Are you sitting at home twiddling your fingers wondering when your next holiday is going to be? Even though the day we’ll all be able to get out and travel the world again is definitely edging closer, at the moment the most we can do is dream about it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream big!
What better place to spend your time thinking about than Tuscany, in Italy? If you’ve been there before you may be itching to get back to get yourself a little bit of ‘la dolce vita’, or if it’s a much-hoped for bucket-list holiday destination, you’re probably even more keen now to make it a reality. There’s so much to see and do in Tuscany and, when things get back to normal, our team of passionate Walkabout Florence guides will be ready to get out there and hit the road again on our day trips from Florence with all our lovely guests. And remember, just because you can’t travel right now doesn’t mean you can’t start making plans.
Our most popular day trip from Florence is our Tuscany in a Day tour – because who wouldn’t want to see all the highlights of this magnificent region in one day? And if you’re thinking it’s not possible to do that, think again! This super day trip from Florence takes you out into the sunburnt landscape of Tuscany to visit a host of the most iconic sights – and believe us, our guides will make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Even though our guides aren’t actually out there working at the moment, they’re still constantly looking for ways they can keep inspired. One of those ways has been to share some of the ‘virtual tours’ they’ve found around the Internet and put their very own ‘insider’ spin on them – and we think they’re doing a great job.
The latest is from one of our popular Tuscany in a Day guides, who’s been leading these day trips from Florence for quite some time. He has an absolute wealth of information (and unashamed passion!) about Tuscany and, in particular, the lovely hilltop town of Siena. So, until you can come with us to see the real thing, we invite you on this fun-filled virtual tour with your very own private guide…
Explore Siena Without Leaving Home
It’s hard to choose just one highlight of my beloved Tuscany, so I don’t think we should ever be asked to try! That’s why I love our Tuscany in a Day tour so much, because on this fun-filled day trip from Florence we make sure you see all the famous sites, like Pisa, Chianti, San Gimignano and, of course, the wonderful Siena.
To experience Siena in person is one of the stand out joys of this day trip from Florence. I never tire of the reaction from my guests when they’re standing in the Piazza del Campo craning their necks up at the Torre del Mangia, staring open-mouthed at the magnificence of the black and white striped marble façade of the cathedral, or just wandering around the charming back streets discovering the ‘real’ personality of the city through the wonderful local food and people.
So even though we aren’t able to take you on our day trips from Florence just at the moment, there’s no harm in sending a little temptation your way. I’ve found a couple of absolutely incredible 360-degree interactive sites that are almost as good as being there. (Not really, but they’re pretty good!) Just so I can make your virtual tours a little more realistic, allow me to share some information about two of the most popular attractions in the city. Oh, and by the way, I’m better in person as well!
The Piazza del Campo
Set in the middle of the historic centre, at the junction of the three hills on which the city is built, the medieval Piazza del Campo is the main meeting place and it’s quite unique when it comes to the usual Italian piazzas. It’s quite often referred to as the most beautiful public space in Europe, which is a claim that’s very hard to argue with once you’ve seen it for yourself.
Il Campo, as it’s also known, is instantly recognisable by its shell-like shape and pink and white herringbone brick paving. The design is divided into nine segments, representing the Council of Nine, the group of men who governed the city in the fourteenth century. This amazing panorama I found allows you to zoom right into every corner of Il Campo, even down to get up close and personal with the brick paving! Make yourself a coffee and imagine yourself sitting there in the sun…
While just standing in Il Campo surrounded by centuries of history is a humbling experience, there are a few things for which it is particularly known. Have a read of the history below as you visit them from the comfort of your armchair.
The Palazzo Pubblico
Constructed between 1297 and 1308, the beautiful Sienese Gothic architecture of the Palazzo Pubblico creates a magnificent sight on the outside, with interiors that are just as impressive. Built from travertine rock and red brick, the building is slightly concave to follow the elegant curve of Il Campo.
Filled with priceless medieval frescos, including a very famous series on the Council of Nine, this centre of civic authority, which is still the seat of the town council, has become a symbol of Siena, not least due to its impressive tower (which was built later). It is also home to the excellent Museo Civico, which is filled with important artworks and, for those with a deep interest in history, is a very worthwhile place to step back a few centuries and spend a few hours delving into the fascinating past.
Torre del Mangia
At 102-metres high you can hardly miss it, and Torre del Mangia, the soaring tower that presides over the piazza, stands as a fitting guardian of all it surveys. The third highest tower of its kind in Italy and made from red brick and travertine stone for the bell tower, construction began in 1325 and took more than twenty years to be completed. It was designed by two brothers, Francesco and Muccio di Rinaldo, although the bell tower is thought to be the work of a different architect.
Fast fact: The height of the tower was based on that of the cathedral bell tower, so that equal importance should be given to the church and the town’s civic authority. It was also designed to be higher than the tower in neighbouring Florence as a matter of local pride.
It’s a lot harder to climb the 400 steps to the top of the bell tower in person than to simply see it in this virtual panorama, but I always encourage my guests to do it if they’re able. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze in places, but you can stop and catch your breath and look out numerous little apertures along the way. The effort is so well worth it for the stunning views over the entire city and out to the surrounding Tuscan countryside from the top, and the good news is that, after a breather, it’s all downhill for the next 400 steps!
The Thrill of the Palio
As you zoom around Il Campo on your virtual tour, take a moment to imagine 40,000 cheering people packed in the centre and around the edges of the piazza as the thunder of cheering and pounding horses’ hooves fill the air. That’s what it’s like during the Palio, Italy’s most famous horse race. While the race itself is over in the blink of an eye, the significance of it is huge and it’s one of Italy’s most high-profile cultural events.
Traditionally held on July 2 and August 16 almost every year since 1644 (although understandably it’s been cancelled for 2020), the race represents the long held rivalry between Siena’s 17 ‘contradas’ or districts. The horses and riders compete for the glory of the win and the honour of a flag called the Drappellone, which is awarded to the horse and rider from the winning contrada. The horses race three laps around the circumference of the piazza and the whole thing is over in around 75 seconds – but the atmosphere is out of this world. If you get a chance to attend the Palio it will honestly be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
Duomo di Siena
The next most famous and visited attraction of the city is the truly spectacular Duomo di Siena (aka the Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta). The cathedral’s mammoth dome, bell tower and striking black and white striped marble façade are impressive enough, but if you take the time to venture inside (and you really should) it will take your breath away.
This fabulous 36-degree photo I found allows you to see the entire cathedral complex and, while naturally it’s better to see it for real, you can actually see angles of it here that you wouldn’t normally get to. It’s a really great way to find out more about what to seek out when you finally do get to visit in person. You can also see where it is in relation to Il Campo, as you can clearly make out the Torre del Mangia – it gives you an idea of just how compact and accessible Siena is. (Which is lucky because, being traffic free, you’ll be doing a fair bit of walking.)
Construction on Italy’s (virtually undisputed) finest Gothic cathedral began in 1229, over several phases, with various works on the dome, baptistery and the choir continuing through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was constructed in the shape of a Latin cross with three portals at the front, with the greenish-black and white marble of the façade representing the symbolic colours of Siena.
Fast fact: At one stage (around 1337) there were plans to extend the church considerably in order to claim the title of Italy’s largest Gothic building. However, before any work could be undertaken it was discovered the existing foundations would not be able to withstand the weight and plans were abandoned.
The work of acclaimed artist Giovanni Pisano, the church’s unique façade comprises not only the beautiful red, white and blackish-green marble inlays, but also a stunning rose glass window and gorgeous Venetian mosaics. There are also numerous Pisano sculptures decorating the outside and the whole thing is so detailed and intricate that it’s quite hard to take it all in. You could stand outside and gaze at the façade for an hour and still not see every detail, so, yes, it really is undeniably one of the most impressive examples of Italian Gothic architecture in existence.
The campanile, or bell tower, is adorned with the same striped marble inlay as the façade. Built in the Romanesque style, it is actually the only part left of a church that previously stood on the site from the twelfth century – although it was completed at the end of the fourteenth century.
The interiors of the cathedral comprise an embarrassment of artistic riches, with a pulpit designed by Pisano, an altarpiece by Sienese painter Duccio and the baptismal font created by Jacopo della Quercia, with panels by Donatello and Ghiberti, among others. The striped marble continues inside and contrasts in the most amazing way with the stunning ceilings, which are decorated with opulent gold stars against a deep blue background.
Along with the proliferation of busts, sculptures and reliefs that line the walls of the nave, one of the highlights of the interiors is the magnificent rose glass window depicting the Last Supper. When you visit the baptistery, don’t miss the wonderful frescos and bronze reliefs.
The Marble Floors
While you’ll be extremely busy looking up and around you, you really mustn’t forget to look down, because the marble floors of the cathedral are a sight to behold. There are 56 marble inlaid panels, which all in all took four centuries to complete, with designs from some of the most important Sienese artists of the time.
The Piccolomini Library
Through a beautiful carved Renaissance marble entrance you’ll find the treasure trove of the Piccolomini Library, which was built to house a collection of illuminated manuscripts. As well as being able to see those very manuscripts, the walls and ceiling of the library are covered with a host of frescos by the acclaimed artist, Pinturicchio.
After visiting the crypt, the presbytery and the Chigi chapel, if you have time, the cathedral’s museum, which is housed in what was once to be part of the ‘new church’, has a very good collection of reliefs and paintings. For those historians who want to delve a little more into the past, it is also a good place to learn more about the cathedral’s long and storied construction.
Final tip: If you’ve got a head for heights, the cathedral’s Gate of Heaven offers a fantastic tour of a series of rooms set in the roof, from which you can take in superb views of both the inside of the church and the outside surrounding area.
Start Dreaming Now
If these and the many other ‘virtual tours’ out there on the Internet have inspired you, now is the time to start planning your next holiday. At Walkabout Florence we’re in the business of making your Italian dreams come true and we’ve got a fantastic range of itineraries and experiences designed to show you the real heart and soul of this magical country.
Our Tuscany in a Day tour really does wrap up all the very best experiences in this wonderful part of the world in one glorious, fun-filled day trip from Florence. The opportunity to see these magnificent icons of Italian history accompanied by a friendly local guide is the absolute best way to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Even though none of us can travel much further than the supermarket at the moment, this isn’t forever. Soon enough we’ll be able to get back to normal and, here at Walkabout Florence, we’re looking forward to showing you the delights of Siena and all the other highlights of Tuscany in the very near future.
We are Walkabout Florence
Walkabout Florence is renowned as one of the best tour group operators in the industry. We specialise in a range of exciting and fun day trips from Florence that immerse you in the true heart and soul of the cuisine, culture and history of the country. Our friendly and knowledgeable guides are committed to our guests’ comfort and satisfaction and, with everything from food and wine experiences to cultural tours and Vespa and Fiat 500 tours, our focus is on providing the most memorable day possible.