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Memorable places and meals from our honeymoon in Italy
Montalcino is the home of Brunello wine. It is a charming, fairly unspoiled Tuscan hilltown with some excellent dining opportunities and lots of enotecca to sample the goods. You can walk the ramparts of the Fortezza to get some truly great vistas. There is also a enotecca in the Fortezza that serves light meals and offers wine tastings. There is a small patio with outdoor seating. My husband and I were trapped under the umbrellas with tourists from four countries when a sudden hail storm arrived. It was great! Their shop is a good place to pick up some culinary souvenirs and has a huge wine selection. Taverna Grappolo Blu serves old fashioned Tuscan fare like stewed rabbit and gnocchi. The service and food were excellent. Montalcino is close enough to Florence and Sienna for day trips and I would recommend staying in Montalcino over staying in the those cities.
The Cinque Terre is not in Tuscany, but is definitely worth the side trip. These five seaside towns perch precariously on cliffs descending down to the ocean. They are more then picturesque. A hiking trail that varies from easy to strenuous connects the five towns and takes about a day to complete. There is also train and boat service. Cinque Terre is the home of pesto sauce and limoncino, a delicious but potent liqueur. Make sure you try both and buy some to bring home! There are a few hotels, but also many apartments to rent, some with amazing views. You'll see signs everywhere for these privately owned rentals. Plan to spend two nights. Parking can be tricky. You can park in nearby La Spezia, a large city, and take a train to Cinque Terre. There isn't any long term parking at the train station. You'll need to find a parking garage.
Lucca is famous for its walled historic center. The wall was built to withstand cannon fire and is tall and wide. There is a walking path on top of the wall. I believe it's about two miles. Take the walk or rent a bicycle. Great photo opportunities. There is a bustling market and many shops in the center. There are a few towers in Lucca where you can pay a small fee and climb to the top.
Gianni's is located in Vernazza, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre. It is right on the harbor, although there aren't any views from inside the restaurant. This was one of the best meals of our trip. My husband had an excellent cold seafood salad and then pasta with fish sauce. I had the freshest white fish that was baked and delicately seasoned. Everything was fabulous. The service was very good. Their house white wine was the perfect accompaniment. The meal probably cost about 100 Euro (two appetizers, wine, two meals, dessert, after dinner drink) but was certainly worth it given the quality. The service was friendly and knowledgeable. English spoken.
You can see my review of this lovely old hotel by following the above link. I highly recommend it if you are visiting Montalcino.
The Hotel Davanzati is the top rated hotel in Florence according to reviewers on this website. I couldn't agree more. Great location, superior service, lovely rooms. The place to stay.
The Duomo is breathtaking. Truly amazing art and architecture. What was very interesting to us was the amount of pagan symbolism included. Sienna was a very independent and secular city back in the day. Rick Steve's guidebook provides some fascinating details about some of the artifacts and art. The gift shop is very crowded and probably not worth the stop. The Duomo Museum next door is. You can see one of the earlier altars that was removed and stored in a basement when it's style went out of fashion. It's amazing. If you can find it, you can climb a narrow circular staircase to the top of the buidling for some spectacular views. You can also see where the uncompleted expansion of the Duomo would have gone. The staircase and walkway are very narrow. You'll come into very close quarters with the other visitors!
San Gimignano's claim to fame is the number of medieval towers that remain standing within the city. It is pretty packed with tourists during the day and there are a lot of touristy shops. However, there are also some high-quality artisans showing their wares throughout the city - leather toolers, watercolorists, etc. For that reason, I'd say it is worth a stop for unique souvenirs and gift items you might find as well as the photo opportunities. There were expansive, very inexpensive parking areas within walking distance of the town.