In our last blog post I concentrated on our time spent in Florence (here), while we were there we wanted to explore some of the Tuscan countryside. We only had 2 days and we didn’t want to rush too much so we decided to spend one day visiting Lucca and another taking the Via Chiantiagiana to Siena. We decided to skip Pisa; we had been there a few years ago and didn’t feel the need to return.
It’s no secret that I love Italy, I would go so far as to say it’s my favourite country and I could return year on year and still find new places to visit (Cinque Terre is next on my list). This trip just cultivated my love for the dolce vita as Tuscany certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
*Before you continue reading I just wanted to let you know this is going to be a long post with a lot of pictures.
Things to know before you go
Most of the places we visited are easily reached from Florence by train or bus but as we only had a couple of days we decided to rent a car. This was our first time renting a car abroad and we were happy we did, it gave us so much more freedom than bus or rail travel.
Travelling by Car
We rented the car from Europcar which is situated on Via Borgognissanti in Florence. We left it a bit late to book and ended up paying a bit more than I had planned, so my advice would be to book it online as far in advance as you can to get the best deal. The location of the dealership was perfect for getting in and out of Florence.
If you are renting a car make sure to get a SatNav, it will make navigating the roads of Tuscany easier.
If you are driving in Italy be aware that you will pay a toll whenever you exit the Autostrada (motorway). You will get a ticket when you enter the Autostrada and you need to pay in cash or card when exiting.
In my last post (here) I spoke about the restricted traffic zone (ZTL) in Florence, most of the other towns in Tuscany with historic centres have ZTL zones too. This means you are not allowed drive in their historic centres unless you are a resident, a bus or a taxi. You will see a lot of signs indicating that you might be entering a ZTL (a restricted traffic zone) don’t keep on driving, stop and turn if you can, there are cameras and you will be fined each time you go through a barrier.
There are plenty of paid parking lots in and around Lucca and Siena (outside the ZTL zones), they will be marked by a blue P sign. Furthermore, just outside Lucca’s walls and some other towns in Tuscany you might see white, blue and yellow lines marking parking spaces – white spaces are free, blue spaces are pay parking and yellow spaces are reserved for residents.
Travelling by Train or bus
As I have already mentioned getting to Lucca and Siena is easy by train. Trains go from the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence. Trains to Lucca go roughly every 30 minutes and take between 1.5 – 2 hours and the station in Lucca is just outside the city walls. There are 2 trains per hour going to Siena, one is direct and takes about 1.5 hours the other requires a change in Empoli and takes about 1 hour 45mins. You can also get buses from Florence’s SITA bus station near the train station but they don’t run as often as the train.
It is also possible to travel to San Gimignano by bus but it involves a change in Poggibonsi if you are travelling from Florence. From Florence’s SITA bus station catch the bus to Poggibonsi, from here you catch the #130 to San Gimignano. If you wish to continue your journey on to Siena just catch the #130 bus from outside the walled town, this will bring you directly to Siena in roughly 60mins.
Continue on reading if you would like to hear about our trip through Tuscany.
Day 1 – Via Chiantiagiana to Siena
We got up early and picked up our car from the rental agency at 8am when it opened and got on the road. We decided to drive along the Via Chiantiagiana instead of the autostrade as we had heard that it was one of the beautiful roads in Italy and boy were they right! We drove through so many beautiful little villages and the scenery along the way was picture perfect. (So perfect it took us nearly 4 hours to reach Siena!)
Our first stop of the day was Greve in Chianti.
About 30mins from Florence, famous for its wine Greve in Chianti is a lovely little market town with a triangular piazza surrounded little shops and restaurants. We stopped here for a delicious breakfast, a little walk around and to take some photographs.
Our next stop was the little hilltop village of Panzano in Chianti.
As we were driving along we caught a glimpse of Panzano in the distance and knew we had to stop. Located on a high ridge this attractive quiet little village has beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. We spent about 30 mins here walking around the quiet streets, visiting the church and the old castle ruins. We seemed to be the only tourists wandering the streets, which was a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Florence.
About 1 hour and half later we reached the fabulous Siena.
We were lucky to get some free parking near the Santa Caterina parking garage just outside the city walls, there was a series of escalators nearby that brought us up right behind the Duomo. We spent about 3 hours in Siena, we could have stayed for longer but we wanted to do a bit more exploring before going back to Florence. Our first port of call was lunch; we found a quaint little restaurant near the Duomo called Archivio del Gusto on Via Monno Agnese which served delicious pasta.
Once lunch was over we set off to wander the narrow streets and to explore the Duomo, Piazza del Campo and the Torre del Mangia. It is worth noting that if you wish to climb the Torre del Mangia at €10 per person, that they only allow 25 people up at a time and there is a time limit of 30mins. You will also have to leave any bags in the free lockers provided as the steps up are very narrow.
Our next stop and the last one for the day was the medival hilltop town of San Gimignano.
The town a UNESCO World Heritage site, is famous for all its towers, there are 14 left of the original 72. San Gimignano is a popular spot for bus tours so it you want to have the place to yourself get there early or arrive a bit later in the day when the crowds start to dwindle. If you are driving here from Siena you have to follow the Firenze-Siena roadway, taking the Poggibonsi Nord exit and follow the signs for San Gimignano. It was time for dinner when we were leaving San Gimignano so we stopped at Ristoranta Da Pope on the road back to Poggibonsi for one of the best meals we had during our time in Italy, I would definitely recommend it. To find it, follow the signs for Hotel Sovestro.
Day 2 – Lucca
We left early in the morning and it took us about 45 minutes to reach Lucca from Florence on the autostrade and we parked our car just outside the city walls in Parcheggio Carducci at €1 per hour or a daily rate of €5.
Hidden behind its Renaissance walls Lucca’s cobbled streets and pretty piazzas are easily explored by foot or by bicycle in a day. Continue reading for my list of things to do in Lucca.
- Rent a bicycle from Tuscany Ride a Bike on Via Elisa and cycle around the city walls – Le Mure di Lucca.
- Grab a panini and have a picnic on the city walls.
- Drink coffee and relax in Piazza Anfiteatro.
- Climb the Guinigi Tower and admire the beautiful view.
- Visit Lucca’s churches – The Duomo (Cattedrale di San Martino), Basilica of San Frediano and San Michele in Foro.
- Get lost among the cobbled streets.
- Eat pizza at Pizzeria da Felice on Via Buia.
- Try the local speciality bread – Buccellato from Buccellato Taddeucci on Piazza San Michele.
On the way home from Lucca we decided to take the scenic route and stopped at Pistoia on the way.
Pistoia is also easily accessible from Florence and Lucca by train. Like other towns in Tuscany it has a lovely historic centre with piazzas, Doumo’s and narrow cobbled streets to explore. We were there on a Saturday and managed to pick up some fresh fruit at the daily market on Piazza della Sala. Unfortunately we missed the weekly morning market on Piazza del Doumo.
So there is our guide on day trips from Florence. Have you ever been to Tuscany? Do you have any other recommendations? Please feel free to leave your comments below.