For every travel enthusiast in the world, Italy features among the top spots in their “must visit” list. The country is proud of its enchanting landscape, sumptuous cuisine, and exciting cultural heritage. No matter which part of Italy you choose to visit, you are bound to be obsessed with it for many days to come. Italy boasts of a rich and eventful history, perfectly complemented by the art and architecture that will transport you to that era.
Its Museums, Piazzas, Basilicas, and Castles are the perfect places to learn and explore. Whether you want to explore the beaches, hills, and cityscape, or just visit the historical attractions, Italy does not disappoint on any account.
The beautiful region of Tuscany, located in Central Italy is paradise for those who take a special interest in art, architecture, traditions, and history. Its rich cultural heritage and artistic legacy tempt most to consider it a “nation within a nation”. It is only after the economic and cultural ruin led by the fall of the Roman Empire, that the development and growth of Gothic and Romanesque art began and flourished.
Examples of medieval classical Florentine Romanesque architecture are Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, the collegiate church in Empoli and San Miniato El Monte. Pisan eclectic architecture is beautifully represented in the Piazza Del Duomo. The old pristine towns of Lucca and Prato flaunt churches and cathedrals built in the medieval Pisan Romanesque style. Military architecture like city walls, towers, town halls, city centres and castles were built during this period. By the time the Renaissance arrived, Florence was regarded as the cultural capital of Tuscany.
Art and Tuscany are synonymous with each other. Nicknamed the ‘art palace of Italy’, it has the largest concentration of Renaissance art and architecture in the world. It is amazing how the biggest and most respected names in the field of art were born in the Tuscan region. The fathers of Italian painting, Cimabue Giunta Pisano and Giotto lived their lives in Tuscany and Florence so did Donatello and Masaccio, the forefathers of Renaissance.
Universally renowned artistic geniuses Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo too graced the Tuscan art scenario. The world’s most famous and precious artworks find a home in the art galleries and museums of Tuscany. The most reputed museums and art galleries include Uffizi, the Bargello and Palazzo Pitti. Florence Cathedral, Siena Cathedral and Pisa cathedral are beautifully strewn with breathtakingly stunning sculptures, paintings and frescoes.
Castles have always occupied a special place in my heart and a prominent spot in my travels. The inevitable marriage between history and architecture transports me back to that era. Let me elaborate on three such castles that especially interested me.
The proximity to the sea made the Aghinolfi Castle in Montignoso a military strategic point. It was constructed by the Lucchese government in the late Middle Ages to get control over the sea. The castle has separate structures, that when put together gives the castle a unique personality. The castle comprises of tall and wide walls, numerous arches, towers, a walled courtyard, an octagonal building and the Bastion of Sao Paulino. The octagonal building was used for both military and residential purpose. The castle was returned to the local community in the year 2001, after extensive restoration efforts that began in 1998. The glass flooring within the structure showcases the stratigraphy of the original flooring. Final restorations in 2008, opened the gates to the archaeological park within the outer gates of the castle.
Castle of Comano
Situated in the high Taverna valley, on the eastern edge of Lunigiana, surrounded by the Apennine Peaks, we reach the quaint, picturesque little hamlet of Comano. It is strategically placed between Tuscany and Emilia. The castle of Comano served as tax post and bastion for the family of Malaspina. What remains of the castle are its ruins and completely restored cylindrical tower and main gate. The castle has been abandoned, however; the restored tower can be visited through advanced bookings.
Castello di Montalto
The castle of Montalto lies in the quiet, unspoiled Chianti hills in Siena. Its location between Florence and Siena made it a historically significant castle. From the 1950-1970’s small-scale farming suffered a huge loss once farmers left for better work opportunities in the towns. Farming was restored once the castle was ceded to Nunziante, an agricultural economist. The 270 acres of land that surrounded the castle is still cultivated until this day using traditional, organic methods. Currently, the abandoned homes and a part of the castle have been converted to state-of-the-art villas and holiday homes that are offered as vacation rentals also called Agriturismo. Though the homes have been restored to perfection, every effort is made to keep alive the rustic feel of Tuscany. The authorities strive to provide an experience that is authentic to its core.
It was only fitting for me to get firsthand experience of this authenticity by living in the La Loggia villa, a four-bedroom apartment within the castle. My stay at the villa was a truly comfortable and unique experience, as the styling of the villa was Tuscan to its roots. There is ample space for a large family to stay together as well. Armed with the best amenities, adequate ventilation and a jaw-dropping view of the valley below, La Loggia was a perfect choice.
You are truly blessed if you got to experience the marvels of Tuscan cuisine. Home to Chianti wine which is famous all over the globe, the wine and cheese tasting sessions were truly unforgettable highlights of my trip. I explored the beautiful estate, local roads, towns and villages, neighbouring churches by foot so that I could soak in everything I could. September for me is the perfect time to plan your visit to the castle, as the days are temperate and the nights are cool.
Taking a walk by the sunset, makes you want to leave all your worries behind and just live in the moment. I stayed back at the castle on several occasions to make take full advantage of the occasional concerts, barbeque nights, cooking and language classes or just laze by the pool. Outdoor activities and games kept me on my feet throughout.
I have travelled everywhere, but no other place pulled at my heartstrings like my trip to Tuscany did. The perfect amalgamation of art, history, architecture, culinary finesse, and cultural vibrancy makes Tuscany the ideal vacation spot. Every place has a unique story to tell, provided you are willing to listen.