Now I truly understand what it means to be under the Tuscan sun. Tuscany is just one of those places that many people only just see in movies and never really get the chance to see. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend an entire weekend just exploring parts of Tuscany and seeing places that are just overwhelmingly beautiful.
We started off the weekend on an almost three hour bus ride to Siena, which is a gorgeous little town with so much history in the heart of Tuscany. I had been to Siena before with my family when I came a few years ago, but we only had a day to explore it and we did not really have the chance to learn about a lot of the history behind it. This time in a big group, I was able to tour around Siena a little while longer and explored in more in depth than I had the first time. We started by meeting in the Piazza del Campo, the main square in Siena where yearly horse races took place around the summer time. These horse races have been a tradition for Siena for many years, that you can still see vintage photographs in restaurants and stores of hundred of people gathered in the piazza with horses running all over the town. Right now it’s Carnevale season, which is a celebration between Christmas and Easter time that happens all over Italy where people, especially children, dress up and throw colorful confetti. Right now the Piazza del Campo is covered in this confetti and its a spectacular sight to see all the colorful specks flying around! In the Piazza del Campo, we also got to explore the Town Hall, the building with the bell tower at the front of the piazza which was said to be built in the 1300’s, which contains historic paintings and religious images inside. The paintings cover the walls of the building, telling a story of how to run a government correctly and justly, and showing the consequences of what could happen if you do not run a government adequately. These paintings motivated the people of the government for centuries and luckily we can still see them and comprehend them today.
After exploring the Town Hall and having an amazing lunch by the Piazza del Campo, we went down the street to the Cathedral of Siena, or Duomo di Siena. Siena is so small that the walk between the Piazza del Campo and the Cathedral was under five minutes, which is great because you can see everything you need to see without getting too tired! The Cathedral was quite peculiar to me, as its architecture was very unique. There were stripes along the sides of the Cathedral and the building itself, which I thought added a nice touch to just the plain white color it would have without them. The Cathedral also had a large, circular window at the very front of the building, which I thought reflected the sky perfectly in the sunny and clear day we had as we were exploring Siena. The inside of the Cathedral was just as marvelous, as there were columns all along the main isle, and side rooms and chapels that had some of the most vibrant paintings I had ever seen. There was even a painting class going on in one of the rooms, and I thought of my mom and how much she would have enjoyed that if she was there! Unfortunately there was a little bit of renovations going on in the Cathedral where the famous Pulpit is, but I thought it was pretty interesting to see people carefully clean and paint this historic sight through a small window they provided into the scaffolding. To the right of the Cathedral was a bell tower part of museum that you could climb for seven euro, so my friend and I went up at sunset and took some horizon pictures of Siena and Tuscany. Although, if you’re claustrophobic I don’t recommend doing this because the staircase to go up this tower was very enclosed and small! Still worth it though.
The next day everyone woke up with basically one thing in mind, the wine tasting. But before that, we were sent back on the bus to go a bit north of Siena to another small town called San Gimignano. This town has been one of my favorite places so far, only having one main road with restuarants and shops, and many of the Medieval watch towers still standing. We met in Piazza della Cisterna, which in the Medieval times was a place for people to gather and have speakers talk on the large well of the center of the square. What I thought was most interesting about San Gimignano was the tall towers that were found on the corner of every street, which were used in the Medieval period to spy on neighbors or suspicious activity in the street. It was said that there might have been hundreds of towers back in that time, but now only 40 remain standing high (one of them pictured below). We climbed to the top of Torre Grossa to the bells (not as small of a space as the tower in Siena!), and could see every corner of San Gimignano and another amazing horizon view of Tuscany.
The time for the infamous wine tasting arrived, and we drove another hour or so to a castle on a hill called Castello del Trebbio. We were fortunate enough to take a small tour of the castle itself, where we learned that this castle was restored by an woman who’s parents bought the castle to live in, and is now also turned into a vineyard that produces wine and olive oil by her husband. The best part is we learned a lot about wine and olive oil on this trip. For example…
Some wine facts:
- Chianti (a red wine) is only made in Tuscany. Chianti from other places of the world such as other places in Europe or the US is not real Chianti!
- Chianti is made with a specific grape called sangiovese. Other things can be added to it such as other types of grapes to change the flavor. This vineyard is the only place that made Chianti with 100% sangiovese grapes.
- Not all wine ages with time. The wines that do this are called “reserve” and do get better through the years and have a very long shelf life.
Some olive oil facts:
- The best olive oil is extra virgin. Which means by “untouched” and first pressed olives. Many olive oils in the US claim to do be this but many of them don’t actually pass when tested!
- Olive oil doesn’t like the sun, so the best oil is bought in a very dark, thick glass bottle.
- Olive oil is supposed to be super healthy for you, some people actually take tablespoons of it daily.
In the wine tasting we tried one white wine, two red wines, and a dessert wine along with little snacks provided to pair with the wines. We also enjoyed a nice dinner at the Castello del Trebbio and had a great time with some new friends.
Tuscany definitely has made the top of my list of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The unique country-like hills covered with olive trees along with the fresh air is something I think you can only really experience in Tuscany. We also got really lucky with the weather as it was unseasonably warmer than usual the weekend we went (lucky for me since I hate the cold). I hope that everyone can find time at least once in their life to visit Tuscany, whether its Siena, San Gimignano, Florence, or wherever. This upcoming weekend I’ll be visiting Milan thanks to my friend who invited me to stay with a relative she has there. Hopefully I have good enough clothes to pass as at last minimally fashionable in the fashion capital of the world… 🙂