When I first arrived in Italy, I initially was excited to travel to the bustling cities at the top of every TripAdvisor list: Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, etc. I have always been attracted to the restless city life, but I ended up falling head over heels in love with the rural countryside of Italy. After discovering the beauty and accessibility of tiny Tuscan towns, the course of my study abroad weekend trips changed for the rest of the semester. To no one’s surprise, Tuscany is known to be one of the most beautiful regions in the world. However, I admire rural Tuscany for more than just the stunning appearance; I admire the simplicity of the lifestyle. Tuscan charm lies in the uncomplicated joys in life: enjoying a glass of Chianti, an exquisite meal with the simplest of ingredients, and an appreciation for the surrounding countryside. For study abroad students and residents alike, a weekend getaway to a peaceful town is the perfect break from Florence city life, especially as tourist season approaches. These three Tuscan towns are my favorite, and are just a short train/bus ride away from Florence.
I consider San Gimignano my first love, it is the first Tuscan town that stole my heart. On a SAI day trip, we started the day by driving through the rolling hills of Tuscany, until we arrived in the quaint town. I was instantly drawn in by the medieval architecture of the buildings: I felt as if I had gone back through time. Known as "the town of towers", San Gimignano has fourteen towers , and is mainly built out of brown-gray stone. After a cappuccino and almond cookie made by a local cafe owner, the walking tour began. I was in awe at the sight of historic cathedrals, towers holding ancient secrets, and the city wall, which was built in the Middle Ages. The group then walked to a gorgeous winery on the outskirts of San Gimignano, where the owner gave us a tour of his family-owned vineyards. After sitting down, we were treated to four delicious wines paired perfectly with foods to bring out the flavor of the grapes: pecorino cheese, tomato and bread soup (pappa al pomodoro), and almond biscottis and dessert wine. The famous white wine and olive oil came straight from the vineyards, just a few hundred feet from where I was sitting. San Gimignano is famous for the cultivation of their white wine, Vernaccia, which is one of the top selling wines in Tuscany. Wine and food lovers, this town is for you.
Although I was only in the town for 24 hours, this was more than enough time to be captivated by Siena’s allure. I was invited to Siena to celebrate one of my friend’s birthdays, and it turned out to be one of my favorite weekends since I arrived in Europe. We happened to be in Siena during carnival, which meant lots of confetti in the streets and Italians wearing funny costumes. Instead of the classic square piazzas I am used to in Florence, Siena has a large semi circle shaped piazza in the center of town. The piazza was filled with people enjoying spritz, children flying kites, and a young couple getting married. Although I did not have enough time to enjoy the historical sites, I was blown away by the beauty of the town I saw while walking through the streets. My favorite part of Siena was the hospitality of the locals; they were more than open to helping my friend feel special on her birthday, while also creating a memorable experience for the rest of us. We finished the weekend eating pizza with one of the most spectacular views of Siena. The only word I can use to describe Siena is magical.
Although not technically part of Tuscany, this group of five fishing villages is located in northern Italy. Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen with its brightly colored villages, terraced mountains, and endless miles of Mediterranean ocean. The region looks as if it came straight from a magazine. As a lover of hiking and the outdoors, I appreciated the challenge of the rugged landscape while hiking from village to village. There are many unexpected surprises on the trails: such as local farmers watering their crops, a winery, and even a small grocery store over 1,000 feet above sea level. The views during the hikes are unlike anywhere else in the world. My favorite part of the trip was when we stumbled upon a tiny restaurant on the most remote trail in Cinque Terre, where we sipped margaritas in the mountains while watching the ocean. In addition to hiking, there are boat tours and beaches where people can enjoy the bluest ocean in the world. The cuisine pairs perfectly with its coastal culture, as the restaurants serve seafood heavy dishes with locally grown vegetables, along with a glass of the Cinque Terre specialty wine: Sciacchetrà. Cinque Terre is the perfect weekend trip for anyone who loves nature, seafood, and tranquility.