Siena, medieval Tuscany.

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Our Tuscany trip started with our stay at the apartments of Residenza San Leo in Figline Valdarno, about half an hour under the city of Florence. An Agroturismo stay, where you stay on a large olive oil farm, a perfect place to relax under the Toscan sun with sweeping views of the countryside. You are welcomed by Patrizia a perfect host for this luxurious place, a farm that has been in her husbands family for decades. The farm used to produce olive oil, wine and other produce (vegetables, animals), but now only produces high end quality virgin olive oil.

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The apartments are in the old villa, and each apartment is self contained with a living area, bathroom, kitchen and outdoor terrace area, and decorated in a rustique way. They furnish you with towels and bed linen, and you have everything you need if you want to cook. They offer breakfast which is really abundant and of very high quality: freshly baked bread, daily changing cakes and patisserie, croissants, home-made jam, orange juice, different kinds of cheese and meats from the region, fresh fruit, yoghurt, coffee (espresso-cappuccino ), tea, cereals. They offer a daily three course dinner for 22 euro/ person, drinks not included. Once a week Patrizia hosts a olive oil tour/degustation combined with a dinner based on different olive oils (10 euro for the tour, 30 euro tour+dinner.) The Residenza has a small shop that sells their olive oil, meats and cheese from the region, produce from the garden, olive oil beauty products, wine from neighboring Chianti wine producers.

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You can enjoy a wonderful 17 m long swimming pool and a jacuzzi tub (with a view!), with lounge chairs. There is free Wifi, which is only accessible in front of the Laboratoria, where it is great to relax on the bench in the evening sun. With other words: all necessary ingredients for a relaxing holiday combined with the wonderful Tuscan surroundings with many villages to visit, and Florence just half an hour away.

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The weather is still very hot during our stay ( 40 degrees in the afternoon) so we decide to lounge in the Residenza until the afternoon and only make day trips leaving every day between 2 and 3 PM. This way we avoid walking around under the hot midday sun, and enjoy the villages when many of the tour busses have already left. The light make the villages more attractive in the evening, and make for good pictures! This way we can enjoy the pool and the apartment half a day, and enjoy some culture half a day, just perfect!

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On day one we visit the Chianti region. Following the Via Chiantigiana (SR222), that connects Florence to Siena you drive through the stupendous countryside of the Chianti region on one of the most beautiful routes of Italy.

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Well known for its vineyards, cellars and extensive views over a pristine landscape, Chianti is the place to get lost among centuries of history, hidden treasures and excellent food and wines.

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We first drive to Greve in Chianti, a sleepy little hamlet, with a big main square, but nothing much further to see. They do have a very good butcher : Antica Macelleria Falorni on the central piazza Matteotti 66-71, who also sells wine and cheese. You can taste their wines using a wine-card. We buy some meats for a possible picnic. Via Panzano we continue to Castellini in Chianti. We take a walk through the nice medieval centre where in the church the skeleton of Saint Faust is exposed. We buy some Chianti wine, attracted by the bottle in the basket and eat a great ice-cream in Lantica Delizia on via Florentina 4, just of the cross-roads when you arrive in Castellini.

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Our next and final destination: Siena. If Florence is primarily about the Renaissance, in Siena it’s the  that predominates. And here the cityscape itself is the great attraction.

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You can have a fabulous time here without setting foot in a single museum: arrayed on three ridges, the city presents a succession of beautiful urban vistas, girdled by superb countryside on all sides. The winding medieval streets with beautiful houses on each side lead to the most beautiful public space in all of Italy: Siena’s , the city’s great scallop-shaped piazza.

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The nearby Il Campo is one of the country’s mightiest monuments and simply breathtaking. Open in the evening till 7 PM. Try to visit the Duomo in the evening when most tourists have left and the church is quiet. The outside in white and green-black striped marble (black and white being the colors of the coat of arms of Siena) is created by Giovanni Pisano.

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Inside the Duomo the colors are repeated in the black and white pillars. The Duomo has first of all a magnificent mosaic marble floor, that is mostly cordoned off to prevent too much damage from the daily tourists visiting.

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There are beautiful paintings, a statue of Romulus and Remus and the wolf ( Siena was founded by Senius, the son of Remus), and other statues by Bernini and .

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Highlight is the Picolomini library, a small room with the most stunning frescoes and a magnificent collection of hymn books.The Libreria Piccolomini was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini in 1492 as a memorial and repository of the books and the manuscript collection of his uncle, Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini who was a greatly admired poet and also a prolific writer.The ceiling, covered with panels of mythological scenes, was painted by Pinturicchio and his assistants around 1502.

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We drank aperitivo (Aperol Spritz) on Il Campo in brasserie Al Mangia ( free Wifi) and enjoyed the view of the Palazzo Comunale (with the large tower) and the Fonte de Gaia (fountain). We then had dinner in a street behind the Il Campo, in restaurant Dolceforte , Via Calzoleria 12. They serve great food and wines! The steak is really good.

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