Why You Need To See Beautiful Orsanmichele In Florence

Today I want to tell you about a beautiful building in Florence that you will walk past multiple times, no doubt wondering what it is. Like pretty much everything in Florence it has a good story behind it too!

Orsanmichele, Florence


Diagonally opposite the Porcellino Market (Mercato Nuovo) and just up the street from Piazza della Repubblica, in between via Calimala and via Calzaiuoli you will see a square building with statues inside niches the entire way around it. It is beautiful and it is remarkable, but at first glance it is hard to tell exactly what it is.

This is the church of Orsanmichele.


It Wasn’t Always A Church

In 895 A.D this was an oratory in the garden of the monastery of St Michele. The word for garden was orto, so over the years Orto-San-Michele became shortened to Or-San-Michele.

This first structure burned down in 1239 and was rebuilt as a wooden loggia. The loggia had a column with the Madonna on it, accredited with several miracles. Once again, this structure also burned down. In 1336 the Silk Guild decided to rebuild it as a grain market. This is why the church has the odd shape – it is square because it originally was a grain market with a grain storage space above it.

At the time it made sense to keep a granary inside the city walls. During times of siege and wars you couldn’t always safely go out to the countryside to get the grain needed for the city.

It was still an open loggia and the city flowed through it. Bernardo Daddi painted a replacement Madonna, the Madonna delle Grazie, to replace the one lost in the fire. Once again she had miracles attributed to her, especially during the plague of 1348. With miracles come pilgrims, and they showed up in such numbers to pray at her feet that it became impossible to keep the space functioning as a market. A new market was built across the street, the Mercato Nuovo (Porcellino Market), and this space was walled in and converted into a church.


The Tabernacles

St Peter by Donatello

Each of the city’s guilds (artisan unions) was given a tabernacle on the exterior of the building and had to provide a statue or sculpture to put in it. These are the niches you see around the outside of the building.

St John the Baptist by Lorenzo Ghiberti

The project wasn’t completed until the mid 15th century, so many of the guilds benefitted from the expertise of the greatest Renaissance sculptors, including Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Four Crowned Saints by Nanno di Banco

The grain storage space above the old grain market has since been converted into a museum and all of the original sculptures are safely kept there. The sculptures you see outside are replicas. (It is well worth a trip upstairs to the museum)

For a breakdown of the art in each tabernacle, who sculpted it and which guild it was built for check this link

St Matthew by Lorenzo Ghiberti


The Madonna

The Maddona delle Grazie by Bernardo Daddi

Inside the church the miracle giving Madonna delle Grazie by Bernardo Daddi is housed inside an incredible tabernacle created by the artist Orcagna in 1348-59. It is quite something!

Cool Things To Look For

There are some other really cool features to look for inside the church. If you sit back for a moment and watch you will see most of the travelers in here miss them. I say travelers rather than tourists because even though there are hordes of tourists swarming down the street outside, very few bother to come inside and have a look.

The grain chute inside one of the columns in Orsanmichele

Two of the columns on the left side of the church have open grain chutes. The grain stored above would be dispensed down these chutes into the market. It’s a quirky little detail but I love it.


Being that this is Florence of course the artwork inside this church is gorgeous. But as you look up at the paintings on the ceiling, look a little closer and you will see metal rings embedded in them.

Metal rings embedded into the ceiling

These are not part of some creepy inquisition torture devices but actually date back to the days when this was a granary. The metal rings were used to work the pullies, hoisting huge blocks of grain.


Unless you go upstairs to the museum (recommended) your entrance to the church is free. You won’t need an enormous amount of time here so it is a great place to whip into on your way to the Piazza della Signoria, the Porcellina Market or  Ponte Vecchio.

You may need to loop around it a couple of times to find the entrance – head up, it’s at the back. Be sure to walk around the building exterior at least once to see all the tabernacles and identify each of the guilds. The magnificence of buildings like Orsanmichele are part of what makes Florence so totally incredible.

RELATED POST: 18 Things You MUST Do In Florence

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Things To Do In Florence why you should visit the church of Orsanmichele in the historic center
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14 Top Foods In Tuscany You Need To Know About

Are you planning a trip to Tuscany, or maybe just dreaming about one? Any trip to Italy is defined by the food you eat while there. Food (along with wine) is at the heart of Italian culture. Italian life and history all begins at the dinner table, so to understand this magnificent country you need to understand the cuisine.

fresh cheeses and prosciutto at the local market in San Gimignano, Tuscany
Market Day in San Gimignano, Tuscany

First it is important to understand that food here is entirely regional. It is not like “Italian Food” in America, which is typically made up of heavy pasta dishes drowned in cheese and sugary tomato sauce, and doesn’t vary much no matter where you are.

One thing I have learned from years of private tour guiding is that many travelers expect to find lasagna, fettucine alfredo, baked ziti and foods like that everywhere we go. Fettucine alfredo is American, not Italian. Lasagna, although readily available at tourist restaurants is not a national food, and I have never seen baked ziti anywhere in Italy!

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) has an entire section on foods and wines by region, and tells you what to order, where. The food is vastly different in Florence and Rome for example, and you don’t want to miss out on an incredible local dish because no one told you! My new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome tells you all about what to order in the Eternal City, and goes into much more depth.

If you are heading to Tuscany (ever) you need to know about the cuisine and what you absolutely must try while you are there. Tuscan cuisine is one of my personal favorites. Known as cucina povera, (poor people’s food), Tuscan food is locally sourced (nostrale or ours) tends to be quite simple with few ingredients. It started as a cuisine forced by economy or poverty but has remained that way by choice.

The Top 14 Tuscan Foods You Need To Know

I spend a great deal of time in Tuscany and just love the food there! You see provincial differences as you travel across the region but the following foods tend to be available in most areas and are definitely worth seeking out. Lets start with cheeses:

1. Pecorino

Pecorino cheese from Pienza in Tuscany
Pecorino cheese from Pienza

Every local market will have vendors selling slices of pecorino from giant wheels. It is fantastic on its own or drizzled with a little local honey. I also love the piquant pecorino with peppers or chilis, and the pecorino tartufo flavored with local truffles.

2. Ricotta

One of my friends serves this every time I come for dinner. Don’t confuse Tuscan ricotta with the stuff you buy here at the supermarket – that’s like comparing a beat up ’81 Fiat Panda with a tricked out brand new Ferrari. The 2 ricottas share a name only.

You can find fresh Tuscan ricotta at local markets as well as on the menu in many restaurants. Ideally you want fresh ricotta from the farm. It almost looks like a cake or a jello mold, and you slice it and drizzle fresh local honey over it. Sometimes it is sprinkled with nuts. You will be hooked at first bite – it is unbelievably good!



One of the reasons I just love being in Tuscany in the winter or early spring/late fall is because of their hearty soups. Even in the summer if we get an overcast or rainy day I always find my way to a bowl of Tuscan soup. Both the soups below are very traditional and in my opinion can also be filed under Tuscan comfort foods.

3. Pappa al Pomodoro

pappa al pomodoro soup is a tuscan specialty
Pappa al Pomodoro soup

You can’t get more cucina povera than this soup! Yesterday’s leftover oven baked bread, olive oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes. Sometimes it has more of a mush than soup consistency, but however it comes it is incredible.

4. Ribollita

ribollita soup at eataly
Tuscan Ribollita soup at Eataly

This is another peasant soup that will fill you up and warm your soul. This time yesterday’s leftover oven baked Tuscan bread is mixed with cannellini beans and vegetables.

5. Fagioli con Salsiccia

Tuscan fagioli con salsiccia - a must have tuscan food
Fagioli con Salsiccia

This is a soup made of beans and sausage, normally a local spicy sausage.

6. Breads

Every area within Tuscany has its own breads, and really, you should try as many as you can! Before you panic about gluten and swelling up from eating carbs – don’t worry it’s all good! Unlike here in the U.S. wheat in Italy is uncompromised. They don’t have Monsanto filling the wheat with pesticides and they don’t have GMO’s, so even the most sensitive digestive systems seem to do just fine. Personally, I can’t eat bread in the USA, I swell up, get an upset tummy and feel like hell. In Italy I can eat it every day with no problems.

I love buying breads at local markets to take home to my apartment, but if you’re not doing the vacation rental thing at least make sure you always at least try the bread in restaurants.

7. Panzanella

Before we leave breads behind you need to know about this bread salad. Once again it uses yesterday’s bread, this time soaked in olive oil, mixed with fresh tomatoes and basil and dressed in olive oil with maybe a little vinegar. I’ve had it with olives in there too – I think it varies depending on where you go. Sometimes when lunching at friends’ homes they have served up variations on the traditional panzanella with sliced red onion, cucumber and lettuce. However it is served, it’s fantastic!

panzanella is a tuscan salad made with bread, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil
Panzanella salad


Each area of Italy has its own types of pasta. The size and shape of any given pasta is based on the type of sauce it is served with. One traditionally Tuscan pasta that you will find on almost every restaurant menu is pappardelle. This is a wide, ribbon type pasta, served with heavier meat sauces.

Tagliatelle is another local pasta seen on menus everywhere. Also found all over neighboring Emilia-Romagna, tagliatelle is a narrower ribbon than pappardelle.

8. Pappardelle con Cinghiale

the king of tuscan pastas, pappardelle con cinghiale. This is a wild boar sauce served with flat ribbon pasta
Pappardelle al Cinghiale

This is the king of pastas in Tuscany! Cinghiale is wild boar, the taxidermied versions of which you see everywhere. Don’t panic – it doesn’t taste gamey, it’s just incredibly hearty. Every restaurant has its own recipe and way of preparing its cinghiale, so you can have it every day (as my son has done) and never have it quite the same way twice. This is really, really good, and if I were to recommend only one traditional Tuscan food for you to try, Cinghiale would be it.

9. Tagliatelle con Tartufo

Tuscany is truffle country, so when truffles are in season you will find this dish everywhere. Again, each restaurant seems to have their own recipe, so you can eat it everywhere you go and it will always be different, but also will always be super good.

tagliatelle al tartufo i a must eat food from Tuscany.
Tagliatelle con Tartufo

About pastas: I’ve seen cinghiale served with either pappardelle or tagliatelle, so it may also be a restaurant’s personal preference.

Italians typically eat multiple courses, way more than I can handle. If I am ordering pasta I normally don’t order anything else. That bowl alone will fill you. Also, if planning on ordering pasta I exercise extreme caution with the antipasti when it comes out – it is so easy to fill up snacking on meats and cheeses and olives!


10. Bistecca Fiorentina

bistecca fiorentina, tuscany's steak from Chiana Valley
Bistecca Fiorentina

You will see giant steaks in restaurant windows all over Florence and nearby town. These are the famous steaks from the Chiana Valley. Each one is 3 to 4 lbs on its own – they really are enormous! So big in fact that they not only cook them front and back but also on the sides. If you are a meat eater this is a must try food.

11. Cacciuccio

This is a Tuscan fish stew, and you are more likely to find it closer to the coast, especially around Livorno. Traditionally it has 5 different types of seafood, from fish to shellfish, one for each C in the name. Fishermen would clean out their boat at the end of market day, and whatever was left in the bottom would be thrown into Cacciucco. The stew would have broth, garlic, pepper flakes and red wine vinegar and would be served over toasted bread.

cacciuccio seafood stew from Livorno Italy
Cacciuccio from Livorno

To this day it is served the same way, the bread soaking up the broth. If you love seafood, this one is amazing.

12. Tuscan Pizza

Pizza is different everywhere you go in Italy, from the chewy base in Napoli to Rome’s super thin crust to Tuscany’s not-quite-as-thin crust. Always cooked in a wood burning oven, you have to try pizza in Tuscany at least once. This could not be more different to typical American pizza. Not drowned in sugary tomato sauces, and not weighed down by heavy melted cheese, Tuscan pizzas tend to be fresh and light.

pizza in tuscany
Tuscan pizza

Don’t expect American pepperoni – pepperoni in Italian means giant bell peppers. Don’t be surprised to see raw rocket (arugula) scattered across the top of a pizza. It tastes so amazing!

Most of the time you won’t find pizza served at lunchtime. Pizza is prepared in wood burning domed ovens that take hours to heat up to the correct temperature of 485 Celcius/905 Fahrenheit. When thinking about having pizza plan it for no earlier than 8:30 at night, and ideally at a restaurant with an outdoor patio.

My favorite evenings in San Gimignano are spent on the terrace at Il Trovatore around a large table with my Glam Italia Tour ladies or local friends, eating their insanely good pizza, drinking jugs of wine, and talking all night long.


Sweet Things

I have 2 favorite sweet foods in Tuscany, one is a day time food and one happens at the end of a long, satisfying Tuscan dinner.

13. Panforte

This is not a strong bread (pan-forte), it is a spicy cake. Its origins date back to 1205 when servants had to take it as gifts to the nuns of Montecelso Abbey in Siena. Overtime it became a Christmas gift to the nuns and a treat aristocrats would enjoy on special occasions. Made from sugar and honey and nuts and dried fruits with pepper and spices (cloves, ginger, cinnamon) panforte is typically cooked in a shallow pan, dusted with powdered sugar, and served in narrow slices with coffee.

Panforte di Siena

This is a Sienese specialty, and in my humble opinion it is a crime to go to Siena (or Florence) and not at least try it. Panforte is my favorite thing – I love it with coffee in the morning. Despite the sugar and honey it is a guilt free food because you walk so much over there you burn it off before lunch!

Note: you can actually eat it all day and night. The morning thing is just my favorite. If I allow myself one sweet thing, in a toss-up between having a gelato at some point in the day or a slice of panforte, the panforte will always win.

14. Cantucci

At the end of a long Tuscan dinner you may be served with a couple of cantucci and a short glass of dense dessert wine called vin santo.

Cantucci are small crunchy almond cookies that look like mini biscotti. (The word for cookie in Italian is biscotti, so if you want to get technical, they are biscotti). You dip the cantucci (or cantuccio?) into the vin santo ad then take in your final calorie hit of the day, as if your tummy wasn’t already about to explode.

cantucci and vin santo, the perfect way to end a meal in Tuscany
Cantucci and Vin Santo

I have learned over the years that I cannot eat like an Italian. As in I can’t do all the courses they do. I’m good with just antipasti! Truth be told, on most nights out in Tuscany I don’t have room for cantucci unless I have planned it in advance. If you, like me, feel like you cannot possibly ingest even one more mouthful, then I am sorry my friend because at least once while you are there you’re going to have to take one for the team and at least try cantucci and vin santo

Traveling to Florence? Download my free Secret Florence PDF and find out which are my favorite restaurants, the best secret bars, secret jewelers and other fantastic things to see and do in Florence. Any of the items on this list will take your trip from great to completely fantastic! Download your copy here

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Tuscany By Train ~ 10 Fabulous Day Trips From Florence

If you are staying beautiful Florence and want to explore Tuscany but don’t want to rent a car, no problem! You can visit much of Tuscany by train (or bus).

Here are 10 really fabulous places to visit in Tuscany with things to see and do, and approximate travel times by train.

Make sure you scroll to the end of this post – there’s a bonus for you, with my favorite places to eat and drink in Florence, my favorite secret shops and much more!

Florence day Trips

10 Day Trips From Florence By Train


Fiesole sits on the hilltop overlooking Florence. A mere 20 minute bus ride from the heart of town it is worth the trip just to take in the view, but Fiesole has much more to offer! (The best view is from the climb up to the monastery of San Francesco)

The town has a long history with famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, who lunched his flying machine from the hillside of Fiesole. All summer long the town hosts cultural events (see the Estate Fiesolana calendar)

What To Do In Fiesole

Visit the Etruscan-Roman Archeological site. The Etruscan settlement probably dates back to the 8th century B.C, but its first historical mention was in the 2nd century B.C when it was conquered by the Romans. In the archaeological are you can see Roman baths and the Roman amphitheater, and in the Civic Museum you can see both Etruscan and Roman artifacts. Also look for the Antiquarian Costantini collection of more than 150 pieces of ceramics from Greece and Etruria.

Fiesole Amphitheater
After the museum head down the street behind to see the remains of the massive Etruscan walls.

The Bandini Museum houses Florentine art from the 12th-14th centuries and is well worth visiting.

Bandini Museum Fiesole
The first Sunday of the month there is an antiques market in the main square, Piazza Mino. During the month you will frequently find other markets in the same space.

Fiesole Piazza Mino

image via PaesiOnline

How To Get There

From Santa Maria Novella station take the #7 bus.



Certaldo is a hidden treasure, far from the tourist crush but well worth making the trip for.

From the train station take the 5 minute walk across the heart of town to the base of the hill where the funicular will take you up to Certaldo Alto, a magnificent walled, medieval town.

Certaldo Alto Palazzo Praetorio

The main street of this beautiful and historically significant town is Via Boccaccio, which abruptly ends at the Palazzo Pretorio/Priori Palace. This 12th century palace is a must see, with its frescos dating back to the 13th century and a little museum full of Etruscan treasures (800 BC – 500BC) dug up on the property. Statues, vases and other historic finds in excellent condition are quite spectacular to see!

The palace was taken over by the church by 1420 and was used as a vicarage.

Certaldo Alto

Also of note is the 13th century Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo. The church is little and peaceful, watched over by a fantastic 14th century “Triumphant Christ” crucifix. It is noteable for Memmo di Filippuccio fresco of Virgin and Child between Saint James and Peter, and also for Boccaccio himself.

Certaldo Boccaccio

The writer of the Decameron, Boccaccio (1313-1375) is buried here. A sign marks the exact place he is buried and a bust of the writer holding his masterpiece (15030 sits against the left wall.

Certaldo Alto

Take time to walk this tiny town and take in the spectacular views of Tuscany from the open spaces and the city walls. You can see San Gimignano across the hill.

Certaldo Alto Certaldo Alto

How To get There

From Florence by train it take 50 minutes to reach Certaldo.



Florence’s arch enemy for centuries, Siena lies in the heart of Tuscany and is a beautiful city to visit. Make your way up to the walled city and spend your day strolling within the walls. Make a note of which city gate you arrived through so you can find your way back out!

What To Do In Siena

Start by walking into the heart of Siena, Piazza del Campo.

Piazza Del Campo Siena

This is one of the biggest medieval squares in the world, and is the home to the Palio horse race every July and August. The Campo has been the heart of Sienese life since 1300 and has been the place everyone gathered for parties and celebrations, political rallies and markets.

Piazza del Campo Siena

It’s shell shape is both unique and lovely. The beautiful Fonte Gaia fountain sits at the top of the shell (this one is a copy – the original is in the Museum Santa Maria della Scala), and looks out across the Campo.

Fonte Gaia Siena

The Torre del Mangia sits across the Campo from the Fonte Gaia. If you enjoy a good thigh burn take the 400 steps (!) tot the top for a truly breathtaking view of all of Siena and the surrounding hills.

Torre del Mangia Siena

Built in 1338-1348 it was constructed to the same height as the cathedral, to signify the equal power of church and state. The tower got its name from its original guardian (I have also read the original bellringer) Giovanni di Balduccio who was known as Mangiguadagni or Mr Eats-the-profits, because he ate all his earnings at the local taverns!

Duomo Siena

The Duomo. Siena’s cathedral is truly sensational and deserves a significant portion of your time. Built between 1215 and 1263 both the exterior and interior are made up of alternating stripes of white marble and a greenish black marble. The cathedral is enormous and holds incredible art from the likes of Michelangelo, Donatello and Pinturicchio.

The enormity and verticality of the cathedral draw the eye upward but be sure to look down too – the floors are incredible. Decorated with mosaics designed by 40 leading artists between 1369 and 1547, the 56 inlaid marble panels took 600 years to be completed!

The Piccolomini Library inside the Duomo is spectacular. Built by Pope Pius III to celebrate his uncle, Pope Pius II (creator of the nearby town of Pienza), the library houses Pius II’s collection of manuscripts, which are wonderful to look at, but more significantly the room is exquisitely frescoed by Pinturicchio and his students, including Raphael. With stunning use of perspective the frescoes are divided into 10 scenes depicting the life of Pius II.

Piccolomini Library ceiling, Duomo Siena

Make sure you look up while you are in there. The ceiling is spectacular!

You purchase tickets next door prior to entering the cathedral, and various city passes are available. One item you may want to take note of is the opportunity to go up to the “Gate Of Heaven” and walk with a guide near the frescoed ceiling. This is a really remarkable tour, well worth doing, but as there are only a few tours per day, and they are timed, you may want to buy this ticket online ahead of time and plan your day around it.

Duomo Siena

Duomo, Siena

The Baptistery is another must see and can be included in a multi entry ticket. The Baptistery was built in 1300 and is a separate building behind the cathedral. Catholics, even babies, couldn’t enter a church or cathedral without first being baptized, so it is normal to see a separate building for the baptistery. This one has beautiful artwork but its most special treasure is the bronze and marble baptismal font where for centuries every person in Siena, rich and famous or not, was baptized.

Santa Maria della Scala stands across the piazza from the cathedral (by the ticket office). Built in the 1330’s and at one time used as a hospital for abandoned children,the sick, the poor and the pilgrims it is now home to some tremendous museums, spread over 4 floors.

If you have just one day in Siena spend the rest of your time walking around the city. There is so much to see! Be sure to try a slice of panforte, a Sienese delicacy originally made as a gift for the nuns at Christmas time. It pairs perfectly with a cappuccino.

How To get There

By train from Florence you will need an hour and 45 minutes. The Siena train station is outside the walled city but plenty of city buses can take you back and forth.



Arezzo is an ancient city, older than Alexandria in Egypt! It was one of the main Etruscan cities and went on to become strategically important to Rome. It was known for its foundaries, its commerce and for the red coralline pots made there and seen throughout the Roman world.

If you can possibly swing it try to do a day trip to Arezzo on the weekend when its world famous antiques market is happening. The market is fantastic, and you can spend hours wandering around looking at the treasures found in the attics of estates and villas that have changed hands.

Arezzo Market

image via Visit Tuscany

What To Do In Arezzo

Go To The Market. The first Sunday of the month hosts a really incredible antiques market in Piazza Grande. With 500+ stalls you can lose yourself for hours looking at cool old treasures.

The Arezzo Cathedral. Go to see Piero della Francesca’s Mary Magdalene fresco and Donatello’s baptismal font relief.

The Basilica of San Francesco doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it houses one of Italy’s most important and most treasured pieces of Renaissance art – Piero della Francesca’s Legend Of The True Cross fresco cycle. Even though Arezzo doesn’t get a huge tourist crush it is still a good idea to book tickets for this online as they are frequently sold out.

The Medici Fortress was built between 1538 and 1560, and from the top of its walls you can get a 360 degree view of Arezzo and the surrounding area.

Roman Amphitheater and Arecheological Museum. The museum which holds 2nd century treasures sits on top of part of the amphitheater. Both are fantastic to see.

Casa Vasari. Giorgio Vasari’s Renaissance home is well worth visiting for both the art – his own frescoes line the walls, and also a handwritten letter from Michelangelo.

Just wander. Have lunch or a coffee in Piazza Grande, take in all the shields and coats of arms on the walls of the surrounding buildings, and enjoy being in this lovely city with so few tourists!


image via Visit Tuscany


How To Get There

Arezzo is approximately one hour from Florence by train.


As you cross the lovely valley of Casentino between Florence and Arezzo you will see a castle rise up out of nowhere – this is the town of Poppi.
Poppi is one of the best preserved walled cities, watched over by the Guidi Castle, which has been lovingly cared for and is still in amazing condition today.

What To Do In Poppi

A trip to Poppi is all about the castle. If it looks familiar that’s because it was the prototype for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Poppi castle was built in the 13th century for the noble Guidi family.

Guidi castle, Poppi

image via Borghitoscana.net

From the interior courtyard a series of intricate staircases wind and weave their way upwards, and your eyes are drawn with them up to a sizeable collection of family crests.

staircase poppi castle

Inside the Chapel of Counts you will discover a truly breathtaking 14th century fresco cycle by Taddeo Gaddi.
The library has an incredible collection, considered to be a literary treasure trove. It was donated to the Municipality of Poppi by the Rilli-Orsini family.

As you walk back from the castle under the porticos make your way to the ancient Abbey of Saint Fedele. Built in the 11 th century it houses paintings by Ligozzi, Solosmeo, Morandini, Portelli and Davanzati.

While in Poppi take time to visit the Camaldoli Hermitage. Surrounded by a forest of fir trees this sanctuary was founded in 1012 by Saint Romauld. The church has undergone many transformations over the centuries, and is now baroque. A must see inside the church is the Andrea della Robbia glazed terracotta alterpiece in the Sant’ Antonio Abate chapel.
There are 20 cells here at the sanctuary but the only one open to the public is Saint Romauld’s cell, which faces the church.

Some of Giorgio Vasari’s earliest works can be seen in the Church of Santi Donato e Ilariano, a monastery a few kilometers down the road.

How To Get There

The most direct route takes less than an hour by car, but by train from Florence it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Take the train to Arezzo, then a second train to Poppi.

My new book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy is now available worldwide! You can get your copy HERE on Amazon.com


If not for Frances Mayes and her wonderful books we may not have even known about Cortona. A tiny little town on top of a hill above Camucia, it is a lovely place to spend a day or part thereof.

Bramasole, Cortona

Bramasole, Cortona

What To Do In Cortona

Wander the Etruscan walls. I never get tired of seeing Etruscan anything, and the fact that walls and portions there of still stand 2500 years later is always amazing!


me, walking in Cortona

Museo dell’ Accademia Etrusco is housed in the 13th century Palazzo Casali and holds a substantial collection of local Etruscan and Roman treasures. The Etruscan objects are amazing, especially those gathered from the tombs just outside town in Sodo.

The Fortezza del Girifalco is a 15 minute hike uphill to the highest point in Cortona. The remains of what was a Medici fortress are the perfect viewing point to gaze out over the Valdichiana and Lago Trasimeno.

Caffe Degli Artisti, Cortona

Caffe Degli Artisti, Cortona

Caffe degli Artisti on via Nazionale is a fantastic place to stop for lunch. The owner is hilarious and will seat you elbow to elbow with fascinating people, as though it was all an elaborate dinner party. I never miss lunching there and have met the most fabulous people and made wonderful friends in the process!

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

People-watch in Piazza della Republica, the central piazza and main hub in town. The Town Hall stands at the top of a big staircase, on which you will normally find people sitting and looking out at the town. There are plenty of bench seats around the piazza and you will often see locals hanging out on them and catching up on the gossip, but if you find a space it is a lovely spot to enjoy the beauty of this lovely little town.

The Museo Diocesano is only little but it holds some amazing paintings from the 12th to the 17th centuries, including works by Fra’ Angelico and Luca Signorelli, who was from Cortona.

The church of Madonna del Calcinaio and its dome are one of the famous landmarks of Cortona. Luca Signorelli is buried there and the grounds are wonderful to wander along, with ancient little staircases and wonderful views.

The Saturday morning market is a wonderful chance to join the locals and buy cheeses and prosciutto, local breads and produce.

Cortona, via Nazionale

via Nazionale, Cortona

How To get There

The train from Florence takes an hour and forty minutes. You will need to take the local bus up the hill from the train station, and it will drop you outside Piazza Garibaldi.



Of course you will you see the famous leaning tower, but Pisa has much more to offer as well.

What To Do In Pisa

Walk along the Corso Italia and check out the shops, until you arrive at Logge dei Banchi, a loggia that has hosted markets or centuries. Positioned next to the the clock tower it makes one of the most famous views of Pisa along the Arno river. Palazzo Blu is a mere 2 minutes walk from there, and is a great place to catch fabulous art exhibitions.

Image result for pisa palazzo blu

Palazzo Blu, via myitalianitineraries.com

Look for the beautiful little church Chiesa della Spina sitting alongside the Arno.

Take time to stop on any of the bridges and take photos along the Arno.

Piazza vettovaglie by day

Piazza della Vettovaglie is a market during the day and is the heart of Pisa’s nightlife after the sun goes down.

Piazza vettovaglie by night

The National Museum of San Matteo has sculptures, paintings and ceramics in the Pisan style.

While in Pisa make sure to visit the Verdi Theater, a beautiful 19th century 900 seat theater built in the round.

How To Get There

Pisa is approximately 50 minutes by train from Florence.


Lucca, the city of 100 churches, sits a half hour inland from the coast on the Serchio River. Known for its Romanesque churches, hidden gardens and olive oil, Lucca is a lovely place for a day trip, or to base your entire trip.

What To Do In Lucca

Perhaps the most famous thing to do here is to rent a bicycle and bike along the top of the city wall. The 4 km bike ride (or walk) gives you unparalleled views of the city, its hidden gardens and the surrounding landscape.

The Romanesque Duomo has several great works of art including Tintoretto’s Last Supper, Ilaria del Carretto’s Tomb and the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix of the Holy Face.

The Basilica di San Frediano’s exquisite mosaic façade, glistens in the sunlight and is definitely worth seeing.

San Michele in Foro was first mentioned in 795 A.D. when it was part of the Roman Forum in Lucca. At some point after 1070 it was rebuilt, but what is most notable is the façade which was added in the 13th century.

San Michele in Foro

image via Agriturismo La Gioconda

The upper part has 4 levels of loggias (remarkable in themselves) atop which stands the 4 meter tall statue of St Michael the Archangel, flanked by 2 angels. Make sure you see the white marble statue of Madonna with baby Jesus in her arms in the south-west corner of the façade. Sculpted by Matteo Civitali it was commissioned to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague.

Piazza Anfiteatro is a lovely oval shaped piazza built around the original elliptical structure of a Roman amphitheater. During the summer events and concerts are held in the piazza, and year round it is a lovely place to have a coffee or a glass of wine.

piazza Antifeatro

Piazza Antifeatro via Italy Magazine

The Guinigi Tower is a Romanesque-Gothic tower in the heart of Lucca. Built in the 1300’s it is the most important tower in Lucca. You can’t miss it with its ancient Holm Oak trees growing out of the roof!

Guiniigi Tower Lucca

image via lovetotravel.nz.co

The roof garden is definitely worth the 4 euros and 200 stairs you must climb to reach it. It is a lovely place to take in the views of the city as well as to hang out in the garden. Interestingly the kitchen of this centuries old former home was on the level below, with the roof serving as a kitchen garden for the cooks.

If you are tires and hungry after the 200 stairs and your day walking and biking around Lucca, make sure you try the famous buccellato, a sweet bread with raisins that is a local specialty!

How To Get There

Lucca is approximately 90 minutes by train from Florence.



Whether you want to escape the heat or just enjoy a little ocean breeze, a day trip to Viareggio makes for a lovely break. One of Italy’s traditional seaside towns, Viareggio’s beach stretches 20 kms along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

You don’t come here for art, history and culture, you come for a day on the sand. Most of the beach is private beach – you pay to spend the day at one of the many lidos lining the waterfront, but you will have sunchairs, a sun umbrella, restroom facilities and a restaurant/snack bar. The lungomare, or beach promenade is full of eateries and little shops catering to the beach trade.

How To Get There

From Florence by train it will take you 1.5 to 2 hours


If you want to escape the crowds and experience something extra special head to the heart of the Serchio Valley in the province of Lucca to Barga. This absolute gem is known for its artistic and historical importance and has also received awards for being one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy.

Image result for barga italy

The village’s ancient traditions date back to the Longobard era in the 6th-8th centuries. The layout of the town with its narrow winding streets and irregular shaped buildings has remained virtually unchanged since then, adding to its charm. Barga became a prize fought over by Pisa and Lucca during the middle ages, and later by Florence too.

What To Do In Barga

Take time to visit the beautifully restored castle, The 11th century Duomo, the Church of San Francesco (1471) and take time to enjoy the view from the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the Arringo, the stretch of lawn between the Praetorian Palace and the cathedral.

On the second Sunday of every month there is a second hand/antiques fair in the town’s historic center, starting at 8am. Barga is also famous for its Jazz Festival and its annual Opera Festival.

How To Get There

From Florence take the train to Pisa (or Lucca) then the Lazzi bus which will take you to Lucca Piazza Verdi then on to Barga, dropping you just outside the medieval gates at the Fosso stop.

Secret Florence Bonus:

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Essential Florence Travel Guide