The Balsam Hill Traveler: Under the Tuscan Sun
From art and architecture to science and politics, Tuscany has always been one of the epicenters of the Renaissance movement. The home of great masters such as Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo, Botticelli, Giotto, and the Medicis, it is no wonder that for centuries, Tuscany has become a frequent destination for aficionados and virtuosos alike. And with the popularity of its pristine beaches and rich vineyards that produce world-class wines such as the Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Mantalcino, there are now more reasons to visit this ancient Italian region. Join the Balsam Hill traveler as we explore some of the best sights and sounds that Tuscany has to offer.
To many connoisseurs, the city of Florence is synonymous to the great rebirth of art during the 14th century. Many of the famous Renaissance artists trace their early beginnings to this timeless place. Even to this day, the city is still filled with marvelous masterpieces that continue to draw thousands of tourists each year.
Perhaps one of the most well-known and prestigious collections of art pieces in Florence can be found in the Galleria degli Uffizi. Here you can broaden your artistic tastes as you view exquisite works such as Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,” Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” Da Vinci’s “The Annunciation,” Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait as a Young Man,” and Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” to name a few. Another museum worth visiting is the Galleria dell’Accademia where the original “David” of Michelangelo is housed. The academy also preserves pieces from Sarto, Uccello, Ghirlandaio, and the original plaster for Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine Women.”
The Tuscan mastery of architecture is best represented by the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the iconic duomo (dome) of Florence. Taking more than a hundred years to build, this impressive Gothic-styled cathedral is highlighted by a massive masonry dome similar to that of the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul. A guided tour of the Piazza del Duomo includes entry into the basilica’s campanile (bell tower) and battistero (baptisery).
After satiating your appetite for art, satisfy your hunger for Florentine food by dining in some of the city’s finest restaurants such as L’Osteria di Giovanni and the Trattoria I Fratellini. Owned and operated by the Latini family, L’Osteria di Giovanni is known for their succulent charcoal-grilled steaks with the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a five finger high steak with roasted potatoes, as your pièce de résistance. The Trattoria I Fratellini, on the other hand, offers the flavorful minestrone and rotisserie chicken specialty coupled with a glass of Chianti – a popular Firenze fair.
Explore the breathtaking beauty of Siena via the Treno Natura (Nature Train). This vintage train takes guests on a tour around the plains and mountains of this historic province. The itinerary includes wine tastings at local vineyards, visits to colorful festivals, and trips to Siena markets where you can purchase high-class white truffle.
While the Torre pendente di Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa) is undoubtedly the most recognizable landmark of Pisa, it is only one part of the city’s popular Piazza dei Miracoli. The plaza, consisting of the great leaning tower, a massive duomo, a baptisery, and a monumental cemetery, attracts thousands of visitors a year and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To avoid getting exhausted exploring the piazza’s majestic grounds, you can sign up for the cruiser bike tour or the segway tour.
For a divine meal, you can head to the Lunasia Green Park Resort located in Via dei Tulipani to have a taste of their famous pasta and mussel ice cream. Or you can check out Gusto al 129 down at Putignano for their wide selection of scrumptious pizzas.
Tourists who prefer a more solitary and spiritual retreat often choose to spend their Italian vacation in Lucca. You can take a solemn stroll along the Le mura di Lucca (Walls of Lucca) or meditate amidst the exquisite gardens of the Palazzo Pfanner.
For a culturally enriching experience, head to the Basilica of San Giovanni to watch the Puccini e la sua Lucca, the town’s premier musical event. The performance features immortal masterpieces of Puccini and Mozart.
Off the coast of Tuscany lies the beautiful island of Elba. This once-prison of Napoleon Bonaparte has now become one of the region’s top summer destinations. Villa dei Mulini, the French emperor’s old residence, infuses a Parisian flair on this Italian island. The island is also known for its immaculate Mediterranean coastline. Beaches in Barabarca don white sand while Zuccaro has rocky beaches such as the one in Sansone.
Another frequented spot is the Monte Capanne, Elba’s highest point. This famous mountain offers a nice challenging climb for hikers as well as a good training ground for competitive bikers. There is also a motorized lift for tourists who prefer a less extraneous trek up its peak. Whichever way you choose to conquer Monte Capanne, you are sure to be rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the island.
The timeless appeal of Tuscany comes from its interesting combination of history, art, and culture. This summer, forget all your worries and have a taste of life under the Tuscan sun.by