The Tuscany region in central Italy is home to some of the most valued art and architecture in the world. Louise Chandler managed to catch some of the sights of Florence and Pisa while on her whistle-stop tour of some of Italy’s most beautiful locations. Read on for her guide on where to go and top tips.
Florence & Pisa
Pisa made me smile. There is something simply charming about it. Anticipation builds as you wander through the streets hoping to stumble across the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and you are completely overjoyed to finally see the attraction. Built on sandy silt subsoil that causes it to lean, in recent years, the tilt has decreased slightly to make the structure safe, so it is open to the public, in order for visitors to climb the steep marble staircase of 284 steps!
Walking up the steps is hard work and requires a certain amount of balance, fitness and agility as you can feel yourself leaning in the direction of the tower.
However, when you get to the top, all the effort is worth it as you are rewarded with birds’ eye views of the Baptistery of Saint John, a revered religious building. A closer inspection of the building is a must to fully appreciate the vivid colours, ornately detailed religious facades and art work, all beautifully preserved.
Florence is a pleasant city quipped with shopping areas and small quaint squares with cafes and bakeries. As you travel towards the centre of Florence, you begin to really soak up the true charm and sophistication of the city that is littered with cultural art and religious symbolism. If you love art, this is the city to marvel at creations in many museums by Michelangelo and Botticelli to name a few.
It was a pleasure to wander around the cobbled and at times narrow streets of Florence which are lined with Vespa bikes and cars that are randomly parked or often driving a bit too close for comfort.
The Arno River runs through the peaceful city that has clusters of tour groups and tourists wanting to take in all the sights! You can sample all the flavours of ice cream – trust me, it is piled up into mountainous amounts in most shop windows for a few euros, so it would be rude not to indulge!
For many, and me included, the highlight of a visit to Florence is the Cathedral also known as the Duomo. It certainly has the wow factor and will leave you rubbing your eyes in astonishment. The exteriors are richly decorated in ornately sculpted marble and opulent paintings that depict religious stories from the bible.
Top tip: the Duomo is free to enter but the queues are lengthy. We queued from 9am on a Saturday morning for two hours so be prepared to wait. You can purchase a multi attraction ticket that allows you to access other attractions and cathedrals such as the Baptistry and they are just as good.
Other highlights that you shouldn’t miss:
- Santa Maria Novella church: includes fascinating chapels with renaissance and gothic influences.
- Basilica di San Lorenzo: features a tiled dome and lavish decorations inside that make it one of the largest churches of Florence.
- The Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge) is the oldest surviving bridge in the city, built in 1345. It is a jewellery paradise so be prepared to buy some beautifully crafted trinkets and take in the view of the Arno River.
- The Piazza della Signoria: includes Loggia dei Lanzi – an area of Roman marble statues. See it during the day and also in the evening when the lighting gives the sculptures a different perspective and meaning.
- If you fancy a spot of shopping, you will find all of the high-end designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli and Tiffany & Co on Via de’ Tornabuoni – a famous street in Florence which is elegant and crammed with fashionistas.
- After all of this walking around and sight-seeing, I would recommend eating at Bargello – a traditional Tuscan style restaurant that cooks deliciously authentic pasta, pizzas and lots more!