Sunday, 3 May 2020

72 hours in Montaione, Tuscany

From historic cities and medieval hilltop villages to the region’s rustic countryside and majestic Mediterranean coast, you cannot deny Tuscany of its outrageously romantic vibes.


The small medieval hilltop village of Montaione situated just 20 miles or so from Tuscany’s capital, Florence, is a hidden gem. 

When you Google the place, there’s not much to be found. 

But, if you’re looking for a relaxed weekend away, it’s a beautiful place to base yourself and explore some of the more popular spots in the region whilst getting an authentic taste of Tuscany’s nonchalant village life.

We spent three nights at the Palazzo Mannaioni Toscana. Which was beautiful. A restored 16th-century mansion set in the heart of the town.






See & do.


Montaione isn’t exactly set up for high volumes of international tourists, we got the impression it was more a one-night stop off for those on organised tours of the region.

Montaione is small, but there’s a handful of boutique shops selling all sorts of wares.

We discovered a small market in the town’s main square with a few stalls run by locals selling all kinds of antiques and craftwork. Head to the Church of San Regolo, which is home to a valuable 13th-century painting, to find the main square.

If you've a more sophisticated taste in art, history or religion than me, you'll find plenty in Montaione to keep you busy. In town, you’ll find the Museo Civico, and if you travel just 2km further you’ll discover a Roman reservoir that dates back to the 3rd century A.D. But, most famously, Montaione is also within reach of The Sacred Mount of San Vivaldo - the Jerusalem of Tuscany. 

The best thing about Montaione, in my humble opinion, is its surroundings. With around 50km of country roads and cycling trails passing through the local area, it’s perfect for exploring the Tuscan countryside. 

There are a number of bike rental places in town, however, we found them all to be closed the day we wanted to get out and explore, so I’d recommend booking these in advance.

Instead, we headed out on foot to explore the rolling hills, fields of cypresses, vineyards and olive groves and old farmhouses. 

We couldn’t find much information detailing specific walking trails in and around Montaione, so we just took a road out of the village and followed it. It seemed pretty impossible to get lost, and I’m sure if you dig around or ask the friendly locals you’ll discover maps and more detailed trails.






Eat & drink.


Some of our favourite meals we had in Tuscany were at the local restaurants in Montaione. These were probably some of the most authentic restaurants I’ve ever eaten in, and the food is exactly as you’d imagine - home-cooked traditional Tuscan food. They’ll be hard to beat!

From hearty Tuscan dishes to simple, but extremely tasty pizzas - they have it all. And if you visit in the warmer months, the outdoor terrace looked lovely with some pretty epic views. 

Clearly a popular restaurant with the locals. We ate a full four-course dinner and enjoyed fresh spaghetti and ravioli and Montaionese style venison. Making a reservation in advance is advised!


Beyond Montaione...


One of the best things about Tuscany is how easy (and cheap!) it is to hop from place to place using the region’s train service. 

And if you have the Trainline app you can easily book trains in advance or even just use the app to plan your routes. 

Florence.

A local taxi driver in Montaione recommended a rooftop bar called ‘CaffĂ© La Terrazza’ at La Rinascente, a very posh and very expensive department store. 

When we went to check it out the queue was quite overwhelming. But I’ve since heard the wait is worth it with the rooftop offering fantastic views of Piazza la Republica, the Duomo and the Tuscan hills beyond. 

And you won’t miss the Duomo itself, otherwise known as The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower). I’m not really one for queuing so we swerved the hour-long queue and admired the building from outside.

My favourite spot in Florence was the San Lorenzo Market where you’ll also find Mercato Centrale, an open-air market with a variety of food shops.

For lunch, we were enticed by the Affettati Misti or Charcuterie boards being devoured alongside glorious looking bottles of chianti on the market’s ground floor.

And when in Florence, you won’t want to miss the Ponte Vecchio. Take a stroll along the Arno River to see the Bridge from afar. I’d recommend walking along the river towards the bridge first and crossing back over into the northern part of the city from there.







Pisa.

If you can ignore the swarms of tourists clambering to get a shot of the Leaning Tower, Pisa is a pretty cool city to spend a few hours mooching around admiring the Romanesque architecture. 

As well as the famous Tower, Pisa is also home to the historic University of Pisa which dates back to the 12th century. We arrived into the city early and sat outside a cafe watching the students go about their morning routines and admiring the impressive university buildings.

For lunch, head to L’Ostellino for the best sandwich in town. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall affair, so be prepared for some hustle and bustle as it gets super busy. I went for the salami, caprino cheese, smoked goose(!!) and salsa verde sandwich and it was divine.





Getting there.


To get to Montaione, we found the cheapest flights from London, Gatwick were to Pisa. From there we got a train to Empoli, where we jumped on a train to Castelfiorentino.

Castelfiorentino was super quiet when we arrived and I think we lucked out finding a taxi to take us 10 minutes up the hill to Montaione, so it might be worth planning ahead for this part of your journey.

We also looked into getting a private coach from the airport straight to Montaione, but the quotes we received were extortionate compared to the price of the trains.
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