Travel Journal: Florence Siena, Italy

Kathy & Ed Baker

Five years ago on a cruise, we took a two-hour tour of Siena as one of our excursions. Our brief encounter with the medieval walled city fascinated us, and we knew that we would be back. On the trip to and from the ship, we saw a number of bicycle riders and thought that exploring the countryside on bicycles would be wonderful. This year we decided it was time to take that trip.

In Florence, we suggest the Gallery Hotel Art near the Ponte Vecchio. In Siena, we would recommend the Grand Hotel Continental, located near the Piazza del Campo.

Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena. Everything there is wonderful.

Light Jacket or wrap and comfortable walking shoes.

Duoma di Siena, the beautiful Gothic cathedral with an inlaid marble mosaic covering its entire floor.

The walled village of Monteriggioni, with 11th-century roots as a border fortress, about 14 kilometers northeast of Siena.

Castello di Meleto. We biked in Tuscany on seven days. Five of the days we rode with a guide, but on two days the bike tour company gave us printed routes to follow. After we had explored Monteriggioni, we rode on to Gaiole in Chianti. While we enjoyed a coffee and some gelato in a little café, I read in my Fodor’s guide book that we were near a restored castle that produced wine. We easily found Castello di Meleto and were rewarded for our efforts with a tour and a wine tasting. They even gave us two bottles of wine to take with us. The castle included a full wine cellar and a theater with a balcony where the family sat to watch performances by troupes of actors hired for the season to entertain them.

Staying at the Grand Hotel Continental in Siena. It costs more to stay inside the city but is well worth it to be so close to everything in Siena and fully experience the city from the inside instead of coming and going each day. The doorman stored our bikes each evening and had them waiting for us in the mornings. On our anniversary, the staff decorated our room with heart-shaped balloons and rose petals while we were at dinner.

Ed was pleasantly surprised to find that Tuscany produces some great beer in addition to the wonderful wines.

In this part of Italy, businesses close from 2 to 4 p.m. They do not alter this custom even if it looks like they will make a sale by staying open a few minutes longer. In some Tuscan cities, shops don’t open at all on Monday. Know the hours of operation in advance.

….who enjoy a lot of physical activity and who have been to Italy numerous times. We spent no time at all seeing the important sites that most people travel to Tuscany to see. Riding bicycles through the countryside gave us the opportunity to become completely immersed in the local culture and experience it with all of our senses. Our guides took us to small cafés and restaurants in villages that few American tourists have on their list of places to see in Italy.