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TUSCANY | SWEET LIKE CHIANTI

Green hills with tall proud  Cyprus trees, sunbathed olive groves and vineyards embrace Renaissance towns-museums and time-forsaken, quiet villages, perched on mountain sides and rocky heights, overlooking a patchwork of yellow- green hills. Nature and men have joined forces to create amazing landscapes, which have remained unaltered for centuries now, like the great Italian paintings. The green and serene Tuscany, with its mild Mediterranean climate, is the land where the bright civilisation of the enigmatic Etruscans blossomed. A little south in the Chianti region, one encounters the village of San Gimignano, known as the pearl of Tuscany.

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In this small medieval town, perched on top of a hill, around ten stone towers can be seen, similar to the hundreds that used to be scattered in the region, symbols of the social and economical power of medieval landlords, who calculated the wealth of their neighbours from the height of their towers. From their loopholes, the eyes get lost in the endless sight of vineyards. A few kilometres northwest of San Gimignano is Prato, the once largest textile producing centre of Italy and today the fashion capital of the region. Dedicate some time to visit the city. During the Renaissance years, the rich merchants adorned it with unique monuments, such as the Cathedral, the church of Santa Maria delle Carceri and the imposing castle. The most atmospheric town of Tuscany is, without a doubt, Siena. The colour of the house stones gives a pinkish aspect to the medieval community, which is well- fortified behind its walls. Narrow streets overshadowed by imposing buildings follow a circular pattern to end up in the heart of the city, the round Piazza del Campo, which resembles an arena or a hippodrome – and indeed so, as this is where the famous Palio horse races, an old custom of the Middle Ages, used to take place. On the same square, you can climb – if you don’t suffer from vertigo – to the tall bell-tower Torre del Mangia, for a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. In addition, do not forget to visit the impressive 13th-century Cathedral with its ornate façade. Tuscany without Florence is unheard of. This beautiful city of the Medici, the region’s capital, is a unique travel destination, and although we will not describe it in detail, it is worth stealing some time from your Tuscany tour to drink coffee at the Piazza della Seniora, climb to the Piazzale Michaelangelo for a panoramic view of the city – where the Cathedral dome towers – head for the Galleria del Ufitsi for an art tour and take a romantic stroll on the banks of the Arno, with the Ponte Vecchio, the symbol of Renaissance, in the background.

In the Chianti region, near Florence, are the largest vineyards of Tuscany. Here, the most famous of local wines, the Chianti Classico – a red wine, which has received the highest distinctions in Italy – is produced. You will recognise it by the black rooster logo on the neck of the bottles and which sets it apart from the same red table wine that circulates in the wicker bottle. The vine tradition of the region started in the 12th century and, in addition to Chianti, includes grappa (an aromatic aperitif) and Vino Santo, a sweet dessert wine.

Tuscany’s cuisine is simple and tasty. The great oil and fish, in abundance at harbours such as Livorno, are the basis of a Mediterranean cuisine, which has many similarities to Greek. Some of the most famous fish dishes are fish soup, barbounia a la Livornese, as well as pasta pies, with pasta cooked in the oven. There is an important production of pecorino cheese in the region of Pienza. Many of the regional dishes are made (of course) of pasta, while prosccutto, which is produced in the neighbouring province of Emilia-Romagna and specifically in the city of Parma, hence the name, is also an important ingredient. In Siena, try the ricciarelli (small almond cakes) that are produced daily by Bini bakery and seek Enoteca Italiana, which boasts the largest wine collection of the region (more than 1,000 labels).

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