It is said that the Tuscan soil provides everything man needs. If man needs olive oil and wine this is undoubtedly true. Walking the classic pilgrimage route through the hills and fields that stretch from the Arno Valley to Siena we are surrounded by classic Tuscan scenes of castellated farmhouses, fields of vines, olive trees and produce of all sorts springing from the fertile soil.
I have recently returned from a fam trip with three of my colleagues from our Sales and Travel Departments, Emma, Melanie and Gina. We spent two days looking at hotels, seeing the sites and walking the paths of our holiday A Trail through Ancient Tuscany. We had sunshine (and some rain) stayed in two very nice hotels and saw all the other accommodation, ate some fine food and perhaps most importantly enjoyed some of the picture perfect trails this holiday follows along the ancient Via Francigena.
Firstly some history. The Via Francigena dates back to the middle ages where pilgrimages took on enormous significance as completing a trip looked very good on the CV when St Peter decided if you got into heaven or not. The path runs from Canterbury to Rome and on to the Holy Land and Jerusalem for pilgrims who really had some time on their hands. Neither our fam trip or the Ramblers Walking Holidays trip attempts anything so ambitious.
The RWH holiday starts in San Miniato, a lovely hill town above the Arno Valley and winds south through fine Tuscan countryside and gems like San Gimignano and Monteriggioni to Siena. We finish with two nights here enjoying this beautiful city.
In two days our FAM trip could not see everything so we stuck to the highlights. A night in San Gimignano was a great place to start. Alas the hotel we use for the holiday La Cisterna, so perfectly located in the town square was closed for some refurbishments so we stayed in Hotel da Graziano just outside the city walls. For a welcome dinner after a long day travelling we walked into the Trattoria Chiribiri, located just inside the walled town, welcoming, full of character and typical of some of the excellent eating establishments on the way. For carnivore or vegetarian the choice was excellent.
Wednesday morning brought sunshine and a breathtaking view from the hotel of the striking San Gimignano skyline. After a brief trip into town we walked south on the path, firstly on a minor road and then through gently rolling Tuscan countryside, passed fields of vine and olive with the sun on our backs and wild flowers lining the route. There is a reason the Via Francigena is regaining its former popularity, it is a lovely path through some beautiful terrain. Alas as time was limited we had to foreshorten our walk and continue to the surprisingly pretty town of Colle di Val d’Elsa. Our hotel is the former paper factory, lovingly converted to the Hotel La Vecchia Cartiera, it looked lovely inside.
Finally we arrived in Siena and the centrally located Hotel Minerva. It is a 10 minute walk from here to the Campo, centre of Siena, home of the Palio horse race and perhaps the most striking city square in Italy. The views from Torre Mangia are to be savoured on a day like this, particularly after climbing the 400 stairs to enjoy them. The Duomo in Siena is another essential highlight for even the most lukewarm aficionado of Renaissance architecture, it is a masterpiece. Pisano’s pulpit is one of the finest pieces of sculpture to be seen in Italy.
After another great meal and a good night's sleep we set off to see the centres we had used. Firstly the castle village of Monteriggioni with views stretching north to San Gimignano, perhaps my personal highlight and finally San Miniato, the first centre on this holiday, a lovely town with magnificent views over the Arno Valley. A great place to start (or finish) a wonderful walking experience!