Easter in Tuscany, where to go and what to see

Easter in Tuscany, where to go and what to see

Easter in Tuscany, where to go and what to see

 

Easter in Tuscany is great as such as in the other Italian regions. As a Catholic country, often the folklore in Italy is strongly linked to religion and Easter is a joyful celebration especially because it happens in Spring, when the temperatures are mild and flowers and trees are in blossom. In fact, one way we usually spend the Easter Monday is enjoying picnics in the countryside, near rivers or at the beach.

 

If you’re planning to spend your Easter in Tuscany I want to share with you some infos about suggestive events. Of course, this list is not even close to be complete, but it may inspire you.

 

Easter Processions in Tuscany

 

As in other Italian areas, in Tuscany it is possible to participate in processions that depict the last hours of Jesus’ life.

 

In Castiglione di Garfagnana, near Lucca, on the evening of Holy Thursday takes place the Processione dei Crocioni.

A hooded man, dressed up as Jesus, walks through the narrow streets of this small village. He walks barefoot, with heavy chains around his ankles, carrying a huge wooden cross on his shoulders. He is guided by other dressed up men while the people on the roadsides silently look at him.
Nobody in town knows who the man is.

The darkness, the sound of the drummer and the medieval town around make the this procession one of the most suggestive.

 

A similar procession, called Antica Giudeata, is held in Chianciano Terme. The difference with the Processione dei Crocioni is that the Antica Giudeata looks like a real theatrical show, with more than 150 dressed up people, music and lights.

In my opinion is less evocative than the one in Castiglione della Garfagna, but it is undoubtedly more surprising.

 

I have already written about Pienza. In this lovely town a traditional procession takes place on the evening of Good Friday. This event is organized by the ancient Scalzi brotherhood.

Twelve Scalzi hooded men walk barefoot with torches throughout the streets. The procession starts and ends in front of the Cathedral and is usually accompanied by a band.

 

Easter in Florence

 

Since Florence is the most popular tourist destination in Tuscany, I think it is a good idea to tell you something about the main Easter event in the city, the Explosion of the Cart.

 

The Explosion of the Cart is a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages when a young member of the noble Pazzi family came back from the First Crusade, taking with him three flints from the Holy Sepulcher that he received for his courage. These flints are now treasured in the Church of SS. Apostoli.

 

The Cart is a 9 mt high decorated wagon that was built over 500 years ago! The wagon is loaded with fireworks and a wire connects it to the altar inside the Cathedral.

On Easter Day the three flints are used to lit a fire. The Archbishop uses the fire to light a dove–shaped rocket that flies down the wire from the altar to the Cart outside the Church. Once they collide, the fireworks on the Cart are ignited creating a joyful confusion of smoke and noise!

 

If all of the fireworks go off, then good luck is ensured.

 

Typical Food

 

During your Easter in Tuscany you can taste many traditional dishes.
The colorfully wrapped chocolate eggs are one of the most typical products you can find in Italy in this moment of the year. The eggs can be big or small, expensive or cheap, made of plain chocolate or enriched with other ingredients, but they always have a surprise inside. For this reason they are particularly appreciated by kids, but adults too usually indulge in this treat!

 

Remember that Easter Monday is national holiday here in Italy. However, many museums are open.

 

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3 Places to visit for a Perfect Valentine’s Day in Tuscany

3 Places to visit for a Perfect Valentine’s Day in Tuscany

3 Places to visit for a Perfect Valentine’s Day in Tuscany

Spending your Valentine’s Day in Tuscany doesn’t necessarily mean going to Florence.

Yes, Florence is a gorgeous city and it’s the first place I’m going to talk about in this article, but Tuscany has plenty of other lovely towns that are worth a visit. Plus, these towns are way less crowded!

Among all the things you can visit in Tuscany, there are 3 places connected to love that I consider perfect for living a romantic Valentine’s Day.

Dante’s Church in Florence

The world-known Italian poet Dante Alighieri lived in Florence between the 13th and the 14th centuries. He was in love with Beatrice, a girl who got married with another man and died young, causing to Dante a lot of suffering but also great inspiration for all his poetry.

A legend says that Dante met Beatrice for the first time in the church of Santa Maria ai Cerchi.

Tomb of Beatrice Portinari

For this reason, the church is also called Dante’s church and is considered a symbol of love.

Inside the church is a small tomb stone dedicated to Beatrice and in front of it there is a basket where people can leave messages and letters in which they ask the girl to help them with love problems. Dante’s Church reminds me of the Balcony of Juliet in Verona and for this reason I think it’s one of the most romantic place to visit during your Valentine’s day in Tuscany.

The Street of the Kiss in Pienza

I wrote a previous article about Pienza.

Pienza is a lovely town on the top of a hill, not far from Montepulciano. It’s very small but wonderful and it is part of the UNESCO heritage since 1996.

The beauty of Pienza is due to the fact that Pope Pius the Second, who was born there, wanted it to be the Perfect Renaissance City and so he built churches, palaces and squares following a specific project he had in mind. Unfortunately, the Pope died before he could complete it, but the result is gorgeous.

One of the most photographed spot in Pienza is Piazza Pio II. The Cathedral, Palazzo Piccolomini with its suspended garden, Palazzo Borgia and Palazzo Comunale, all together create a harmonic scenario that makes the square look like a painting.

Taking a walk in Pienza means getting lost in a maze of narrow streets. One of these is quite popular among the citizens and the tourists. It’s Via del Bacio, the street of the Kiss.

Its name derives from the narrowness that makes it perfect for secret encounters between lovers.

Moreover, the street of the Kiss leads to a wonderful belvedere that overlooks the countryside of Val D’Orcia. It’s the perfect background for living one of the most romantic moment of your Valentine’s Day in Tuscany. Doesn’t matter if it’s only for a photo, a kiss…or a wedding proposals!

If the street of the Kiss isn’t enough, in Pienza there is also the street of Love.

Lucignano and The Tree Of Love

Like Pienza, Lucignano is a village of Etruscan origin placed on the top of a hill and surrounded by an enchanting countryside.

Outside the city walls, on the top of a hill just in front of the town, are the remains of an ancient fortress. Beyond the fortress is the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Querce, which is said to have been designed by the famous architect Giorgio Vasari.

All these beauty is worth a visit by itself, but the reason why you should make a jump there during your Valentine’s Day in Tuscany is the Albero D’oro, the Golden Tree, a masterpiece of the goldsmith’s art.

the Albero D’oro, the Golden Tree in Lucignano

The Golden Tree is a huge tree-shaped reliquary, 2.60 meters tall, made in gilded silver and studded with crystals and corals.

Each of its 12 branches ends with a small shrine in which a relic is preserved, including even shards from the Holy Cross.

With all its details and symbols, the Golden Tree looks really amazing. And it took 120 years to complete its construction – from 1350 to 1471!

Over time the Golden Tree of Lucignano has become part of a local legend that no one seems to completely remember. The only surviving element is the belief that the Tree brings good luck to lovers. For this reason, many newlyweds and couples go to the Municipal Museum of the town to exchange their love promises in front of the Tree, which is now known also as the Tree of Love.

On Valentine’s Day, some theme-related events are organized in Lucignano and many restaurants have a special menu for those who wants to celebrate their love.

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The Ancient Bonfire Competition of the Disfida Dei Falò in Pontremoli, Tuscany

The Ancient Bonfire Competition of the Disfida Dei Falò in Pontremoli, Tuscany

The Ancient Bonfire Competition of the Disfida Dei Falò in Pontremoli, Tuscany

The Disfida dei Falò in Pontremoli is a traditional bonfire competition that has been held every January for centuries. For two nights the town is lit by the glow of the fire while people gets carried away by the enthusiasm of an ancient rivalry.

I must say that bonfires are common in the early days of the year throughout Italy, but those of Pontremoli haven’t much to do with pagan folklore or Christian symbolism. The origin of this celebration is linked to a time when the town was torn by the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.

The Origins of the Disfida dei Falò

The Guelphs and the Ghibellines were 2 factions, one supporting the Pope, the other supporting the Holy Roman Emperor. Their rivalry has marked the politics of many city-states, especially in central Italy.

In Pontremoli, the fight between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines became so hard that Castruccio Castracani, the Duke of Lucca, were forced to divide the town into two. He built Fortezza Cazzaguerra which separated the Guelph district of San Nicolò from the Ghibelline one of San Geminano.

Today the only remain of the fortress is the central tower, called Campanone, but the rivalry between the districts is still alive and is carried on through the bonfires competition. It’s a goliardic but intense rivalry that makes the Disfida dei Falò a very engaging events for the residents of Pontremoli. 
On January 17 they all crowd on the banks of the river Magra to see the bonfire of San Nicolò, and then, on January 31, they do the same on the banks of the river Verde for the bonfire of San Geminiano.

Why it’s worth to see the Bonfires of Pontremoli

Watching a bonfire in the night is always an evocative experience that recalls times and lifestyles gone by. But the bonfires competition in Pontremoli is something exceptional for two reasons.

First, during the show the residents of the districts are used to sing songs of mockery towards the opponents, and this makes the experience much more fun.

Actually, the rivalry is so pervasive that the construction of bonfires itself is constantly monitored to avoid jokes and raids by the opponents.

Consider that the volunteers start to prepare what they need in September, striving to stack the bundles and hide them around Pontremoli to prevent theft.

For this near the stacks they build shacks where they can supervise while staying warm.

It’s like a war! And ‘soldiers’ have their livery: white and red for San Nicolò, blue and white for San geminiamo.

Secondly, the bonfires of Pontremoli are huge!

Volunteers pile an incredible amount of dried heather and other shrubs around poles that are more or less 13 mt high. They do everything by hand, placing every stick in the right place to ensure flames that can be 30 mt high.

The district which build the bonfire with the highest flames wins!

What is the prize? Well, the satisfaction of having beaten the opponents and the hope for a good year.

Something about Pontremoli

Apart from the Disfida dei Falò, I recommend you visit the city of Pontremoli because it is really enchanting.

Pontremoli is one of the most characteristic towns of Lunigiana, in the north of Tuscany. Its medieval atmosphere is able to bring you back in time and the surrounding nature offers wonderful views. This city is indeed surrounded by hills and there are many hiking trails. Culture, art, history and good food are other pluses.

In short, Pontremoli and its bonfire competition combine the beauty of Tuscany with a folklore that is still alive despite the centuries.

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The wonderful hot springs of Tuscany: Cascate del Mulino

The wonderful hot springs of Tuscany: Cascate del Mulino

Cascate del Mulino Saturnia

One of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Tuscany was the visit to the spas called Cascate del Mulino, or Le Cascatelle, near Saturnia.

It’s a really fascinating place. From afar (there is a belvedere with great view) they look like a painting.

This thermal spring is called Cascatelle or Cascate because the water has formed a waterfall that opens in many other smaller waterfalls that have carved the rock, forming natural pools on different levels.

These pools are full of sulfurous water that comes out directly from the underground at a constant temperature of 37° C.

Being soaked in it is good for the body, thanks to the beneficial properties, but also for the spirit.The waterfalls are surrounded by the beautiful nature of Tuscany.

The green of the vegetation is mixed with the turquoise of the water and the white of the calcareous rock.

An old building at the top of the falls stands still, as a reminder of a past time. Further away, beyond the trees, the delicate hills of Maremma disappear from view, hidden by curtains of steam.

Everything is terribly relaxing!

I’ve been to the Cascate del Mulino at night.

I remember that reach them was an adventure, since the path was scarcely lit. Yes, I must confess I was a little bit scared of walking in the dark, surrounded by the vegetation. But I think this was part of the experience too!

Actually I was lucky because that night the sky was clear and an amazing full moon brightened the surroundings.

When I finally reached the falls I was enchanted. Every detail contributed to create an intimate and magical atmosphere that still thrills me a bit nowadays.

The reflections of the moonlight on the water, the sounds of the waterfalls, the warmth of the water on the body, pleasant despite it was summer,…

That’s why the Cascate del Mulino are among the most beautiful natural spas in Tuscany and also Italy.

The best thing is that they are open every day, both day and night, and are completely free.

This makes them an unmissable destination for your holiday in Maremma, but it also means that they could be a little crowded.

Weekends, especially in spring and autumn, are particularly packed. Nothing unbearable, according to me, but if you are looking for a very relaxing experience, choose other moments.

And finally, when you’ll be tired of soaking in the hot water, remember that a few kilometers away is Montemerano, one of the most beautiful hamlets in Italy.

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Wine & Food Tour of Val D’Orcia part. 3 Montalcino

Wine & Food Tour of Val D’Orcia part. 3 Montalcino

Montalcino Wine & Food Tour

The third stop of my personal food&wine tour is situated south of Siena and west of Pienza. It is Montalcino, a charming medieval village.

Montalcino isn’t tiny as Pienza. It is surrounded by 4km of ancient walls, with 13 towers and 6 entrances. All around is the lovely campaign of Tuscany, with its hills and vineyards.

When I visited Montalcino I really enjoyed walking through the maze of small streets, peeking at the inside of the artisans shops and discovering its beautiful architecture.

I think that Piazza del Popolo, Palazzo dei Priori (the town hall building), the bare-looking Cathedral and the Astrusi Theater are the main attractions to visit.

But the most fascinating one is the Castle, for sure. It was built in 1361 and is still perfectly intact. It’s amazing! And from the top of its towers you can admire a breath-taking 360 ° view on the Tuscan countryside.

montalcino-winefood-tourThere is another great panoramic point, a little outside Montalcino. It is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, in the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate.

The Abbey was build during the 12th century but it was abandoned and only in 1979 a new community of French monks moved there.

The Abbey is worth a visit not only for the great panoramic view from there or its architectural beauty.

During the Mass it is possible to listen to the Gregorian chants and it is a really evocative experience that I recommend.

But let’s talk back about the Castle for a moment.

I said that it is really well conserved and I think this is why they use it as a venue for concerts and events.

One of the most famous events is the Jazz&Wine Festival, which is held in July and mixes jazz music and great wine. In fact, Montalcino is the home of one of the most renowned Italian wines, Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello di Montalcino

This wine is gorgeous! It must age for at least 5 years before being served, and for 2 years it must age exclusively in oak barrels. The result is a wine with a brilliant ruby red color, an intense aroma and a lasting and composite flavor.

The best thing for me is discovering all the hidden spots of Montalcino, then sit down in a wine-bar and sip a glass of Brunello. That’s my idea of enjoying life!

With Montalcino and its wine Brunello, my short food & wine tour of Val D’Orcia comes to an end. But, of course, there’s much more to visit in Tuscany.

 

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Wine & Food Tour Of Val D’Orcia part. 2 Pienza

Wine & Food Tour Of Val D’Orcia part. 2 Pienza

Pienza Wine&Food Tour

Pienza is an idyllic Tuscan village located at 15 kilometers form Montepulciano.  And it is the second stop of my suggested tour of Val d’Orcia.

Reaching Pienza from Montepulciano is a short but lovely trip that lets you enjoying the Tuscan countryside.

As Montepulciano, Pienza is on top of a hill, but it is a super-tiny town! You can cross it from one point to another in a few minutes. And yet it’s really famous for its beauty! Consider that it has been declared a UNESCO heritage in 1996.

The beauty of Pienza is not accidental. It is the result of a urbanist project that dates back to the 15th century, when Pope Pius II decided to turn his native village, Corsignano, into a model city. They build palaces, churches, squares and streets, transforming the village into a beautiful Renaissance town. Unfortunately the Pope died before his project was fully completed, but no one can complain about what we see today.

In particular, Piazza Pio II looks like a painting. I think it’s due to the architectural harmony of the different buildings. They are the Cattedrale dell’Assunta with its octagonal tower, Palazzo Piccolomini with its loggia and the suspended garden (Zeffirelli shot some scenes of Romeo and Juliet there), Palazzo Borgia and Palazzo Comunale.

There are 2 other things that I loved during my visit to Pienza. The first is the Pieve di Corsigliano, an old church build in the 7th century, just outside the town center.
The second is a fantastic belvedere. Form the main gate of Pienza, Porta al Prato, turn immediately right into Via Gozzante and the belvedere is not so far.

Pienza Wine&Food Tour The view on the Tuscan countryside is stunning, with the vineyards, the olive groves, the hills, the fields of wheat and solitary cypresses here and there.

But, hey, this was supposed to be a food&wine tour so…let’s talk about food!

Pienza is the town of Pecorino

a very tasty cheese made from goat milk. It can be stagionato in mille modi and it can be abbinato with wines, honeys, pasta and much more. You can find it on the menu of almost every restaurants in town and buy it in many shops.

Pecorino is an important part of the culture of Pienza.

A dedicated fair is organized every September and people play a game called Cacio al Fuso, during which they roll cheese wheels around a spindle placed in the middle of the main square.

Despite being so small, Pienza is terribly enchanting and has much to offer to visitors! I think it is the right place to collect lovely memories of the most authentic Tuscany.

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