Why do I always visit Tuscany?
I don’t think anyone has ever asked me why it is that I always want to spend my holidays in Tuscany. I sometimes wish that someone would ask. Rolling off a list of place names, the question wouldn’t be difficult to answer: Florence, Pisa, Siena and the Tuscan coastline that reaches up close to the Cinque Terre. And then there is the land that fills in the space between those uniquely fascinating places: the gold-green dappled countryside of rolling hills. This is the Tuscany that I know: that mesmerising part of the earth, with all of its hidden treasures, (as well as its globally recognised artistic icons), that it still preserves for the world. And even now, I have yet to mention gastronomy!
Tuscany, Val d’Arbia, panoramic landscape – Italy
The truth is that it is all-too easy to fall in love with Tuscany. Mere mention of the region’s name tends to elicit a smile from people I discuss my holiday plans with. For those who have never even been to the area, the natural reaction is to mention a fusion of romance, culture, fine wine and cuisine. And of course, everybody knows that these things are always bathed in a soothing climate. For those of us who have been to Tuscany, and have already fallen in love with what it has gifted to us, our smiles derive from the many wonderful memories that were formed there, and hopefully, the promise of more wonderful memories to come if we return.
Siena and its wonders encapsulate the magic of Tuscany.
Wandering the winding, narrow streets of Siena, it becomes obvious as to why you have travelled here, and why this is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. For centuries Siena has offered the visitor a feast of delicious cuisine and magnificent art, and all of it packaged within an architectural gem. Up-close, or at a distance, the city itself, is something to marvel at.
It must be impossible to take all of this in, but certain of its famous treasures, such as the Siena Cathedral, cannot be avoided. An example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture that dominates the city skyline, here you can climb a staircase and gain an expansive view of the city. Within its famous walls, the Cathedral retains other artistic wonders such as its pulpit sculpted by Nicola Pisano, its intricate marbled, mosaic floor, Renaissance frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Pinturicchio and other various works of art by Sienese masters.
Neither can you avoid The Piazza del Campo, the town square dominated by the other architectural giant of Siena: the Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia. Here you will find more fine works of art on display in its museum including the frescoes of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
Other delights of the city that you should visit include The Palazzo Salimbeni: a remarkable and intriguing square that is difficult to forget, but then architecturally, as you wind your way around to The Palazzo Chigi-Saracini, you realise that the whole city is an experience that will be difficult to forget, with its various churches, gardens and fortresses.
Stay at the beautiful Castle of Montalto.
Near to Siena, lies the Castle of Montalto which offers the visitor the remarkable opportunity of staying in one of its ten villas. (All of the villas lie within the castle grounds.) Here, at Villas in Tuscany, not only will you be delighted by the atmospheric charm of the place; you will also be surrounded by over ten centuries of colourful history.
The History of the Castle of Montalto.
Go back a thousand years and the castle’s story begins with a mystery, for no one is absolutely certain who built it. What is certain is that war coloured many of its early years and in the long struggle between the cities of Florence and Siena, the castle always remained loyal to Siena. This ensured that it would be sacked and rebuilt, and then attacked and defended continuously throughout a number of centuries. However, in 1555, fortunes changed, and following a devastating siege, Siena and its territory, including the castle of Montalto, fell to the famous, and infamous, Medici family of Florence.
From this moment onwards, with Florence now ruling the entire region of Tuscany, the war finally came to an end and peace changed the entire nature of the castle. Artistically, a new flourishing of activity was born as parts of the castle became decorated with frescoes that can still be enjoyed today. Later, the chapel was moved and restored in the neo-Gothic style, while, the lands surrounding the castle were given over to the cultivation of cereals, grapes and olives.
Author: Thierry RYO / Fotolia.com
The Castle Today
In 1970 the Coda-Nunziante family became owners of the castle, and to this day, the family live permanently at the castle. Having now refurbished the castle, many of its buildings are now available to holidaymakers. A perfect retreat for those wishing to relax, the fantastic thing about the castle is that it is also within easy driving distance of all of Tuscany’s attractions. What’s more, there are also a variety of activities available at the castle.
Activities at the castle include:
– Cooking classes, with dinner to follow
– Language lessons, Italian for beginners
– Painting lessons
– Hiking and cycling
– Occasional concerts, chamber music and choral groups; both as a listener or as a
– Horseback riding, and Horseback riding lessons
Activities on offer near to the castle:
– The touring of historical cities, abbeys, museums, churches and archaeological
– The frequenting of hot springs, with mud baths and other spa treatments
– The visiting of cellars, with wine tasting, cheese tasting, and local food fairs
– And of course, restaurants, pizzerias and trattorias for all tastes.
A fabulous week at the Casa del Guardia
The Casa del Guardia, once the house of the game-keeper, offers a family a charming holiday opportunity. The house is 120m², and with its 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, it can sleep 6 people. Spacious and light, the house also has a vine-shaded patio which is perfect for outdoor dining, and at the rear of the house, a terrace with a panoramic view of the valley. Evenings can be spent here sipping a drink and watching the sun set.