Between Lucca & Florence
On your first holiday in Italy make sure to mark all the iconic, seen-in-every-travelling-magazine locations: San Gimignano, with its towers and more souvenirs shops than bricks. Or Rome, with its fake centurions and, at the very same time, the most incredible, captivating, eternal atmosphere in the world. Then hit Amalfi Coast, where every sight is a balm for the heart and a drop of inspiration to your soul. What about Venice? You should definitely pay a visit, it's so out-of-this-world that not even us Italians really get what it's really about: we know for sure it's a place for the Venetians, we are sure they have their secret places, tunnels and churches where they go to avoid us, the tourists, the appalling people. All these places (and many others) are not iconic for no reason, so you should celebrate them as pages of your book of life, a missed opportunity if you decide not to go, a patrimonium that belongs to human species first and to Italians right after. We are quite generous about it, and that's something I have always appreciated about my Country.
But on your second trip to Italy, because we both know there will be a second, a third, a fourth time here, do plan to visit Valdinievole, a triangle of land equally distant from Florence, Pisa and Lucca, Siena and the North Riviera in Tuscany, possibly the most strategically located place on earth, if I may. We know you will keep on coming back until the day you can claim a village - or a spot - as yours, until you have felt completely penetrated by the insane wisdom this land contaminates you with despite of us, the Italians, people who do not fight for their political rights (so they say) but spend a great deal of time enjoying life, great food, celebrating love, friendship and family. Forgive us for being so shallow, or so deep, that we only pay attention to those aspects of life that make us infinite, and have a small tolerance for rules: we are definitely paying for our sins right this second, however we still manage to die at 94 years old - you know what I mean, after a life of fantastic meals with vino della casa and our beloved ones all around.
If here, in Valdinievole, you will discover Pistoia and wonder why, on earth, you did not read of this place before: how's that even possible? I am not going to say much more, as some secrets are better shared on premises. So, spend an evening in Pistoia's Piazza della Sala, if possible between Friday and Sunday, for an aperitif, and write a review about it (just for my own amusement). Visit Montecatini Alto and stop by La Torre restaurant for a fantastic, traditional meal, please let Fabiano choose your bottle of red wine. Enjoy looking amazing? Stop by Montecatini Terme, do the thermal treatments, lose weight, get a shiny skin and go back home looking like yourself, only twenty years ago. Discover Leonardo da Vinci's town and museum if you have children, or simply stop and walk the ground that Leonardo called home. Pay a visit to the area of Chianti Classico (the Gallo Nero or black rooster), a stretch of land that lies between the larger cities of Florence and Siena, you do not want to miss a short glass (gotto) of Chianti classico in a sad looking bar or Circolo Arci, these are the places where we go: the fancier, the worse. The centre of Chianti Classico is the town of Greve in Chianti, which has a weekly market in the Piazza Matteotti on Saturday mornings and a Wine Festival on the 2nd weekend of September. Also visit Panzano, Castellina and Radda, well, see them all. Get to Florence of course, half an hour away, cross the Ponte Vecchio to the Giardino di Boboli, a huge park on a hillside in the middle of Florence behind the Pitti Palace. Michelangelo's David, probably the most famous sculpture in the world, is in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Enjoy the trattorias around Piazza Santo Spirito and Piazza Santa Croce. Then, head to Castelnuovo Garfagnana, one abundant hour from Montecatini Terme, and shed some tears of commotion in the Osteria of Vecchio Mulino, a temple for food and wine: you will find yourself in a 'what have I done with my life" state of mind, because when joy knocks at the door all of a sudden, it surely makes grey darker.