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Archive for the ‘Day Trips from Florence Italy’ Category

Corniglia – Cinque Terre

The village of Corniglia occupies the high ground above a stunning headland on the coast of the Cinque Terre. The climb to the village from the train station is a challenge, yet approaching it from the south it comes as a surprise. As I walked along the main street, I came to a prescipe that took my breath away.

A drop of about three hundred feet falls away to the sea. The Oratorio of Santa Caterina, an Eighteenth Century church is situated just off of the Piazzetta di Largo Taragi, one of only two small piazzas in the village.

Oratorio di Santa Caterina – Corniglia

This is not a particularly easy place to find accommodation, though the two I have listed in my “IF YOU GO” section, below, are very reasonably priced and offer comfortable clean rooms. Do not expect fancy, yet family ownership brings with it additional pride in service, as with all such small businesses in Italy.

The hiking trails that hug the coast will bring you Corniglia. The stretch between Manarola and Corniglia is one of the longest on the coast. You should plan on booking well in advance, especially in high season, for rooms in Corniglia. Most visitors hike up from the train station, spend an hour or two, then head back to the station to continue their travels up the coast. Keep in mind, also, that there are stretches of the hiking trails that offer no bannister and drop precipitously to the sea.

Unlike the other villages along the coast, this one surmounts the sea and clings to the rocks above. its position offers incredible views. It seems somehow appropriate that the middle village of the five along this coastline would be situated on a high promontory above the sea.

Hotels Corniglia

As is true with all of the villages along the coast, you are strongly encouraged to book your hotel rooms(s) well in advance of your travel dates. If you visiting during late October – late March, then you will find accommodations available for ‘last minute’ arrivals. Regardless, reserve in advance and you will have one less worry for your trip.

These are all places I have stayed, over the years, in Corniglia. You may well have a favorite, yet I can recommend these with confidence that you will enjoy a safe and fairly-priced stay.

 

Corniglia Lane – Cinque Terre

B&B Le Terrazze 

Via Fieschi, 102  19018 Vernazza Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: (Italian Cell Number) +39.349.845.9684

Sole Terre Mare 

Via Serra 20, 19017 Corniglia

Restaurants Corniglia

Corniglia does not offer a diversity of places to have lunch or dinner. Particularly at lunch, the trattorias and cafes that are open do fill quickly. You should plan either an early, or relatively late, lunch. For dinner, I always recommend calling ahead for a table.

Osteria e Cantina de Mananan

Via Fieschi 117, Corniglia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.821.166

Caffe Matteo 

Via Fieschi 157, Corniglia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.821.044

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Fishing Boats – Manarola, Cinque Terre 

As I headed out that first morning, walking the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola, I remember being, simply, stunned at the beauty of the coastline. The path, in sections, is a bit of a challenge, but who cares when you have views like that!

The approach to Manarola from the south is not as spectacular as those who encounter views as they near the village from the north. Once inside the village however, I was again surprised and enchanted by the narrow lanes, the friendliness of the people and the sense that these places are straight from a 1950’s Cinecittà vision of bella Italia.

While I imagined that living along the coast, before it was ‘discovered’ was not just difficult, but downright tough, the positive impact on people’s lives from all we visitors is evident in shops, restaurants, hotels and B&B’s.

Poet and writer Eugenio Montale, who lived in Manarola for over thirty years,  wrote of senses heightened, of that compelling dichotomy between poetic beauty and darker truths.

Every moment brings new leaves to you,
amazement overwhelming every other
fleeting joy: life comes on headlong waves
to this far garden corner.
Now you stare down at the soil;
an undertow of memories
reaches your heart and almost overwhelms it.
A shout in the distance: see, time plummets,
disappears in hurried eddies
among the stones, all memory gone; and I
from my dark lookout reach
for this sunlit occurrence. 

As evening descended on this first full day on the coast, I took a seat in a small cafe and observed. Locals stopped to discuss the day’s developments, tourists peered at menus posted outside trattorias and cafes and a gentle breeze en wrapped the lanes as curtains billowed from windows high above. The lull of the ever present sea slowed us all to the pace of Italian life.

There is a question I ask myself all the time in Italy, and it has to do with love. There is not a region, hardly a place, in this incredible country that I don’t find myself asking “How can anyone not fall in love with the . . .?

Such a question is one asked as I sit on the rocks near the harbor and enjoy sunset by the sea.

Before I get to “If You Go” and the details of staying in, and enjoying meals in, Manarola, I leave you with a photograph from National Geographic.

In its capture of the restless sea and the fishermen’s boats and homes, I see an encapsulated summary of the Cinque Terre’s attractions: rocks, precipitous cliffs, quiet lanes and extraordinary beauty. Enjoy.

Manarola – Photo: National Geographic

IF YOU GO:

Hotels Manarola

As is true with all of the villages along the coast, you are strongly encouraged to book your hotel rooms(s) well in advance of your travel dates. If you visiting during late October – late March, then you will find accommodations available for ‘last minute’ arrivals. Regardless, reserve in advance and you will have one less worry for your trip.

These are all places I have stayed, over the years, in Manarola. You may well have a favorite, yet I can recommend these with confidence that you will enjoy a safe and fairly-priced stay.

La Torretta   

Vico Volto, 20 | Piazza della Chiesa, 19017 Manarola, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.920.327

Carugiu B&B  

Via Ettore Cozzani, 42  19017 Riomaggiore Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: (Italian Cell Number) +39.349.346.9208

Affittacamere San Giorgio  

Via Discovolo 280 – 19017 Manarola (SP)

Tel. +39.0187.760.542

Restaurants Manarola

During high season, you should reserve for dinner in most places in Manarola. The restaurants are, in general, very small and fill quickly for the evening meal. I recommend these places. I have eaten in them and have enjoyed wonderful meals and refreshments at a fair price.

Trattoria Locanda il Porticciolo 

Via Renato Birolli, 88  Riomaggiore, Province of La Spezia, Italy

0187 920083

Aristide (no web site)

Via Discovolo  19017 Manarola, Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.920.000

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I came to Riomaggiore late in my Italian travel life. It was in 2001 during an extended residency in Florence to write my first book, Tuscan Echoes A Season in Italy, that I took a three day/night trip to the Cinque Terre.

When I stepped off the train from La Spezia and walked through the town to the sea, the beauty of this area of Italy completely overwhelmed me. Fishing boats rested on cobble stoned streets, narrow lanes enticed with their cooling shadows, and always there murmured the sound of the persistent sea as it encountered the breakwater of the harbor. From my room in a small, centrally located, B&B below for If You Go), I enjoyed easy access to the streets of the village as well as the trails that crisscross the hillsides above.

Inhabitants of Riomaggiore can be traced to the 8th Century AD. Those early settlers from a nearby valley discovered the rich volcanic soil in the hills along the coast and the abundant fishing. Vineyards were planted and families created lives from the sea’s bounty. Over the centuries, the political feuds that embroiled most of Italy also brought change to Riomaggiore and the coastal villages. Genoa, Milan and Pisa all vied for control of these easily defensible hills.

What brings visitors today is the ineffable beauty of the place. In 1999, the Italian Government designated the five lands, the Cinque Terre, a National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre). With the goal of protecting both the sea and land along this stretch of coastline. The parks’ designation also protects the area from further development.

What I most enjoy when visiting this area of Italy is the narrow lanes of the town. When strolling along the Via Antonio Gramsci as it precipitously descends to the sea, or along the Via San Giacomo on the harbor, I gain a sense of uncluttered and unchanged time. There is a special spirit and a special group of locals who make the Cinque Terre a place where unforgettable memories are created.

The Via Dell’Amore

The “Street of Love”. What more appropriate name could this stretch of the pathway between Riomaggiore and Monterosso have? Relatively flat and easy to walk, this is the most traveled section of the hiking trails that connect all five of the fishing villages along the Cinque Terre. From sculptures that portray vision of love to the padlocks of lovers who close their personalized lock on a fishing net then fling the key into the sea, this is a beautiful section of the coast.

Via Dell’Amore along the Cinque Terre

If you are on the coast during the summer months, expect this particular section of the hiking trail to be very crowded. Also, make sure you purchase a Cinque Terre Card, your paid access ticket to the hiking paths of the Cinque Terre. See “If You Go” below for most details.

IF YOU GO:

This area of Italy has become very crowded during the summer months. Standing room only on the trains, packed restaurants especially during lunch, full hotels and hoards of tourists are the norm, June – mid-September. If you plan to visit and wish to enjoy a more peaceful time, I recommend visiting from late April to late May and from early to late October. The weather during these ‘off-seasons’ can be a bit unpredictable, the lack of crowds make it worth the effort.

Trains:

You can purchase a Cinque Terre Train pass at numerous locations in each village as well as in the train station of La Spezia. The cost of the weekday card is Euro 5.00 and the weekend card is Euro 12.00. If you purchase the Cinque Terre Train pass you can use that ticket for access ONLY to the Blue Trail, #2.

Hiking:

The entire section of coastline in crisscrossed with many hiking trails, varying in difficulty from beginner to extreme. Maps of these various trails, and information regarding access to them, are available in train station and tourist information sites throughout the area.

For a great place to start exploring options related to hiking in the area, visit: Hiking Cinque Terre

You can purchase a Cinque Terre Basic Ticket at numerous locations in each village as well as at train station. While this card does not include use of the trains that travel along the coast, you still have access to the Blue Trail, #2 as well as other services along the coast.

For either of these tickets, begin at:

Cinqueterre.com

Hotels Riomaggiore

As is true with all of the villages along the coast, you are strongly encouraged to book your hotel rooms(s) well in advance of your travel dates. If you visiting during late October – late March, then you will find accommodations available for ‘last minute’ arrivals. Regardless, reserve in advance and you will have one less worry for your trip.

La Scogliera

Salita Castello, 174 Riomaggiore 19017 (SP) Italy

+39 3346194505

This hotel prefers that requests be sent via email to: la_scogliera@alice.it

Luna di Marzo

Via Montello 387, Volastra Riomaggiore  19017 Riomaggiore, Italy

+39 0187 920530

Affittacamere Edi 

Via Colombo, 111  19017 Riomaggiore Province of La Spezia, Italy

+39 0187 920325

Restaurants Riomaggiore

During high season, you should reserve for dinner in most places in Riomaggiore. The restaurants are, in general, very small and fill quickly for the evening meal.

Trattoria “Via dell’Amore” di Rosa Rafaella

19017 Riomaggiore (SP) – Piazza Rio Finale, 8

Tel: +39.0187.920.860

web: http://www.trovalaspezia.info/trattoriaviadellamore.htm

Il Grottino

Via Colombo  Riomaggiore, Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.920.938

Cappun Magru in Casa di Marin

Via Volastra 1, RIOMAGGIORE 19017

Tel: +39.0187.920.563

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Cinque Terre Sunset from the High Road

As sunset settles upon the Cinque Terre, the sky becomes a curtain of gold, the sea an undulating sapphire veil.

This is a place of poetry.

Visually stunning, breathtaking in its scope, musical in its winds, poetic to the soul. Cinque Terre, the Five Lands, have long captured the imaginations of artists and travelers alike.

In his poem about a Sunday morning in a village along the coast, Edoardo Firpo captures all that is magical about the coast and villages in his Cinque Terre.

The slope rises rapidly
in the shadow of the houses;
amid the eaves and gutters
appears a limpid sky…

The mule clambers up the hill
in the tinkle of harness bells;
two or three jingling together
make a slow melody
but one with a lower tone
gives a ring every now and then.

The hens scamper down and peck
at pebbles along the ground.

Today is Sunday, and
all of the women stand
before their half-open doors,
all dressed in black because
of vespers still to come.

Withered by years and sun
they chat softly now and then,
saying things already said upon those ancient steps.

Sometimes there comes the hum
from behind the quiet houses
of the young ones in the sun.

Today’s the first day of autumn
and the heat of summer lingers;
the grapes are still on the vine
and not one cloud in the sky.

And I who am passing by
pause on the height, all alone,
in the midst of the sunny vines
close by the silvery veins
that warble as they run down
to lose themselves in the sea.

Edoardo Firpo – Cinque Terre

Along this stretch of Ligurian coastline (the Cinque Terre is within the political boundaries of the Province of Liguria) is a photographers and romantics playground. From the early morning mists that wrap the cliffs above the sea, to the long rays of sunset that shimmer the surface of the sea, the views are ever changing, the memories imparted unforgettable.

In my next five posts, I will focus on each of the villages that encompass the Cinque Terre with information about hotels and restaurants, along with recommendations for a day’s visit in each.

The area now known as the Five Lands encompass a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1998 and 1999, the Italian Government passed legislation to protect the natural environment and to further encourage ecological balance in the water and on the land.

Hiking trails, in all manner of upkeep, crisscross the land. From paved walkways suspended above the sea to rough steep gravel pathways, there is something for everyone who wishes to experience fresh air and views above and along the coast.

IF YOU GO:

Most visitors arrive by train. Between Genoa and Pisa, and easily reached from Florence, this is truly the preferred way to arrive. For those with cars, you might consider parking at the lot at the train station in La Spezia and taking the train from there. Driving into the villages is impossible for some of them. Monterosso al Mare, on the northern end of the Cinque Terre is the most easily reached by car, and that proves difficult with very narrow roads and precipitous drops to the sea. Parking can also be a challenge even in Monterosso, often requiring a good 1/4 mile descent (and ascent!) to walk from the garage or road side parking to the village.

Train passes for travel between all five villages are available at the train station in La Spezia, and in each village’s train station. Here are prices and information about the passes. For most current information, visit: Cinque Terre Train Passes

  • One day, adults: 10 euro
  • Two day, adults: 19 euro
  • Children under 12: 6 euro
  • Over age 70: 8 euro
  • Family Card (2 adults and 2 under 12): 26 euro

For those of you not familiar with ticket validation, you will need to locate a yellow box in the station before you leave, place the ticket in the slot and print a validation stamp on your ticket. Failure to do so will result, if you are asked to produce a non-validated ticket, of a fine from the conductor.

For summer excursions along the coast, click on this link: Gulf of Poets Cinque Terre

Hotels:

This is one of the most popular places to visit in Italy. If you arrive with no hotel reservation, you will probably discover how busy it is! I recommend reserving at least sixty days in advance of your visit. It is always possible to find last-minute accommodations in one of the villages, yet it is always best to book early.

In the next five posts on our blog, I include details about hotels and B&B’s in each of the five villages along the coast.

Hiking Map:

Map, Cinque Terre

This map provides general orientation to the Cinque Terre. For those interested in hiking the trails in the park, or along the coast, maps and detailed information are available at hotels, train stations and at Tourist Information offices in each village. Please note that you should wear very comfortable walking shoes or boots if you intend to attempt any of the trails and walkways in the area.

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When you have had the opportunity to explore and experience Pisa, I recommend heading to the sea.

Marina di Pisa Panorama

The Arno River, which divides the city of Pisa, empties into the Mediterranean Sea at the small village of Marina di Pisa. You follow signs out of the city for Marina to Pisa, Mare (the sea) or Tirrenia and you will find yourself driving along the final kilometers of the Arno.

Sycamore trees shade the entire distance of the Lungarno Gabrielle D’Annuzzio, the road that traces the south side of the river between Pisa and the sea. These trees have lined this narrow road since I was a child. My father often drove our family on this same road to visit our landlord and his family in Pisa or to head further on to Pontadera and Florence. In the days before the superhighway that now connects Pisa and Florence, this was one of the main roads connecting those cities.

On fall days, when the leaves scatter across the road and a golden curtain of season’s ending  fill the air, the memories of my early years in Italy are particularly clear.

Marina di Pisa

As you enter Marina di Pisa (about ten minutes from the outskirts of Pisa) you will see a parking area and some old fishing stalls on your right.

Pull over, park, get out of the car and walk to the water. Large alabaster stones cut from nearby quarries (including Carrara-the quarry made

Fishing Hut – Marina di Pisa

famous by Michelangelo) line the bank of the river. As you look north, you will see some fishing huts on stilts, their nets hung from large poles above the water.

On clear days from this quiet parking area you can see north up the coast toward the Cinque Terre (the Five Lands). The long arc of the coastline invites further exploration and the desire to walk along the sea (read on) strengthens.

The town of Marina is Pisa is a very small and unassuming place. One main road leads you through the town to a sharp curve to the south. It is from the city front park you can see south along the coast to the port city of Livorno. If you have time, I recommend leaving the main road and exploring the side streets of the town.

Laundry hangs from balconies, a few dogs amble down dusty, quiet streets and a few locals peer inquiringly from their front doors. This is a place that seems straight from a 1950’s Italian film; only during the months of July and August is it filled with daily or seasonal visitors who desire the sun and sea. During the other months of the year, the town folds up on itself and just exists as do so many village across Italy.

Many excellent seafood restaurants line the ‘beach’ as you head south along the coast. I use the word beach a bit loosely , as visitors literally lay out on huge boulders brought in to protect the sea front. There are stretches of level beach, yet even those are stone. If you plan to spend time getting some sun and sea, bring thick towels and plenty of padding!

Tirrenia, Beach View

Our family was fortunate to live in this small village during my father’s military assignment at the port of Livorno. My brother and I attended the school at US Military Base at Camp Darby. We shopped in the stores, ate in many of the restaurants and actually stayed in a hotel along the main road when we first arrived.

There are plenty of ‘private beach clubs’ along the road as you drive into Tirrenia. You are welcome to approach any of them if you desire a more private beach experience; be aware, however, that these places all charge fees since they provide a place to change clothes, umbrellas and beach chairs.

The town is becoming more popular for the summer season visitor. Private villas abound on the eastern side of the main road, and a short trip to view some of them is well worth the time.

You can continue on the road that parallels the beach all the way to the port city of Livorno. My next blog will be all about that interesting city.

Via del Terreno
Marina di Pisa

IF YOU GO:

The closest cities, to use the train system, are Pisa or Livorno. Both have regular service to Florence. From either train station you can take a bus, or if you prefer you can take a taxi. Negotiate the rate with the driver before you leave the station and before you get in the taxi!

Average fares between Livorno Centrale and these villages is Euro 40 each direction. Between Pisa Centrale Station and the villages, Euro 45 each direction.

Marina di Pisa

Restaurants:

Oltremare

Via Repubblica Pisana, 7/8

Oltremare, Marina di Pisa

Marina di Pisa, (PI) Italy

Tel: 050.353.86 or cell number +39.393.788.4775

I’ve eaten here a few times. A VERY informal place with exceptional seafood. Often crowded, so I go either early for dinner. The latter you go, the busier this place is during season. Call ahead to make sure that the restaurant is open if you want to eat here off season, especially November through April.

Ristorante da Gino

Via Curzolari,2
56128 Marina di Pisa (PI)

Tel: 050.354.08

I’ve eaten here twice. It is a pretty pricey place, but in exchange for the prices you get one heck of a meal. This is Tripadvisors #1 rated restaurant in Marina di Pisa. Make reservations for certain – and you will enjoy a great meal.

Hotels in Marina di Pisa

You are only twelve to fifteen minutes from the center of Pisa from this village. If you wish to find very inexpensive accommodations along the sea while exploring the city of Pisa, Marina di Pisa offers some alternatives for you to consider.

Do not expect luxury AT ALL in this small village. These two hotels offer acceptable accommodations, but please – again – do not expect big city comforts. This is a small fishing/seaside village, after all! Please use the links below to go directly to the property’s web site.

Hotel Manzi, Marina di Pisa

Hotel Manzi (Three Star)

The place offers the simplest possible accommodations, while keeping clean and safe. Run by an amicable Marina di Pisa family.

Hotel Manzi

Via Repubblica Pisana (Lungomare) , 25

56013 Marina di Pisa (Pisa) Italy

Tel:

Hotel Boboba Il Villaggio (Three Star)

This place is like Disney World on Italian steroids. Water park, close to beach, huge pool. Accommodations are mostly apartment like spaces. Clean and safe.

Hotel Boboba Il Villaggio

Via Litoranea 7, 56013 Marina di Pisa, Pisa, Italy

A bit more upscale than the Manzi.

Tirrenia

Restaurants

Ristorante Martini

This family owned restaurant, in the same family for generations, offers up flavorful fresh seafood at modest prices. In high season, I recommend

Ristorante Martini, Interior, Tirrenia

reservations in advance. Season in Tirrenia runs from mid June to early September.

Ristorante Martini

Via dell’Edera, 16 Tirrenia

56018 – (PI) Italy

Tel: +39.05.0 37.592

Ristorante lo Squalo

Located just off the south side of the main traffic circle, this unassuming place is near a gas station, of all things. Don’t be fooled by all of that. Specialties include shark (Squalo) and other fresh and beautifully prepared seafood.

Ristorante lo Squalo (No Web Site)

Via delle Rose, 1

56128 Tirrenia (PI), Italy

Tel: +39.050.373.05

Hotels

Grand Hotel Continental

Grand Hotel Continental, Tirrenia

As it name implies, this is a large, convention style hotel located directly on the beach. Close to the main traffic circle in town, it has a loggia full of shops – everything from magazines to gelato. Large private beach areas are reserved for guests, complete with umbrellas and beach chairs. Room rates average Euro 110.00 per room per night.

Grand Hotel Continental

Largo Belvedere, 26

56128 Tirrenia (PI)  – Italy

Tel: +39.050.37031

EuroHotel Tirrenia

Located very close to the main traffic circle in Tirrenia, this is an old stand-by. Do not expect fancy or a lot of frills, but the location and cleanliness of the rooms – added to the rates which are between Euro 36.00 for a single to Euro 67.00 for a large double – make it a very attractive choice.

Eurohotel, Tirrenia

V.le del Tirreno 217 Tirrenia

Tel: +39.05.033.028

Hotel Florida, Tirrenia

Located about 300 meters  from the main traffic circle, this lovely small hotel offers very affordable rates, between Euro 40.00 and Euro 60.00 per room per night, with very good service. Guests can access many of the private beach clubs (remember, you can enter – just pay for the day and you can use the facilities) easily from the hotel.

Hotel Florida, Tirrenia

Viale del Tirreno 227

56128 Tirrenia – Pisa, Italy
Tel:  +39.05.037.236

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Arno River and City of Pisa

If you read the previous post about the Charterhouse of Pisa, you can follow the easy directions in this post to locate the parking area at the Campo dei Miracoli near the Leaning Tower.

On To Pisa!

For those of us who have driven the confusing streets of Pisa, finding a simple way to the parking area near the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles where the Duomo, Baptistery and Campinele (Bell Tower – the “Leaning Tower”) are located, is often a mind-boggling challenge.

From the Charterhouse of Pisa, you simply retrace your drive back to the intersection of the main road you came on from Lucca. When you reach the intersection with the SS-12, turn left on Via Statale Abetone (SS-12) toward Pisa. Typical to roads and streets in Italy, the SS-12 changes names as you approach the center of Pisa. You will drive on the Via Statale Abetone, the Via Lucchese, the Via Brennero and the Via Contessa Matilda and all are the same road!

Parking Area, Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa

As you enter Pisa, proper, you will  drive along a tall brick wall on your left and, when you come to a traffic circle, look for signs pointing to a parking area (“P”) and the Campo dei Miracoli/ Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower). Follow those signs and you will find the parking area entrance about 100 meters from the traffic circle on your right.

Plan on leaving your car there for the day. This parking area does not permit overnight parking, so be sure to check the open/close times before leaving for the sights of the city. (NOTE: This parking area is open from 6:30AM to 11:30PM daily. Cost is Euro 2.00 per hour, or portion of an hour. Push the button on the entrance gate kiosk. You will receive a round green token. KEEP IT WITH YOU. Before leaving the parking are, you must present that token for payment.)

The Campo dei Miracoli

What more needs be said about the most famous engineering failure in the world? They got it wrong and the world comes to see the bell tower as it leans precipitously over the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. Tickets to enter and climb the Leaning Tower are only available on the day you visit and are strictly controlled. For those of you who suffer from vertigo, keep in mind that there are few handrails, particularly out on the various colonnaded levels of the structure…and its a long way down.

Duomo Pisa, Western Facade

If you have at least two hours to spare, especially during the summer months, you may be able to purchase tickets to visit the tower.

The Duomo of Pisa (1063 -1360) is a huge, gloriously carved, building. The western facade is covered with marble carved statues and busts, the interior an awe inspiring and cavernous space. With Giovanni Pisano’s restored pulpit (1302 – 1311) as a centerpiece of the nave, black and white stripped columns and huge altar, this is a place sure to impress.

My best recommendation while at the Campo is the enter the Bapistery, find a place to sit and wait. Every twenty minutes, or so, the guard of the Baptistery will call “Silenzio” (Silence), close the entrance door and will stand at the base of the Baptismal font. He will begin to sing various notes and the echoes of the Baptistery create their famous magic. I will say no more, other than to go and experience.

Marco’s Recommended Top Nine Things to See in Pisa

1. Museo delle Sinopie and the Camposanto

Museo della Sinopie, Pisa

During WWII, a bomb hit the Campo Santo, the cemetery located on the grounds of Campo dei Miracoli. As roof lead melted from the ensuing fire,  all but a few of the Renaissance frescoes that once covered the interior walls of the cemetery were destroyed. In a few rooms of the cloister are a few restored frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, one of the most famous Renaissance fresco painters. Viewing them gives visitors an idea of what was lost as a result of the bombing.

Sinope, a red paint, was used to outline the design by the master or one of this apprentices before a fresco was

Frescoes, Camposanto, Pisa

painted. Much like a ‘cartoon,’ these designs were all that was left of most of the frescoes after the fire. The museum offers a unique and unusual opportunity to view these ‘remains’ of what was an incredible collection of invaluable Renaissance art. It is rarely crowded.

I’ve also included with this number One on the list, the Camposanto (“Holy Field” – Cemetery) of the Campo dei Miracoli. As mentioned, the Camposanto was badly damaged during the war. A few of the frescoes were salvaged after the fire, and these can be viewed in rooms of the Camposanto. Even a brief visit to these rooms will give you an idea of the beauty that once covered the walls of the cemetery.

2. Walk from the Campo dei Miracoli to the Orto Botanico

It is a surprising fact that of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Pisa each year, few

Orto Botanico, Pisa

even know that a University even exists in the city. The walk from the leaning tower into the heart of the University and beyond is an easy and fascinating opportunity to learn more about this surprising and historic city.

The Via Santa Maria heads south away from the Duomo and Leaning Tower. You will find the start of the Via Santa Maria just past the store called Barsanti G et Fighli and almost across the street from the Museo del Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Duomo). Head down the Via Santa Maria and turn right in front of the church of San Giorgio ai Tedeschi. Follow the signs to the Botanical Gardens.

In 1544, Cosimo di Medici funded the first ever Botanical Garden in Europe for the University of Pisa. Though the garden has been moved twice since its founding, it now offers a much larger planted space and is a delightful alternative to the paved streets of the city. Entrance is free. See “If You Go” below for further details.

As you exit the Botanical Gardens, continue straight ahead on to the Via dei Mille. This short street ends at the Piazza dei Cavalieri, one of the most beautiful squares in Pisa.

3. Piazza Dei Cavalieri (with three more of the “Nine Top Things to see in Pisa”)

The piazza was once the hub of commercial and political activity in the city. Built on the remains of the ancient Roman Forum, it is a huge space – second in size to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele on the south side of the Arno River-and offers stunning views of three incredible and historical structures.

Palazzo della Caranova, Pisa

4. Palazzo della Carovana

The large Palazzo (Palace) that fronts the square is famous for its etched exterior walls, referred to as ‘graffiti’. Designed by Georgio Vasari, a famous Renaissance architect, the building was established by Cosimo di Medici (Florence) as the home of the Knights of St Stephen, a religious and military order. The Palace is also called the “Palazzo della Carovana,” which translates to the Palace of the Convoy. Initiates into the order endured a three year training period that was called “The Convoy,” hence the name.

The palace is now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, the school attended by the most academically gifted students preparing for university studies.

5. Palazzo dell’Orologio

Palazzo dell’Orologio, Pisa

Also facing the square is the Palazzo dell’Orologio. This beautiful building was constructed between 1605 and 1608 by combining two towers.

A clock (orologio) was built in the structure that connects the two towers. The combined buildings were used to house the aged members of the Knights of St. Stephen. There are stories, some included in Dante’s Inferno, about terrible events that befell Count Ugolino della Gherardesco during that family’s imprisonment in 1289. Absent those stories, it is a lovely building.

You can read of the Gherardesco history in the 33rd Canto of Dante’s Inferno.

6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

On yet another part of the Piazza is the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The church was constructed as the place of worship, the home church, of the Knights of St. Stephen. Construction took place between April of 1565 and December 21 of 1569, the date of the church’s consecration.

When you leave the piazza, follow the Via Frediano Curatone toward the Arno River.

You will pass directly in front of a main building of the University of Pisa.

7.University of Pisa

Ponte Solferino Pisa

Founded in the middle of the 14th Century (most scholars agree that 1343 was the founding date) the University is one of the oldest in both Italy and Europe. Despite turmoil during the Renaissance, the university has survived and thrived, now listed as the best university in Italy. The unique architectural style of the buildings, and the ease of taking time on the campus to explore, gives visitors a fascinating perspective on this historic and famous educational institution.

As you continue along the Via Frediano Curatone, you will come to the Arno River. This wide and muddy river cuts through the center of the city,

eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Marina di Pisa.

Turn right and walk along the river. The bridge you see up ahead is the one you use to cross the Arno-the Ponte Solferino. The bridge was damaged beyond repair during the floods of November 1966.  Construction started again in 1969 giving the bridge its present form.

8. Santa Maria della Spina – The Gothic Jewel

As you cross the Arno river, look to your left and you will one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Europe, Santa Maria della Spina. It was constructed in 1230 and is named for a thorn (Spina) that is believed to have crowned the head of Christ at the crucifixion. To protect the building from further water damage, it was moved, stone by stone, in 1871 to its present location. The church’s exterior is far more ornate than the starkly beautiful interior. This church is often missed by visitors and I highly recommend a visit.

9. Arcades of Central Pisa:

Arched promenades in Italy are relatively rare. Much like those of Bologna, the covered

arcades and walkways of Pisa provide protection from both summer sun and winter rains. Along both sides of the Via Francesco Crispi, the street you will enter on the south side of the Arno, are numerous shops and galleries offering everything from housewares to fine art. This is the main shopping area of Pisa and is a delight to experience, regardless of the time of year. Cafes and restaurants abound as well so this is a great place to find an outdoor table and enjoy Pisan life.

Here are a few additional places I love to visit when in Pisa.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele

As you approach the end of the Via Frediano Crispi, you arrive at the largest piazza in Pisa, named for King Victor Emmanuele II, first King of a united Italy. Very close to this piazza are three places worth visiting.

Church of Sant’Antonio

Founded in the early 13th Century, the building suffered major damage during World War II. In 1952, the church was reopened for services.

Church of San Domenico

This small and unassuming building was built in 1395 and was once the church for a convent of Domenican nuns. The structure was nearly destroyed during World War II bombings. Currently used by the Knights of Malta,  the restored building was finally reopened to visitors in 1998.

Domus Mazziniana

Domus Mazziniana

The Nathan-Roselli home houses the Center for Mazzinian Studies. Giuseppe Mazzini was a hero of the unification of Italy. There are several rooms that house memorabilia of his life and times. A huge library with over 25,000 volumes is available to those doing research on the Italian

Renaissance. Again, a little-known and often overlooked corner of Italy.

A recent restoration of the house included the Young Italy Oath, which Mazzini wrote, inscribed over the facade of the building. The oath was written as a means of uniting the youth of Italy at the time of unification. You can read the entire text at this link-

Oath of Young Italy

The photo shows the current appearance of the house.

Leaning Tower and Duomo, Pisa

IF YOU GO:

First, keep in mind that a number of the widest and loveliest streets in Pisa are now pedestrian only. This makes driving in the city nearly impossible, particularly in light of the many (MANY) cameras which photograph violators of the city’s control  vehicles entering the historic center. Residents, service and public vehicles are issued a reader – and rental cards do not have them.

It is a much better idea to park at either the Campo dei Miracoli, at the parking areas near the train station or at the airport, then take a taxi or bus into the city. You need not  risk the Euro 120.00 per violation ticket in Pisa. Rental car companies sometimes take up to eighteen months to track down violators, and they do catch up with you!

Walking Map of Central Pisa

MAP

1. Museo delle Sinopie

Museo del Sinopie, Campo dei Miracoli

Tickets:

Tickets for the structures and museums in the Campo Dei Miracloi are combined as follows – prices are indicated at the end of each grouping.
1 monument among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 5,00 euro
2 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 6,00 euro

4 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 8,50 euro

Walk on the walls: 1,50 euro

Opening hours
:
January, February, November, December: 9:00-16:30
March, October: 9:00-17:30
April, May, June, July, August, September: 8:00-19:30
Closed on January 1th and on Christmas Day

For further informations:
Ph: +39 050560547

2. Botanical Gardens of the University of Pisa

Open weekday mornings

Entrance free

3. Piazza dei Cavalieri

(no web resources needed)

4. Palazzo della Carovana

Sculoa Normale Superiore

5. Palazzo dell’Orologio

Palazzo dell’Orologio Information

6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

Chiesa di Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri Pisa

7. University of Pisa

Information about the University and its history

8. Santa Maria dell Spina

Lungarno Gambacorti, I-56100 Pisa, Italy

Hours:
March 1 to October 31: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm; Sun: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Sat: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Closed: Mon
November 1 to February 29: 10am-2pm; Closed: Mon
Domus Mazziniana

Campo dei Mircoli-Pisa

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Charterhouse of Pisa
Calci, Tuscany, Italy

Few tourists know of the road that connects Lucca with the small village of Calci. Nor do many visitors know of the monumental surprise that awaits them – the Charterhouse of Pisa.

My recommendation is to not take the A-11 autostrada from Lucca to Pisa. Rather, as you arrive at the Lucca Ovest (West) interchange follow signs to the SS-12 (Strada Statale-State Road) toward San Giuliano Terme.

As you drive toward San Giuliano Terme, you will pass through the village of Santa Maria del Giudici then enter a tunnel. After you leave the tunnel and drive into San Giuliano Terme, watch for a turn to the left ttoward the town of Calci. Once you are on the road to Calci, the signs directing you to the Certosa (Charterhouse) of Pisa make the rest of the trip very easy.

Why go?

Charterhouse of Pisa
(Monumentale Certosa di Calci)
Tuscany, Italy

This is an enormous complex of buildings, many of them restored after World War II. The remote and beautiful setting, once referred to as the “Valle Graziosa” or “Pretty Valley,” allows visitors the opportunity to enjoy a visit to a beautiful church without the crowds that are found below in the city of Pisa proper. Though the charterhouse is located only about six miles from Pisa, you may as well be a hundred miles from such a large population center.

History

It was in 1366 that Carthusian Monks established their hermitage near Calci. The Carthusian order derives its name from the location of the first heritage established by Saint Bruno. The Chartreuse Mountains, located east southeast of the French city of Lyon is where Bruno began his religious life.

Gorgona, a small island located about twenty miles off the port of Livorno, is part of the Tuscan Archipelago. (On very clear days,you can see the island from a few of the small seaside villages north of Livorno – Tirrenia and Marina di Pisa). In 1369, Pope Gregory XI expelled a group of Benedictine monks  from the island. Some of the monks from Calci were sent to repopulate the island, even as their population grew at the Charterhouse. In the mid-15th Century, due to threats of possible attack by Saracens, the monks on the island brought all of their valuable documents to the Charterhouse.

Cloister, Charterhouse of Pisa

The current architectural style of the buildings is owed to Baroque work of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

After Napoleon’s suppression of religious orders, in 1808, the Carthusian order at Calci was forced to disband. The majority of the monks moved to the Vallombrosian Monastery in Pisa. Most of the silver and gold pieces collected from the religious community were sent to Florence to be melted and used for other purposes. Contents of the library, records, archives and many valuable paintings were sold.

In 1814 when the Grand Dukes of Lorraine permitted the return of the order the Charterhouse, their financial support assisted in the purchase of items that had previously been sold.

A few years after the unification of Italy, in 1866, the government decreed that all works of art, the library and other important documents were to be removed. The buildings and land, then, were assigned to the new Ministry of Education.

From 1946 until 1963, a group of Carthusian monks from the Netherlands attempted to establish a group of monks at the Charterhouse, with the hope of reestablishing their order in their home country. Their efforts yielded no success. When the last of the two Carthusian monks were moved from the monastery in 1972, the state took over responsibility for the maintenance and care of the buildings.

In 1981  the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa was moved into one wing of the Charterhouse. The collections, started in the mid-16th Century, primarily include paleontological and mineral specimens collected over the centuries.

Choir Stalls, Charterhouse of Pisa

Interior

The major construction work on the buildings occurred after the monks returned from the Island of Gorgona (1425) and during the 17th and 18th Century. Monk’s cells, the main chapel and other parts of the building, to include a natural pharmacy based upon the research of herbs grown in the Charterhouse’s “Giardino dei Semplici,” were completed in the early part of the 16th Century. The garden, similar in purpose to one established in 1545 by Grand Duck Cosimo di Medici in Florence, was intended to investigate and research plants that might be used for the cure of disease and infection.

The interior of the church contains some of the finest hand carved choir stalls in Italy. Giovan Francesco Bergamini began, and his son Alessandro (1665-1686) completed, work on a beautiful altar made from Carrara marble. One of the few remaining original works is one of San Bruno (founder of the Carthusean order)

Baldasarre Franceschini (Il Volterrano)

offering the Charterhouse to Our Lady (1681) by Baldassarre Franceschini, called Il Volterrano. An interesting note about the work is that San Bruno holds a model of the Monastery as it appeared before Baroque era changes.

This is an incredibly beautiful building, little known by the millions of tourists who flock to a certain tower in the city of Pisa. If you are in Lucca, or Pisa, and seek the opportunity to explore an historic and beautifully preserved site, visit the Charterhouse of Pisa.

IF YOU GO:

Here are some on-line resources for your information before a visit.

Charterhouse of Pisa

Opening Times
• Tuesday to Saturday: from 8.30am to 6.30pm
• Sundays and public holidays: from 8.30am to 12.30pm
• Closed Mondays and 1/1, 1/5 and 25/12.

Admission
• Full Euro 5.00
• For 18 to 25 year old visitors Euro 2.50

Natural history Museum of the University of Pisa

NOTE: This is a very popular place for school visits, so you may be a bit surprised to see so many children crowded at the entrance to the Charterhouse. Those groups usually only visit the Museum and do not enter the main religious structures for a tour.

Information about the collections

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