Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tales of Tuscany

Staying outside of Siena put us smack in the middle of gorgeous Tuscany, meaning the whole region was open to us. While I do want to visit some of the more out of the way towns, we decided that for this trip, we should see some of the biggies first. This led us to our first day's visit to Cortona, the town written about by Frances Mayes. Her fabulous books, best I can tell, put the town on the tour bus map (Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, and my personal favorite, Every Day in Tuscany). And lovely it is.
We approached from the flatlands and saw this beautiful city cutting into the hillside, complete with towers and the deep red rooftiles atop sandy colored buildings, colors so prolific in this region. I fell in love with Cortona, but that was probably due to the beautiful, blue skies that formed such a perfect backdrop for both the town views and the panoramic views of the countryside. Or it could have been because we visited on market day, always a fun treat, or that there was a medieval festival of sorts going on, filling the town with medieval costumed performers and making it so easy for us to cross the line of time between past and present. I even lucked into a shop with a clerk who wanted to chat...in Italian! I love it when that happens! After a delicious lunch on the main drag in town and another quick spin through town and to the Duomo (church), we headed back to our hotel to drop off our dog and on to San Gimignano for a visit and dinner.
San Gimignano's Towered Skyline
San Gimignano is a real favorite of mine. It's the only Tuscan town to retain so many of it's medieval towers, 14 still standing of it's original 60+. This makes for a fantastic skyline. Rick Steves writes that San Gimignano is given over wholly to tourism, and I suppose I found that to be true. But just walking those cobbled streets beneath the towers and climbing up to the fortress and the uneven, rock staircase to look out over those same towers...magical. With most of these little towns, activities are limited. They are small, filled with shops (some good, some typical tourist tchotch), have a church or two, maybe a civic museum, and several restaurants and cafes. We didn't visit every church and museum and shop, but we wandered, we enjoyed. Wild boar, cinghiale, is king here, and shops are filled with boar related items, advertised with boar heads hanging off their outer walls. Shops were for tourists, and I don't think we passed a single store dedicated to "real life," but still, San Gimignano is a wonderful visit.
Piazza of San Gimignano

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