Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pistoia and Montepulciano:Northern Italy Diaries, Part VII

Cathedral in Pistoia

In addition to revisiting hill towns we had fallen in love with love like Siena and Lucca, we also went to towns we hadn't seen on previous trips to Tuscany, towns often overlooked by tourists such as Pistoia immortalized by Dante . The main attraction is the cathedral with a very impressive facade. Unfortunately the facade was all we saw, as we arrived during the 2-hour mid-day closing. While major tourist spots like Florence have generally stopped the traditional midday closing, in towns off the main tourist track the mid-day closing still prevails and should be taken into account when planning a trip to Italy.

In addition to the Cathedral, Pistoia has a spectacular Piazza del Duomo, bordered by well-maintained medieval and renaissance buildings, including a perfectly proportioned Renaissance palazzo, now the town hall. Campanile in Piazza del Duomo,Pistoia

Siena and Lucca have been supplanted as my favorite hill town by Montepulciano, the most beautiful Tuscan hill town that we’ve visited. Perched on a steep hill above the lush vineyards which produce Montepulciano wine, it has spectacular panoramic views.
Views of surrounding hillsides from streets of Montepulciano.

At first we didn’t think we were up to trekking up the hill to the Piazza Grande, but the town is so beautiful that we kept climbing the hill and eventually reached the Piazza Grande—certainly one of the most impressive piazzas in the country of beautiful piazzas.

We set in a cafĂ© on the Piazza drinking Campari for far too long, and didn’t have time for the visit to the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore we had planned for that day. Cafe on Piazza Grande in Montepulciano

When you find yourself in a town as beautiful as Montepulciano, you just have to take the time to savor the experience. It’s always impossible to see everything you’ve planned, and maybe that’s a good thing—a reason to return. If there’s a next time in Tuscany, we’ll see the Abbey and we’ll make sure we get back to Montepulciano.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Tuscan Hill towns of Siena and Lucca:The Italy Diaries, Part VI

At this stage in our lives we are slow travelers and we no longer try to pack several towns into one day. We gave Siena and Lucca one day each and I could happily have spent a week in each. The problem of course with using Fiesole as a base and making day trips to hill towns is that we don’t see the towns at night. I recall that the medieval streets of Siena were truly magical at night.

This was our third trip to Siena –the first in the heat of summer, the second in the chill of winter. Finally we saw Sienna on a gorgeous sunny October day. The austere, brick buildings of Siena’s medieval old town really need the warmth of sunlight.

When Florence defeated Siena in 1300’s, it prohibited any further building, so that old town Siena was frozen in time as a medieval city--an open air architectural museum. The Piazza del Campo where the famous horse races are held was every bit as impressive as I remember as was the enormous cathedral which my little son on our first rip to Italy called the cathedral with zebra stripes.

Whereas Siena is impressive, Lucca is welcoming--with its narrow streets opening up to gorgeous piazzas crowned by churches in what is known as the Pisan style, characterized by slender columns in white, pink, and green marble.
One of Lucca's most beautiful churches, San Michele

This was our second trip to Lucca and and sadly we have yet to see Lucca at night--and probably never will.