Next up on our Italian road trip was Tuscany! We hopped back in the van and traversed the Apennines once more. Friends from Rome had told us about La Bandita, a stylish little hotel in the centre of pretty Pienza, so we made plans to visit.
As for hilltop Tuscan towns, it doesn’t get more picture-perfect than Pienza. So lovely and well preserved is the town that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. It makes sense when you learn that in 1459 the then Pope, Piccolomini, had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. The 12-room La Bandita Townhouse sits in the centre of this storybook setting and offers this classic Tuscan town something a bit more contemporary. The interiors are stylish but understated and the restaurant offers a modern take on Italian cuisine (it’s so popular that we had to book far ahead!). The owner, John Voigtmann, was onsite daily and made us feel right at home. He provided a list of fun things to do in the area, including a visit to a local organic farm/cheese-maker, Podere il Casale.
After exploring Pienza and the surrounding towns like Montalcino and Montepulciano (Siena isn’t far either), we decided it would be a shame to visit Tuscany and not stop by Florence. We figured we needed more than a day trip to explore the city, so we planned a last minute, whirlwind tour. We asked our friends, Jora and Bryan, who recently spent a year living in Florence, to share some tips for our quick visit. It was all a bit chaotic but I’m glad we made it happen.
Here is a rundown of our 24-hours in Florence:
- We arrived to Florence around lunchtime, entering the city at the Piazzale Michelangelo where we acquainted ourselves with views of the city below. I remember watching the sun set from this position on my first trip to Florence when I was 18! Magical!
- We followed our sat nav into the city, down narrow, winding streets and over centuries old cobblestones. A caution to other drivers though: we wedged our van into a nearly impassable passageway Google sent us down. I had visions of an enormous crane plucking us out of the tiny streets! Florence also has a limited traffic zone that we violated by mistake. Luckily we parked in a city centre garage that gave its patrons a free pass. We headed for lunch at Il Latini, free of any fear of traffic fines.
- We rented an apartment from Family Apartments which had, to our surprise, a 3-bed apartment smack-dab in the centre for a very reasonable price. We picked up the keys, wheeled our suitcases over cobblestone streets and found our home for the night.
- We got in and out of the apartment quickly, heading back out for gelato! We stumbled upon Carapina and enjoyed some of the best gelato we’ve ever eaten. We thought the gelato was great in Positano, but Florence’s gelaterias win, hands down.
- Our next stop was the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge. We crossed it and then walked down river to another bridge to get photos of it.
- We then walked over to the carousel in the Piazza della Republica. The kids (not Easton – he has decided he is too big for such ‘childish’ things!!) took a ride on the carousel four times, still asking for ‘one more go’!
- With heads spinning and the melody of the carousel stuck in our heads, we walked to the nearby Duomo. It was nearly golden hour and the light made this impressive structure even more beautiful. We talked about the history and significance of the renaissance church.
- That evening, with everyone exhausted from such a busy day, we decided to stay in and make a Caprese salad. We picked up the necessary ingredients at a nearby grocer and grabbed fruit and yoghurt for breakfast too.
- The next morning we were back on foot. We checked out of our apartment and stored our bags with Family Apartments. We then walked over to the Piazza della Republica and grabbed coffees and croissants from Paszkowski. We learned that if you sit in the tables just outside the bar, there’s no extra charge. Sit in the ones under the canopies, and everything costs 2 times more. Bellies full, Marlow and Ivy decided another ride on the carrousel was a must. ☺
- We spent the next two hours in the ‘From Kandinsky to Pollock’ exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi. The children enjoyed recognising some of the art they’ve seen before at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, and other pieces from some of the past exhibits at the Tate Modern in London. It was a wonderful exhibit and we all really enjoyed it.
- We had booked tickets to the Galleria dell’Accademia for 1pm, so we rushed over to the museum to grab our tickets. We spent the next hour in the museum, the majority of it spent sitting on the bench behind the statue of David. We talked about the details of the statue and I read to the kids the story of David and Goliath.
- We ate a quick lunch from a nearby restaurant and rushed to pick up the van by 3pm. As we drove out of town, we stopped by Gelateria di Medici in Piazza Beccaria for one last gelato! A delicious way to end our visit.