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Every one of our honest, in-depth hotel reviews is based on a recent personal inspection; every restaurant has been tried personally; and every sight, shop, and stroll was checked out in detail. You’ll get the latest trip-planning advice, valuable cultural insights, wonderful tips for venturing off the beaten path, and detailed, accurate maps. With Frommer’s in hand, it’s a snap to design the Italian adventure that’s right for you.
What's New in Florence, Tuscany & Umbria.
1. The Best of Florence, Tuscany & Umbria.
2. Planning Your Trip to Tuscany & Umbria.
3. Settling into Florence: Birthplace of the Renaissance.
4. Exploring Florence.
5. The Chianti, Siena & the Western Hill Towns.
6. Lucca & Northwestern Tuscany.
7. Pisa, Tuscany's Coast & the Maremma.
8. Southern Tuscany.
9. Arezzo & Northeastern Tuscany.
10. Perugia, Assisi & Northern Umbria.
11. Spoleto & Southern Umbria.
Appendix A: Tuscany & Umbria in Depth.
Appendix B: Useful Terms & Phrases.
This book will provide you with countless insider tips, show you places as yet undiscovered by most tourists, and tell you where to find a comfortable room and a great meal in an out-of-the-way town. Get ready to discover some of the best of both known and hidden Tuscany and Umbria.
1 The Best Tuscan & Umbrian Experiences
Exploring the Back Roads: Rural Tuscany and Umbria just beg to be explored by car, and your own set of wheels really is the only way to discover the hidden side of these often overtouristed regions. Just picture yourself winding your way among olive groves and forests on back roads, cruising past vineyards and waving fields of emerald grass dotted with sheep. You'll find tiny medieval villages that don't appear in any guidebook, and you'll turn off at every VENDITA DIRETTA (direct sales) sign to meet the vintner or farmer and sample his wine, herb-scented honey, or home-pressed olive oil. Buy the best regional map you can find, fill the tank, and get ready to put your rental car to the test on dirt roads, steep mountain switchbacks, and the occasional manic Italian highway.
Enjoying a 3-Hour Dinner: A simple pleasure, but one that can make for a most memorable evening. Good friends, good conversation, and good wine can easily extend a meal for hours, and the Italian dinner is a perfectexcuse and vehicle, what with four or five major courses, big pauses in between, and cheese, dessert, coffee, and digestivo liqueur all lined up at the end.
Catching Festival Fever: Italians will throw a festa at any excuse-the local saint's day, the harvest, boar-hunting season, or sometimes just because it's the second Tuesday in May. Flower-strewn streets, fountains spewing wine, solemn religious processions, people in Renaissance garb shooting crossbows, horse and footraces through medieval streets, big roasting spits of wild birds, mass blessings of sheep and Fiats, violent Renaissance soccer, jousting matches, High Masses, and vats bubbling with polenta-you never know what you'll be in for, but it's bound to be memorable. See "Tuscany & Umbria Calendar of Events" in chapter 2 and each town's "Essentials" section.
Haggling in Florence's Leather Market: Every day, the streets around the Mercato Centrale and San Lorenzo are filled with proprietors hawking marbleized paper, knockoff Gucci silk scarves, Tshirts emblazoned with Michelangelo's David, and wallets, purses, jackets, and other leather products galore. All the stall keepers promise "the lowest prices in Florence." That so-called lowest price is usually far from it, and the best part of shopping here is using every bargaining trick in the book to drive the "lowest price" even lower. See "Shopping" in chapter 4.
Hiking the Hills of Florence: The walk from Florence up to Fiesole is famous enough to earn a scene in the movie adaptation of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View (even if they cheated and took carriages). But don't neglect the hills of San Miniato and Bellosguardo that rise south of the Arno; the views over the city here are closer at hand, and the land is less developed. See chapter 4.
Biking Lucca's City Walls: The elegant republic of Lucca is still snuggled comfortably behind its 16th-century walls, ramparts so thick they were able to be converted into a narrow city park-a tree-lined promenade running a 4.9km (2 2/3-mile) loop around the city rooftops. The bicycle is the preferred mode of transportation in Lucca, and you'll be in good company as you tool under the shade past parents pushing strollers, businessmen walking their dogs, and old men at picnic tables in their 40th year of a never-ending card game. See "Walking the Walls" on p. 276.
Picnicking Under the Leaning Tower: Pisa is home to the most felicitously gorgeous piazza in all Italy, the Campo dei Miracoli. Even if you're in town for just half a day, grab a sandwich or a slice of pizza and picnic on the small triangle of grass in front of the famous leaning tower-the campanile with the world's worst posture. Afterward, saunter down to the patch of green surrounding the baptistery and take a nap on the grass with the sun warming your face. And, oh yeah: You can climb the tower, too. See "Pisa & Its Tipsy Tower" in chapter 7.
Taking an Evening Stroll in Perugia: Perugia's wide Corso Vannucci is perfect for the early-evening stroll Italians everywhere turn out for-the passeggiata. It's the time to see and be seen, to promenade arm in arm with your best friend dressed in your best duds. The crowd flows up the street to one piazza, and then turns around and saunters back down to the other end. When you tire of meandering, take a break to sip cappuccino and nibble Perugia's fine chocolates in one of the classy cafes lining the street. See "Perugia: Capital of Umbria & Quaint Hill Town" in chapter 10.
Going Off the Beaten Path in Assisi: Who would've thought you could find a primal Tuscan country experience in over-touristed Assisi? Save the basilica's frescoes for the afternoon and get up early to hike into the wooded mountains of Monte Subasio to St. Francis's old hermitage. After a morning spent in contemplation with the monks and wandering the state parkland, head back to Assisi, but be sure to stop a mile outside town for a big lunch at La Stalla, one of the last die-hard countryside trattorie in central Italy (see "The Best Countryside Trattorie," later in this chapter). See "Assisi: An Artistic Pilgrimage" in chapter 10.
2 The Best Hill Towns
San Gimignano: The "Medieval Manhattan" bristles with more than a dozen tall stone towers, all slightly askew. It wins the Most Densely Decorated Church award for its old Duomo, whose interior walls are slathered with 15th-century frescoes. San Gimignano's skyline and back alleys, especially when moonlit, make it one of Italy's most romantic hill towns. Stay until all the tour buses have left, when you'll have the gardens and small piazze all to yourself. See "San Gimignano: The Medieval Manhattan" in chapter 5.
Volterra: Proud Volterra has been important in western Tuscany since the Etruscan Age. From its magnificent rocky promontory, the city surveys the sometimes wild, vast countryside surrounding it. Volterra is full of workshops where artisans craft the native alabaster into translucent souvenirs. And from a windswept terrace road you can look over some of Tuscany's best-preserved Roman ruins. See "Volterra: City of Alabaster" in chapter 5.
Montalcino: Impressive from a distance with its broken-toothed fortress on a high hill, Montalcino turns out to be surprisingly tiny when you get close. It has a few sights and churches and a good small museum, but what you really come for is to sip the town's beefy Brunello wine, take a passeggiata with the locals in the evening, and watch the shadows fill the valley far below your hotel window as the sun goes down. See "Montalcino: Home of the Mighty Brunello" in chapter 8.
Montepulciano: Although Montepulciano has medieval side streets galore, its main attractions are the deep red Vino Nobile wine and one of Italy's finest centrally planned Renaissance temples, a church set in its own little green park below the ancient walls of the town. See "Montepulciano & Its Noble Wine" in chapter 8.
Cortona: This stony hill town is no longer big enough to fill its medieval walls, but it still has its museums of paintings by Fra' Angelico and local boys Luca Signorelli and Pietro da Cortona. The restaurants serve steak from the famed Chiana cattle, raised in the valley below, where Etruscan tombs hint at the city's importance in a pre-Caesar Tuscany. See "Cortona: 'City of Art'" in chapter 9.
Gubbio: This ancient Umbrian stronghold and renowned ceramics center is like the last outpost of civilization before the wilderness of the high Apennines. The central piazza cantilevers over the lower town like a huge terrace. The square is bounded on one end by a mighty palace, all sharp stone lines and squared-off battlements. Inside is a cluttered archaeological museum and the same echoey medieval atmosphere that pervades the whole town. Gubbio is unique among hill towns-an antique center unto itself, to which surprisingly few visitors venture. See "Gubbio: Town of Festivals" in chapter 10.
Todi: When they were handing out quaintness to Italian hill towns, Todi took far more than its share. Many of its streets are so steep they've been chipped with shallow staircases down the middle. Vistas across the valley open up unexpectedly, and on the perfectly medieval main piazza is a town hall sprouting a staircase perfect for an Errol Flynn sword-fight scene. The church on the outskirts of town is perhaps Italy's most beautiful High Renaissance construction. See "Todi: A Taste of the Middle Ages" in chapter 11.
3 The Best Festivals
Florence's Gioco di Calcio: First, divide the city into its traditional neighborhoods, cover Piazza Santa Croce with dirt, and don Renaissance costumes. Next, combine two parts soccer, one part rugby, one part football, and a heaping helping of ice-hockey attitude. This game, in which a few dozen men forget all the rules as they do anything they can to score goals, makes regular soccer look like croquet on Quaaludes. Give the winners a whole calf to roast in the streets and write it all off in honor of St. John the Baptist. See "Tuscany & Umbria Calendar of Events" in chapter 2.
Siena's Palio: Anything goes at this bareback, breakneck horse race around the dirt-packed Il Campo, and the competitive contrade (traditional neighborhood wards) usually make sure everything does. The square is filled with costumed pageantry before the race, and massive feasts are set up on long outdoor tables that can stretch for blocks on the medieval side streets. See "Siena: A Taste of the Tuscan Middle Ages" in chapter 5.
Prato's Display of the Virgin's Girdle: Prato keeps the Madonna's girdle under heavy lock and key year-round, but takes it out occasionally, amid much religious pomp and some medieval drum rolling, to show it to the crowds massed on the piazza. See "Prato & the Virgin Mary's Girdle" in chapter 6.
Arezzo's Giostra del Saracino: Arezzo really comes alive for this Renaissance titling tournament where the target at which the mounted jousters aim their lances swivels around and can actually hit back. See "Arezzo: Where Life Is Beautiful" in chapter 9. Perugia's Umbria Jazz: Umbria's capital gets mellow and funky every summer in one of Europe's biggest jazz fests. Headliner acts and little-known maestros fill the squares, streets, and bars with some of the smoothest music around. See "Perugia: Capital of Umbria & Quaint Hill Town" in chapter 10.
Assisi's Calendimaggio: This pagan rite of spring fest is held in Italy's holiest hill town. The town's almost-forgotten factions revive to wage medieval competitions and display feats of strength, and the whole town spends the week in courtly Renaissance dress. After a singing competition on the main square, the winner gets to crown his own fair damsel Lady Spring. The town returns to Christianity the next day. See "Assisi: An Artistic Pilgrimage" in chapter 10.
Gubbio's Corso dei Ceri: In one of Italy's most ancient festivals, teams of burly, costumed men trot about town all day carrying three huge towers topped with statues of saints. After a wild invocation ceremony in the piazza, they shoulder the towers and tear up the mountainside as fast as they can. The town's patron saint invariably wins. See "Gubbio: Town of Festivals" in chapter 10.
Spoleto & the Spoleto Festival: Gian Carlo Menotti's annual bash brings some of the biggest names in orchestral music, dance, and theater to this ancient hill town. Many of the events are staged outside in the Piazza del Duomo or the remains of a Roman theater. See "Spoleto & the Spoleto Festival" in chapter 11.
4 The Greatest Artistic Masterpieces
Michelangelo's David (Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence): The Big Guy himself, the perfect Renaissance nude, masterpiece of sculpture, icon of homosexual camp, and symbol of Italy itself. See p. 163.
Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence): Venus on the half shell. The goddess of love is born from the sea; a beauty drawn in the flowing lines and limpid grace of one of the most elegant masters of the early Renaissance. See p. 149.
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