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Italy

Hill Town, Italy,

Me and Tuscany, a fairy tale

Me and Tuscany, a story that started in 2017. Tuscany is one of those places that get into your skin, like a delicate perfume, that instead of fading away, keeps intense for a lifetime. The Tuscan landscape is enchanting, intoxicating, addictive,

My first time in Italy included a day-tour in Tuscany, and that is when the “me and Tuscany” story started.

In September 2018, me, my son and my friend Andrea, went to Italy for 21 days (https://heelsandspices.com/2018/12/verona-and-a-problem-gone-right/, https://heelsandspices.com/2018/12/my-first-time-in-verona-last-day/, https://heelsandspices.com/2019/01/lake-garda-a-dream-day-1-malcesine/, https://heelsandspices.com/2019/03/our-stay-in-lake-garda-the-other-side-limone-and-sirmione/). I wanted them to see the Tuscan Landscape and see how Siena and San Gimignano are true gems, places that are truly enchanting.

So, in my travel plans and itinerary, I included several places I have been before, but that are worth a second, third, multiple visits.

I wrote about Siena and San Gimignano before (https://heelsandspices.com/2018/03/my-italy-in-10-days-day-6-touring-tuscany-siena/, https://heelsandspices.com/2018/03/my-italy-in-10-days-day-6-touring-toscana-part-1-sam-gimignano-montiriggioni-and-wine-tasting/), so this time I am leaving just a beautiful collection of photographs.

Next posts about Tuscany will be more in depth as they will be about new places, in this week long journey in Tuscany. They will include towns such as San Quirico D’Orcia, Volterra, Montepulciano, Pienza and Arezzo.

Tuscany, landscape, cypress
Stopping to admire the Tuscan landscape

We did hire a car, using http://www.rentalcars.com, and this time it worked beautifully. We got a fantastic car, economic, and stylish, can it get better?

And so we left, from Florence, heading to Siena (as we decided to sleep there two nights), but stopping first in San Gimignano.

San Gimignano, a gem

We soon arrived in San Gimignano, and ohhh boy, it was cold and rainy, so we just headed straight to a restaurant, Bel Soggiorno (http://www.ristorante-belsoggiorno.it/) I had planned as one of the two I would like to try. It was a winner.

For five generations the Bel Soggiorno restaurant has been a vital part of the San Gimignano scenario, with its typical dishes inspired by the Tuscan tradition.
Our restaurant is on the main street of San Gimignano and has a wonderful panoramic terrace from which you will enjoy the view of the beautiful Tuscan countryside. The elegant setting, with terracotta paving and oak-beamed ceiling, adds a pleasant and warm atmosphere to your lunch or dinner, whether for couples or for huge groups. Our qualified personnel will help you in the choice of our dishes and the match with wines from our rich wine cellar.
Eating is an experience, every dish from our menu is meant to let you discover antique scents and flavours; spices and herbs perfectly mixed with typical ingredients will let you experience Tuscan Cuisine at its best.

And it was just as they describe. A unique experience with fantastic food. I had the “Rose di Roastbeef con insalatina Tartufata cacio e pere / Thin slices of roastbeef with salad, tuscan pecorino cheese, dried tomatoes, pears and truffle”. Make sure you put it on your list! Me and Tuscany, is also about food as you can see!

After lunch, we took the time to just walk around, feel the magic of this beautiful Tuscan town, have a gelato at “the best gelateria in the world” – Gelateria Dondoli, and enjoy a great time, in spite of the rain.

His majesty the gelato

It was now time to get to Siena, where we would be staying at a charming B&B (Camere D’Epoca). Great service, good coffee at our disposal at any time, a kitchen with all the basics, and really good and charming rooms. Great cost benefit also, and located in Via San Pietro, close to everything.

Hello Sienna, the ancient Florentine Rival

But, not everything is perfect all the time right? After a nice walk, dinner was on the menu, and I had a recommendation, for a restaurant, I saw on Trip Advisor. It was the first and last time I felt discriminated in Italy. The owner clearly did not want us in the restaurant, stating it was full (when in fact it was not), when he saw my son was colored. I was truly pissed off, and will never recommend that place to anyone.

So we looked around and found a great place, with a nice vibe, good food, and no prejudiced and unwelcoming owners. Problem solved. Tired, we headed to the B&B as next day we would be walking around Sienna and then head to Volterra, San Quirico, Monteriggioni and drive back.

Next day was a stunning day, so different from the rainy and cold day before. We headed to the Duomo to see it inside (me the second time), as it is a beautiful Duomo, and has the most beautiful library I have ever seen. After the Duomo, a last walk around Siena, and we left to Val D’Orcia, which will be the theme of next posts – stay tuned!

There we go again

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Florence became a true love

Florence became a true love, seems quite a strange title right? Well, it is a love story, but a different one.

Florence is, for most people, love at first sight. For me though, although I loved it, it was not that flaming passion, it was what people call true and mature love. The one that grows slowly, and strong each time, that makes we come back for more.

And that is what happened. While I am writing this, I am on my 3rd consecutive visit to Florence (this post is about the second), and planning a 4th (brief maybe), in October.

So, I wrote about Florence a lot in previous posts, (https://heelsandspices.com/2017/12/my-italy-in-10-days-day-1-firenze/ and 4 more), and this time I will make it more of a photographic journey, reserving specific spots for different posts (stay tuned for Santa Croce, and Bargello).

Florence has many hidden treasures, and I am slowly discovering more and more each time I go there. Let’s then embark on a beautiful 3 day visit to Florence?

Florence from above
My Florence

The arrival

This time I went to Florence with my son, and my friend Andrea. We stayed at Hotel Le Due Fontane (http://www.leduefontane.it/it), in one of my favorite Piazzas in Florence – Piazza Santissima Annunziata.

It is a good place to stay if you want to be in the historical center, but in a less noisy and crowded place, such as the Piazza Duomo e.g. as it is just 5 minutes walking from the Duomo and 10 minutes from Santa Maria Novella train station.

We arrived at the end of the afternoon, and soon were on the streets, me excited to show everything to my son and my friend.

As we walked to Piazza del Duomo, kaboom, first view, the Duomo, my favorite Duomo so far, Santa Maria del Fiore.

We had dinner in a small bistrot – Bistrot 74 (https://www.facebook.com/bistrot74/) in Via Dei Servi. We discovered almost by chance (and ho I love to discover little gems), and fell in love. Great food at reasonable prices, a living menu and friendly and helpful staff.

Indoor of Bistro 74 in Florence

After dinner, we just walked around at a relaxed pace and headed back to the hotel to rest, as next day was going to be intense.

Next day was a beautiful day, and waking up to this view made it even better. Piazza Santissima Annunziata is gorgeous day or night.

Piazza Santissima Annunziata by day, how beautiful it is!

Day 1

After a good breakfast, with the amazing Gioacchino insisting on making us a special and strong coffee (and ouch, it was), we headed to the Duomo.

I had seen it before, but seeing it twice does no harm right? As well as again climbing Giotto’s campanile (did I already tell you I am a bit masochist? ahahaha), and stroll around Florence.

We then headed to Palazzo Pitti (check my previous posts about Florence for a detailed description), as Palazzo Vecchio was closed for an event. Palazzo Pitti was designed by the genius Filippo Brunelleschi, being also the destination of the fascinating Vasari Corridor (remember Dan Brown’s books???).

It is a magnificent building that houses several museums – Treasury of the Grand Dukes, the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments, the Modern Art Gallery, the Museum of Costume and Fashion, the Porcelain Museum and the Carriage Museum.

After Palazzo Pitti, we walked around, had a coffee at Don Nino’s (hey, it can be touristy, but it serves the best espresso con panna -coffee with cream) ever.

Dinner was at the Duomo square (Le Botteghe di Donatello –https://lebotteghedidonatello.com/). The restaurant has mixed reviews, but I ate there 4 times already and never had a bad experience. It was handy, close to where we were, and has an unbeatable view.

What more can we want, especially in a place located in the historical center, 2 minutes away from the Duomo?

Day 2

Next day we decided to split, as Andrea was going to Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia (I wrote about it in other posts), and me and my son to Bargello, Santa Croce, Piazzale Michelangelo, and walk around Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno).

As I will dedicate a post to Santa Croce and to Bargello, in this post I will only leave you with one or two pictures of it.

Day 3

Our last day was again a split. My son went to spend the day with a friend while me and Andrea took a lazy day.

We planned to see Mercato Centrale, Mercato de San Lorenzo, walk around Florence and finalize our stay with a stunning sunset and a beautiful dinner at a Trattoria close to the hotel.

In San Lorenzo we faced a very unpleasant seller, that was quite rude, to the point we were forced to tell him that if he continued to bully us we would call the police (basically he mocked Andrea for having a non leather purse, while we were looking at his leather goods and trying to negotiate a leather bag for my son. No need to say that we did not buy anything with him. That just reinforced my bad feeling about that place.

As it was raining part of the day, after the Central Market and San Lorenzo we camped at Don Nino’s for a while, enjoying a chat and a nice coffee. After that we were lucky enough to see the son coming through the clouds, and enjoy a really breathtaking sunset, seeing Florence wave goodbye to us.

Florence won me over. Yes she did, as this year I came back in April, and I will be there again in October.

Next day, hired a car, and headed to Tuscany, stay tuned for more amazing photos and places

Arrivederci Firenze

Wandering around Venice, fall 2018

Last hours in Venice, and we used them to stroll around Sestiere Cannaregio, San Polo, Santa Croce and Ghetto Ebraico. We left by vaporetto from Rialto, cruising along the grand canal where several palazzos and churches can be seen.

After delivering the keys of the apartment we rented, at Piazzale Roma, we crossed the modern Ponte Della Costituizione, and headed to the luggage depot to leave it there until our departure by train, to Verona.

We then crossed the bridge that connects Santa Lucia train station to the other side of Sestiere Cannaregio. I is the largest and most populated sestiere in Venice. For a couple of hours wewandered around Santa Croce, San Polo and Cannaregio, just enjoying our time and the beautiful views and places.

We then headed to Ghetto Ebraico to finish our time in Venice. It is located in sestiere Cannaregio and it started with a law issued in 1516 that established as an obligation, that Jewish people should reside in this area, totally surrounded by the water and with only two accesses. It is the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world.

In 1797 the French army of Italy, commanded by Bonaparte conquered Venice, and ended the ghetto’s separation from the city. In the 19th century, the ghetto was renamed the Contrada dell’unione.

Good bye Venice, see you next time

Our stay in Lake Garda – the other side – Limone and Sirmione

As I explained in my first post about Lake Garda, we stayed for 2 nights there, being one in Malcesine, and the second in Limone Sul Garda.

After visiting Monte Baldo, it was now time to get into the car and drive to the other side of the lake.

The views along the way were again amazing, it is such a stunning ride, this time with more and longer tunnels, but nonetheless worth it. We stopped briefly in Riva del Garda for lunch, a nice antipasto (again) and a coffee. It was getting late so we did not have much time to see Riva and headed soon after lunch to Limone Sul Garda.

The name of the town, does not derive from the Lemons it is so famous for, but yes from the words “limen” that means border, or “lima”, which means river. It acquired its present name only in 1904. Under the administration of Venice – La Serenissima, the town evolved to be a well known producer of citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges and citrons.

Limone sul Garda is famous today for its lemon groves, its exquisite olive oil, and for the longevity of its inhabitants.
In the 1970s, a pharmacologist from Milan discovered that the residents of Limone have a mutant form of apolipoprotein (called ApoA-1 Milano) in their blood, which causes a healthy form of high-density cholesterol, resulting in a lowered risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
This protein, in association with a healthy Mediterranean diet, rich in local fish, olive oil and citrus fruits, and with particular climate conditions,  has given the residents of Limone a longer life span, with a dozen people now over the age of 100, for a total of about 1,000 residents.
It has even been possible to attribute the origin of the mutation to a man who lived in Limone in the mid-17th century. The mutation has been passed down thanks to the isolation the village has experienced for a long time. (https://www.italymagazine.com/dual-language/limone-sul-garda-italian-village-where-residents-live-over-100-years-old)

In Limone I had booked our stay at hotel Mercedes, and it was again spot on. The most beautiful views over the lake and Malcesine on the other side, a great restaurant, beautiful views from the restaurant and swimming pool, large size room, with a balcony, and above all, the kindness and welcoming staff (maybe, apart from the funny and talkative Gioachino in Florence – I will post it later – the best hotel staff so far). It was such a perfect stay, that I will surely be back for more.

“We passed Limone, the mountain-gardens of which, laid out terrace-fashion, and planted with citron-trees, have a neat and rich appearance. The whole garden consists of rows of square white pillars placed at some distance from each other, and rising up the mountain in steps. On these pillars strong beams are laid, that the trees planted between them may be sheltered in the winter. The view of these pleasant objects was favored by a slow passage, and we had already passed Malcesine when the wind suddenly changed, took the direction usual in the day-time, and blew towards the north.”
(Italian Journey, J. Wolfgang Goethe, 1816–17)

Limone Sul Garda belongs to the Brescia Province and is located at the northern end of Lake Garda, with impressive and magnificent cliffs that dominate the landscape. Limone is one of the most popular destinations in Lake Garda, and is a delight to walk around due to the picturesque historical center, narrow streets, shops and restaurants and the cute harbor – which is in fact the heart of the town – Porto Vecchio.

Enough of talking, leaving you now with a collection of photographs.