This photo was pretty easy to find as I took it out of my hotel room window in Florence while there for meetings. In order to find out the name of the church, I had to use google street view to virtually walk my way over to the church from my hotel.
I was treated to a wine tasting at a Tuscan vineyard. They took us into a cave where the family has been making wine for a very long time. We were shown how the wine is made and I was surprised to discover that they made white, red, and rosé all from the same grapes. As it turns out, the wine isn’t colored by the color of the grape but by how long the skins are left in the vat.
We were presented with a delicious rosé to start off the day. Unfortunately, I thoroughly enjoyed this and tucked back a few glasses before moving onto the rest of the tasting flight, which was voluminous. We were treated to food pairings for the wine. The owner’s mother appeared as we enjoyed lasagna made in strict accordance with her recipe.
This photo is taken from the spot that I put back the original few glasses of rosé. I, along with most of our group, got a good nap in on the bus ride back to Florence.
The walk up to the top of this tower was interesting. It was a tower that vacationers could rent, but there is only one room per floor. So as you walked up, you passed through multiple bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, each on their own floor. By the time I got to the top I was ready to collapse. After catching my breath I took a few picture before making my way down again. We sat in a nearby courtyard and enjoyed the most garlicky bruschetta I’ve ever had. It was delicious.
On my most recent trip to Italy, we were driving through Tuscany, a little lost but enjoying ourselves. Suddenly, everything started to look familiar. Out of nowhere I told my friend Chris to take a left. Things looked more familiar and I suggested driving up a small single track road. Chris is good in that he’s always calm, and happy to go with the flow. In his usual way, he didn’t ask why, and just drove up the little road.
My suspicions were correct, that track led to the Castello de Montegufoni. I first came to this amazing hotel with my parents as a kid, and we went again, when I was at university, with my English relatives.
The first time we were there two events stick out in my mind. The first was the sound of beautiful violin music piped through the courtyard you see below. They seemed to have an amazing sound system hidden away somewhere. At some point, we were sat at one of the communal dinners in the hotel’s vineyard and discovered that a man eating with us was the first violinist in one of the famous European philharmonics (I can’t remember which one). It turns out the music we could hear throughout the courtyard was him practicing.
The other memory was waking up in the middle of the night to discover that my parents had joined me on the pullout couch in the living room. Their bedroom was a loft, up above the living room. As it turned out, they’d been sat enjoying a glass of wine at their open window looking at the moon. Suddenly, a winged creature was silhouetted against the glow. A winged creature that soon winged passed my parents and into the rafters. It was a bat.
Oh, three things. The tuck shop had the most amazing multi-ice-cream sandwich/ice cream bar combo. I’ve never found it anywhere else.
On my second trip there, I remember my uncle Mike preparing the biggest mound of chopped garlic I’ve ever seen, amazing gooey cheese, a night of sambucca and limoncello, and my mom feeling bad for my dad as he seemed to be spending all his time on his Blackberry working. As it turned out, he was actually trying to beat the high score I’d set on Brick Breaker.
I’m not sure I told anyone I stumbled upon this place, so this picture may come as a surprise.
We were making a bit of a mad dash back to Florence for sunset when I stopped to take this picture. Shortly after taking the picture, as we pushed on to Florence, I spotted a deer strolling through the vines of a vineyard near the road. I was shocked, I didn’t even know they had deer in Tuscany. It wasn’t until a half hour after that I realized it probably would have made for a good picture!
San Gimignano is an amazing little place. The town has successfully preserved fourteen medieval towers. These were built for defense and from the top, as you can see below, you could see people coming from miles around. They were built by wealthy families living there. Each time someone built a new tower, someone would begin plans to build a taller one. Apparently towers like this were common in Tuscany but most were lost to war, catastrophe or urban renewal.
I’ve been to San Gimignano a number of times. I remember visiting with my parents on a trip where I insisted on climbing to the top of anything we could climb and dragged them up more than one of the towers.
This time, one tower was enough. We were actually looking for lunch when I spotted a little doorway inviting you to climb to the top of the tower. It wasn’t the usual tower that tourists climb (the tallest one), it had actually been renovated to act as a vacation home. As we entered, I said we’d missed out on our chance to stay in one of these towers, thinking it would be amazing.
It wasn’t long before I changed my mind. Each floor was only big enough for one small room. So, we saw a sitting room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, another sitting room, a bedroom, another bathroom, and another kitchen on our way up. I was four flights of tiny spiral stairs in when I concluded that staying there would be absolute torture. Eventually, we burst through the roof into the sunlight, panting for air, and interrupted what appeared to be a romantic moment.
I set about taking photos from the tower. I actually liked being able to look up at the taller tower more than I think I would have enjoyed being up on it. It was full of tourists and after the happy couple descended, we had the place to ourselves. This photo is actually a panorama comprised of five photos to let me show you the whole scene. I actually wasn’t able to see down into the courtyard as the walls were so thick, but I edged my camera and tripod out as far as I could and let it peak over for me.
Once we returned to Earth we went to a little restaurant for a seriously garlic-heavy bruschetta while a man in a tailcoat with a bushy beard and sandals played the flute beautifully, before packing up, hopping on his bicycle and weaving away through the crowd.
I’m back from my 11 day bounce around Europe. Our last stop was Florence, Italy. From there we drove out into Tuscany to visit Pisa and then Sienna. It wasn’t the most logical route but the journey between the two was beautiful, as was the drive back from Sienna to Florence.
Pisa is famous for the leaning tower, but the inside of the cathedral may be more jaw dropping.
There’s a lot of detail here, so I’ve linked the photo to a larger version… just click it for a better look.