Saturday, 16 March 2019

Exhibition in Florence dedicated to Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello

A fabulous exhibition in Florence dedicated to Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello joins the list of unmissable art shows hosted by the Palazzo Strozzi over the years.

From 9 March to 14 July 2019, over 120 paintings, sculptures and drawings from art galleries and museums in a number of countries is on display. They include wonderful works by Verrocchio, the teacher of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as works by the best-known artists associated with his workshop in the second half of the 15 C, among them Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci, his most famous apprentice. The curators have attempted to illustrate Leonardo’s early artistic career and interaction with Verrocchio by juxtapositions.

Verrocchio's Dama del Mazzolino, viewed from behind
Verrocchio's Dama del Mazzolino, viewed from behind, in the Bargello.
Verrocchio was born in Florence ca. 1435 to Michele di Francesco Cioni, a tile and brick maker, and later a tax collector. Little is known about his life but he was initally apprenticed to a goldsmith. There is no real evidence that he was later apprenticed to Donatello and verylittle evidence that he trained as a painter under Fra Filippo Lippi. His main works are dated in his last twenty years and his advancement owed much to the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and his son Piero. His workshop was in Florence where he was a member of the Guild of St Luke. Several great artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credi passed through his workshop as apprentices, and artists such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, Francesco Botticini and Pietro Perugino probably worked in some kind of association with Verrocchio. Their early works can be hard to distinguish those of Verrocchio. At the end of his life, he opened a new workshop in Venice where he was working on the statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, leaving the Florentine workshop in charge of Lorenzo di Credi. He died in Venice in 1488.

The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio and Leonardo
The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio - the angel to the lower left is very likely by Leonardo.

The exhibition is part of the programme of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death and is the first retrospective ever devoted to Verrocchi. Don't miss it!


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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Italian lessons in Tuscany, Italy

Taking Italian lessons in Tuscany can and should be both practical and fun. There are multiple approaches, all of which have strong positive points. One approach to learning Italian is to use an online Italian language beginners' course or CD course and then to follow that up with intensive Italian lessons with a professional Italian language teacher, either in a group or one-to-one. Another approach to learning Italian is to start from the beginning with your professional Italian language teacher, taking your lessons at an easy pace, and backing them up with taped or CD lessons. Both of these approaches are enormously enhanced if you have the chance to take your Italian lessons in Italy so that you hear the language all day long and, of course, have the opportunity or the necessity to use your Italian language skills, rudimentary as they might be at the start.

Italian lessons in Tuscany
Lorella Federico, certified Italian teacher
If you have the chance to study Italian in Italy, I can strongly recommend Lorella Federico who is a professional Italian language teacher who gained her qualification at the University of Siena and who is based in Panzano in Chianti. Lorella is a skilled teacher - no doubt about that - and Panzano and its environs are a great base for your vacation in Tuscany. And they say that Siennese is the purest and most beautiful dialect of Italian.

Italian lessons via Skype
Italian lessons via Skype

If you're coming here on vacation, you can even take a single lesson with her so that you can pronounce places names correctly and apply a few useful phrases. Those are her beginner-level Italian lessons. She also offers a highly popular programme where you can continue your Italian lessons back home via Skype. And she also offers an intensive Italian course for those who, for one reason or another, must or wish to acquire good Italian conversational and reading skills in a short time.

More about Lorella's Italian lessons in Tuscany.

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Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide


Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Wednesday, 20 February 2019

How to visit the Vasari Corridor in Florence

Update 20 February 2019: Tours of the Vasari Corridor.

IMPORTANT: there are no legitimate tours of the Vasari Corridor being offered currently and no date has been fixed for tours of the corridor to recommence.

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, has announced that the Vasari Corridor will officially become a part of the Uffizi after reopening in 2021. Visitors will then be able to enter the Uffizi, stroll through the Vasari Corridor and then explore the Boboli Gardens or the Pitti Palace. Tickets will cost €45 in high season, €20 in low season and will be free for students.

Route of the Vasari Corridor in Florence
Route of the Vasari Corridor in Florence

One disappointing aspect is that the many excellent self-portraits currently hanging in the Vasari Corridor will be removed because it won't be possible to climate control the corridor suitable for paintings on canvas and wood.

The Vasari Corridor from above
The Vasari Corridor from above
According to the official Uffizi website, no tours of the Vasari Corridor are now available, and anybody who offers such a tour is committing a fraud:

"False information concerning nocturnal visits of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor
The Administration of the Uffizi Galleries confirms that these promotional contents are totally unfounded. From 1 December 2016 until further notice the Corridor remains closed for works of safety regulatory compliance. Consequently no bookings will be accepted.
False information is spreading on Facebook about nocturnal openings of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor on various dates with visits organized by associations/groups which are unknown to us, such as Firenze Vista di Notte. The Administration of the Uffizi Galleries has already filed a lawsuit against the fraudsters and confirms that these promotional contents are totally unfounded."

The official website for the Uffizi tickets is https://www.uffizi.it/en/tickets - once again note that many other official-looking web sites offer Uffizi tickets at enormous markups.

Vasari corridor Uffizi Florence
Interior of the Vasari Corridor in Florence as it was until closed in 2016.
The corridor was lined with paintings, the more interesting ones being an amazing series of self-portraits by famous and not so famous artists, including a surprising number of the Pre-Raphaelites - for example, a very fine self-portrait of William Holman Hunt. These pictures will now be displayed elsewhere in the Uffizi and will be replaced by thirty ancient sculptures along with a space dedicated to 16th century frescoes. 

Empty interior of the Vasari Corridor

The corridor had a doorway and still has a window opening into a balcony high up in the church of Santa Felicita so that the Medici family could attend mass privately, without being seen or subject to attack. The especially large windows overlooking the Ponte Vecchio were specially created for a visit by Mussolini in the late 30's. Part of the corridor snakes around the Torre Mannelli which belonged to the only family that Cosimo I was unable to buy out. Instead of building through the tower, Vasari built around it using a system of supporting brackets. Cosimo was quite sanguine about this - every man is king in his own house, he reportedly observed. The meat market on Ponte Vecchio was moved to avoid its smell permeating the passage, its place being taken by the goldsmith shops that still occupy the bridge.

More about the Vasari Corridor in the 19th and 20th centuries.

More about what to see and do in Florence.

More about Florence Museum Cards and Florence Museum Passes.




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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Open gardens day in Florence: Cortili e Giardini Aperti a Firenze

As my faithful readers will remember, I am an enthusiast for the formal gardens of Tuscany, especially those of the larger villas of Tuscany. I therefore always look forward to Open gardens day in Florence (Cortili e Giardini Aperti a Firenze) which in 2019, takes place on - date to be announced, when the private gardens of Florence are open to the public. In 2018, I took the opportunity to visit some gardens in the Oltrarno which I either hadn't seen before at all or only a long time ago.

The one I want to describe in some detail is the Giardino San Francesco di Paola which extends upwards and away from the former home of Harry Brewster, "the last of the cosmopolites of Florence". Brewster, a descendent of William Brewster of the Mayflower, was also the grandson, on his mother's side, of the German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrandt, whose studio occupied part of the former Minimite convent of San Francesco di Paola. The convent is located at the foot of Bellosguardo, the beautiful hill that dominates the Oltrarno. It was an evocative experience for me to walk up Via Villani to the circular Piazza San Francesco di Paola. Although there are 19 C and modern buildings on two sides of the piazza, the old church and the wall and gate of the convent are still there, just as described by Brewster. The main structure was long ago divided up into apartments and, alas, the building is looking much the worse for wear. Indeed, so are some of the remaining Hildebrandt sculptures standing in the loggia at the back of the villa.

Villa of San Francesco di Paola
The loggia of the Villa of San Francesco di Paola - much in need of some restoration
However, the garden is beautifully kept up, as is the hay shed (fienile) which Brewster converted into a neat, strangely English-looking, cottage covered in roses and surrounded by a small lawn, where he himself lived in frugal simplicity writing his books. One continues up a series of irregular steps to Brewster's beloved belvedere from which there is a beautiful view of Florence, which because of its lower altitude, is almost more beautiful than the vista from the top of Bellosguardo.

Giardino San Francesco di Paola
View of Florence from the belvedere in the Giardino San Francesco di Paola
Next I walked to entrance of the Giardini Torrigiani not far from the Pitti palace. I have often passed the fine iron gates of these gardens - little did I know that there are 17 acres of gardens hidden behind the walls in the centre of the Oltrarno. In fact, the Torrigiani gardens are the largest private gardens within city limits in all Europe.

Torrigiani gardens in Florence, Italy
A view of a small part of the Torrigiani Gardens, In Florence
The Torrigiani gardens were originally planted by the founder of the Italian Botanical Society, the oldest such society, and the garden still has an uncommonly wide variety of trees, especially exotic species, in keeping with its 19 C “English Landscape” style. The gardens were designed at the height of the Romantic movement in the early 19 C, forming an idyllic oasis of green around the original 16 C villa. The garden hosts rare tree species, wide English-style lawns, herb and vegetables gardens, sculpted lions, a beautifully restored greenhouse and remains of the city walls built under Cosimo I in 1544. The layout of the garden is also profoundly symbolic and I strongly advise visiting it with a good Tuscan garden guide book in hand.

Giardino Torrigiani a Firenze
The astronomical tower in the Torrigiani gardens
Last but not least, I visited that exquisite jewel of a garden, the Giardino Corsi Annalena, nearby on via Romana. This garden is located on land formerly owned by the monastery of San Vincenzo which was founded in around 1441 by Countess Anna Elena (Annalena) Malatesta. During the long struggle for supremacy between Florence and Sienna, the area was dominated by the fortifications created by Cosimo I de’ Medici, including an underground passage that until this day connects the Boboli, Corsi and Torrigiani gardens. Following the destruction of the fortifications in 1571, the area was left abandoned for many years. In 1790, the Marquis Tommaso Corsi purchased the land, then known as the "Moors’ Garden", and the architect Giuseppe Manetti designed what can be considered the first English garden in Florence. It was completed during the years 1801 to 1810. If you have the chance to visit this beautiful garden, please don't miss it.

Giardino Corsi Annalena in Florence
The Giardino Corsi Annalena in Florence

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Tuscany Travel Guide


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Monday, 11 February 2019

How to get from the airport to central Florence

Many first time visitors to Tuscany ask me how to get from the airport to central Florence. And of course I have to ask them to specify which airport. Florence is served mainly by Pisa Airport (Aeroporto Galileo Galilei - code PSA) and to a lesser extent by its own small Florence Airport (Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci, often known as Peretola - code FLR). I have heard but cannot confirm that sometimes long distance passengers have tickets specifying Florence as the destination when in fact they will land at Pisa. Be sure to check that and to check whether subsequent ground transport is included.

The Pisamover light railway from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station.
The Pisamover light railway from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station.

There are three different ways to travel from Pisa Airport to Florence - by train, by bus or by taxi


By train: The new, fast and fully automatic PisaMover light rail runs from Pisa Airport to Pisa Central Railway Station every 5/8 minutes every day, from 6 a.m. to midnight, and the journey takes 5 mins. The airport stop is in via Pier Giorgio Ballini, 40 m from the Passenger Terminal, and it arrives at platform 14 in the Pisa railway station. It has an intermediate stop at San Giusto/Aurelia station, where you’ll find two parking areas with about 1,400 spaces, open 24 hours a day, every day.

By bus: the notoriously unreliable Terravision bus is apparently still running and when there is no issue with traffic it is slightly faster than by train (around 70 minutes) and a ticket costs about 5 - 10 euros. Return and children's tickets cost less. Terravision bus timetables here. [Note March 2017 - Terravision is not running currently and their booking form yields "Not available". It is unclear whether or not this is permanent.]

Other bus services from Pisa Airport to Florence are Autostradale and Sky Bus Lines Caronna (the latter with multiple stops en route).

The choice between train and bus will very likely depend on the next train departure time but, taking traffic problems and comfort into account, along with the new PisaMover, my recommendation is to take the train.

There are other bus services from Pisa Airport to Lucca, Siena, Montecatini, Pistoia and Prato.

Beware of gypsy and other pickpockets when there is a scrum during boarding of the Terravision bus.

By taxi: A metered taxi will cost you about 150 euros or more because you have to pay the driver to return empty (that's included in the meter reading - the driver doesn't double the displayed price). There are also fixed-fare NCC minibuses that can be reserved in advance. This latter option costs about the same as a taxi base rate but the drivers are usually more familiar with country accommodations and so provide a good option if your have several people, a lot of luggage and will be staying in the country. Both people and baggage will cost extra with a taxi. NCC drivers can be booked for times when trains, buses and rental car offices are not active. Finally, you can rent a car, but do not try to drive it into central Florence (or Pisa, for that matter) where there are camera-patrolled limited traffic zones and fines aplenty.

Florence airport
Florence airport

There are three different ways to travel from Florence airport to central Florence.


By tram: Florence's new T2 tram route, which opened to the public at 2:30pm on 11 February 2019. The new line operates between piazza dell'Unità Italiana (main railway station - SMN) and Florence Airport - free rides until 24 February and 1.50 euro thereafter.

By bus: Florence airport is only 4 km from the Florence city centre and the orange ATAF Volainbus bus shuttle takes about 20 minutes, runs every half an hour and costs about 5 euros. It leaves from the SITA bus station near the SMN railway station and from near the taxi rank at the station itself. Departures from city centre are every 30 min from 5.30 am to 8.00 pm, then after every hour up until 11.00 pm. Check timetable details on the ATAF website.

By taxi: A metered taxi has a fixed price for trips to the airport (currently 20 euros), takes 15 minutes and is obviously a good choice if you are 3 or 4 people and/or want to leave directly from your hotel. Picking up and dropping off your rental car at the airport is generally a good idea because you avoid the limited traffic zones in the city centre.

A taxi will cost 20 Euros, plus 1 Euro for each piece of luggage (maximum 5 Euros). There is also a 2 Euro supplement for Sunday service and a 3.20 Euro supplement for night service (22:00 to 6:00). Consequently, the "break-even" point for using the airport bus is 3 or 4 passengers traveling together.


Some recommended fixed-fare NCC minibus drivers.

Getting around in Tuscany.

Warnings regarding limited traffic zones in Tuscany.

Recommended vacation accommodation in Chianti towns, villages and countryside.



vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Holiday cottage vacation rental in Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK

This is my Tuscany blog so it's a bit eccentric to describe a holiday cottage vacation rental in Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK, but I've just been staying there and found it so enjoyable that I'm going to say something about it anyway. Pump Cottage is a beautiful holiday home on one of the most picturesque streets in all England, in the town of Shaftesbury. Three of us stayed there but it sleeps up to six people in three bedrooms. The cottage is fully-equipped so that, although there are plenty of places to eat in Shaftesbury, we had a lot of our meals at home. The Cottage has a glassed in conservatory as well as a large and pretty garden.

Pump House holiday rental cottage in Dorset
Pump Cottage holiday rental accommodation in Dorset
 
The sitting room of Pump Cottage vacation accommodation in Shaftesbury
The sitting room of Pump Cottage
We did a lot of sight-seeing, Pump Cottage being central to some amazing sights, among them the South Coast beaches, including the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, and major towns of interest such as Bath, Salisbury, Dorchester and Sherborne. Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Sherborne Abbey and several National Trust stately homes are all within easy reach, and it's only two hours to London by car. We travelled to London by direct train from Gillingham which is just 6 km away from Pump Cottage (taxis available).

In summary, if you're looking for a comfortable, quiet and charming vacation rental in southern England, I can strongly recommend Pump Cottage!


More about Pump Cottage holiday rental in Dorset, UK.


Tuscany Toscana
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Tuscany Travel Guide

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

Historical libraries of Florence, Italy

The historical libraries of Florence preserve some of the most important book, periodical and manuscript collections in Europe. One or two of them are in themselves works of art, ranking among the most beautiful in the world.

The most beautiful libraries of Florence

La Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze


La Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze
Reading room of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze
Let's begin with the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze because it is the largest library in Italy, housing as it does more than six million volumes. The library was founded in 1714 and opened to the public under the name Biblioteca Magliabechiana in 1774 which of course long predates the formation of the modern country of Italy. That's why this national library is located in Florence. There is also a large National Library in Rome, founded in 1876, and a much smaller one in Naples, the splendid Biblioteca nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III.

Since 1935, the collections of the BNCF have been housed in a neo-classical structure designed by Bazzani and Mazzei, and located near the Arno in the Santa Croce district. Tragically, as a consequence of its location, the 1966 flood damaged nearly one third of the library's holdings, most notably its periodicals, and the Palatine and Magliabechi collections, and some were irrecoverably lost.

The reading room is severely neoclassical, making it, for me, the least attractive of Florence's important libraries.

La Biblioteca degli Uffizi


La Biblioteca degli Uffizi
The reading room of the Biblioteca degli Uffizi in Florence
The Uffizi Library, much frequented by art historians but much less known to the general public, was founded in the second half of the 18 C by the Grand Duke Peter Leopold and over the years has specialised in the field of art history. The Uffizi Library was housed up until 1998 in the part of Vasari’s complex that was originally the ridotto or foyer of the Medici Theatre. The new location was opened on 16 December 1998 in the renovated areas previously occupied by the Biblioteca Magliabechiana, under the porch, near the entrance to the gallery. It's not a large library, but has very good holdings of periodicals. The 78,600 titles include 470 manuscripts, 5 incunabula, 192 sixteenth-century books, 1,445 books printed between 1601 and 1800 and 1,136 periodicals. The reading room is quite spectacular, as we would expect in a part of the Uffizi.

La Biblioteca Marucelliana


La Biblioteca Marucelliana Firenze
The reading room of the Biblioteca Marucelliana in Florence
The Marucelliana Library is the result of a bequest by Abbot Francesco Marucelli, from whom the library takes its name. The donation of this rich and substantial library was made with the express aim of facilitating study by young people from the poorer sector of the Florentine populace. It was opened to the public in 1752. The structure was built specifically to house the library. Construction (1747–1751) on Via Cavour was directed by the architect Dori who had won the public contest for the design. By the late 18 C, space was becoming tight, so that the library had to be expanded beyond the original building into the adjacent Palazzi Della Stufa and Pegna, and the ground floor of the Palazzo Fenzi Dardinelli. Although not great architecture, the Marucelliana Library has a wonderfully homely feeling about it - a bibliophile's paradise!

La Biblioteca Riccardiana


La Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence
The reading room of the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence
The Riccardian Library was founded in 1600 by Riccardo Riccardi and was moved to its present location in 1670. In 1715, it was opened to the public. In 1812, there was a risk of the library being auctioned off, but the Florence authorities were authorised by the Government to buy it, which they did in 1813 and two years later it was sold to the state. I'm a sucker for Baroque libraries, and so you can readily imagine, I come and spend a bit of time in the Biblioteca Riccardiana whenever I need a bit of aesthetic relaxation. The library is packed with treasures. For example, it holds a copy of Pliny's Historia naturalis dating from the 10 C and an autograph manuscript of the Florentine Histories of Niccolò Machiavelli.

La Biblioteca Moreniana

La Biblioteca Moreniana
The Biblioteca Moreniana in Florence
In the same building as the Riccardian Library, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, we have Morenian Library which speciliases in the history and culture of Tuscany. The library originated with the acquisition in 1870 by the Florentine authorities of the library assembled by Pietro Bigazzi. The most important foundations of the collection were parts of the library of Domenico Maria Manni and that of Domenico Moreni, compiler of the annotated historical bibliography of Tuscany (1805), and consisting mostly of documents relating to the history and culture of Tuscany. Subsequent acquisitions included collections formed by other scholars and gatherers Tuscan antiquities such as enthusiasts like Giuseppe Palagi, Emilio Frullani and Giovanni Antonio Pecci. In 1942, the library was opened to the public in the historical setting of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi next to the Biblioteca Riccardiana. In recent decades, other manuscripts of particular interest for the history of Tuscany have become part of the library's patrimony including of books by Rubieri-Zannetti, Rosini and Ombrosi Frullani). Since 1978, the library has been managed directly by the Province of Florence while continuing to share some public services with the Biblioteca Riccardiana.

Biblioteca dell'Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze


Biblioteca dell'Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze
Biblioteca dell'Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze
The Library of the Academy of Fine Arts is located on via Ricasoli, next door to the Galleria dell'Accademia where the original statue of David is displayed. The library first saw the light of day in 1801 with the purchase, sponsored by Giovanni Degli Alessandri, the then president of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze and director of the Uffizi, of the library belonging to the architect Giuseppe Salvetti. The library contains texts relating to the history of art and music. The reading room is quite small with a pleasing ambience with a number of fine sculptures decorating the space.

La Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana


La Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence
La Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence
The Laurentian Library is one of the major collections of manuscripts in the world and a major architectural gems of Florence. The library was designed by Michelangelo between 1519 and 1534, but work was completed only in 1571. Laurentian Library was built in a cloister of the Medicean Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze under the patronage of the Medici pope, Clement VII, to emphasize that the Medici family were no longer mere merchants but members of "the better classes". To me, this library is one of the most perfect, in architectural terms, in the world. Even leaving that aside, the library contains the manuscripts and books belonging to the private library of the Medici family, the collection now amounting to about 11,000 manuscripts, 2,500 papyri, 43 ostraca, 566 incunabula, 1,681 16 C prints, and 126,527 prints of the 17 C to 20C. Changing exhibitions allow one to view and study these incredible treasures.

More about the Laurentian Library.

Il Gabinetto Scientifico Letterario G. P. Vieusseux


Il Gabinetto Scientifico Letterario G. P. Vieusseux
Conference room of the Vieusseux Library in Florence
The Vieusseux Library in Piazza Strozzi was founded in 1819 in Florence by Giovan Pietro Vieusseux, a Genovese banker, merchant and publisher. The reading room made leading European periodicals available to Florentines and visitors from abroad in a setting that encouraged conversation and the exchange of ideas so that the library soon became a cosmopolitan meeting point of Italian and European culture. A circulating library with the latest publications in Italian, French and English was later installed next to the reading room. Numerous literary Italians, among them Giacomo Leopardi and Alessandro Manzoni, frequented the Gabinetto Vieusseux when they were in Florence, as did literary foreign residents and visitors, including Stendhal, Schopenhauer, James Fenimore Cooper, Thackeray, Dostoevsky, Mark Twain, Émile Zola, André Gide, Kipling, Aldous Huxley and D. H. Lawrence. The warm 19 C conference room is the part of the library most familiar to the public.

The Berenson Library at Villa I Tatti


Berenson Library at Villa I Tatti

Berenson Library at Villa I Tatti

The most recent foundation in our list is the Berenson Library which is a part of Villa I Tatti, the home of the art historian Bernard Berenson for most of his life and now an Italian Renaissance research institute belonging to Harvard University. Villa I Tatti located outside Florence close to the municipal boundary with Fiesole and near Settignano. Bernard Berenson lived there from 1900 and the adjoining library and art collection were designed for him in 1936. Berenson was a fastidious man in himself (personally - although it tormented him, his relationship with the art dealer Duveen and others was not quite so fastidious) and not surprisingly his library is exquisite. He accumulated (and often read) a huge number of art historical books and periodicals, and these form the basis of this, one of the most beautiful and complete small libraries created during the 20 C.

Historical villas of Tuscany.

Historical gardens of Tuscany.


Tuscany Toscana
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Travel Guide!

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Tuscany Travel Guide


vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Monday, 26 February 2018

Guided tours and wine tastings in Tuscany

I've just done a tour in Tuscany with a Tuscan driver guide that I hadn't met before. That's Sergio Ceccherini who does guided tours in Tuscany, both traditional and some with a very original twist. His English is flawless and it was a great tour. I've done private guided tours in Tuscany before and this was equal with the best of them, therefore a strong recommendation for Sergio and his Tuscany wine tours from me.

guided tours in Tuscany
Guided tour with driver guide Sergio Ceccherini

"Traditional" Tours

Chianti Scenic Tour. Wine Tasting. Everything the Chianti region has to offer.

Arezzo and Cortona. Under the Tuscan Sun Tour.

Sienna and San Gimignano Tour. In addition to the town tours, includes top quality wine tasting.

Pisa and Lucca Tour. The famous tower of Pisa plus a visit to the less touristy but very charming town of Lucca.

Brolio Castle and Chianti Wine Tasting Tour. A very "castle-like" castle, the history of Chianti, wine tasting, Tuscan lunch.

"Novel" Tours

Private Photo Shoot and Tuscany Wine Tasting With Home Cooked Lunch.


Wine Making in Tuscany - Become a Wine Maker for a Day. 

Tuscan winery lunch and winetasting
Tuscan winery lunch and winetasting
More about Sergio's Tuscany wine tours from Florence.

*************


Chianti Tourist Information - tourist information



Tuscany Toscana
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Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini


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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The parish church of Santa Maria and San Leonardo in Artimino, Carmignano, Tuscany

Today I want to return to one of my obsessions, the abbeys, monasteries and churches of Tuscany, in this case, specifically, the parish church of Santa Maria and San Leonardo in Artimino, at Carmignano in the Province of Prato (in Italian, La pieve di S. Maria e S. Leonardo ad Artimino, Comune di Carmignano, Prato). We are lucky in Tuscany that stone is readily available (ref. my husband's fields) and consequently almost every building in Tuscany is, in essence, a skilfully assembled pile of stones that lasts for millennia. Some of these structures are aesthetically indifferent - some are works of genius, even when they are pure vernacular art - meaning erected by now anonymous workmen with no special skills other than a miraculous feeling for beauty. The Pieve di S. Maria e S. Leonardo ad Artimino is one of these works of genius. It's located deep in the countryside and consequently rarely visited by visitors to Tuscany. This church has miraculously remained embedded in a pristine natural environment. If you're in the area, on no account miss paying it a visit.

La pieve di S. Maria e S. Leonardo ad Artimino, Comune di Carmignano, Prato
The parish church of S. Maria e S. Leonardo ad Artimino
This pieve is referred to in the famous decree of Emperor Otto III, dating from 998, which lists the privileges of the Bishop of Pistoia, also noting "plebs ... in Artimino", which is perhaps referring to a time before the existence of the inhabited settlement of Artimino. The latter was a walled town, documented, however, as "castle" since the 11 C. The then church of San Leonardo was located outside the walls of the castle. This was commonplace during that period, because territorial organisation was characterised by scattered settlements and distinct power centres: the castle and the pieve. The Rinaldeschi of Prato and then the Frescobaldi were the patrons for a long time.

The church was first devoted to the Virgin only during the 16 C and from then onwards was co-dedicated to the Virgin and San Leonardo. In its role as a parish church, the pieve of Santa Maria and San Leonardo in Artimino was the headquarters of several suffragan churches. In the 19 C, it had as its dependencies Santo Stefano alle Brusche at Poggio alla Malva, San Michele in Comeana and San Martino in Campo.

Interior of the Pieve di S. Maria e S. Leonardo ad Artimino
Interior of the Pieve di S. Maria e S. Leonardo ad Artimino

The pieve as a structure is one of the most complete, evocative and early examples of Romanesque architecture of the 11 C in Tuscany. The original buildings have remained intact over the centuries, apart from the construction of the vault cover in the 14 C and the construction of the canonical and "della Compagnia" buildings. The impression formed by the Romanesque elements has been enormously enhanced by the radical restoration of 1971 that eliminated additions of little value and also resulted in the removal of interior decorations of the 17 C and 18 C.

More about the Basilicas, Pievi, Abbeys, Monasteries and Hermitages of Tuscany.


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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Barack and Michelle Obama will be relaxing in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany next week.

Barack and Michelle Obama are currently in Milan for a conference on climate change. They are expected to be relaxing in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany next week, the third week of May, 2017.


Barack and Michelle Obama on vacation in Tuscany during May 2017

The Obamas will very likely to stay at Borgo Finocchieto near Buonconvento in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany. Borgo Finocchieto is the property of John Phillips who ended his term as US Ambassador to Italy a few days ago. John Phillips is an American of Italian ancestry who purchased the property in 2001 and spent the next eight years renovating. I think we can safely assume that President and Mrs Obama will have a very comfortable time there in one of the most beautiful areas of Tuscany, especially since the weather forecast is extremely favorable.

If we (meaning your humble blogger, Anna Maria Baldini) can obtain some photos, we'll post them here. (Why have I lapsed into the royal "we" as soon as the presidency comes up?)

Buonconvento, Tuscany
Buonconvento

Michelle Obama visiting Montalcino in Tuscany, Italy
Michelle Obama enjoying Montalcino in Tuscany

The Obamas visit the Duomo of Siena
The Obamas visit the Duomo of Siena

We wish President and Mrs Obama a wonderful stay in Tuscany!

More about the Val d'Orcia, Tuscany.


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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

I've been to Tuscany before. What should I see this time?

Today I want to try to provide some hints on the amazing diversity of Tuscany. More than once, readers have written to me to say "I've been to Tuscany before. What should I see this time?" To research your next trip to Tuscany, you basically need to list the aspects that you've already experienced and then to expand your options. Here are some ideas.

Art, yes, done that - then what about architecture as such? Renaissance architecture, yes, done that - then what about vernacular architecture? Head out into the Tuscan countryside and follow some of those quiet, narrow roads - they all lead somewhere, as often as not to farmhouses and hamlets that have grown over the centuries from mediaeval watch towers. It's this almost random agglomeration that gives much of Tuscan vernacular architecture its charm. Tuscany is also dotted with ancient monasteries and parish churches created in the same spontaneous manner. Because they are all invariably built of stone, you'll have no trouble finding inhabited structures documented as dating back to before the year 1000. Settle down in an ancient courtyard for a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere as well as the architecture!

Vernacular architecture in Tuscany
Vernacular architecture in Tuscany
Wine tasting at a winery, yes, done that. But was it at some industrial scale place with several minibuses (or touring buses) parked about the place? From about April onwards, the grape vines begin to sprout and the Tuscan countryside takes on a deep green colour. Right up until the vendemmia in September, it becomes a real pleasure to stroll along the strade bianche that traverse the vineyards and visit one of the many small, traditional wineries of Chianti and elsewhere in Tuscany. You don't need to book in advance - if someone is available, you'll be able to look around and taste the two or three wines that they make. Look for the roses planted at the ends of the rows of grape vines - like canaries in a mine, they warn of imminent danger, in this case mildew. Some wineries still grow crops between the rows of vines, among them irises (giaggioli), the roots of which are harvested for extraction of a stabiliser used in perfumery. Mixed cultivation like this is a reflection of the old coltura promiscua common even in the early 20 C.

Irises planted between rows of grape vines in Tuscany
Irises planted between rows of grape vines in Tuscany

Walking tour, yes, done that. A walking tour of Florence, maybe, but what about the numerous walking paths from one village to another. Some are hilly, that's true, but there are others that are no more than a bucolic stroll. These are popular among Tuscans too, especially if there's a chance to dress up in ancient costumes like the group of pilgrims below on their way to Monteriggioni. There are several excellent guide books describing the most popular routes plus the villages and wineries that you will encounter along them. This is really a great way to get to know the real Tuscany and real Tuscans!

A country stroll under the walls of Monteriggioni,Tuscany
A country stroll under the walls of Monteriggioni.
Go to the seaside, yes, done that. To Forte dei Marmi? Many people, including a very large number of Italians, enjoy nothing better than lying in a deck chair under a sun umbrella in neat rows with hundreds of other like-minded sun worshippers at Tuscan beaches. But Tuscany has numerous stretches of truly beautiful coastline and charming fishing villages, especially in its off-the-beaten-track southwest, around Monte Argentario and Talamone. Here you can swim, go boating or diving around interesting rocky promontories and dine in excellent fish restaurants. Also see my post of the delightful beaches and old town of Castiglione della Pescaia.
Talomone port on the Tuscan coastline
Talomone port on the Tuscan coastline

Take a horse and wagon ride through the Chianti countryside - OK, well, that's something really different. Luca Perrotta who works from Montespertoli, fairly near to Florence, does regular private and shared horse and wagon excursions through the Chianti countryside. He also does excursions that last three days through the unjustly-neglected area of south-western Tuscany known as The Maremma. These excursions are absolute magic for families with children.

See my post on taking a horse-drawn wagon tour through Chianti.

Horse and wagon excursion in Tuscany
Horse and wagon excursion in Tuscany
In future posts, I will have more suggestions on how to refresh yourselves with new and interesting sights in Tuscany. For now, don't forget: one of the objects of a vacation is to relax, and there is no place that offers a greater variety of tranquil locations combined with wonderful weather and views than Tuscany. See you here soon!

Relax in Tuscany
Relax in Tuscany.

Sights, activities, events and places to stay in Tuscany.

Vernacular art of Tuscany.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
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