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DESTINATION LA DOLCE VITA It’s hard to imagine a sweeter travel experience than that offered by a tour of the Italian region of Tuscany Using Florence as a base Lisa Doust explored the by yaohongm



It’s hard to imagine a sweeter travel experience
than that offered by a tour of the Italian region
of Tuscany. Using Florence as a base, Lisa Doust
explored the glorious countryside and historical
villages in this sublime corner of the world.

M            ost people agree that it would be
             almost impossible to avoid falling in
             love with Florence – the exceptional
architecture, countless works of art, quaint
cobbled streets and lively atmosphere in the
                                                            Art lovers will find themselves in heaven
                                                        at the Uffizi, tucked just off to the side of the
                                                        imposing Palazzo Vecchio fortress and featuring
                                                        over 1,800 outstanding artworks.
                                                            Undoubtedly the city’s finest piece of art is
open piazzas conspire to seduce you at every            the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, known
turn. And while it may not boast the crumbling          simply as the ‘Duomo’ due to its impressive
ruins of Rome or fairytale setting of Venice,           dome, which rises majestically above the
the Tuscan capital serves as a remarkable               Florentine rooftops and can be seen from almost
monument to the Renaissance period and                  every street. Set aside a couple of hours to tour
has more than its fair share of beauty, romance         the cathedral and save climbing the bell tower
and cultural riches.                                    until sunset – it’s a magical sight.
    In Florence you can forget about driving
for a few days, as this is one city that can be         STYLE WISE
thoroughly explored on foot. It only takes an hour      Window shopping in Florence is a treat, with
or two to get your bearings, and all of the prime       smart displays setting the tone for the city’s chic
tourist sites are in close proximity. Use the Ponte     aesthetic. Shabby attire looks completely out of
Vecchio (Old Bridge) as your landmark – from            place here – even the carabinieri (police) wear
this beautiful vantage point you can gaze out           designer uniforms. All of the big Italian labels
over the river Arno and determine where you             – Gucci, Pucci, Ferragamo and Versace – are
are in relation to the several other bridges that       represented on Via de’ Tornabuoni and Via della
stretch across the river and divide the city in half.   Vigna Nuova, and you’ll find plenty of funky
    From the bridge it’s a short walk to                stores on Via Calimala and Via dei Calzaiuoli.
Piazza della Signoria, where some of the                    For a relaxed and satisfying shopping
world’s finest sculptures attract an incredible         experience, head just beyond the Duomo toward
number of tourists each day. Here you’ll see            San Lorenzo Markets, where well-crafted leather
the fabulous Fountain of Neptune, created in            goods are the chief attraction. One of the best
1575 by Bartolomeo Ammannati, and a copy of             stalls on the strip is KAS Pelletteria (Via dell’
                                                                                                              Images: Ingram

Michelangelo’s David, commissioned in 1501,             Ariento 15/r), which features a stylish and
when the artist was just 26 (the real thing is          diverse range of leather jackets. Jameel Ahmed,
safely housed at the nearby Accademia                   the ultra-charming salesman at KAS, knows all
dell’Arte del Disegno).                                 there is to know about leather and will send

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                            symmetry 43

                                                   clockwise from top left: Hilltop villages are waiting to be explored; enjoy outstanding
                                                   architectural features in Florence; talk to Jameel Ahmed at San Lorenzo markets; call into a quaint bar
                                                   for a chat with the locals.

                                                   “IT GOES WITHOUT SAyING THAT THE
Visas: you can enter Italy on a valid Australian   THROUGHOUT TUSCANy ARE ExCEPTIONAL ...”
passport without a visa for 90 days.
Driving in Italy: An International Driving         you off with a fine-quality jacket that fits like            John took me on a wondrous whirlwind tour
Permit (IDP) is proof that you hold a valid        a glove, along with a few top tips on what to           of villages, restaurants, churches and gardens
Australian driver’s licence and this should        see and do in the city.                                 I may have otherwise overlooked. Our first stop
be carried with your current licence if you            Born in Kashmir and raised in Pakistan,             was La Foce, a magnificent property in the
wish to drive during your holiday. IDPs can        Jameel has lived in Florence for the past               Val d’Orcia region. Originally built in the 15th
be obtained through state and territory            decade and says the best thing about the city           century, La Foce was purchased in 1924 by the
motoring clubs.                                    is encountering visitors from all over the              well-known author Iris Origo and her husband
Car hire: As long as you have an IDP it’s easy     globe on a daily basis. “The incredible mix of          Antonio. The pair created amazing gardens
to hire a car in Italy, and all the major rental   nationalities here at any one time gives Florence       and turned the vast property into a thriving
companies are represented. To book a vehicle       its unique atmosphere – you can hear five or            community by restoring its farmhouses and
before you arrive, visit   six languages being spoken as you walk through          building a school, kindergarten and day hospital.
When to go: The Italian tourist season runs        the city centre,” he reveals. “It’s a very beautiful         The glorious gardens at La Foce offer a full
from June to September and this is when            and exciting place.”                                    panorama of the Orcia Valley, its surrounding
Florence is best avoided, as it’s extremely hot                                                            mountains and the long and solitary winding
and overrun with visitors. Spring and autumn       DRIVE, EAT, ENJOY                                       road bordered by cypress trees often seen in
are quieter and you can enjoy the city and         Once you’ve enjoyed the many charms                     postcards. The farmhouses have since become
see the Tuscan countryside at its brilliant best   of Florence, hire a car and head into the               holiday homes and you can enjoy lessons in
during both seasons.                               countryside, where the winding roads lead to            Tuscan cooking, wine-tasting tours and visits to
Accommodation: For stylish apartment or            all manner of Tuscan treasures. Driving in Italy        historical sites, all of which John can organise.
hotel accommodation in Florence, or villas,        can be daunting at first, as other cars tend to              Over two days we called in to several
farmhouses and B&Bs throughout Tuscany,            get very close, but once you’ve relaxed into            walled villages, including the wonderfully tiny
contact Pitcher & Flaccomio – it’s run by          the swing you’ll appreciate the good roads              Monticchiello, renowned for the political plays it
Australian Suzanne Pitcher and her son             and spectacular views out across rolling hills,         runs each summer, and Pienza, a Renaissance
Corso Flaccomio, and offers a vast selection       vineyards, stately villas and walled villages.          village perched on a hilltop and designed as
of properties for short- or long-term lease.           Siena is a cruisy 90-minute drive south of          a model of ideal living. Pienza is also known
Call (0011 39) 055 2343 354 or visit               Florence, and it’s worth spending a day here.           for its pecorino (sheep’s cheese), and this is                           This World Heritage Listed site features fine           where you’ll find L’Enoteca di Ghino, home to an
Florence hot spot: For a venue with an             examples of gothic architecture and one of Italy’s      impressive selection of the world’s finest wines.
edge, go to O!O Bar con Cucina (P.zza              most unique piazzas – the enormous, shell-                   We also took a tour of several of the region’s
Piattellina 7/r, near the buzzy Piazza Santa       shaped il Campo, where the famous Palio                 thermal villages, including Bagno Vignoni, just
Spirito). It’s the only organic dining spot in     (horse race) takes place each summer.                   20 minutes by car from Pienza and a popular
the city and charismatic owner, Egyptian               Just a short drive from Siena, back towards         holiday destination since Roman times. People
artist and entrepreneur Tarek Hassanien,           Florence, turn off at Poggibossi and follow the         come to the area from near and far to let the
draws in an eclectic crowd each night.             signs to San Gimignano. This small but perfectly        healing thermal waters wash over them at the
Visit                       formed walled village is famed for its medieval         numerous local spas.
Food and wine tours: Contact John Bird by          architecture and many towers, which can be                   It goes without saying that the food, coffee
emailing John can           spotted from miles away.                                and desserts served throughout Tuscany are
also arrange accommodation, weddings and               For a unique tour of southern Tuscany, look         exceptional – even the most humble of venues
events to suit your individual needs. Visit        up John Bird of Tuscan Events. Australian               dish up fare so flavoursome that every bite for details.                  born and a former hairdresser to the stars (he          literally melts in your mouth. As we ate, drank,
For more information: Visit the Italian            tamed the tresses of Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly          listened to live music and made our merry way
Government Tourist Office website on               and Elizabeth Taylor), John is a gracious and           around the region, John explained all there or the                   knowledgeable host who has spent 35 years               was to know about each spot and I came away
Tuscany Tourism Board website on                   holidaying in Tuscany and has a passion for             feeling thoroughly enriched by the experience.                             everything from the region’s history, art and           My conclusion was that life in Tuscany isn’t
                                                   architecture to its fabulous food and wine.             just sweet; it’s perfect! ■

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