When I was in Florence, I found out about a series of free tours of Prato, a neighboring area in the region of Florence, which was aimed at promoting the area as an alternative sightseeing destination to the often-overcrowded Firenze. One of the places we went to was a cute hilltop estate called La Rocca di Montemurlo, in Montemurlo, Prato.
Our bus was too big to go up the steep roads to the estate, so the organizers actually partnered up with the commune’s emergency services (the misericordia) so we were driven up to the estate in ambulances. It was a bit of a slow process just because they had 2 ambulances that could only take a handful of people at a time, and there was a giant bus full of us. But I applauded their creativity and especially the community participation. Talk about team spirit!
This view ❤
This is the private villa at the top. We were given access to the garden, which was also really beautiful.
The stuff of fairytales
I want a mini private forest too
The estate was also hosting a wedding reception at the time, so this would also make for a great little wedding location!
To visit, check out if thatsprato.com is still offering the free tours
Buontalenti Grotto, Boboli Gardens – Florence, Italy.
Accessible from Giardino di Boboli (a ticket you can purchase separately from the ticket to Palazzo Pitti), the Buontalenti Grotto doesn’t look like much from the outside, especially because it’s near the exit and you can easily miss it if you’re not looking the right way. It’s tucked away down a pebble path amid some trees and bushes, so when you’re walking down the path towards the Boboli Gardens exit, you won’t actually see it unless you know that it’s there, or unless you happen to see the tiny sign that almost blends into the bushes. So remember to look to the right before you exit the gate!
His cave-inspired style of sculpture might not appeal to a lot of people. Honestly, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but they did get more interesting the closer you were and the more you looked at them. Bernardo Buontalenti was one of those renaissance type artists who were good at lots of things–he was a sculptor, architect, engineer, painter, etc. NBD.
These rough-but-detailed sculptures remind me so much of the stone king/wizard in Return to Oz. The stuff of childhood nightmares, but ever so fascinating.
Entrance to the grotto is limited to a handful of people at a time, and it’s not always open. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and someone will be there to let you in, and sometimes you’ll just have to poke your head as far as you can through the grills and try to see what’s inside.
Check out these stone sheep
Whether or not you think it’s pretty, you can’t deny that it’s definitely interesting, and that’s always better than boring!
Siena, Italy. September 2014.
Always branded as Florence’s less crowded neighbor (although let’s face it, it’s pretty crowded here too, sometimes), Siena is worth a visit all on its own. It’s a nice day trip or half day trip, and almost all the notables are within a 5-10 minute radius from the center. I really like it when old towns are jam-packed with things to see and do. An instagrammer’s dream (since technically I’m no photographer haha)!
Like many duomos in Tuscany and nearby regions, the church was built originally medieval (brick), and then renaissance-d up. You’ll also notice these graphic stripes paired with the ornate baroque-ish façades in many duomos and churches.
Siena is pretty small, and it wasn’t palio season when I went (I imagine it would be a lot more crowded during the palio), so it was nice to walk around maplessly.
A sandwich shop where I cracked a tooth :)) The sandwich wasn’t bad; my teeth just suck.
The shell-shaped piazza where the palio takes place
400+ steps up, not a great idea when one isn’t in shape and forgot to warm up :))
And one dizzying descent before I left. Ci vediamo, Siena.
All’Acqua Al 2 (Due), Florence, Italy. August 2014.
This was my first meal back in Florence after five years. Mushroom risotto and limoncello. No, they didn’t go, but whatever.
Florence, Italy. September 2014.
Part One here.
Can you see the “Jesus” scratched onto the pane?
Florence, Italy. October 2014.
Going up the cupola of Florence’s duomo (aka Santa Maria del Fiore) can be done with a combined 10€ ticket that includes going up Giotto’s Tower and entrance to The Baptistry of St. John. The ticket is good for 24 hours so if you’ve got good legs for climbing then you can make the most of your ticket. For some people though, the views from the tower and the cupola are pretty much the same, so if you’re pressed for time or if (like me) your legs have only got enough juice for one climb, then one climb is just as well.
What I like about gaining access to the cupola is that it affords you views of the duomo that can really change your opinion of it. As people who’ve visited Florence’s duomo know, compared to the intricately detailed exterior, the interior is relatively sparse. The floors have beautiful tilework, but generally the walls are quite bare and austere.