Discoveries in Florence & Siena
Indagare travel expert Barkley Hickox traveled to Italy with her boyfriend in summer 2010. They kicked off the trip in Florence, then continued to Siena and the Tuscan countryside. Here are the highlights of their journey.
“Tuscany-bound, we flew direct from New York to Pisa, the most convenient option when traveling to the region, and took the forty-minute taxi ride into Florence. We immediately loved our hotel, the Palazzo Vecchietti, a 15th-century palace once owned by the influential Vecchietti family. With interiors by Michele Bonan, of J.K. Place fame, the palazzo has sleek contemporary-style apartments, many of them duplexes with private terraces and kitchenettes. While not full service, the hotel ensures its guests are well-tended to with amenities like made-to-order breakfast, brought to your room on a silver tray by the house butler. We felt as though we were guests in a very chic private home. The location couldn’t have been better, either: steps from the historic Piazza della Republica and a ten-minute walk to all major city attractions – perfect for our three-night stay.
We hit all of the must-see sights: “Galleria degli Uffizi”, Galleria dell’Accademia, Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Gardens, and the most spectacular of all the Cathedrale de Santa Maria del Fiori or the Duomo. I would highly recommend climbing the campanile (bell tower) over the more crowded dome for jaw-dropping views of Florence. For a break from Renaissance culture, we spent a morning admiring the works of Italy’s 21st- century “masters” by shopping at the luxury designer outlets in Montevarchi, thirty minutes outside of the city. The outlets are half-way between Florence and Arezzo, so travelers with a car can combine a morning of outlet shopping with an afternoon tour of Arezzo, a town famous for its Piero della Francesca frescoes and antiques markets.
We enjoyed wining and dining at some of the city’s finest restaurants. For a quick bite, I recommend Obika, a mozzarella bar on the fashionable Via Tournabuoni, Coquinarious for antipasti after visiting the Duomo and Quattro Leoni for alfresco dining and people watching. We especially enjoyed the latter, located on the other side of the Arno in a small square behind an old church. Musts on the menu include ratatouille with ricotta salata and penne Bolognese. We had our best dinners at the traditional trattorias I’Parione and La Giostra, both offering no-frills Tuscan cuisine and friendly service. We also tried the more “avant garde” Italian fare at Alle Murate and while we liked the ambiance – we dined under ancient frescoed portraits of Dante – we found the service awkwardly formal and the food a bit pretentious. Our visit to Florence culminated at the ever-romantic Villa San Michele in Fiesole, where we drank cocktails with dazzling views of the city at sunset.
To kick-off our road trip, we followed a friend’s advice and picked up our rental car from Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport to begin our drive south through Siena to the Relais La Suvera in Pievescola. I highly recommend renting a car at this location, as driving in historic Florence is a nightmare, and the airport is situated directly on the Raccordo highway leading towards Siena. After an hour of driving through the magnificent Chianti countryside, you arrive just outside the walls of Siena and should follow signs for Il Campo garage, walking distance from the famous Il Campo and Duomo. Before taking in the sights stop for a light lunch at Osteria Le Logge, a stylish café near the square. We arrived in Tuscany a few days shy of the Palio, Siena’s century-old horserace, but could already feel a competitive buzz about the town as apartments, restaurants and storefronts proudly displayed their district-flags. After a visit to the Cathedrale di Santa Maria, we hiked up the panorama for an unforgettable vista of the city and surrounding landscape.