Nov 28 2007
Because Florence is in the heart of the beautiful Tuscan countryside, and because the temptation to spend all our euros on a city-wide fashion shopping spree was perilously close to consuming Brittany, we tried to fill several of our days in Florence with day trips to the surrounding towns in Tuscany. Brittany will undoubtedly contend that her marketplace purchase of outfit-complementing scarves was an isolated and necessary event, but years of experience have sharpened my vision enough to recognize the first slide down a most slippery slope.
Day Trip #1: Montespertoli
According to a brochure in Florence’s tourism office, we had arrived in town just in time for the biggest event of the year! That is, for all 34 residents of a town I still can’t find on our map: Montespertoli. For one weekend every November, this small town celebrates its annual “Paneolio” – an olive oil, wine, and truffle festival. And for once, not the chocolate type of truffles that Brittany insists are a necessary part of her daily blood sugar maintenance regimen. Rather, the rare and subterranean mushroom type of truffle that requires trained pigs and/or hounds to sniff out. I stopped reading the brochure after the part about trained pigs, and it was off to Montespertoli!
Once in Montespertoli’s town square, the festival was surprisingly difficult to find. But the little bit of Italian we’ve picked up was enough to save the day. More accurately, the day was saved by friendly townsfolk who chose to help a pitiful American guy walking in circles and proclaiming in his best Italian, “Please, where are the truffle?”
Inside the official Paneolio giant tent, we sampled the region’s wines and partook in the season’s new olive oil. We did not partake in the season’s truffles, which carry a pricetag to match their pungent bouquet. A truffle salesman (did I really just write that?) did let us smell the coveted white truffle, which can be yours for a mere 4,000 euros per kilogram (or, about $3,000 a pound). I tried to convey to him that the truffles smelled delicious, but in retrospect, rubbing my stomach in circles really only succeeded in making me look like an ass. Maybe next year.
Day Trip #2: Greve in Chianti
We couldn’t miss out on drinking Chianti in Chianti, so we picked one of the more bus-accessible towns in the region for our second day trip: Greve in Chianti. You’d think that the town would just be called “Greve” and would be content to simply exist in the Chianti region, but I guess that someone on the tourism board had his eye on a bigger cash cow. Lest any potential visitor miss the fact that Greve exists in the Chianti region of Italy, every map and brochure of the area is guaranteed to only refer to the town as “Greve in Chianti.” I guess the plan works, as they successfully lured two visitors this week all the way from Richmond in Virginia.
One of those visitors (me) arrived in town quite nauseous after the loopy bus ride from Florence. I managed a few sips during our afternoon wine tasting, but you’ll have to ask Brittany in Chianti about the quality of the diverse wine selection available. Sadly, they weren’t on the menu for Ben in dry heaves.
Thanks to the town’s helpful tourism office, we procured a map of recommended area hikes, and spent most of the afternoon in and around a medieval castle in the Chianti countryside. Today, the castle is home to a variety of locals who seem to be farming the surrounding area, and it thus presently functions as a tiny town. I took a video of us exploring the castle’s nooks and crannies (to be uploaded…)
It gets dark around 4:00 in the afternoon here now, but this isn’t all bad news. Since I coudn’t see out the bus windows at night, I avoided a second wave of nausea on the bus ride back to Florence in Tuscany.
Day Trip #3: Siena
It’s easy to make Siena into a daytrip when you’re based in Florence, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t. Siena really deserves more time than that, and I actually think it would be an even better place to spend a week than Florence. Once one of the most powerful Italian city-states, modern Siena is full of history, Gothic architecture, and charm to spare. Meanwhile, Florence is full of the tourists. Some highlights from our day in Siena:
- Climbing to the top of the Fortezza (fort) at sunset, and enjoying the evening city views.
- Taking the Siena for Young Explorers guided tour pamphlet with map, available at the city tourism office. Full of must-sees like Europe’s original Jewish ghetto, the museum of local fauna, and “a park where you can stop for a while to play in the soft grass.”
- Searching the botanical gardens for the so-called “living rocks,” which are described in our Young Explorers guide as being two leaves that are camouflaged as rocks. Directional signs posted in the garden failed to ever lead me to the alleged leaves, which ensured that a pleasant stroll quickly detoriated into a scene filled with much shouting and guide throwing. Brittany suggested that the leaves are simply doing a very good job of camouflage, and I have determined this to be acceptable. Recommended!
I get the impression that Siena isn’t any cheaper than Florence as a place to stay, but for pure ambiance, there’s really no comparison. My advice: spend your week in Siena, and take a day trip or two to Florence. But I must disclaim that Brittany vehemently disagrees, so maybe the right thing is to split a week between the two cities. As Calvin & Hobbes once said, a good compromise leaves everybody mad.