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.
Florence, Italy. September 2014.
Part One here.
Can you see the “Jesus” scratched onto the pane?
Panzanello Winery, Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy. June 2015.
I realized that I didn’t really have a category for posts about vineyards and countrysides, chateaus, villas, etc., so I thought I’d put them together in an altogether new category, “estates“, because they’re not all museums, and they don’t always fit under monuments or architecture…so that’s the best that I could come up with so far. Might change it once I think of something better, but right now I’m drawing blanks, so it’ll have to do 😐
My friend and I joined a Chianti day tour via Smart Trip (terrible tour company though–disorganized and overbooked), and our first stop was in Panzano in Chianti where we visited the Panzanello Winery.
Siena, Italy. September 2014.
Looked out the window of the bus and saw these busitalia chaps chillin’, waiting for their respective buses to depart, all smiles and (seemingly) without a care in the world. And on my way back to the bus stop, I passed by this previously-empty piazza which was now taken over by (what I assume to be) volunteer firefighters playing some sort of team-building game involving chairs, balloons and music blaring like it was midnight instead of four in the afternoon. Put them indoors, add a hose and a pole and this could easily have been a very different party :)) Just saying.