Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Grand Tour 2024 - Fiesole

Fiesole, Tuscany, Italy. Thursday/Tuesday 26-June/02-July-2024.

Table of Contents:

  • All posts
    • Bari, 25-June-2024.
    • Fiesole, 26-June/02-July-2024
    • Vienna, 03/10-July-2024
    • Konstanz, 10/17-July-2024
    • Freiburg, 17/22-July-2024
    • Carcassone, 22/31-July-2024.

Wednesday 26: First day’s travel was a six hour journey from Bari to Florence with a change in Rome. On our arrival we treated ourselves to a taxi up into Fiesole because of our luggage. Afterwards, having been in and out of Florence on the bus several times and with the wisdom of hindsight, we might of saved ourselves the taxi fare but what the heck? We’re on holiday and we're worth it!

Fiesole is a pretty little hilltop town, close enough for sightseeing in Florence (25 mins on the bus) but far enough away up in the hills to be out of the crowds and the heat. We only chose it due to availability of a Home Exchange stay and were so glad we did.  Not only a refuge from the big city but also so much to do and see in the town itself.

The view from our apartment.

The first evening we strolled around the town then went for an aperitivo and enjoyed a meal in the traditional style Antica Fonte Taverna

Typical street in Fiesole.

Thursday 27: We took the bus into Florence and did culture. We bought a multi pass ticket including a pre-booked slot for the Ufizzi and spent nearly 4 hours there! 

Highlights included Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus. The cover of Venus on the Half Shell by Philip José Farmer is a spoof on the latter painting. I also used to own a kitsch, alabaster statuette of the central figure.

A print of Botticelli’s Primavera graced my childhood home. All the other pictures at home were painted by my father so this image was burned into my retina for years. As a young child I thought the figures of Chloris being pursued by Zephyrus were a little macabre and a little scary.

Lunch was a pasta dish at Oinos a little away from the main tourist sites. It had mixed reviews on various sites but we were happy with our choices and the friendly staff.

After lunch we visited the Basilica of Santa Croce not only a stunning building but also the burial place of some of the most notable Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini.

We struck lucky as our visit coincided with a Fiesole festival "Estate Fiesolana 2024". We bought tickets for that night’s entertainment - the tale of the “Corsaro Nero” (The Black Pirate) with a narrator, set to music, an all wind and brass ensemble, together with illustrations projected behind the orchestra. An early supper at home then off to the Roman amphitheater, fortunately with cushions provided as stone is hard.

Friday 27: In the morning we went for a walk which took us all around a Villa Medici, one of a dozen the Medici family owned around the area, but unfortunately no views of the villa itself. Steep hills all around so it took a long time to walk a relatively short distance but a lovely walk.

All around Fiesole we saw paintings on many exterior gas cupboards. A lovely way to brighten up something utilitarian.

Our original plan for the Saturday was to do Mensola parkrun but we only found out a couple of days before that the Tour de France was starting in Florence and so the parkrun was cancelled. Boo! 

Fortunately, there is an another parkrun not too far away in Montecatini. However it was a 25 minute bus ride into Firenze then 50 minutes on the train so we decided on a trip within a trip and did an overnight stay in Montecatini. We chose a hotel very close to the parkrun course to allow for a leisurely breakfast.

Montecatini is a UNESCO world heritage site on account of it being one of a select group of spa towns [Great Spa Towns of Europe].

Saturday 29: Parkrun in the morning. A winding course on which several people have reported taking wrong turns. We had the foresight to take a stroll round the park on Friday evening working out where to go so we did not get lost.

We came north to escape the heat but Saturday was predicted to be the same temperature as Salento! Three laps of a lovely park with a quirky loop in the middle, lots of welcome shade and a mix of tarmac and gravel paths.

Mary tripped and fell on a gravel path and badly grazed her knee and hand. The team were lovely and so helpful over her grazes making sure it was all cleaned up.

After a shower back at the hotel we took the funicular up to Montecatini Alto for a stroll round this pretty hilltop town. 

The passing place exactly half way up.

Looking up to the oldest and highest church in town.

The main square was packed with restaurants catering to the tourist trade so we found Casa Gala just off the square and had lunch there. Clearly quirky: one dish was called "The chef is not a cod" and I got €3 knocked off the bill just for trying out my mangled Italian on our host!

In the afternoon we retraced our journey back to Fiesole for another event in the amphitheatre: a discussion with film director Gabriel Salvatores having being recently presented with an award by Fiesole. Answering questions from the panel and recounting tales, he came across as a lovely man; thoughtful, caring and funny.

Sunday 30: Fiesole played host to two markets on the Sunday: a flea market in the main square and a food market just below our apartment. Two slices of Porchetta later and our lunch was sorted!

After lunch at home we went for a bit of a wander finishing back in town for a Yoga festival. Mary had a reflexology treatment while I tried a bit of martial arts yoga called Kalari Yoga. I was alright at the start with the individual poses but once they started the flowing sequence I was the classic dork going in the wrong direction, facing the wrong way.

That evening we dined in Reggia Degli Etruschi, reputed to be the best restaurant in Fiesole. We had a window table with fantastic views over the Tuscan hills. They specialised in steak so I had a lump of extremely tender fillet served with truffle - nom, nom, nom.

Monday 01: We caught the bus into town to visit the Pitti Palace and the Boboli gardens, another UNESCO world heritage site. Unfortunately being Monday, the palace was closed but we wandered around the gardens, an extensive green space in the heart of Florence, and spent a couple of hours there.  

From the gardens you can see Fiesole and if you look carefully the church on the top of the hill.

After that we needed food. Walking away from the crowded areas we found Osteria Giglio D'Oro.  In typical Italian fashion they do not put salt and pepper on the table but here they also seem to have forgotten to put salt in the cooking water for my ravioli. Starch needs salt and it’s absence sadly detracted from my dish whilst Mary enjoyed her salad.

An unexpected bonus was walking past the supposedly closed Opificio delle Pietre Dure to discover it was, in fact, open for visitors. I would called them paintings in stone. More than mere mosaics they were incredibly detailed illustrations in marble and other minerals - a bit like a stone jigsaw.

That evening we dined at Bistrot Al 5 in Fiesole which turned out to be the best meal so far and sadly only discovered on our last night!

Tuesday 02: Our last half day we did the Fiesole archaeological zone and museum which covered everything from Etruscan temple and walls, through Roman amphitheatre and baths to mediaeval graveyard. The museum was more informative than many we have visited - with lots of explanatory plaques in English as well as Italian. The collection was boosted by various wealthy donors who had donated their collections of antiquities, we assume to demonstrate what good guys they were!

Etruscan walls around the town and tombs all with amazingly large stones. 

We had a light lunch in the apartment to clear out the fridge and headed off to Firenze main station for the start of the next leg of our journey.

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