Written by actonsteve on 17 Dec, 2009
It seemed like the whole of Italy was at the beach today.They bussed into Viareggio from miles around – disembarking, clutching their beach gear and wearing their designer sunglasses. But it was beautifully hot here in Tuscany and a day at the beach was very…Read More
It seemed like the whole of Italy was at the beach today.They bussed into Viareggio from miles around – disembarking, clutching their beach gear and wearing their designer sunglasses. But it was beautifully hot here in Tuscany and a day at the beach was very welcome. Viareggio felt the epitome of all that is good about a European summer. The stress of living really fell away today.I have a very soft spot for Italy. I am lucky to have Italian friends and live in a country where budget airlines allow me to visit them for a reasonable cost. Due to the credit crunch a long haul holiday was out of the question in 2009 but it did allow me a week in Tuscany and to catch up with people. I borrowed the flat in Pisa of a friend in London and in the evenings had dinner with Italian friends. On previous trips to Tuscany I have enjoyed the delights nightclubs at the beach in the Torre del Largo. I was trying to reach that stretch of beach today.It didn’t quite go to plan. When you look on the map of Viareggio it blends with the beach/pineta to the east to become the Torre del Largo. So I was to try and catch a train to Viareggio and walk from there. It is only a twenty minute train ride from Pisa to Viareggio and this being a summer Sunday morning the train was absolutely packed. African vendors target the beach and filled my carriage. A conductor boarded the train and asked them for their tickets. She was on to a losing streak as they were trying to get off. When I was disembarking I did hear one say to her "Why don’t you ask those people for their tickets? Why is it always us?" I felt a faint stab of guilt at that.The streets south of the Stazione lead to the beach. I immediately liked Viareggio – this smart resort has a touch of art deco about it. The boulevard I traversed was dotted with gelatarias, pizzerias and small hotels. The big blue horizon at the end promised the sea so I gamely carried on until Via Reina Marguerite. The promenade was gorgeous – beautiful belle époque buildings set off by palm trees each building the colour of cream or light blue. There was an elegance to the place that I didn’t expect.The beach was blocked from the road by numerous stablimimenti balneari . These private clubs own the stretch of the beach they adjoin and charge for the use of their facilities. The plus side to these establishments is that you have toilets, showers, changing rooms and even swimming pools at your disposal. You can still reach the beach through the gaps in the balneari. But often the gaps are plugged with fashion boutiques, pavement restaurants and boutique hotels.But the beach, while not free, is very impressive. It stretches for a mile in every direction. To the south it is broken by a breakwater leading to a yachting marina. Every inch is covered in people – shouting, laughing, and kicking footballs around. The sea is warm and you don’t have to move from your sunlounger (at 10 Euros a day why should you?) as the African vendors will provide everything you need. Towards the evening I took a look at the breakwater and the marina. A long stone jetty extends out to see where you can view the yachts of the rich and famous. I gave up trying to get to the Torre del Largo as the distances were too big and instead just lapped up the sun in this extraordinarily classy Italian resort.I was speaking to an Italian friend that evening about Viareggio and he didn’t have a good word to say about it. He said it was full of geriatrics. I must admit that many on that beach would never see seventy again.This reminded me of that joke about the English seaside resort who share the same demographic as Viarregio "Harwich for the continent....Frinton for the incontinent?" Close
Written by Liam Hetherington on 10 Jun, 2008
Considering that Siena was the birthplace of the patron saint of (among other things) nurses, firefighters, television, Italy, Europe, and Allentown, Pennsylvania I really expected the town to make a big thing of it. Assisi for instance is pretty much a town devoted to the…Read More
Considering that Siena was the birthplace of the patron saint of (among other things) nurses, firefighters, television, Italy, Europe, and Allentown, Pennsylvania I really expected the town to make a big thing of it. Assisi for instance is pretty much a town devoted to the life of Italy's other patron saint, Saint Francis. Yet if it were not for my intellectual curiosity I would probably not have known that Saint Catherine of Siena existed. The saint I heard most about during my stay was the four day festivities for Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.Catherine was your typical rebellious teenager. Her parents wished for her to live (to quote Wikipedia) 'a normal life' and get married; instead she devoted herself to acts of piety - praying, meditating, closing herself off from the world. Then at the age of 19 she announced that she had entered into a 'mystic marriage' with Jesus Christ. She claimed to have experienced a series of visions. Today she would probably have been locked up (she is also the patron saint of people ridiculed for their piety); instead Florence appointed her their ambassador to the Papal States. There she proved to play a central role in persuading the Papacy to return from Avignon to Rome. It was in Rome that she died of a stroke in 1380, and it is there that her body is buried. Well, most of it...It was at the age of 16 that Catherine took the Domenican habit, and she is associated with the vast Basilica di San Domenico (Piazza San Domenico) where she attended church. It is a big barn of a place with angry violent stained glass. Here you can see an image of Saint Catherine - the only one painted of her while she was alive - kneeling with lily. They also have relics of the saint: a wizened finger, the chain she used to mortify herself with, and - in a side chapel - her head. The head is now shrunken, withered and pale, but still wears its nun's wimple. Nowhere did I see any material or signs promoting this connection.There are some signs, though understated ones, to the Sanctuary and Birth-House of Saint Catherine on Costa di Sant'Antonio. A twentieth century courtyard with a loggia down the side and a complete lack of crowds makes you at first wonder if you have got the right place. Under the first arch you come across the heart of the small complex - she obviously came of a rather grand family. Two baroque chapels face each other, with only a bare handful of pilgrims. Go down the stairs by the gift shop to the Oratory. There are some charming pictures of the young woman here. In one she gives away her clothes, in another she cuts off her hair, in another she is little pink clad girl floating up the stairs, like something from the Exorcist.Even in the Pinacoteca Nazionale St Catherine does not appear often - and certainly fewer times than her Alexandrian namesake. This can be explained by the later date of her canonization I suppose - by 1461 the golden age of Siena and its art was already slipping past.I'm not really sure why I went looking for reminders of Siena's most famous inhabitant, nor what I expected to find. But this low-key treatment was certainly not it. I suppose Siena has treasures and wonders enough of its own in the purely physical, and so might feel it does not need the spiritual element that such a major religious and historical figure would present. Leave that to other less worldy cities such as Asisi (St Francis), Padova (St Anthony) or Santiago de Compostela (St James). Close
Written by travel2000 on 17 May, 2002
What to bring home
Siena is famous for its ceramics and embroidery. Famous Sienese sweets include the panforte (a dense sweet cake made with honey, nuts and spices), castagnaccio (a torte made with chestnut flour and pine nuts and rosemary, only made in the fall…Read More
What to bring home
Siena is famous for its ceramics and embroidery. Famous Sienese sweets include the panforte (a dense sweet cake made with honey, nuts and spices), castagnaccio (a torte made with chestnut flour and pine nuts and rosemary, only made in the fall and winter months), and cavallucci (spiced cookies.) Local products include anything made with cinghiale (boar), olive oil, farro, and porcini mushrooms. Remember to check your country’s customs rules before bringing any food products home.
Food-wise, don’t miss::
La Fattoria Toscana, Via di Citta 51
Offers a good choice of local products in an elegant setting. Choose from aromatic vinegars, special oils, dried tomatoes and porcini mushrooms, and various jams, all beautifully packaged. Excellent resource for gifts to bring home.
Antica Pizzicheria al Palazzo della Chigiana, Via di Citta 93-95
This is a heaven for salami and other "insaccati" (cured meat such as proscuitto etc) products. In addition, there are fresh pastas, homemade sauces and many specialities conserved in oil.
Antica Drogheria Manganelli, Via di Citta 71
Sienese sweets and bottles of homemade pasta sauces, including boar and other game meat.
Consorzio Agrario, Via Pianigiani 15
Farmers from the Tuscan area sell their best products here.
For antiques, check out Taddeucci (via di Citta 136), Degan Tappeti (via Stalloreggi 20) and Il Sigillo (via dei Pellegrini.)
For ceramics and other fine items, visit Negozio dell"Arte (via di Citta 96), Antiche Dimore (via di Citta 115), Bien Vivre (via delle Terme 87) and Il Papiro (via di Citta 37).
Written by Elia Papillon on 17 May, 2006
Again, as we were looking for activities for our wedding guests, we made a few day trips to local places. One day we visited Siena and San Gimignano. Much of Tuscany (indeed Italy) was originally under Etruscan rule, including Siena, later a Roman colony called…Read More
Again, as we were looking for activities for our wedding guests, we made a few day trips to local places. One day we visited Siena and San Gimignano. Much of Tuscany (indeed Italy) was originally under Etruscan rule, including Siena, later a Roman colony called Sena Julia. In the Middle Ages, Siena was a very important town, as much as Florence. There is much of historical importance to see in Siena, and it is one of the most popular towns in Italy to visit. It was built on three hills and is a well preserved medieval town with typical Tuscan narrow cobble streets and lots of churches.The Piazza del Campo is one of Italy's most beautiful medieval squares with a Gothic Duomo. You can climb the Torre del Mangia to get a beautiful view over Siena. The main tourist office is on the piazza, but we found they were not so helpful.All around the piazza are trattoria, ristorante and wine bars. You pay a lot to eat on the piazza, but it's a great place to watch the world go by. We shared a pizza and had a glass of wine on the piazza—under cover (we visited Siena on a rare day of rain). We walked through the winding back streets returning to the car. I found a small jewelry shop where I bought my necklace and earrings for my wedding. Something new… When we eventually found the car—did we really park it there or did someone move it?—we drove to San Gimignano.San Gimignano was also an Etruscan town and is another well preserved medieval Tuscan town. Parking in San Gimignano was actually more of a problem than Siena, and we had a walk of more than 10 minutes to a city gate from where we parked. It had stopped raining and was a beautiful walk. The first thing you notice arriving at San Gimignano is the red brick towers and the walls surrounding the town. Oh, and all the other tourists. Piazza Duomo is San Gimignano's main piazza. The tourist office here is very helpful (unlike Siena) and they have lots of information. Torre Grossa is the only tower open that visitors can climb and the view is amazing.All around the piazza are small streets with many shops selling souvenirs, leather bags, wine, cheeses, and art. You could spend several hours browsing in these shops except that everyone else wants to do this also. I bought a very good quality leather handbag here, I paid about €35.Tuscany's most famous white wine is produced in San Gimignano Vernaccia di San Gimignano and there are many places to taste it.San Gimignano is a beautiful place to visit, but next time, I would visit early in the morning or late in the day. In the middle of the day it seems that every tourist bus in Tuscany arrives. Close
Written by ragazza1indy on 01 Jan, 2007
If you have a chance to go to Palio, which takes place on July 2 and August 16 every year, I say buy a plane ticket now and pack your bags for Siena, Italy! The pride and passion that permeates the air during this time…Read More
If you have a chance to go to Palio, which takes place on July 2 and August 16 every year, I say buy a plane ticket now and pack your bags for Siena, Italy! The pride and passion that permeates the air during this time of year is indescribable. You can cut the ambience with a knife--it is so thick and so detectable. It is a feeling that I have never felt before when I was there in 2006. Here is my pitiful attempt to depict exactly what Palio means to the Italian people and why you need to be there for the 2007 race.I went to Siena with a group of teenagers. We were about to be foreign exchange students in the most beautiful country in Europe. With the program I went through, they gave all of us a tour of Siena before we headed off to our host families. In this day, Palio was the word on everyone's tongues. Palio is a horse race between 16 different city wards, or contrada. Each contrada goes back centuries, so there is much pride in owning your specific contrada name. Each contrada is represented by a flag with an animal on it. The day that I was there, each contrada drew a number and that number matched up with the horse they were to be given, which would then race the next day in the actual Palio. Hundreds of people gathered the streets and we were just given some time to explore the city on our own. After I had eaten some delizioso (delicious) gelato, we heard cheering and screaming coming from the center of the Piazza. A few friends and I ran towards the action to see what was going on, for at this point we were clueless about the importance of Palio to the locals. We gathered among the hundreds of people in the middle of the Piazza as the hot sun beat down on our heads. We heard someone speak into a microphone and instantly hundreds of people threw their hands up in the air as if they had just won a million dollars or made a winning field goal during a football game. People were hugging and kissing--I wasn't sure what had just happened but I knew it was a big deal. Before long, a group of people all dressed in their contrada's colors began parading out of the piazza with the horse they had just received. They all shouted a song in unison which danced through air. They punched their fists in the air with a pride that I have never witnessed in my life. It was a moment that gave me chills and still gives me chills today just writing about it. Just to watch something that had been happening for hundreds of years that still happens today with so much passion is something that never happens in America. It is something that can only be appreciated once you see it.
I soon figured out that this contrada went CRAZY just because they received a horse where they knew they could possibly win the race that would give their contrada boasting rights for the rest of the year. Palio in Siena is more than just a horse race. It is a time to have pride, it is a time to celebrate, it is a time to preserve past traditions. Palio-- a representation of Italian passion at its best.This description does not even come close to giving justice to what its like to be in Siena during Palio. It is something that everyone should have the chance to experience. Go to Siena... experience the excitement and passion for yourself!
Written by lyss710 on 13 Jul, 2001
Siena vs. Florence - the eternal battle which began as an intense rivalry dating back to the 12th century. Throughout it's history, Siena has been at odds with Florence - sometimes triumphant and sometimes defeated. Today, Florence is the heralded city of Tuscany…Read More
Siena vs. Florence - the eternal battle which began as an intense rivalry dating back to the 12th century. Throughout it's history, Siena has been at odds with Florence - sometimes triumphant and sometimes defeated. Today, Florence is the heralded city of Tuscany and for many travelers Siena is a quick day trip from the greater city of Florence. From my experience it is rather difficult to truly experience Siena this way.
Don't write me nasty messages defending Florence - I'm not trying to downplay Florence in any way. Florence is a wonderful city and a must-see on any list of Italian cities. If you only have 10 days and it's your first trip, see Rome, Venice & Florence & skip Siena.
However, if you have more time or it's your 2nd, 3rd, 4th trip, spend a few days in Siena. This is the way to truly experience the city. Stay in a hotel with a balcony view. Sip coffee in the morning on your balcony (try for a room on an upper floor for the best view) and watch the scene below you. Even if your balcony just has a view of the street below, watch the goings on.
Poke through the shops throughout the city - it's easy to spend a lot of money here, so be careful. Get gelato from as many diffent places as your stomach can handle. In the afternoon, sit on the Campo for a while and people watch. Visit the Duomo, the Dominican church at the end of the city (I can't remember it's name, sorry!), climb the Torre Del Mangia tower. (Allow some time to climb the Torre, as the spiral staircase is VERY narrow, and you will have to stop and press yourself against the wall as other people go up/down, and they will have to do the same for you. If you're highly claustrophobic, the tower is probably not for you.)
For dinner, head away from the main streets and the Campo and look for a small restaurant filled with locals. Bring your phrasebook, because the waiter may not speak much English. Do your best with the menu, point, smile and enjoy. Take a walk around the Campo in the evening as the sun sets.
Siena is a wonderful city to experience in many ways. If you want to see some sights - it has them - churches, museums, a baptistery, the Torre, of course the Palio (July 2nd and August 16th).
Written by Tana B. on 06 Jan, 2005
Our favorite thing to do in Italy was "wander": when we tired of duomos and crowds and guidebooks, we'd look at each other and say, "Want to wander?" These follow-our-nose impulses inevitably brought us magic, those little moments that are solely yours. Like the 700-year…Read More
Our favorite thing to do in Italy was "wander": when we tired of duomos and crowds and guidebooks, we'd look at each other and say, "Want to wander?" These follow-our-nose impulses inevitably brought us magic, those little moments that are solely yours. Like the 700-year old church in a Tuscan village so tiny that its "Welcome to _____" and "Leaving _____" signs were about 100 feet apart. The day before Easter, the ancient caretaker took us inside and showed us the altar. We could scarcely communicate with my nursery school Italian and his dim sight (he couldn't read the Italian dictionary I was pointing to).
Of all the miracles in Italy, the single greatest of our trip came on April 11, when we wandered into paradise. Of course, it is a food-related epiphany.
This is from my journal, dated April 11, 2001, in Siena with my daughter, M, who was 12-years-old:
Because the Duomo was out of the question (M was wearing the wrong clothes), we walked around Siena, with its concentric streets. We found the Piazza dei Campo—it’s impossible to miss its towering campanile. After roaming several other streets, something within me sought open spaces. I spied what looked to be a promising street and said, "Come on, looks like a good view that way!"
Around the corner I could see that we'd come to the edge of town. A staircase wound down to the street with auto and bus traffic—these are not usually found within the walls of Siena. The top of the wall was draped with wisteria; M’s first encounter with its fragrance made her swoon.
We continued down the steps, but the view was so compelling that I had to stop for more photographs. The street curved (they all curve in Siena), and we were looking across the valley that separates Le Meridiane (our lodgings) from town. The hilltops were covered with apartments—attractive ones—and some beautiful old buildings. To our left, with the town behind us, a path led into the valley, which we could see was filled with garden patches.
M hesitated, but only for a moment, before agreeing to walk down there. Several times on our journey I'd reinforced something in her: having an agenda is fine, but wandering can land you in places of wonder. So we wander well together.
We walked slowly, in no hurry for a destination. With her characteristic observance, she quickly spotted a tiny lizard on the wall. And another. These I photographed for her, as the batteries we'd bought for her camera at the Colosseum lasted only a short while (curse the heads of those scoundrel vendors!).
Very soon it was apparent that we'd entered an Eden. As the gardens reached the slopes of the valley walls, they became terraces of perfection. I spotted two or three ancient men, each tending a little patch of perhaps 20 square feet. But whose gardens were these? Was it a community space? A public or private endeavor? Nobody was close enough to ask, so we strolled more. There were verdant rows of artichokes in one patch, and another filled with tomato seedlings, onions, peppers, and ringed with strawberry plants that were budding. Each garden was its own little patch in a larger quilt.
As we walked down the gentle slope, we heard the ripple of water that became a little brook, rimming and feeding the little plots in the center. A bower of fruit trees, in full bloom of white and pink lace, whispered spring secrets in the breeze. A few petals floated to the ground. What was this place? We didn't know.
Besides ourselves and three old men gardening, I spied only a few other people. A tall dark-haired girl with a backpack loped past us; it was obvious to me that she sought a retreat from the intense crowds in the town above our heads. Far to one side on a hill, I saw a young couple sleep in the grass; their backpacks, too, slept by their sides. A man strode into the gardens, carrying some small things; I assumed him to be the son of the old gardener closest to us.
At the flat expanse at the bottom of the walk was a freshly painted building whose purpose I still do not know. Under its vine-covered awnings a 30-ish Italian couple sat, on opposite sides of a white table, gazing into each others' eyes. They clasped hands, and their arms started to tremble. Arm wrestling! He pinned her within seconds, and I burst out laughing. Impossible not to, or to think they'd mind. In Italy I never have the feeling that someone will say, "Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer." Here taking pictures and staying longer are absolutely understood and encouraged. Had I asked or indicated that I would like to photograph them, I am certain they would smile and share the knowledge that "we are part of this moment together, and our coinciding is special, perhaps more special to you because you have traveled so far to meet us!" There is utter freedom in that.
M found a perfect egg-shaped rock to kick up the path (and sometimes with which to imperil her mother's sandal-clad toes). We walked to the end of the valley, where we found that the road back into town was walled off. We turned around and strolled back.
As we approached the old gardener, a woman and a boy entered his gated plot. I took the opportunity to call ‘Scusi?,’ hoping to get an answer to the question of who owned these gardens. ‘Parle l'englise?’ I asked the man who seemed to be the boy's father. He said no but gestured to the woman.
In my most halting Italian, I asked, "Giardino? Publica? Communale?"
She threw on the light switch: "Ristorante!"
Of course! And with a sweep of her arm, she indicated the local restaurants atop the surrounding hills. This delighted me deeply, and still does. The thought that the town set aside these acres, that they share such a glorious space, that they grown and create such an endless cycle of beauty... my God. What if each big city in the world had such an oasis? What a transformation it would make on the planet.
Alas, though I took over 100 photographs that day, a computer malfunction erased most of them, and I have only one that survives. It is the gate to this paradise, the entrance to the heaven that awaited us below.
You notice that I have not supplied directions? No, only hints. Be patient and discover this valley for yourselves. The journey is half the wonder.
In an effort to preserve traditional food and wine manufacturing methods and to counter the fast spread of fast food, Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food movement in Italy. It has since grown into a worldwide company, with magazines, food and wine guidebooks for Italy,…Read More
In an effort to preserve traditional food and wine manufacturing methods and to counter the fast spread of fast food, Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food movement in Italy. It has since grown into a worldwide company, with magazines, food and wine guidebooks for Italy, and lectures and an informative website.
When looking for a place to eat, I have learnt to look for the snail logo on the stickers restaurants put on their entrance windows. This shows that the restaurant uses meat and vegetables produced by local farmers who adhere to traditional methods as well as produce such as cheeses or oils in danger of extinction.
The guidebooks to Italian Osterie and Wines are only in Italian, but the website gives basic listing of members as well as valuable information and lecture notes.
South of Siena is an area of beautiful changing landscape specific to this location. It is an unique environment and in some places, it even resembles a lunar landscape.
No matter which direction you reach it from, you will realize right away when you have entered…Read More
South of Siena is an area of beautiful changing landscape specific to this location. It is an unique environment and in some places, it even resembles a lunar landscape.
No matter which direction you reach it from, you will realize right away when you have entered the "Crete." That is because you will notice the unique change in landscape. The earth takes on a brownish, dark orange hue, sometimes even purple or goldish hues. The reason for these colors is the composition of clay here. The clay rocks were brought here by the sea water in ancient times and is the reason for the rolling landscape.
The change in color is more noticeable at sunset or sunrise, when the sun casts its strong warm light on the land. The "Crete" is exactly the area between Siena and Montepulciano, with the town of Asciano right in the center. The best way to see this area is to take the road that goes from Siena to Asciano.
For a special treat, there is now an old steam train that departs from Siena and runs through Asciano, Monte Antico and Buonceonvento. However, this train only runs on the last two Sundays of September and on Sundays in October. Contact Apt Siena at 0577-280551 for detailed information.
Written by travel2000 on 16 May, 2002
"Facciamo una passeggiata!" means "Let’s go for a walk!" in Italian. But in Italy, these words mean more than the occasional stroll or walk in the park. Every late afternoon, around 4 or 5pm when the stores re-open, Italians have the tradition of walking along…Read More
"Facciamo una passeggiata!" means "Let’s go for a walk!" in Italian. But in Italy, these words mean more than the occasional stroll or walk in the park. Every late afternoon, around 4 or 5pm when the stores re-open, Italians have the tradition of walking along the busy streets of their city or town. You see themcome out after the silence of the lunch hour. They walk arm in arm, elderly mother and daughter, young families, teenage friends, old friends, all dressed up for their daily passeggiata. You will soon notice the same people strolling up and down the same streets, because the object is to be outdoors, to chat, to window shop and run into friends.
In Siena, one of the oldest and prettiest streets is Casato di Sotto. Upscale stores line via Banchi di Sopra and via di Citta. Pick any of the streets that lead to Piazza del Campo and you can join the locals on their passeggiata.