that in their quest for excellence have introduced revolutionary approaches in Tuscany wine making, such as the use of small French barriques, the introduction of international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and the lowering of yield per hectare.

Sassicaia
Sassicaia

And if you feel you can still drive, get a map of the Associated Producers of Brunello from the tourist office (inside Plazzo dei Priori), choose your preferred ones and go visit their caves to discover the art of wine making. Guided visits are followed by a tasting, often teamed with a selection of cold meats, cheeses and other local specialties. All wineyards have something peculiar you will like, so it’s very difficult to make suggestions. I personally recommend the Fattoria Magia, overlooking San Antimo Abbey, with a nice garden to sip your glass of Brunello.

Coming back in Montalcino main street, don’t miss the Pasticceria Mariuccia, , close to the Palazzo dei Priori, where you will be able to taste delicious tuscany sweets such as Panforte, Panpepato and Ricciarelli.

Pasticceria Mariuccia

A couple of places to eat, both on the main street: Re di Macchia (small and very romantic) and taverna Il Grappolo Blu.

And if you are looking for a Bed & Breakfast in Montalcino, don’t hesitate: B&B Galleria Turchi, an amazing loft overlooking the Val D’Orcia, inside the city walls. The owner used to run an art gallery, so his B&B is filled with design objects and pieces of modern art!

B&B Galleria Turchi, Montalcino

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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures. And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?