Four fun filled days in four fantastic Italian cities
Why not consider seeing some of the highlights of Tuscany for yourself on this compact short break.
Although we’ve toured the whole of Italy at different times – we take every opportunity to return.
This time, with a long weekend in mind, we take a short flight to Tuscany with the intention of spending time in each of four cities – Pisa, Florence, Siena and Lucca.
We land in Pisa and have prearranged our hotel, over the internet – The Royal Victoria.
Whereas there are a number of four and five star hotels in Pisa, we’ve selected The Royal Victoria for its illustrious history.
Perched on the banks of the River Arno in the oldest medieval part of town, The Royal Victoria, once the Winemakers Guild HQ in the 11th century has been through several transformations over the centuries and hosted most of the crowned heads of Europe and Asia; as well as entertaining everyone from Dickens to Dumas, Lindbergh to Lloyd George and Roosevelt, Ruskin and Rockefeller. In the late 1800’s The Hotel Vittoria morphed its name into The Royal Victoria to acknowledge the increasing number of British guests on their ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe.
What better place to stay for our ‘Little Tour’?
If you choose to stay, then don’t expect the groomed and characterless opulence of modern hotels but embrace the faded glory of grand architecture and classic style that has been retained and worn into a patina of authenticity that you’ll either love or tolerate until you move on. Personally we love the slightly quirky, original ambiance of places that have almost been left behind in a different era but in doing so offer you an insight into more elegant times.
The rooms are large, as are the reception areas and everything from chairs to taps are on a grand scale. Nothing smacks of brand new here but wraps you in its charm if you let it. We loved it!
We’re planning on spending two nights in Pisa, which will afford us time to ‘do the sights’ of the Baptistery, Tower and Cathedral, as well as stroll the streets before getting on a train to Lucca for the day.
Train travel is extremely easy, affordable and regular in Tuscany and we have no trouble arranging our tickets at Pisa railway station for our day trip to Lucca, or for the days that follow.
The short rail journey finds us in ancient Lucca. Founded by the Etruscans, it became a Roman settlement in 180 BC. Prospering in the 11th Century from the silk trade, Lucca maintained its independence up until the 1600’s, as did Venice and Genoa, until Napoleon put paid to that for Lucca and it subsequently became part of the Italian State.
It’s a wide open and stylish city for the most part with its large old walls now swallowed within expanding development but retained as a promenade now that they are no longer used for racing cars!
The older city is an interesting amble, in particular the old Piazza Anfiteatro, whose buildings follow the elliptical shape of the ancient Roman Amphitheatre but the rest of the town is a charming distraction full of boutiques, delicatessens and cafes.
The next day we set out from Pisa with the notion of travelling by train to Florence for a night and then on to Siena. As you can appreciate, a day in each city is hardly doing them justice but as our main aim is not a cultural and historic extravaganza but simply the opportunity to absorb the character and lifestyle of each place, we feel justified in this being a more superficial tour.
The train journey from Pisa to Florence is about an hour and the ones from Florence to Siena and return to Pisa around two hours each – all perfectly manageable and leaving enough time on each day for more wandering around the cities.
Having said that we’re just visiting for the lifestyle, no visit to Florence would be complete without a foray to the Academia to see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and the Uffizi to marvel at the sheer size and content of the galleries that overlook the ancient shop-filled closed-spandrel segmental-arch bridge, the Ponte Vecchio.
It seems that wherever you walk in Florence you’ll come across statues, works of art or architecture that stop you in your tracks. Here is not the place to go into detail but rest assured, if you’re in any way appreciative of art and history then Florence is an absolute must.
More important, for a short visit to Italy, is simply to enjoy the ambiance of the towns, countryside and cities; the warmth of the people and the sun; the sumptuousness of the cuisine and the mellow wines; all of which imbue a sense of bonhomie and well-being in this most welcoming of countries.
Sitting al fresco at a cafe in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, over breakfast, with a coffee and glass of chilled sparkling wine, whilst watching the world go by has to be one of life’s little pleasures. Having hiked to the top of the tower in Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall within the square, it’s almost too much of an effort to stroll the streets afterwards to investigate beyond this venue of the Palio di Siena – the madcap horse race around the square in July and August that brings locals and tourists in their thousands to witness the spectacle.
Nevertheless we feel the compulsion to investigate and find the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and finally run out of steam after viewing the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo with its beautiful stained glass window by Duccio di Buoninsegna, flanked with marble statues of Philosophers, Prophets and Sibyls on either side.
The train journey back to Pisa for our flight home gives us time to reflect on the wonderful kaleidoscope of sights, colours and sensations we’ve experienced on our short trip.
We can never get enough of Italy. The more we visit, the more we want to return – fortunately, the beauty of readily available and reasonably priced flights, superb hotels of all standards and a great and reliable road/rail infrastructure within Tuscany, at least, means that a quick Italian fix need never be far away.
Here are some useful links if you wish to explore your own Tuscan getaway options:
Discover Tuscany website
Direct link to cities on the same website
ROYAL VICTORIA HOTEL
12, Lungarno Pacinotti, 56126 Pisa (PI)
+39 050 940 111
+39 050 940 180