I’m just home from 7 days visiting Italy’s Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna regions, namely Pisa, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Florence and Bologna. I want to recommend and review my time there so maybe you will visit some day too.
Go early in the morning (we went around 7am) and you have the ‘Square of Miracles’ pretty much to yourself. The ticket office doesn’t open until 9am but we booked from the official website on the day and got a 3:30pm slot for going up the tower and getting in ‘free’ to the cathedral as well. *Remember something to cover your shoulders to get into the cathedral and bags of any kind aren’t allowed up the tower. There are lockers but I just left mine back at our accommodation and picked it up later. Everything else can be stored in pockets, or my husband’s pockets for that matter!
Our first meal in Italy was at Pizzeria Zero Zero the pizzas were insanely good, we had beer, Aperol spritz and some cokes too and it was reasonably priced. We also tried the Cecina Chickpea focaccia that’s famous in Pisa, it was €1.50 a slice here, very soft, slimy consistency but worth a try!
On our last night in Pisa we ate at Osteria Alla Goccia which was a nice secluded setting away from the hustle and bustle of the other restaurants. The value for money, quality of the food & wine and service were all top notch. The wine was made locally by the owners. I had half a carafe of their white wine which was crisp and refreshing.
Tuscans are known for being big bean eaters and my husband isn’t the biggest pasta fan so this suited him down to a tee, along with finely sliced swordfish.
My lasagne was just a nice size and left room for tiramisu for dessert.
We stayed at Lo Strullo, an apartment we booked on Booking.com but can also be booked via Airbnb. It was a fantastic location, just outside the really busy areas but a stone’s throw away from the leaning tower, train station and restaurants. We opted to get our own breakfast each morning and the prices really vary. For example, a place on the corner of our apartment was charging €15 and just across the bridge, on the way to the train station was our favourite breakfast spot in Pisa – Pasticceria Al Dolcemente we spent €5 on 2 cappuccinos and 2 pastries. There’s such a good selection of pastries too, my croissant had a custardy cream in it and flaked almonds on top!
Filter Coffee Lab is a great stop off for your iced coffee needs.
Cinque Terre is absolutely beautiful! We bought the Cinque Terre Train card that gets you train travel between the villages, free use of the toilets at the train station (you can pay otherwise which I think is just a €1) and access to the paths between some of the further away villages to pay for the upkeep of the heavily used paths. It’s €18.20 per adult for the day but it did make things easier not having to pay for tickets between stations as it was busy! It’s worth noting that the Cinque Terre trains leave from La Spezia which is a local train that takes just over an hour from Pisa and when we bought the Cinque Terre ticket at the station, we had to take our passports to prove the ticket is for you. We purchased all of these tickets on the morning of our Cinque Terre trip at Pisa train station.
We decided to get the train to Corniglia then walk to Vernazza, it was a stunningly (hot) walk and then we refreshed with some antipasti by the water, our only regret was not bringing our swimming gear!
We trained it between the other villages, Monterossa was probably my least favourite but in hindsight we should have definitely stayed there for the day and cooled off in the sea as there’s sun bed and parasol hire there. There’s no doubt July is tough for walking in the heatwave we experienced but the beauty takes your breath away! We did all 5 villages in one day, a quick look around each one with refreshments in-between!
We got the train again, it was a leisurely Sunday. We hired bikes and cycled the very wide city walls.
Justin Bieber was in town, we heard him rehearsing, Lucca have an annual music festival so there was a real buzz about town. We visited Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, which is a circular piazza, perfect for a sipping on something cold and watching the world go by.
Our gelato was delicious and momentarily cooled us down, you can sit inside to enjoy the air-con but they have seating areas outside too so we braved the heat with the Bieber fans!
Pre ice cream, we had sandwiches packed full of tuna for my husband and artichoke, Parma ham & mozarella for me at Strabuono a good option if you’re not after a sit down meal, there’s a nice seating area for two at the front of the shop but you have to be quick to get the premium seats!
We travelled to Florence by train from Pisa, a short cost-effective journey we booked in advance. The trains in Italy are so handy!
We had lots of fun in Florence but it was noticeably busier than Pisa. We visited the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge with all the jewellery shops and cute apartments directly above the river.
The Central Market in Florence is a fantastic foodie Mecca. If you want to fill up on the usual Italian delights or there’s different cuisine options to choose from too. There’s some stalls outside for clothing items, I bought my new floppy straw hat here.
We couldn’t go to Florence without trying a Florentine steak, popularly sourced from Tuscan cattle known as Chianina. The meat was quite rare and oh so succulent. The restaurant was The Antico Ristoro di Cambi.
A friend from work had mentioned to me how good a lemoncello spritz is, so I chanced my luck and asked for it in a bar in Florence. I could never see it listed on the menu but they did it on request and I ended up inspiring the next table to order a round too. It’s very refreshing for a change but I can’t pass up an Aperol as my fave spritz!
We walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo where you can get fabulous views of the city. Don’t let the photo full you, it was 39 degrees Celsius but it was the one day the weather was overcast which helped with the incline but the photos look a bit drab!
It’s a little bit gimmicky but we went to BaBae which has a wine window known as ‘little doors of paradise.’ They used to be all round the city and you ring the bell for a wine. We got ours from the bar as it didn’t appear to be in operation but then we saw people ringing the bell!
Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral) is free to visit, there was a little bit of a queue to get in but it moved pretty quickly and was worth a look inside, the building’s exterior is extraordinary!
One of the restaurants we went to during our time in Florence was Pizzium. I had the Lazio – Mozzarella from Agerola, cheek lard, PDO pecorino Romano cheese, egg yolk (which I love on a pizza) and black pepper. It turns out it’s a chain, with restaurants throughout the country but the pizzas were fabulous, we sat outside enjoying the al fresco lifestyle.
We’d pre-booked our Florence to Bologna train tickets. Inexpensive and a short train journey away, travelling by train in Italy is an easy, pleasurable experience.
Italy actually has more than one leaning tower! There are 2 unmistakeable towers in Bologna, the tallest being Asinelli Tower with little bro – ‘Garisenda’ leaning beside it. They are the focal point of the city and Asinelli is climbable, and of course we just had to do it!
My claustrophobic brain said ‘don’t do it!’ But it’s actually fine and the views from the top of the red rusted coloured roofs are outstanding!
Garisenda tower is leaning too much, rendering it unsafe to go up.
Bologna is made up of porticoes, sheltered streets which shade you from the stifling summer sun. They’re UNESCO world heritage listed and span about 25 miles round the city. You can walk under them the whole way up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
A fascinating site is the ‘secret’ window where you find a canal running down the middle of buildings behind an unexpected shut window. We went back later on that evening and the water had started to dry up!
We ate like Kings and Queens, we had to get Bologna’s famous Mortadella meat on board (pink ham with white spots) which was accompanied by some plain bread, Tigella, which is also native to the region.
Tagliatelle (not spaghetti) Bolognese was born here, everyone’s staple home cooked meal and we had ours at Trattoria Tony. I just had to try some, lathered in Parmesan!
Gelato was never too far away too, we had a cute little cone from Gelateria Peccati Di Gola.
Drinks were aplenty too, we sat people watching and sipping beer in gorgeous little Piazza Santa Stefano.
We discovered a craft beer spot Birreria Tanuki which was perfect for us rounding off our evening with a cold one.
We stayed at Hotel Metropolitan and we both agreed it was our favourite accommodation of the trip. It had a stunning rooftop terrace bar where we started our night with an aperitivo .
We wandered into Mercato delle Erbe, although nowhere near the scale of Florence’s central market, we had a nice change by ordering a salad at Sfarna Piadina. Propped up at the work station we witnessed them slicing the cured meats and prepping the salad ingredients. I had the insalata caprese and Gavin the di pollo.
I finally sampled a Hugo spritz – elderflower syrup, Prosecco, mint & sparkling water at La Fresca al Vicolo check out what their straws are made of, the ultimate sustainable pasta straw and so in keeping with the area, I loved it!
Finally, we ended up eating at the famous L’antica Pizzeria de Michele. I couldn’t work out why Julia Robert’s face was on the signage and I thought they were cashing in on Eat Pray Love. However it turns out it was the restaurant she ate at in the film and there’s locations all over the world, including 3 in England!
The pizzas were ginormous and the toppings a bit wacky so I had a veggie one with lots of tomatoes, cheese and basil on too. Gav had a sausage and broccoli pizza, definitely not my cup of tea (I told you the toppings were wacky)! All washed done with a yellow, floral dry Bolognese white wine.
Italy’s Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna regions took my breath away and that was just a mere drop in the ocean of the delicacies and stunningly beautiful landscapes and architecture these regions and indeed the rest of the country has to offer.