Excursions from Florence

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Sooner or later, everybody needs a break from Florence. The surfeit of culture can leave the visitor footsore and light-headed. The English poet, Laurie Lee, fled to the Tuscan hills, exclaiming: ‘I’d had my fill of Florence … my eyes were choked with pictures and frescoes … their colours running. I began to long for those cool uplands, that country air…’

For a Half Day

Fiesole: Visitors in search of those ‘cool uplands’ should head for the lush olive groves and valleys of Fiesole. Situated eight kilometres (five miles) from Florence, it is just a short bus ride away – bus 7 from Piazza del Duomo, to be exact. Formerly an Etruscan settlement founded in the seventh century BC, Fiesole grew in importance under the Romans who left behind a 3000-seat amphitheatre that is still used for outdoors concerts in the summer. The Archaeological Park also features Roman baths, a Roman temple and an Etruscan temple, set against Etruscan city walls. In the town, it is difficult for any man-made attraction to compete with the glorious views over Florence. Besides, the Florentines left visitors little choice when they ransacked the town in 1125, leaving only the Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace standing.

Today, a smattering of shops and trattorie surround the cathedral, which contains some of the best works of the local sculptor, Mino da Fiesole. Gluttons for punishment can visit the Museo Bandini, Via Dupe (tel: (055) 59477), which is open daily 0930-1900 (summer), Monday and Wednesday-Saturday 1000-1700 (winter). The museum is closed on the first Tuesday of each month and admission is €6, for a combined ticket with the Museo Archeologico (archaeological park).

On the way home, those travelling by car should take the SS-65, for a look at some of the opulent Medici Villas, now fighting to survive the encroaching suburban sprawl. The Fiesole tourist office, Via Portigiani (tel: (055) 598 720 or 837 213; fax: (055) 598 822; website: www.commune.fiesole.fi.it), can provide further information.

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For a Whole Day

Siena: Located some 50km (31 miles) south of Florence, medieval Siena is often seen as the female counterfoil to Renaissance Florence. At her heart lies the magnificent shell-like piazza, Il Campo, scene of the famous bareback horse race, Il Palio, which whips the town into a frenzy, twice a year. One day is not long enough for one to appreciate all that this tiny, walled city has to offer. Must-sees include the humbug-striped cathedral decried by Ruskin as ‘a piece of costly confectionery’ and the majestic Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) topped by the soaring Torre del Mangia. Named after the medieval bell-ringer, the tower should be climbed for magnificent views of the city and hills beyond. Inside the town hall is the Museo Civico, where tourists flock to see Simone Martini’s Guidoriccio (the famous Sienese captain and standard-bearer of the city) and Lorenzetti’s Effects of Good and Bad Government (a vivid allegory painted against the backdrop of 14th-century Siena). The city’s best-loved work, Duccio’s Maesta, lies in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The devotional picture of the Madonna, enthroned among saints and angels, once graced the cathedral altar, her blue robes setting off the church’s starry vaults. No visit is complete without a wander through Siena’s cool, warren-like streets that wind around Il Campo, like arteries feeding the city’s pulsating heart. Visitors can drop into one of the city’s pasticceria for a slice of Sienese panforte or mingle with the students, seeping up the sun in the Campo, over a slice of freshly baked pizza.

From Florence, Siena is best reached by bus. No cars are allowed into the city and Siena’s train station is on a branch line, making it necessary to change. Coaches depart from the station on Via Santa Caterina every hour (journey time – approximately 1 hour). The Siena tourist office is located at Piazza del Campo 56 (tel: (0577) 280 551; fax: (0577) 270 676; e-mail: aptsiena@siena.turismo.toscana.it; website: www.siena.turismo.toscana.it).

Tourist Information
Azienda di Promozione Turistica (APT)
Via Cavour 1r
Tel: (055) 290 832. Fax: (055) 276 0383.
E-mail: infoturismo@provincia.fi.it
Website: www.firenze.turismo.toscana.it
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 0830-1830 and Sun 0830-1330.

Other branches are located outside the central station, at the airport, at Via Manzoni 16 and in Borgo Santa Croce, near the church.

 

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Getting to Florence

Situated in the northwest of Italy, surrounded by the wine-growing hills of Chianti, the city attracts rapture and frustration in equal proportions.

When's best to visit Florence?

It is best for visitors to avoid the peak summer months of July and August, when the weather can be unbearably sticky and the prospect of trailing around museums becomes unappealing. Early autumn, when the countryside glows with mellow fruitfulness, is the best time to visit, avoiding the heat and the queues and capitalising on the soft light, empty streets and the abundance of wild mushrooms and just-pressed olive oil.