Last updated 9 November 2020
Finally leaving the city of Florence, we found the rolling, green hills of Tuscany, studded with the famous hill towns. They were all different, yet distinctly Tuscan, their walls and fortresses still preserved after so many centuries, their restaurants serving Chianti drawn from barrels, with big platters of meat, cheese and hunks of bread. Driving between vineyards and villages, we found these five indulgent ways to spend an afternoon (or five) in the region.
We visited the tiny walled village of Monteriggioni where Gladiator was filmed, still fortified after all these years alone on the hillside. Grey clouds shrouded the village, before dispersing and letting the sunlight catch on the wet stone paths and houses.
The ancient buildings shone in the light and through the gate were dramatic views of rain across the countryside. Inside the walls the few residents worked to sell souvenirs and wine to the visiting tourists.
Chianti is synonymous with wine and the region is studded with rows of vines and old stone vineyards. Sipping the dry red is mandatory, accompanied by occasional sweet and fruity options. Stopping at a small vineyard, we found ourselves tasting their truffle oil and sticky honeycomb too.
Siena was another jewel of the region, a terracotta city with steep streets, slanted roofs and sloping skylines. We wandered through the interlocking alleyways, working our way down to the city centre.
We paid our respects to the saint in the Duomo, a huge cathedral that has stood incomplete since the plague and Florence conquered the city seven centuries ago. The piazza del campo finally came into view, and we sipped wine staring at the empty space and imagining the horses racing around its edges.
We passed farm houses with stunning views of the valleys and stopped at one for dinner, eating large swirls of pasta with rich tomato sauce and thickly-grated pecorino. If farm house invitations aren't forthcoming, a rural restaurant would do in a pinch.
We ate outside and the spring air was sweet with hints of the summer warmth as the sun disappeared between the hills.
Our last stop was Pisa, the town with the famous tower, a few restaurants and shops, and a small amount of industry on its outskirts. We spent the obligatory moments at the learning tower, staring at the crowds, then wandered through parks and markets to the old town.
We slept in a turret room in a pretty bed and breakfast near the station, but Pisa was still my least favourite place in Italy. Then, in the plane, rising above the clouds, I looked down at the town and saw it from above, its medieval centre and walls as beautiful and perfect as a fairytale kingdom.