Rabbie's own Amy explores the carb-ier side of Italy on our 6-day Cinque Terre, Florence & the Flavours of Tuscany tour. Check out her review of the trip below.
I’d never travelled solo before this trip, so I was feeling equally excited and nervous in the run up to the departure date. Knowing that I was going to be on a Rabbie’s tour reassured me that everything was going to be great, and I had nothing to worry about! I made my way from Edinburgh to Milan, arriving late in the night, my first impression was one of awe when I traversed the Central Station, coordinating my onwards journey to my hotel via the metro. I purchased my ticket with ease and then successfully checked in at the Starhotels Business Palace hotel, receiving a warm welcome even though it was close to midnight. I woke early the next morning, eager to explore the city.
I had tickets booked to climb to the Duomo rooftop and opted for the stairs. The views and perspective did not disappoint. Afterwards, I wandered the shops before grabbing a 1-day Metro ticket, intending to see as much as possible. I ended up walking over 30,000 steps, eating pizza slices and gelato along the way. One of my favourite places I visited was the Bosco Verticale, to be surrounded by a vertical forest was incredibly inspiring and unique.
I was buzzing with anticipation whilst eating breakfast. I located the tour vehicle easily, it was parked ready and waiting outside the hotel main entrance at 08:15am. This is when I met the wonderful guide who I was going to spend the next 6 days with. Luisella was kind and immediately made me feel at ease. I was aware that there was only going to be one other passenger on the tour, and I was so relieved that Katie and I immediately bonded over shared interests, instantly exchanging stories and becoming familiar in each other’s company.
As we departed Milan, travelling south, the clouds darkened as the rain began. We arrived in La Spezia just before noon and, spirits slightly dampened, I was looking forward to visiting the Cinque Terre villages. Despite worrying that the experience would be somewhat compromised by the unpleasant weather, we endured anyway and walked to the train station. Included in the Rabbie’s tour is a Cinque Terre card which entitled us to unlimited train travel between La Spezia and the villages and we intended to put this to good use. I had hoped to visit at least 4 out of the 5 villages seeing as we had the entire afternoon and evening. Katie and I decided to stick together for this portion of the tour and, armed with our umbrellas, we explored Monterosso, the largest of the 5 villages. We grabbed some lunch and wandered around but at the advice of Luisella we soon boarded the train back to La Spezia. We were disappointed but understood we couldn’t control the weather. Whilst on the train back the clouds began to clear and the rain gave us some respite, so we hopped off at Manarola and thus began our lovely afternoon. We ended up visiting Vernazza, Riomaggiore and went back to Monterosso to appreciate it in the sunshine, where we had our first spritz’ of the trip, ever so grateful to be there.
Our morning began with a stroll around the delightful Pietrasanta, being introduced to art particularly in the form of statues that were dotted throughout the town. The area had links to Michelangelo and there were blocks of marble everywhere you looked due to the proximity to the marble quarries in the Apuan Alps. After purchasing some small souvenirs, we drove the short distance to Pisa. I’d seen photos of the leaning tower, but nothing prepared me for the extent of the lean. With a couple of hours to freely explore the city, our first stop was to visit the Duomo, where we acquired free timed entrance tickets from the ticket office and visited promptly afterwards. It was necessary to cover shoulders and dress modestly, so Katie lent me her shawl so I could be permitted entry. The complex that included the tower and Duomo was busy with tourists all taking photos and posing in amusing ways but once you stepped away from the area the city started to feel less touristy.
We headed down towards the Arno river, I’d seen photos of Santa Maria Della Spina and was keen to see it in person, and we took some photos before taking a slow wander along Borgo Stretto. Intent on finding a nice spot for lunch, we were soon eating a delightful sandwich and drinking peach iced teas.
On our drive to Lucca, the rain began again, and once we arrived, we waited around 15 minutes for it to subside before embracing the reality that it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. I could tell that we were in Tuscany now with the terracotta rooftops, renaissance architecture, and cobblestone streets. I really loved that the city was predominately pedestrianised so we could wander the historic city centre with ease. We had enough time to get an impression of Lucca but I just know I’ll find myself back there one day, it seemed like a truly lovely place to spend a relaxing weekend. Our day came to an close end in Florence, checking into our ideally located hotel. Luisella proposed that the three of us should go out for a meal together, so we headed in the general direction of a place that she had in mind but stumbled across another restaurant along the way that fit our requirements. Florentine steak for them and Courgette flowers for me, we had a wonderful time together. On the walk back we made a quick detour to see the incredible Duomo, having a glass of Chianti in its shadow and listening to the church bells signaling that it was 10pm, making us feel so fortunate.
I’d decided that I was going to take it easy today. We had a free day to explore Florence however we liked and, having visited Florence only a few years ago, I’d already visited the Accademia and the Uffizi along with other significant attractions.
I started my day with the mission of finding a pistachio croissant. I chose Scudieri to have a relaxing Macchiato and my pastry and then proceeded to take hundreds of photos of the Duomo from every possible angle. Last time I visited we climbed to the top of the Duomo, which was an incredible experience and then we also climbed to the top of the bell tower too. These experiences are very popular and tend to get fully booked, so I advise pre-booking. This time I just elected to visit the interior of the Duomo. The entrance is at the front and no tickets are required but the queue can get long, I only waited 15 minutes but I saw a few people were refused entry due to improper clothing. I paid to go into the Basilica of Santa Croce, Medici Chapel, and Basilica San Lorenzo.
A hidden gem that Luisella mentioned to me was the Offiina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the oldest pharmacy is the world, dating back to the 1200’s. I’m so glad I went and saw this place, it was beautiful. It was nearing the end of the day and I had told myself that a non-negotiable place to visit was the Piazzale Michelangelo. I’d visited on my last trip and found it to be so special, so I set off on a 40 minute walk across the city, stopping for Pistachio gelato at RivaReno on the way (so good!). It’s such an amazing viewpoint over the city and the evening atmosphere is wonderful as many people head there to watch the sunset. I finished off my night with a margarita pizza at Il Pizzaiuolo, the nicest pizza of my life. Even though my intention was to have a relaxing day I still walked over 30,000 steps, credit to Florence for being too beautiful to resist.
This was the day I was most looking forward to. I’d been dreaming about exploring San Gimignano and it was finally about to happen. We had a quick stop for coffee in Greve and then we drove through the Chianti hills. Seeing the vineyards for the first time was a joy, grapes and olives as far as the eye could see. By mid-morning we had San Gimignano in view. I asked if we could stop for a photo opportunity on approach and the driver Gabriel was happy to oblige.
Katie and I went our separate ways, each wanting to explore differently. I chose to climb one of the towers so I could get an aerial perspective and I’m so glad I did. It was just over 200 steps to the top and the views were breathtaking. I spent the rest of my time wandering and admiring the beauty of the place. I didn’t want to leave San Gimignano, I could of have happily stayed for days.
As we continued onwards to Siena, I was immediately struck by how unique this place felt, it had character and a different spirit. Piazza del Campo, with its shell shape, was unlike anywhere else I’d been before. We walked the city together, heading towards the Duomo, which I found to be incredibly beautiful. The floor was uncovered and we were treated to views of the astounding marble mosaic and graffito flooring. Luisella shared history and information that she’d learnt throughout the years, and I left with a deeper appreciation and understanding. Our home for the next two nights would be in Montepulciano and the sunset left pink clouds in the sky as we enjoyed our pasta and wine.
We continued our journey through Tuscany, the rolling hills and Cypress trees everywhere, my camera roll near full. Our first significant stop of the day was in Pienza, a place that I’d never heard of, but which has now left an impression on my heart. I’ll always look back fondly on our time here, it felt less touristy and more authentic.
We shared a wonderful meal of wine and fresh produce together at Osteria Sette di Vino, the sun shining overhead. In the afternoon we journeyed back to Montepulciano, for we had a booking at the De’Ricci wine cellar for a tour and tasting. Our guide was informative and the location was astounding - not to mention the amazing wine. We meandered back to our hotel and then said we’d meet for our last night together and watch the sunset. We found a great spot at 7:30pm and the sky turned different shades of pink, yellow and orange.
I’d mentioned to Luisella that I would like to stop at a vineyard, the grapes were mature after growing all summer and I couldn’t resist a photo opportunity. We made an impromptu stop and got an up close and personal perspective of the vines. We also made a few other spontaneous stops to appreciate Val d’Orcia as the landscape was so beautiful.
Our last stops were Sovana and an Etruscan Necropolis, before relaxing in Capodimonte. Our tour terminated in Rome, and we parted ways. Back to being on my own after a week of delightful company, I reminisced on such a joyous week, thankful I was blessed enough to see this beautiful part of this world.
If you've always wanted to stuff your face with pizza, pasta and wine with an incredible Italian view surrounding you, consider joining the 6-day Cinque Terre, Florence & the Flavours of Tuscany tour.