Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Going to the beach in Italy - Castiglione della Pescaia

I wrote a post on going to the beach in Italy - more specifically, on going to the beach in Tuscany - back in June 2012. Today I want to describe one particular Tuscan beach resort in more detail to provide visitors to Tuscany with some further practical aspects, many of which apply equally well to other beach resorts on the coast of Tuscany.

Castiglione della Pescaia is located on the Tuscan coast south of Follonica and fairly close to Grosseto and Monte Argentario. This is an area of Tuscany off the beaten track to most foreign visitors to Italy but it is extremely popular with Italians taking their annual vacation. Castiglione della Pescaia has a quite charming old town, high up and with mostly very steep streets (and no car or bus access!), with panoramic views along the coast to the north and south, and out over the boat harbour in the silted up river mouth below. There are a great many launches of various shapes and sizes which are advertised for rent "without license". The idea seems to be that you motor out the entrance to the harbour and anchor offshore to sunbathe and otherwise relax. Many of the little fishing boats have signs on them indicating where their fish is served, cooked on the day it was caught.

Castiglione della Pescaia and theTyrrhenian Sea.
The old part of Castiglione della Pescaia and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Quiet lane in Castiglione della Pescaia old town
Quiet lane in Castiglione della Pescaia old town

Castiglione della Pescaia boats heading out to sea
Castiglione della Pescaia boats heading out to sea

The modern part of Castiglione della Pescaia cannot really be described as an architectural gem - concrete features prominently. Immediately to the north of the river and harbour, below the old town, there are some pleasing streets given over to tourism, plus a 19th century fountain. The modern town, especially to the south of the river, consists very largely of blocks of vacation apartments along the sea front and on the streets leading to it. The most popular private and public parts of the seashore are located in this area and also to the north of the old town.


Castiglione della Pescaia 19th century fountain
Castiglione della Pescaia 19th century fountain

Free versus private beaches in Tuscany


In Castiglione della Pescaia, the public, "free" parts of the beach are interspersed with the private areas. Both types of beach area provide toilet facilities and fresh water showers, as well as life guards. In the public areas, you can plant your own umbrella in any unoccupied space and sunbathe or swim as the spirit moves you. The private areas are set up with umbrellas and deckchairs more or less in rows with walkways between them leading down to the sea. Many holidaymakers rent their space for the entire summer. That's why you might go to the office of a private beach and be told that they're full even though there are many currently unoccupied spots visible. The price for and umbrella and two deckchairs ranges from 10 to 20 euros per day, with discounts for longer periods. The price is usually reflected in the quality of the facilities. At Forte dei Marmi, near Viareggio and Lucca, there are some very classy private beaches and naturally they cost a bit more. By the way, during August, the sand at Castiglione della Pescaia was too hot for me to stand on with bare feet! Bring some beach footwear.

private beach area at Castiglione della Pescaia
A fairly typical private beach area at Castiglione della Pescaia

public beach area at Castiglione della Pescaia
A equally typical public beach area at Castiglione della Pescaia

Beach restaurants in Castiglione della Pescaia


Most of the private beach areas have their own restaurant. These are all open to the public, not just to those with a ticket to the beach. Some offer one or two fresh fish dishes but by far the bulk of the seafood is frozen. This is not a problem - how it's cooked is what matters as far as the taste goes. Some have waiter service, some are self service. Dress is casual in the extreme although for ladies a bikini top might be a good idea. There are always a few good looking girls and a larger number of good looking guys around, and then there are the rest of us. No one cares - this is where Italians come for total "relax".

My top recommendation is Bagno Bruna which is one of the first private beach areas that you come to on the waterfront walkway to the south of the river (Via Isola Clodia). This place serves large quantities of excellent seafood at remarkably reasonable prices. The self-service restaurant is open every day at lunchtime and the serviced restaurant is open in the evenings on Friday and Saturday. At lunchtime, expect to line up but the line moves quickly. You take away your salad, wine and other ready prepared items, pay and leave your name with your seafood order. That will soon be ready and will find its way to you. I tried a swordfish steak that was so good I thought it was fresh. It was frozen but as the chef told me: it all depends on how you cook it. The fritto misto was also delicious. Cold, open slightly frizzante white wine is available by the half and full litre carafe.

I cannot recommend this place highly enough for a delicious seafood lunch.

Bagno Bruna private beach area and restaurant at Castiglione della Pescaia
Bagno Bruna private beach area and restaurant at Castiglione della Pescaia.

More about Castiglione della Pescaia.



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Saturday, 21 May 2016

Open day of the villas and gardens in Florence 22 May 2016

Those of you who are enthusiasts for the villas and gardens of Tuscany have a great opportunity on Sunday 22 May 2016 to visit a great many of the villas and gardens that are usually closed to the public. Entrance is free. I can't emphasise enough what a wonderful opportunity this is to see some splendid architecture and historical gardens.

Palazzo Corsini and its garden in Florence
Palazzo Corsini and its garden in Florence

Open gardens in the Florence historical centre – opening hours 10 am to 1 pm – 3 pm to 7 pm.


Garden San Francesco di Paola (piazza San Francesco di Paola, 3)
Garden Torrigiani (via dei Serragli, 146)
Garden Corsi Annalena (via Romana, 38)
Palazzo Guicciardini (via Guicciardini, 15)
Palazzo Frescobaldi (via Santo Spirito,13)
Palazzo Antinori di Brindisi (via dei Serragli, 9)
Giardino di Palazzo Rospigliosi Pallavicini (piazza del Carmine, 21)
Giardino di Palazzo Wagnière-Fontana Elliott (lungarno Soderini, 9)
Giardino Corsini sul Prato (via il Prato, 58)
Palazzo Ricasoli (piazza Goldoni, 2)
Palazzo Corsini (lungarno Corsini, 10)
Palazzo Rucellai (via della Vigna Nuova, 18)
Palazzo Antinori (piazza Antinori, 3)
Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni (piazza Santa Trinità, 1)
Palazzo and garden Rosselli Del Turco (borgo Santi Apostoli, 19)
Palazzo Gondi (piazza San Firenze, 1)
Giardino Malenchini (via dei Benci, 1)
Giardino Vegni (via San Niccolò, 93)
Giardino degli Antellesi (piazza Santa Croce, 21)
Palazzo Pepi (via dei Pepi, 7)
Palazzo Pucci (via de’ Pucci, 4): the organic vegetable gardens on the terraces may be visited by small groups.
Palazzo dei Cartelloni (via Sant’Antonino, 11): exhibition of contemporary art.
Palazzo Ginori (via Ginori, 11): The courtyard can be visited by small groups.
Palazzo Gerini (via Ricasoli, 42)
Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai (piazza SS. Annunziata, 1):Open from 10 am to 3 pm.
Palazzo Ximenes Panciatichi (borgo Pinti, 68)
Palazzo Zuccari Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (via Gino Capponi, 22)
Palazzo Pandolfini (via San Gallo, 74)
Palazzo dei Pittori (viale Giovanni Milton, 49)

Read my post on the Florence open day gardens I visited in 2015. 

Palazzo Antinori in Florence
Palazzo Antinori in Florence


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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Florence bus tickets - tickets for the ATAF buses in Firenze

There are a few simple but important things to know about using the city buses in Florence, Italy.


ATAF bus ticket
ATAF 90 minute bus ticket

ATAF bus tickets are best bought BEFORE you board the bus. They are available from any kiosk (news stand) and from many cafés (bars), and at tobacconists. There are also two ATAF offices very near the SMN railway station where you can buy tickets. The most useful ATAF office is the one at via Alamanni 20r. You can get to it from inside the station by going down the steps leaving the station on the right (when facing away from the platforms), turn right again at the bottom of the steps, go past the very useful Conad supermarket, a florist shop and a post office. The ATAF office is the next place and is open Monday through Saturday 7.15am to 7pm.

In extremity, you can buy a ticket from the driver. Note that he's not obliged to provide change and sales are suspended if an inspector is on board.

how to buy an ATAF bus ticket in Florence
Etiquette indicating that ATAF tickets are sold inside.
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets

IMPORTANT Florence ATAF bus tickets must be validated as you enter the bus. You do this by inserting the ticket into the franking machine located beside or just behind the driver, and another near the rear entrance to the bus. Insert the pink strip uppermost and first into the machine. Check your ticket to make sure it was stamped with the date and time. Inspectors have no mercy on those without a ticket or with an unvalidated ticket or with an expired ticket - the fine is on-the-spot and painful (50 euros). If one machine is not working, try the other one. You only escape a fine if both machines are inoperative.

There is a good range of tickets available. Most commonly used is the 90 minute ticket. Using this you can get on and off as many buses as you like in any direction for the 90 minutes from when you validated the ticket.

Other tickets are good for four 90 minute rides. These tickets can be shared as long as they are validated the requisite number of times. For example, two people taking the number 7 bus to Fiesole could frank such a ticket twice to go and again twice to come back later in the day. These tickets have four strips for validation. Be sure not to overwrite your validation.

There are also 24 hours tickets and tickets for several days. Since these tickets are not meant to be passed from one person to another, YOU MUST WRITE YOUR NAME ON LONG DURATION ATAF TICKETS, such as 24 hour and three day tickets.

ATAF tickets are good for the small, electric buses that follow routes mainly through otherwise traffic-free lanes, and also for the trams. They are NOT valid for the bus that runs to and from SMN railway station and the airport. You can buy those tickets on the bus. Note that a taxi from the airport costs a fixed price of 20 euros plus baggage and late hours fees.

Last but not least, there are pickpockets on the buses in Florence, especially when they are crowded and on routes favoured by tourists. Please read this article on pickpockets in Italy to understand what you can do to protect your valuables from these thieves. It's not as bad as in Rome, but they are here in Florence for sure.


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Friday, 1 April 2016

Upcoming Chianti wine festivals

On 4 and 5 June 2016, there is a wine tasting event taking place in the attractive village of Radda in Chianti - Radda nel Bichiere. And at almost the same time, in June 2016 (dates to be determined), there is another one in Lamole in Chianti, I Profumi di Lamole. And the Chianti wine festival takes place in Montespertoli from 28 May until 4 June 2016. To take in some or all of these wine tasting occasions, you could find a place to stay on the Greve in Chianti website.and for the Montespertoli Chianti wine festival on the Montespertoli website.

Radda nel Bichiere
At Radda nel Bichiere

For September, there are two upcoming Chianti wine festivals to note in your agenda.

Chronologically, the first is the Chianti Classico wine fair taking place in Greve in Chianti, 45-60 minutes south of Florence and reachable by bus from Florence. The official name is the XLVI Rassegna del Chianti Classico (46th Expo of Chianti Classico wines). In 2016, this wine festival takes place from the 8th to the 11th September 2016 in Piazza Matteotti, the main piazza of Greve in Chianti. Note that you might have to park some distance from the venue due to heavy traffic - this fair is very popular. If you also plan to drink some wine, that's just one more reason to take the bus.

Rassegna del Chianti Classico
The Terre di Melazzano booth at the Rassegna del Chianti Classico
The way it works is that you buy a wine glass from the Cassa and Informazioni booth and this allows you to try a certain number of the wines displayed. You can both buy and order wine and olive oil at the booths. In addition to the wine tasting, a variety of events is offered during the four days, but I wouldn't over estimate their intrinsic interest. Click here for the 2016 programme. The Greve Chianti wine fair has a good number of Tuscan wineries represented, each offering all of the wines that they produce - mainly Chianti Classico, of course. My only objection to this fair is that when the weather is hot, few of the exhibitors take any steps to keep their wines cool. Some of them are left in direct sunlight and are distinctly warm when you taste them.

The second wine tasting event is Vino al Vino, taking place one week later in Panzano in Chianti, 10 minutes drive in the direction of Sienna from Greve and also accessible by bus from Florence. Vino al Vino takes place from the 15th to the 18th of September 2016. To some extent, I prefer Vino al Vino over the Chianti Classico Expo if only because it is smaller, with about 21 wineries presenting their wines and olive oil, and has a more intimate atmosphere. I also find the food on sale better than in Greve. There's live Jazz on Saturday & Sunday from 6 until 8 pm.

Vino al Vino Panzano Chianti wine festival
Vino al Vino Panzano Chianti wine festival

For accommodation nearby the venues:

Greve in Chianti accommodation.

Panzano in Chianti accommodation.

Villa hotels.

Chianti wine festivals on Facebook.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Florence Museum Cards :: Florence Museum Passes

Visitors to Florence might want to consider buying a Florence museum pass if they're planning an intensive immersion in Florentine art during their stay. The idea is partly to save money but, more importantly, to not have to join the sometimes long queues outside popular museums. A pass allows you to bypass these queues. There are now two museum passes available - see below.

 Amici degli Uffizi

As of 15 June 2015, the Amici degli Uffizi card gets you into the Uffizi Galleries only. It is valid until the end of the year in which you buy it. You can pick up your Amici degli Uffizi pass at the welcome desk at the Uffizi - don't forget to bring a passport-sized photo for each person to be included. This is a distinct downgrade from the previous rules which allowed entry into numerous other museums and, in my opinion, makes this card useful only for individuals who plan to visit the Uffizi intensively, perhaps throughout the year.

Individual: valid for one adult cost 60 euro.
Family: two adults and two children up to 18 years of age costs 100 euros.
Young people: up to 26 years of age costs 40 euros.

Firenze Card

The Florentine mayor's office announced a new type of museum card, the Florence Museum Card, known as the Firenze Card, that is now available. National and Florentine municipal museums are all included and the pass costs 72 euros for 3 days (72 hours) (tourist pass).

The Firenze Card is valid for 72 hours from the moment of its first use in a museum or on city public transportation. So, for example, if you use it for the first time at 3pm on a Tuesday, you'll be able to enter the museums until 3pm of the following Friday.

The Florence Museum Card provides entry into at least 33 museums, reservations included. The museums are the Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Pitti Palace - Boboli Gardens, Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Museo Archeologico, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Stibbert, Horne, Bardini, Cappella Brancacci, Alinari Photo Museum and others. Private and other museums are still in negotiation.

However, although 33 is a lot of museums, not all are included. Note that the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, for example, does NOT participate in this programme.

The Firenze Card allows you to enter the Uffizi even when there are no time slots left on the official booking site. Waiting time at the "reserved" queue of the Uffizi will probably be not more than 10 min and sometimes no waiting at all, compared with an hour or more on the open queue at popular times of day. That means the card is essentially as good as having reserved a particular timespot on-line - better, actually, since you don't have to show up at a particular time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: you must obtain separate tickets (free, of course) to climb the cupola of the Duomo (Cathedral), to enter the Baptistry and to enter the associated Museum. You do this by presenting your Firenze card at the appropriate ticket counters BEFORE lining up to enter any of these three venues. Tickets for the Baptistry and Museum can be obtained inside the museum.

The Firenze card allows you to use public ATAF city buses free. There seems to be some confusion on this issue, even among some drivers, Nevertheless, the Firenze card is good for ATAF city buses during its period of validity. It CANNOT be used on the Hop-on Hop-off (HoHo) tourist buses which are run by a private company.

Note that children who under 18 enter free when accompanied by an adult cardholder ONLY if they are citizens of the EU. IMPORTANT STOP PRESS: ask about this if you are non-EU. There has been a confusing news release stating that all STATE-OWNED museums now have free entry to all under 18's. This will sooner or later become law and it seems to apply now to many STATE-OWNED museums. Bring passports to establish age.

Note also that an ordinary ticket and a Firenze card allow you to enter any given museum once only. With the Amici degli Uffizi card you can enter as often as you wish.

The Firenze Card can be bought online - click the link Firenze Card. Some local sales points do not accept credit cards, but the information opposite SMN railway station, for example, does accept credit cards.

It will be important for you to do your arithmetic. For example, for a family of four, the Amici degli Uffizi pass costs 100 euros and is good until 31 December of the year you buy it. The Museum Card, good for three days, will cost 288 euros for the same family but gets you into a great many more museums and galleries. And of course it can save you hours because you skip the queues at ticket offices.

By the way, the OFFICIAL website for the Bargello, the Uffizi and other museums in Florence is: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/en/

And the OFFICIAL website for buying tickets is: www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/Uffizi/default.aspx

There are a number of other websites with official-sounding names and domain names that are agencies charging exorbitant prices for tickets, reservations and other services.

Firenze Card can be purchased in the following sales points in Florence:
  • Tourist Info Point, Piazza Stazione 4 - From Monday to Saturday 8.30 am - 7.00 pm; Sunday 9.00 am - 2.00 pm. Closed on 1 January, 1 May, 25 December.
  • Tourist Info Point, Via Cavour 1 red - From Monday to Saturday 8.30 am - 6.30 pm. Closed Sundays and holidays.
  • Museo di Palazzo Vecchio Info Point, Piazza della Signoria - From Monday to Sunday 9.00 am - 11.00 pm - Thursday and midweek holidays 9.00 am - 1.00 pm
  • Palazzo Pitti, Piazza Pitti 1 - From Tuesday to Sunday 8.15 am - 6.20 pm - Closed on Monday; 1 January, 1 May, 25 December.
  • Museo del Bargello, Via del Proconsolo 4 - Every day  8.15 am - 4.20 pm - Closed on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday and 2nd and 4th Monday of each month
  • Uffizi Gallery, Piazzale degli Uffizi - Tel. +39 (0)55 290249 - From Wednesday to Sunday 8.15am - 6.20pm; on Tuesday 8.15 am - 9.30 pm - Closed Monday, 1 January, 1 May, 25 December.

And, finally, many museums offer free entry for everyone on the last Tuesday of the month.



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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Giro d'Italia 2016 - News and Updates for Giro d'Italia 2016

The stages for this year's big cycling race, the Giro d'Italia 2016 are shown on the map below. This bicycle race generates huge excitement in Italy and if you'll be spending your vacation near any of the stages it will be well worth watching.

For those of you who are coming specifically to enjoy Giro d'Italia 2016, I've put some links below for accommodation near Stage 9, Radda in Chianti to Greve in Chianti. That's one of the most scenic stages and also a hilly one which promises plenty of exciting position changes in the pack. It will be important to book your lodgings early.

Giro d'Italia 2016
The stages for Giro d'Italia 2016.
1    Friday, May 6    9.8 km
    Apeldoorn (NL) → Apeldoorn (NL)

2    Saturday, May 7    190 km
    Arnhem (NL) → Nijmegen (NL)

3    Sunday, May 8    189 km
    Nijmegen (NL) → Arnhem (NL)

R    Monday, May 9   
    Rest day

4    Tuesday, May 10    191 km
    Catanzaro → Praia a Mare

5    Wednesday, May 11    233 km
    Praia a Mare → Benevento

6    Thursday, May 12    165 km
    Ponte → Roccaraso

7    Friday, May 13    210 km
    Sulmona → Foligno

8    Saturday, May 14    169 km
    Foligno → Arezzo

9    Sunday, May 15    40.4 km
    Radda in Chianti → Greve in Chianti


R    Monday, May 16   
    Rest day

10    Tuesday, May 17    216 km
    Campi Bisenzio → Sestola

11    Wednesday, May 18    212 km
    Modena → Asolo

12    Thursday, May 19    168 km
    Noale → Bibione

13    Friday, May 20    161 km
    Palmanova → Cividale del Friuli

14    Saturday, May 21    210 km
    Alpago → Corvara

15    Sunday, May 22    10.8 km
    Castelrotto → Alpe di Siusi

R    Monday, May 23   
    Rest day

16    Tuesday, May 24    133 km
    Bressanone Brixen → Andalo

17    Wednesday, May 25    196 km
    Molveno → Cassano d'Adda

18    Thursday, May 26    234 km
    Muggiò → Pinerolo

19    Friday, May 27    161 km
    Pinerolo → Risoul

20    Saturday, May 28    134 km
    Guillestre → Sant'Anna di Vinadio

21    Sunday, May 29    150 km
    Cuneo → Torino

Total Distance    3383

cyclists giro d'italia 2016

Inexpensive accommodation along route 9 of the Giro d'Italia 2016:










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Monday, 14 March 2016

How to visit the Vasari Corridor in Florence

Update 15 March 2016: Tours of the Vasari Corridor.

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, plans to introduce a moderately priced Vasari Corridor ticket (separate from admission to the Uffizi Gallery). He emphasizes that this will give visitors an “opportunity, not an obligation” to explore the corridor. Right now we have no date for when this will be implemented but as soon as we know we will post the details here.

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

Update 14 May 2014: Tours of the Vasari Corridor.


Tours are now again offered by the company that handles ticketing etc. for many museums in Florence and elsewhere, namely Opera Laboratori Fiorentini Spa. The most recent information that we have from them is that a tour can be arranged for a maximum of ten people for € 363 plus a reservation fee of € 4 per person and an Uffizi entry fee of € 6.50 per person. The contact email is: vasariano@operalaboratori.com .

Update 3 February 2014: Inexpensive tours of the Vasari Corridor during February, March and April 2014.


The Uffizi Gallery is offering a range of guided tours of the Vasari Corridor (included in the price of admission to the museum, plus the reservation fee) from 7 February to 30 April 2014. The tours will be held on Wednesdays (14:30 and 15), Thursday (at 10:30 and 11) and Friday (14.30 and 15) meeting at the entrance to the Vasari corridor (in the Uffizi). For each visit a maximum of 25 persons will be allowed and the expected duration is 75 minutes.

Update 30 September 2013: The Vasari Corridor in Florence is once again accessible to the public.


The Vasari Corridor has re-opened to the public after a period of re-organisation of the pictures. There are now 127 self-portraits by Italian and foreign artists from the Uffizi archives on display there. As I described previously, it was the self-portraits that remained most in my mind among the pictures that I saw when I toured the corridor. Visitors will see more recent works such as the famous "Afternoon in Fiesole" by Baccio Maria Bacci and "The Autocaffè" by Giacomo Balla up to the astonishing and provocative self-portrait of Rauschenberg, a skeletal structure made ​​with X-rays. In addition, there are works by De Chirico, Marino Marini, Vedova, Pistoletto, Paladin, Clemente and Paolini, plus non-Italian artists, among them Böcklin, Denis, Chagall and Siqueiros. This new display is likely to make the art in the Vasari Corridor as interesting as the Corridor itself. Here is the current information on how to visit the Vasari Corridor in Florence.

New reservation arrangements:

Currently, there appear to be no shared tours being managed by the Uffizi itself which means you must either use an agency that assembles groups or get together your own group of 10-15 or more and make your own reservation. Obviously, the latter option is going to be the most economical. (See the note at the top of the post.)

You can then make a request for a visit by email to vasariano@operalaboratori.com. For more information on how to access the Vasari Corridor, you can call the telephone number +39 055 290383, available Monday to Friday 8.30 to 18.30 and on Saturdays from 8.30 to 12.30.


This was my review from 2010.

Yesterday (14 October 2010) I visited the Vasari Corridor for the first time and I would like to pass on some tips about how to visit the Vasari corridor in Florence. The Vasari Corridor connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti. It begins on the south side of the Palazzo Vecchio and then joins the Uffizi Gallery where the tour begins. It crosses the Lungarno dei Archibusieri and then, following the north bank of the Arno, it crosses the Ponte Vecchio. The corridor covers up part of the façade of the Church of Santa Felicità. The corridor then snakes its way over rows of houses in the Oltrarno district, becoming narrower, finally to join the Palazzo Pitti. It was designed by Vasari - hence the name - and completed in 1564 in the astonishingly short period of 20 months.


Small groups (max. 25 persons) are conducted through the Vasari Corridor from the Uffizi and reservations several weeks in advance are essential. Make your reservation directly with the Uffizi by phone - this is simpler and MUCH less expensive that booking through the various agencies that make this offer. Phone the booking office at +39 055 2388651. I was surprised to discover that they included 3 hours in the Uffizi itself in the ticket. I picked up my ticket at 8.50 am, wandered the Uffizi and then started the corridor tour at 11.30. It cost 16 euro.

IMPORTANT: please see the new booking arrangements at the top of this post.


The official website for the Uffizi tickets is http://www.firenzemusei.it/ - 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
The corridor is lined with paintings, the more interesting ones being an amazing series of self-portaits 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. 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. No photography of the corridor itself is allowed, but you can take pictures through the windows. 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, 1 March 2016

Best way to buy Euros in Italy

For American and other visitors to Italy, the most convenient and least expensive way to buy euros is to use a debit card at an ATM (called a "Banc-o-Mat" in Italy). This is also where you will obtain the best rate of exchange. You can withdraw a certain maximum of Euros per withdrawal or per day (determine this before you leave, although it depends both on your bank and the ATM) and your bank will charge a per withdrawal ATM fee from as low as $0.75 up to $5.00 or more, depending on your bank. Some debit cards do not charge fees for international transactions, while most Visa cards and Mastercards charge a 3% transaction fee per withdrawal. Ask about these fees before departure so that you know whether to withdraw a maximum amount infrequently or smaller amounts as needed.

Best way to obtain euros in Italy
Capital One is reputed to be the only major company to not add on a foreign transaction fee. Almost all other Visa/Mastercards have a total of 3% foreign transaction fees.

It's always a good idea to obtain, say, € 200 in small notes before you leave, so that you don't have to look for an ATM as soon as you arrive.

Try not to use ATMs in large railway stations and crowded places to avoid the problem of pickpockets.

Traveler's Cheques are no longer in common use in Europe. Hardly any shop or hotel will accept them and most banks refuse to take them because of redemption problems.

DO NOT use currency exchange offices ("Cambio"). Although somewhat regulated, these places charge huge fees. Up to 20% is not unheard of. If you must exchange bank notes, it's by far best to use a bank.

Be sure to let your bank and/or credit card company know that you will be traveling in Europe, (destinations and time periods) so that the anti-fraud protection software does not block your use of the card in Europe.



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Friday, 26 February 2016

Chianti wine festival at Montespertoli


The Chianti wine festival at Montespertoli is coming up (28 May to 4 June 2016) and as usual it will be an entertaining occasion with a procession of locals dressed up in 19th century costumes and, of course, lots of wine to taste. This wine festival is unusual in the number of street musicians and costumed bands who, along with Tuscan flag throwers and street actors, turn out to provide entertainment. In this respect the Montespertoli Chianti wine festival is superior to the Rassegna del Chianti Classico wine festival held later in the year in Greve in Chianti. The Greve festival has plenty of excellent wine available to try and buy but the entertainment is quite feeble in comparison with that of the Montespertoli event, especially in the evenings.

Chianti wine festival at Montespertoli
Chianti wines ready for tasting at Montespertoli
The important difference between the Greve and Montespertoli Chianti wine festivals is that they present wines from different wine zones of the Chianti appellation. The Montespertoli festival covers Chianti, Chianti Montespertoli and Chianti Colli Fiorentini while the Greve festival is devoted to Chianti Classico.

Montespertoli Chianti wine festival
Wagon loaded with Chianti fiasci pulled by Chianina oxen at the Montespertoli Chianti wine festival
Montespertoli is within easy reach of Florence by public transport and there are some excellent agriturismi vacation accommodations in the area

More about Montespertoli.

More about the Greve in Chianti wine festival.

Calendar of events in Tuscany.

Important festivals of Tuscany.

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Friday, 19 February 2016

A fascinating Etruscan exhibition in Cortona focussed on the interpretation of Etruscan script

From 19 March 2016 until 31 July 2016, a fascinating Etruscan exhibition focussed on the script used in Etruscan writing is taking place at the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona, in Cortona - itself an Etruscan foundation, site of several Etruscan tombs and a member of the Etruscan dodecapoli. I strongly recommend this exhibition to anyone with an interest in this fascinating people.

Etruscan tessera d'ospitalità
Etruscan tessera d'ospitalità
The aspect of the Etruscan language that most immediately springs to mind is that even now, despite intensive study, it is still not well understood, even though it can be read fairly easily when written down, as it usually is, in a variant of the Greek alphabet. This is especially the case with regard to the specific meanings of individual words, which are unrelated to the vocabulary of the Indo-European languages such as the Greek and Latin. This reduced level of comprehension of the Etruscan language is the result of the paucity of extant long texts - the entire Etruscan literary corpus has been lost - and of the brevity and repetitiveness of Etruscan funerary, legal and commercial texts.This has helped to create an aura of mystery around the Etruscan language and the Etruscan people. The mystery of the origin of the Etruscans draws nourishment from a language that seemed incomprehensible and archaic, even to contemporary ears. In addition, this air of mystery was exacerbated by 19th century archaeological excavations that were mainly investigations of graves and everything that goes with them, including the meticulous Etruscan funerary rituals in preparation for the afterlife. Lists of Etruscan gods and goddesses are well-established, but little else.

Etruscan perfume jar
Etruscan perfume jar
The spread of Etruscan language and its script is an unusual topic since we (or, anyway, I) generally think of the Etruscans as a static people whiling away their time quaffing wine and playing double pipes in the Tuscan sunshine. However, it seems there was probably a degree of diffusion of the Etruscan language through conquests, trade contacts and, especially, the spread of Etruscan religion around the Mediterranean basin between the 7th century and the 1st century BC. Recent discoveries of Etruscan inscriptions at a site near Lattes, in the south of the prefecture of Montpellier, suggest the presence of Etruscan merchants in France, possibly for an extended period. It is even possible that Germanic runes (Futharc) are derived from the Etruscan alphabet.

Etruscan Tabula cortonensis
Etruscan Tabula cortonensis
This exhibition and its catalogue beautifully illustrate the latest research in the field of of Etruscan syntax, grammar and vocabulary, based on numerous inscriptions, some of them completely new. Some major examples of Etruscan epigraphy are displayed together for the first time. Progress in the comprehension of the Etruscan language was assisted by the discovery in Cortona a few years ago of the Tabula cortonensis, the third longest Etruscan text so far known (after the Liber lintaeus of Zagreb and the Capua Tablet). The Tabula cortonensis is a land transfer agreement, some 40 lines long.  Of the longer inscriptions, the most important is the Zagreb mummy wrapping or Liber Lintaeus found in Egypt in the 19th century and carried back to Yugoslavia by a traveler. It had originally been a book made of linen, which was cut up into strips to be wrapped around a mummy. With about 1,300 words, written in black ink on the linen, it is the longest existing Etruscan text. It contains a calendar and instructions for sacrifice, which are sufficient to convey some idea of Etruscan religious literature.

Etruscan liber lintaeus
Etruscan liber lintaeus
Of course, bilingual texts are the key to interpretation of an unknown language, and for Etruscan there is a single important example, namely the Pyrgi Lamellae, two inscribed gold plaques found at the site of the ancient sanctuary of Pyrgi, the port city of Caere, modern Cerveteri, 50-60 km NNW of Rome. These plates provide two texts of significant length (about 40 words) and of similar content, one in Etruscan and the other in Phoenician. They offer substantial data for the elucidation of Etruscan by way of Phoenician, a known language. The find is also an important historical document that records the dedication to the Phoenician goddess Astarte of a "sacred place" in the Etruscan sanctuary of Pyrgi by Thefarie Velianas, king of Caere, early in the 5th century BC.

The Etruscan Pyrgi Lamellae
The Etruscan Pyrgi Lamellae


My review of the Etruscan exhibition in Cortona, March through July 2014.


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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Saturday, 23 January 2016

Where can I stay in a castle in Tuscany?

Now that Christmas is over, many of my readers are already planning their vacation in Tuscany, and several have contacted me with the question, "Where can I stay in a castle in Tuscany?" Luckily there are several beautifully renovated castles in Tuscany that offer vacation rentals in the form of rooms and self-catering apartments. If your group is large enough, you can rent an entire Tuscan castle! And for those who are searching for a Tuscan wedding venue, several castles in Tuscany offer truly beautiful, unique and memorable wedding venues. Note that I'm referring here to genuine castles. There are also, of course, many Tuscan villas that were originally castles but which were modified beyond recognition during the Renaissance when they were converted into villas. (I'll describe some of those in a future post.)

Stay at Castello di Meleto near Gaiole in Chianti
Castello di Meleto near Gaiole in Chianti
When choosing your Tuscan castle, it's worthwhile ask yourself whether you want to rent a small, perhaps modern, self-catering apartment within the castle or its grounds, or a grand room that forms part of the castle proper with service in the dining room and access to a spectacular lounge.

Stay at Spaltenna Castle near Gaiole in Chianti
One of the rooms at Spaltenna Castle near Gaiole in Chianti
Other important aspects to consider are related to the location of your castle:
- is it accessible by public transport?
- does it have panoramic views?
- is it deep in the countryside or near a town or city?
And then there are amenities to consider:
- swimming pool? Not all Tuscan castles offer a pool but most do.
- gourmet dining or simple B&B?
- is the property a wine producer with cellars and wine tasting? Ditto olive oil?

Enjoy a vacation at Castello Vicchiomaggio near Greve in Chianti
Castello di Vicchiomaggio near Greve in Chianti
Here I list some beautiful castles in Tuscany that offer vacation rentals. These are castles known to me personally and I'll be adding to this list as I visit more of them.

Castello di Meleto - a castle that retains a great deal of its military architecture, located near Gaiole in Chianti.

Castello di Spaltenna - somewhat modified over time since the castle was converted into a monastery, but retains its military character. Located near Gaiole in Chianti.

Castello di Vicchiomaggio - an important wine producer, located near Greve in Chianti.

Castello di Querceto - another important Chianti wine producer,  located near Greve in Chianti.

Castello di Gabbiano - a splendid castle located near Mercatale.


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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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