Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your current—and future—adventures.
The exquisite Tuscan countryside and its charming cities have played muse to writers throughout the centuries, from titans of Italian literature like Dante Alighieri, who was born and lived in Florence, to visiting authors such as Chaucer (whose Canterbury Tales riffs on the Italian writer Boccaccio’s The Decameron). And then there’s recent pulp fiction, such as the second of the Twilight series, and memoirs like Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. This itinerary will take you through three iconic cities in the region, where you’ll discover the homes and writing rooms of literary lions, saints, and composers—and the locations that inspired some of history’s greatest works of art. As the German poet Goethe wrote after returning home from a tour of Italy, during which he travelled through Tuscany, “We are all pilgrims who seek Italy.”
Start your journey in Florence, where your home base will be the Florentine jewel, The St. Regis Florence. A palace designed by Brunelleschi (the architect who designed the dome of the Duomo) in the city’s historic center, the property sits along the Arno River. Surrounded by rich colors, custom frescos, and crystal chandeliers, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a modern-day realization of the Renaissance era. It’s the perfect stepping-stone to the treasures just outside its doors.
Many come to the capital of Tuscany for the largest volume of Renaissance art in the world. But as the hometown of Dante, among the most esteemed writers of all time (who wrote The Divine Comedy, widely considered one of the world’s greatest literary works), you can trace the author’s footsteps from birth until his exile. Stroll down Via Santa Margherita to get to Dante’s House, where his birthplace has been made into a museum with a collection of works by and about the poet and his hometown. Visit the Santa Croce Basilica, the final resting place for many an Italian legend including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, to see the monument to Dante. The statue there depicts an open tomb because Dante died in exile from Florence in the city of Ravenna, where his remains lie to this day.
In between, check out a few other sites that loom large in Dante’s work or pay homage to the literary great. Badia Fiorentina, the oldest monastery in the city is where Dante first set eyes upon his great love, Beatrice Portinari and the church’s bells ring out in Dante’s “Paradiso XV.” The great poet also holds a place of prominence in some of the city’s most beautiful locations, such as the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, where he’s depicted among other greats of his time, and inside the Florence Cathedral, where a fresco shows Dante amid scenes from The Divine Comedy. You’ll also find some 34 plaques throughout the city featuring excerpts from his literary masterwork.
Of course, you must go see the Florence classics if you haven’t already, in between the many literary-related gems throughout the region. To get an up-close visit with Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery be sure to book a skip-the-line ticket in advance and gaze in awe at this majestic wonder.
While you’re there, make a stop at the rare bookstore Libreria Antiquaria Gozzini, a Florentine fixture which has been serving readers of fine literature for more than a century and a half. You’ll also find numerous bookshops a short walk away from the famed medieval bridge Ponte Vecchio. Hit up the Giulio Giannini e Figlio, a sixth-generation bookbindery across from the Pitti Palace, for leatherbound books and letterpress cards—lovely souvenirs to take home.
Get a snack and a refreshing beverage at Caffé Gilli, founded in the Medici era, where writers and creatives have been gathering since opening in 1733. A leisurely café by day, it’s also a cocktail bar and full-service restaurant featuring modern takes on traditional Tuscan cuisine, prepared with seasonal produce.
Succumb to romance and ecstasy in Siena
Just an hour’s drive away, you’ll be in Siena, perhaps the country’s most exquisite medieval town with burnt sienna red brick buildings surrounding the fan-shaped central square, Piazza del Campo. It’s here where Siena’s patron saint Catherine dictated her groundbreaking church text, later known as The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, which detailed her conversations with God while in a state of ecstasy. Pay homage to St. Catherine at the Basilica Cateriniana of San Domenico, which houses her remains, and then tour the Shrine of Saint Catherine just down the hill, where you’ll be able to stroll through small museums housed in corridors that once made up her home (where she was born in 1347).
Siena is also the setting for the Italian poet Masuccio Salernitano’s 1476 story of Mariotto and Gianozza in Il Novellino, which is cited as one of the forbears of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The romance of this walled city has inspired writers for centuries, and you’ll see why when you tour its charming narrow streets and outdoor cafes.
There’s no shortage of excellent restaurants in town (the Michelin Guide recommends no fewer than five fine dining options). Try the elegant yet relaxed Mugolone, just minutes from Piazza del Campo on Via dei Pellegrini, for a modern take on traditional Tuscan cuisine. After a full day of touring the area, head back to the home base for a night before embarking on the last leg of the journey.
Savor the sights and sounds of Lucca
Just over an hour’s drive in the opposite direction, toward the coastline, is another beautiful medieval city, Lucca, whose jagged 16th-century walls are the design of none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s not just authors of the written word who’ve savored the vistas and delightful towns of Tuscany—great composers also hail from the region. In Lucca, often referred to as the city of 100 churches for the sheer volume of places of worship inside its walls, you’ll discover what inspired native son Giacomo Puccini’s tragic romances, such as Le Bohème and his masterpiece opera Madame Butterfly.
Rent a bike for the day, and head to the Puccini Museum, also known as Casa di Puccini, where you’ll find Puccini’s birth home, surrounded by galleries that explore the master composer’s “personality, passions and genius.” And check out more living literary history at Antica Tipografia Biagini, for incredible typographic printing including exquisite book plates (for the likes of Jodi Foster and Robert De Niro, no less).
Take a break during your day to enjoy a cappuccino with a local treat, buccellato, a semi-sweet bread with raisins locally made and sold at many shops throughout Lucca. And when you’re ready for a sit-down meal, a ten-minute drive from the city’s center will bring you to (keeping up with the Puccini theme!) Restaurant Butterfly for elevated Tuscan cuisine, served alfresco at its outdoor pavilion for an even more dreamy experience.
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