During your stay in Florence, especially if you’re here during the hot summer months, you’re going to want to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the skinny streets and the overcrowded museums. Here are three day trips you can take to get some perspective and fresh air.
Every twenty minutes, the #10 bus leaves Santa Maria Novella station and takes you to Settignano, a beautiful hilltop town outside of Florence. In half an hour’s time, your outlook will have changed. Instead of hearing the buzz of motorbikes, you’ll hear birds singing in the cypresses.
Settignano is known mostly for its villas and castles dotting the hills, its panoramic view, and as the town where Michelangelo spent part of his childhood. When you get off the bus in Piazza Niccolò Tommaseo, the main square of Settignano, you’ll be standing right in front of a gelateria, so you might as well enjoy a gelatto as you head toward Via del Rossellino, which you’ll take to get to 14th-century Villa Gamberaia (make sure to keep walking straight on this road and do not take a right onto another Via del Rossellino.) You’ll soon come upon the villa on the right, which is best known for its lovely, immaculately designed gardens.
For 15 euro, you can stroll through this spectacular scenery, of which Edith Wharton has written: “[there is an] abundance of water; easy access to dense shade; sheltered walks with different points of view; variety of effect produced by the skillful use of different levels; and, finally, breadth and simplicity of composition.” The gardens are open every day. Email or call for specific hours, as they may change.
Head back to the main square and follow the sign on via Simone Mosca to the panoramic view at Piazza Desiderio. There, in between cypresses, is a stellar vista of Florence. If you brought a picnic, walk down the hill a bit and you’ll find a bench with a view.
A special hint: on Sundays, this town is virtually closed! You can still visit the gardens and enjoy the panoramic view, of course, but if you want to have lunch or a snack, you’ll be on your own because all cafes are closed.
Before there was Florence, there was Fiesole. Though most tourists are in on the secret of the Etruscan hill town of Fiesole, it is not to be missed.
To get here, take the #7 bus from Santa Maria Novella station. Once you arrive, you’ll find that right in the main square, Piazza Mino da Fiesole, are plenty of places to lunch before heading to the Museo Bandini; admission to which (about 6 euro) will get you into the museum, the Teatro Romano, and the Museo Archeologico.
In the Museo Bandini, you’ll find 13th- to 15th-century art by Michelangelo, Pisano, and others. Most impressive is the Teatro Romano, the (now restored) remains of the 1st-century B.C. amphitheater. You can also stroll around the ruins of the Roman baths, nestled in the grass, and walk along original Etruscan walls. On this same site you can visit the Museo Archeologico, which traces Fiesole’s fascinating history with both Etruscan and Roman works of art.
Back in the main piazza, be sure to stop by the 11th-century Cattedrale di San Romolo (Duomo). Here you’ll find Roman capitals and sculptures by artist Mino da Fiesole, the namesake of the piazza.
And finally, a visit to Fiesole is wasted unless you walk up the rather steep hill off the square to the panoramic view (you’ll see everyone else is walking up there, too). Even better than the view from Settignano, this vista conjures images of Renaissance paintings. It is stunning to see Florence from this site, as well as the surrounding bountiful hills and olive groves.
Castello del Trebbio
It can be very pleasant to spend your day out of town walking around ruins in hillside towns. But if you want to be a little more luxurious, I point you to a wine-tasting tour of the 12th-century Castello del Trebbio.
Set in a hilltop on Santa Brigida, the castle overlooks olive groves and forests (see below for arranging a tour.) On the tour, you’ll explore the expansive rooms of the castle, including its wine cellar. You’ll learn about the history of the original owners, the Pazzi, whose legacy in Florence is an assassination attempt on two Medici brothers, Guiliano and Lorenzo, otherwise known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. Your guide will teach you the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, and the high standards for wine production in the region. The castle produces olive oil, wine, and, most recently, saffron. At the end of the castle tour, you’ll be treated to a wine tasting, sampling four wines—including their excellent Pazzesco wine—and appetizers.
Call the castle for a reservation for one of their Tuesday or Thursday tours at 10:30 am: 335 655 0585. The castle is accessible by a SITA bus near Santa Maria Novella station (with the destination of Santa Brigida). This is an absolutely delightful experience!