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

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

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Pisa leaning tower and Pisa cathedral

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/

If you would like to know how to visit Pisa and the leaning tower in a day trip, have a look at my post: How to travel from Florence to Pisa in a day.

In case you prefer to join an escorted tour, here is a good one, here is a convenient and fairly priced half day Pisa tour from Florence.

Enjoy your visit to Pisa!


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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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What to eat in Tuscany: best typical Florence food you must try

A complete food guide to the best Florence typical food you have to try when in Florence. Eat like a local and enjoy these great typical Tuscan dishes.

What should you eat when in Florence and in Tuscany? No, Pasta and Spaghetti is not the right answer! Of course you can find them in most touristic restaurant, nothing to worry about. However, Florence typical food is peculiar and so delicious that you absolutely need to try it.

Florence typical food: Menu

Actually, the best way to discover and taste local Florence food is to spend some time in the amazing food hall at Mercato Centrale, close to San Lorenzo. There you will find a huge amount of stalls displaying all the Tuscany local food you may dream of. Just choose what you want, point your finger, get your tray and enjoy! (read my post: Florence in a day for more directions) .

Florence typical food: mercato centrale food hall

Ready to start? So here is my Florence typical food guide!

Antipasti (starters):

Crostini con fegatini

Florence typical food: crostini con fegatini

You will hardly find a Tuscan menu that doesn’t offer Crostinis with salumi and a flask of red wine! The word crostini literally refers to the bread, similar to a baguette where the patè is spread. You will be offered many different type of crostini in Tuscany’s restaurants, but the real stuff is made of chicken livers. Other popular options are Bruschetta, crostini with minced tomatoes and olive oil and crostini with truffle oil.

Finocchiona

Florence typical food: Tuscany cured meat

The “typical” antipasto generally includes all sorts of salami, ham and cheese. While this may not differ that much from the salami you normally find in other Tuscany areas, there’s one which is typicall of Tuscany and that you shouldn’t miss: the Finocchiona.

Finocchiona is a variation on salami made of finely ground pork and fat, laced with fennel, and aged for a while. The unusual ingredient in finocchiona is fennel seeds, which give the salami an intriguing sweet, anise-like flavor. They are also behind the name, as finocchio means “fennel” in Italian. After the ground pork is stuffed into salami casings, the finocchiona is cured so that it becomes firm and dry.

Primi piatti (first courses)

Ribollita

Florence typical food: Ribollita

The Ribollita is the most famous Tuscan soup. It is a typical “poor” dish from the Florence and Arezzo cooking traditions, meant to reuse the left over bread and the most commonly available vegetables. The name, which means “reboiled”, derives from the former habit of preparing  the soup in large quantities, usually on Friday. The soup was cooked a second time (and therefore “reboiled”) in the following days, before being served. Actually, the ribollita gets tastier each time it is reboiled.

While many different vegetable can be used, a true ribollita always includes black cabbage (“cavolo nero”), Borlotti beans and dry bread. Once it is served, you should add one or two spoons of “exravergine” olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

Pappa al pomodoro

Florence typical food: Pappa al pomodoro

Half-soup and half-sauce, pappa al pomodoro is little more than ripe tomatoes, olive oil, and day-old bread. It’s a delicious summer dish, served in the majority of Tuscany restaurants.

Pici

Florence typical food: Pici

Pici is are thick, hand-rolled kind of pasta, like a fat spaghetti. The dough is typically made from flour and water only. It originates in the province of Siena in Tuscany; in the Montalcino area it is also referred to as pinci.

Pici are served with a variety of toppings, such as ragù (often from game, such as duck, hare or wild boar – “pici al ragù di anatra-lepre-cinghiale”), spicy garlic tomato sauce (“Pici all’aglione”) or porcini mushrooms (“Pici alla boscaiola”).

Pappardelle ala lepre

Florence typical food: Pappardelle alla lepre

Pappardelle are large, very broad flat pasta, similar to wide fettuccine. The name derives from the verb “pappare”, to gobble up. The fresh types are two to three centimetres (1 inch) wide. Like Pici they can be served with a variety of toppings, even though most popular Pappardelle dishes are “Pappardelle alla lepre” (hare minced meat sauce) or “Pappardelle al cinghiale” (Pappardelle with wild boar topping).

Secondi piatti (second courses: fish / meat dishes)

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Florence typical food: Bistecca alla fiorentina

The most famous tuscan meat dish is actually… a T-Bone steak!

The true bistecca alla fiorentina (“Florentine-Style Steak”, normally called just “Fiorentina”, is huge (hardly less than one Kg, cooked on charcoal fire and traditionally served on a wooden cutting board. Though Fiorentina, is featured on the menus of almost all the restaurants in Florence, finding a good one isn’t at all easy. But when you do it’s heaven on earth, delightfully rich, flavorful rare meat so tender it can be cut with a spoon. Much of the secret is the breed of cattle, Chianina beef…

Cinghiale in umido

Florence typical food: Cinghiale in umido

This winter dish requires marinating the wild boar meat in red wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries and chili flakes for at least one night, and then cook it in a clay pot for at leat 2-3 hours. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth tender, deliciously tasty meat dish, often served with Polenta (cornmeal boiled into a porridge and eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled)

Lampredotto

Florence typical food: Lampredotto (Greve in Chianti - osteria Nerbone)

Lampredotto is a very famous dish from Florence, that you may find in restaurants or as street food (“panino col lampredotto”). Lampredotto is the fourth stomach of a cow, boiled in water with tomatoes, onion, celery and parsley. A typical Florentine peasant dish, the most popular way to serve it is in a bread roll, with parsley sauce and optional chili oil. ‘Snap up’ a hot cow stomach sandwich at one of the many street and market stalls in Florence that serve it. The most famous one is just in front of the famous “porcellino” statue.

Caciucco alla livornese

Florence typical food: Caciucco alla livornese

This is not a typical Florence food, but it’s worth mentioning because you may find it in your menu, and it’s delicious! Cacciucco (also called Caciucco alla Livornese – Livorno-style cacciuco) is a popular traditional Livorno seafood dish, fairly common also in Pisa, Lucca and in all the Tuscan coast.

It’s a delicious soup of assorted sea fish, shellfish and molluscs, poured over the toasted bread, which history stretches back at least five hundred years. The origin of dish name also proclaims the fact that cacciucco is rooted in a mixture of culinary cultures of many nations. It bears resemblance to the Turkish word ‘küçük’, which means ‘tiny pieces’ – small fish and molluscs were used to prepare the dish.

Dolci (Desserts)

Cantucci col vin santo

Florence typical food: Cantucci col vin santo

Originating in the city of Prato (close to Florence), Cantucci are presently the most famous cookies in Tuscany. You will probably be offered Cantucci col vin santo after all your meals!

Cantucci are oblong-shaped almond biscuits, made dry and crunchy through cutting the loaf of dough while still hot and fresh from baking in the oven. Traditionally, you are supposed to dip them into a glass of vin santo (Tuscany sweet dessert wine) before savor them.

Panforte

Florence typical food: Panforte

Panforte means “strong bread” which refers to the spicy flavor. It’s the traditional Siena cakes, and its origins may date back to 13th century.

The process of making panforte is fairly simple. Sugar is dissolved in honey and various nuts, fruits and spices are mixed together with flour. The entire mixture is baked in a shallow pan. The finished cake is dusted with icing sugar. The result is heavenly delicious! You may taste Panforte as a dessert in restaurants or purchase a slice in a “pasticcieria”. A tasty and spicy variety of Panforte is “Panpepato”.

Buon appetito!

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Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: Val d’Orcia one day itinerary

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

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

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - cypress

The Val D’Orcia is a fascinating place, where man have interacted with nature through the centuries in a way that has well reached perfection.

Your Val d’Orcia One Day itinerary starts from Montalcino, which is covered in my One day in Montalcino post.

Coming out from Montalcino, only 10 km away, your first stop has to be St Antimo Abbey.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary: Sant'Antimo abbey

Sant’antimo is an extraordinary Romanesque abbey, one of the most important in the whole Tuscany.

It’s 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 wine yards.

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 “Carolingian chapel”. The interior will strike you with with its alabaster walls and columns.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - San'Antimo nave

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.

Regardless to your beliefs, the atmosphere 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).

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Mass in Sant'antimo

Getting back on track, you can continue your itinerary in Val d’Orcia and head to Bagno Vignoni.

It takes no more than half an hour by car, and the road twists and turns in the beautiful country side, letting you discover new breathtaking sights after each turn.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - 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, off the beaten path place, and a highlight of your Val d’Orcia One Day itinerary.

It’s thermal waters were already appreciated in Roman times. In the middle ages, a village developed around the large basin that constituted the ancient thermal structure. Caterina da Siena stood here several times before becoming a nun.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Bagno Vignoni

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.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - delicious Tartare in Bagno Vignoni

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. Look for 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.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - landscape

From Bagno Vignoni and San Quirico d’Orcia, take the country road to the lovely Montichiello hamlet, and admire one of the most iconic Tuscany views. You surely have seen it already on postcards, guides and coffee table books!

Val d'Orcia in one day Itinerary - Road to Montichiello

The last stop of your Val d’Orcia itinerary in one day is Pienza, one of the jewels of Tuscan renaissance.

Pienza, a Unesco world heritage site, overlooks the Val D’Orcia and is the first example of Renaissance “ideal city”. That is:  a town built according to architectural criteria 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.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - Pienza - 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. You must try Porchetta and worldwide renowned Pecorino di Pienza (Pienza sheep cheese).

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - delicious 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.

Val d'Orcia one day itinerary - view on the valley from Pienza

After reading this post, you may want to spend more than a day in this lovely area. If you’d like to do so, here are two great options to spend the night.

Castello di Spedaletto: it’s an authentic XII century castle, with great rooms and an charm you won’t find anywhere else. It’s located in the valley underneath Pienza, a 10′ drive from the city. Click here to check prices and availability.

Relais il chiostro di Pienza: located close to St Mary church, in the heart of Pienza, it used to be a monastery before being transformed into one of the most romantic hotels you may think of. Its terrace and some of the rooms overlook the valley and offer astonishing views. Click here to check prices and availability.

Enjoy your Val d’Orcia One Day itinerary!


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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?

One day in Montalcino, Tuscany: the home of Brunello wine

What to do, see…and drink when spending one day in Montalcino, a delightful medieval hamlet home of the renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine

Spending one day in Montalcino (or at least some hours) is a must if you are planning to explore Val d’Orcia.

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.

One day in Montalcino - Sunset in Val D'Orcia

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

Continue reading “One day in Montalcino, Tuscany: the home of Brunello wine”