Siena is a well preserved Medieval town located 30 miles south of Florence. It is set on three hills.
One of the main area in this town is piazza del Campo; a large scallop shaped square. It is divided in 9 segments representing the Concil of the Nine that ruled Medieval Siena. In piazza del Campo a historical bareback horse race called “Palio” is held twice every year (on 2th july and 16th august). One of the palaces surrounding the square is Palazzo Pubblico; you can visit it inside. There you can see several frescoed rooms. This palace is used as town hall.
I went to Siena on a day trip. I visited the Palazzo Pubblico and the Ospedale della Scala (an ancient hospital that didn't impress me at all. It is only my opinion). I didn't visit the Cathedral. They say its interior is wonderful. I have to go back to Siena quite soon.
San Gimignano is a small walled hill town located 56 km. southwest of Florence. Originally it was the seat of a small Etruscan village. It began its life as a town from the X century. The town took its name from saint Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes. The town developed considerably during the Middle Ages and the Reinassance thanks to the Via Francigena. In fact this town was a stopping point for catholic pilgrims on their way to Rome.
San Gimignano is well known for its tall towers. In fact, today there are 14 Medieval towers. Long ago there were 72. These towers were built by weathy people as houses, they also had a defensive role.
This town has a collegiate church dating from the 11th century, some museums to visit, various restaurants, cafes and lots of shops.
You cannot go to Florence without visiting the art museums and the Duomo. You also cannot go to Florence and not enjoy the food. And you must never, ever go to Florence without rubbing the porcellini's (little pig) nose for good luck (and promise of someday returning to Florence).
Fondest memory: I took a trip around sunset up to the surrounding hills of Fiesole. There is a beautiful church on the hill with steep steps where I sat and watched the sun set over the rooftops of Florence. One of my favorite memories of all.
While in Firenze my friends and I decided to take a trip over to Pisa for the afternoon. It is a simple trip to do, just go by train and you can easily see all the main sites in Pisa in an afternoon and then come back to Firenze.
I am currently working on my Pisa page and will have it completed soon!
In the heart of Tuscany, you would imagine that there would be ample opportunities for day trips form Florence. And, you would be right.
Below I have listed cities that are easily toured in a day (though all deserve much longer stays) from Florence, their distance, and my reason I recommend them.
Siena - (One and a half hour by train or bus)
One of the more beautiful Medieval cities.
Pisa and Lucca (about an hour to Pisa, cities about 15 minutes apart; bus or train) Pisa and its tower should be obvious, but there isn't much else to see, so make the short ride to Lucca, which is another beautiful Medieval city.
San Gimignano (bus only; one and half hour away) All the splendors of Tuscany await you in this beautiful city.
Montalcino and Montepulciano (2-3 hours away by train, depending on departure time. Buses shorter) Wine, wine, wine.
From Florence it is easy to take a regional train to Pisa, which is about an hour west of the city by train. In Pisa you can see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. You only need about half a day to visit Pisa (if you're only going to visit the area around the Leaning Tower). So don't miss this oppurtunity when you have finished visiting Florence!
Visit my Pisa travel page for more info.
I only stayed 3 days in Assisi, but I have a good memory.
Don't miss it if you go near Peruggia, Florence ...
Pic of the Cathedral.
Fondest memory: At night, we went with our classes to the market place and made animations ... really funny ! but long time ago !
Favorite thing: visit Lucca. It's a lovely walled town about an hour, or a half hour away from Pisa. Puccini was born there, or lived there--I can't remember. It's really a pretty town--pretty flat, so people ride bikes a lot, but surrounded by hills. The walls around the town have been made into walking and biking paths, a very romantic walk. There are also some great restaurants there--my favorites were Puccini, Il Buca di Sant'Antonio (both more expensive), and Da Giulio (inexpensive). Lucca is also famous for its olive oil, so be sure to buy some.
visit San Gimignano in Tuscany.
Fondest memory: San Gimignano is totally clotted with tourists during the day in the high season, but it's really lovely. The guidebooks recommend that you stay overnight, because most people go there as a day trip. We stayed over and it was indeed very quiet in the evening; I noticed that the Piazza Cisterna was, sadly, strewn with trash from the day visitors.
Again, I'll skip over the main sites, since they're so heavily covered elsewhere. My boyfriend with the morbid leanings decided he wanted to check out the torture museum, something that was obviously developed with the idea of getting tourists separated from their cash. I agreed to go in, however, and it's actually very interesting if you read the text and don't just gawk at the dioramas and so forth. Especially memorable is the a*al (think 'banal' without the b) pear--ergh. Anyway, this museum actually has some educational value, if you're interested in this sort of thing (and aren't too easily grossed out).
Favorite thing: Visit Cortona. Now famous as the home of Frances Mayes, author of 'Under the Tuscan Sun' and 'Bella Tuscany,' it can be a bit overrun with tourists but is wonderful nonetheless. It's on a hill, so be prepared to get some exercise. There are a fair amount of American students here, as the University of Georgia runs an exchange program. Good restaurant: La Loggetta. I met some friendly locals, one of whom was way too friendly, and about 70 years old to boot. Yikes.
Do the whole of Tuscany, at least the major historic old cities. Our favorite was Sienna, with the most impressive Piazza del Campo!
Fondest memory: Dining at the Piazza del Campo in Sienna. So wonderful!