This weekend, IES Abroad took us on a wonderfully planned tripped to Tuscany. I can confidently say that the trips IES Abroad organizes are very worthwhile and to definitely take advantage of any trips that your program offers. They have the ability to take you to places that are more difficult to reach on your own by train or bus. Not to mention, its sometimes nice to have a trip already completely planned where you don’t have to worry about all the logistics. However, if you decide to travel on your own to Tuscany, I will now present to you a brief itinerary of our weekend with all the highlights that could go on your to-do list!
With two buses full of sleepy students, our journey began early Friday morning as we left Milan and embarked on the 4 hour ride to Siena. It passed by quickly, since most of us fell asleep immediately, and we arrived in the early afternoon. After checking into our hotels, we split into groups for a walking tour of Siena. The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site and rightfully so as it is known to be a medieval masterpiece. We began in the Piazza del Campo where the famous horse race of Palio is held twice a year. Our next stop was at the Chiesa di San Domenico, a basilica church that is one of the most important of the city, known for its simplicity, beautiful stained glass and keeping the mummified head of Saint Catherine, one of the patron saints of Europe, on display. Some of our other stops included the Baptistery and Duomo of Sienna, Piazza Gramsci, Piazza Tolomei, and Piazza Salimbeni. While walking from place to place we were able to see the most stunning views of the city. After the tour we were given free time to explore, and if the weather permits, make sure to climb up the Torre del Mangia which offers one of the most breathtaking views of Siena.
In the morning we ventured out to another World Heritage Site, San Gimignano, which is a small-walled medieval town in the hills of Siena. With its hilltop setting, it presents incredible views of Tuscany and is known for its medieval architecture. We were given the entire morning to do as we pleased and I suggest walking down any ally and hidden path because you will likely discover some of the secrets the tiny town holds. And if you think the views can’t get any better, try climbing the Torre Grossa. You have to buy a ticket to do so but trust me when I say it’s entirely worth it. Lastly, if you don’t do anything else, go to Gelateria Dondoli to try quite literally, the best gelato in the world. From San Gimignano, we drove to an agriturismo, Fattoria Poggio Alloro, to eat a group lunch outside and taste wine and other products that the farm grows. It was a delicious meal with a gorgeous view of San Gimignano in the distance. After the meal we were given a tour of the farm, learning about the process of making wine and paying a visit to their (sort of) friendly cows.
Our last day was spent in Pisa, famous for the leaning tower of course but also home to many other monuments worth visiting. In the Piazza del Duomo, the central square where the tower is located, you can’t miss the Pisa Baptistery, the biggest monument in Italy. If you leave the main square and take a walk through the winding streets of Pisa, you will be pleasantly surprised to see that there is much more to the city than the leaning tower. Finally, its one thing to admire and try to take your picture pushing the tower over from the outside (we’re all guilty of it), but there's also the option to purchase a ticket and climb to the top to see the best views of Pisa. This personally was my favorite part, since the area attracts many tourists which can make walking around the monuments a bit overwhelming.
Overall, it was a great weekend and Tuscany is definitely one of my favorite places that I've visited in Italy so far!
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Abigail is our 2016-17 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! Abigail studies Economics and International Studies with a minor in Business Administration at Brandeis University—where she is also an IES Abroad Ambassador. As a Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Blogger, Abigail illustrated her year abroad in Milan through her insightful posts and candid photography that navigated her growth in the historical city of Milan.