I spent many days exploring Tuscany during my time in Italy and got a well-rounded idea of what this Italian region has to offer. Many people only dream of visiting this magnificent Italian landscape and most will never see it. I was fortunate enough to experience it on several occasions and got to hit most of the major points in Toscana (Italian for “Tuscany”). From the world-famous wine cellars of Montepulciano to the leaning tower of Pisa I devoured just about all I could out of Tuscany but miss the weekend trips there almost as much as Rome.
Everybody knows that Tuscany is world-renowned for its wine and the prized vino nobile is something to be treasured. Tuscan wine is shipped all over the world and the thousands of square miles of vineyards are something that only the human eye, upon witnessing them in person, can reveal just how expansive these vineyards are. They go on for as far as the eye can see and you are left wondering how the grapes are all harvested without all of Italy lending a hand. This might go without saying, but no authentic visit to Italy is complete without a formal wine tasting in Tuscany. Sure, America has Napa Valley in California, but those vineyards are an infant compared to the grey lady that is the Tuscan vineyards. Seeing the formidable barrels that hold the wine and help it age makes you feel belittled almost.
The once powerful hill towns of San Gimingnano and Siena are also a must see. San Gimingnano is often referred to as “the Manhattan of Tuscany” for its tower houses. The town’s skyline was once composed of over 70 of these tower houses, but due to wars and age, only 11 remain. The reason for these tower houses was to show wealth and power among the ruling families. The taller the house denoted the more money and power that a particular family held. Besides that, the views from the top allowed the town to see enemies from nearby Florence, an arch rival at one point in history, as they approached. Today, the views simply beckon as a postcard opportunity and a feast for the eyes while passing through town, but the climb to the top isn’t easy! Siena is famous for its city center and square and annual horse racing that attracts thousands; its a breath-taking Tuscan town and probably what you think of if someone asked you to describe a Tuscan city. Both cities are located about an hour from Florence, the capital of Tuscany.
I made a day trip to Pisa in February, which is about 2 hours by high-speed train north of Rome near the Mediterranean coast. Despite some of my friends asking me, “can’t you just photoshop yourself into a picture of the leaning power?” Yes, sure you can. But that’s not the same as actually see the thousands of funny poses that people from all over make as they snap a pic of themselves in front of this world wonder. And yes, the leaning t
ower really does lean, more so than I originally thought. It almost looks like it’s about to fall over at any second. The reality is that if engineers wanted to fix the leaning tower’s lean, they could, even when it was built nearly 900 years ago this could have been corrected (lack of money prevented repair). And it actually would have completely tipped over by now had several renovation and repair projects not been made, pulling the tower up just enough so that it won’t fall but still creating quite a dramatic and obvious lean. And today, we are stuck with a structure that is one of the most unusual buildings in the world but still very dangerous. This fact, combined with the lengthy line you must wait in if you wish to climb to the top, made me opt out of that experience; the posed pictures were enough.
Stay tuned for my next post which will detail my trip to the Ancient Roman town of Pompeii, a city that was buried by one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in human history, yet today still lives on, frozen in time just as it was when Mount Vesuvius famously erupted on August 24, 79 A.D. I also visited nearby by Sorrento and the island of Capri, gateways to the Almalfi Coast.