Learn about both the fascinating natural and civil history of Tuscany while hiking its rolling hills and touring its charming towns. We’ll enjoy Italian hospitality and walk centuries-old footpaths that take us through vineyards, chestnut forests, and quiet abbeys. We will visit ancient hill towns such as San Gimignano and Volterra and enjoy fabulous Tuscan food and wine in Lucca. We will experience firsthand why Italy is so famous for art, architecture, and the good life, thanks to visits to Siena and Florence. Then, we’ll get off the beaten path to reach picturesque ancient abbeys such as San Galgano, Sant’Antimo and Monte Oliveto Maggiore. At the end of each day, we will relax in our quiet and comfortable accommodations and enjoy a delicious dinner of regional specialties. Our trip starts and ends at the Florence airport – tour extension in Florence available.
We will meet mid-afternoon at the Florence airport, where our private bus will pick us up and take us through the gorgeous Tuscan hills to our lodging at an agriturismo near San Gimignano. We'll be staying at a working farm that grows crops typical of this area, such as wine grapes and olives. Agriturismi help small farmers augment their income, and allow us to enjoy the bounty of rural life in Italy. This agriturismo will be our home for the next six nights.
We will hike today through the farmlands and forests surrounding Volterra, an ancient city founded at the very top of a steep hill. Volterra is known for its Etruscan tombs, alabaster workshops, and artisan galleries. After lunch on our own, we will have free time on our own to visit the well-displayed artifacts in the Etruscan museum, watch alabaster being carved, or browse the local shops.
We will visit two abbeys today, each very different from the other. After traveling in our bus along the old Via Cassia, an important road in Roman times, we will hike the final stretch up to the richly decorated Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey, built in 1393 and resplendent with medieval murals depicting the life of Saint Benedict. We will view the murals and their inscriptions in old Italian, and then have lunch together at the Abbey. In the afternoon we will visit the serene Abbey Sant’ Antimo, recently restored and hauntingly beautiful in its Romanesque simplicity.
Today we visit San Gimignano, the famous city of towers. In the 14th-century, San Gimignano had 70 towers, and although only a few still remain, the town center is well preserved. We’ll hike through the surrounding vineyards and forests, arriving in town for exploration and lunch on our own. This medieval town is especially beautiful as we'll see sitting in the piazza, enjoying a glass of local Vernaccia wine or some of San Gimignano's acclaimed gelato.
Today is our day to visit Siena, originally an Etruscan town and later a Roman settlement. Siena is famous for its red-brown brick buildings, and for the Palio horse race run twice a year on the Campo (central piazza). We will tour the town with our guide, and then enjoy lunch on our own. We’ll spend the afternoon in the famous Chianti Classico area, tasting wine and walking through vineyards growing Sangiovese grapes for Chianti wines.
We hike today from the old village of Chiusdino to the breathtaking San Galgano Abbey and the Montesiepi Hermitage, with its mysterious sword in the stone. After lunch together at the abbey, our bus will meet us to traverse the Merse River Valley, a historically rich agricultural land filled with farms, forests, and medieval churches. This evening we'll enjoy dinner at our agriturismo and pack for tomorrow’s departure to Lucca.
Lucca, the birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini, is surrounded by impressive stone walls constructed in the 1500s. Planted with trees and gardens, the wall tops provide a wide boulevard and a bird's-eye view of Lucca. With our city guide we will explore the Piazza Napoleone, the Roman amphitheater, and other parts of the historic town center. After lunch together, we will have the rest of the day and evening free to explore on our own. Walk or bike the walls, visit Puccini’s home, or browse the specialty shops of this compact and interesting town. Dinner will be on our own tonight so we can sample some of the typical Lucchesi cuisine, or attend a concert of Puccini’s music in the 12th-century church of San Giovanni. A historic hotel in central Lucca will be our home for tonight and tomorrow night.
This morning, we’ll travel north for an unforgettable day spent in Cinque Terre where the “Five Lands” (villages) sit nestled on hillsides overlooking the sea. Built in the 12th century, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our time in Cinque Terre will begin with a two- to three-hour moderately difficult hike on steep trails, with rewarding views of the sea and villages. After lunch together, we will have the afternoon to explore the villages on our own. We’ll return to Lucca in the evening and have dinner together.
The Garfagnana area is known throughout Tuscany for its dramatic mountains and fertile valleys that produce local delicacies like porcini mushrooms and rich cheeses. We’ll hike for several hours through steep, forested, and rocky terrain, enjoying dramatic vistas of the Alpi Apuani mountains, then have lunch together in the charming village of Barga. In the afternoon we will travel to our second agriturismo, which will be our home for the next three nights.
Today we will focus on the production and preparation of the wonderful wine, olive oil, and cuisine we have been enjoying. In the morning, depending on the harvest schedule, we might be able to observe the vineyard workers in the field, beginning the grape harvest. We’ll see firsthand what happens to the grapes and olives after they are brought into the winery. We’ll take a trip to the food market to select traditional meats, cheeses, breads, and other delights to taste and learn about at lunchtime back at the agriturismo. We’ll spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our time (perhaps poolside) at the agriturismo.
This is our day to experience Florence, the captivating city of Michelangelo. After a guided tour we’ll have free time for lunch and explorations on our own. A great city for walking, Florence is blessed with world-famous art, culture, history, and architecture -- all of which can be enjoyed by simply roaming its streets and public places. Enjoy a gelato as you stroll the famous Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River!
After breakfast our bus will take us to the Florence airport for flights home. Those staying in Florence or traveling to another part of Italy can easily take a taxi or bus to central Florence and the train station. Participants leaving today should make their flight reservations for the afternoon.
Tuscany with the Sierra Club – September 11 to 22, 2016
Price per person – $3,795 USD