When participants in Veneshe's Venetian plaster class in Italy aren't creating art, they are experiencing the art of living in Tuscany. During your week of training, we'll leave plenty of time for taking in the old town of Panzano in Chianti, exploring the art capital of Florence, and visiting other nearby towns in Tuscany. In October, Tuscany is awash with color - the last ripened grapes left on the vine, golden leaves contrasted against deep cypress green needles, clear blue skies. We'll breathe it all in, savoring the beauty of the countryside, the charm of the small towns, the excitement of the big city, and share with you our favorite little hide-aways and special people that make Tuscany one of our favorite places on Earth.
Panzano is our home base for the week. It's a small town perched on a ridge separating the Val di Greve from the Val di Pesa, exactly halfway between Florence and Siena. A castle and a church, Santa Maria Assunta, overlook the old borgo, or village that grew up around it. One of our favorite times to visit the town is Sunday morning, for the market which runs till about 1 pm, and fills the square with vendors selling cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, table linens and even clothing. We'll also share two of the town's most impressive attractions, a wine tasting visit to the Accademia del Buon Gusto, and a dinner at the renowned Ristorante Solociccia, across from the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, the famous butcher shop of Panzano.
Just a bit north of Panzano lies Greve, named for the river which flows through it. It's is the main town in the Chianti wine district which stretches south of Florence to just north of Siena. We'll spend some time wandering the triangular main piazza, lined with porticoes and interesting shops, where a Saturday morning market has been running more or less continuously for centuries. We'll also visit the Enotecca, offering wine tasting of hundreds of wines from throughout the region.
Heading Southwest of Greve, lies the walled city of San Gimignano, whose 14 ancient stone towers rise like medieval sky scrapers and have become its signature. Interesting fact - at one time there were 72 towers, symbols of the wealthy medieval families' power and competitive desire to build a higher tower than that of the neighbors. San Gimignano is a tourist mecca in season, brimming with ceramics and leather shops, but we're in Tuscany at a time that is less crowded and more peaceful, when you can more readily imagine the footsteps from the Middle Ages echoing across the stone piazzas and old city walls. Depending on participant interest, we'll either make an afternoon after-class excursion to San Gimignano, or suggest a walking tour that takes in the main piazzas and sites.
Florence is a cultural, artistic and architectural gem, a destination city that deserves more than the day we can devote to discovering its treasures. Because there's just so much to see and do, we'll divide up for the day so everyone can pursue their own interests. For admirers of architecture, we suggest a walk along the River Arno and across its many bridges, a wander through the back streets of Santa Croce area and in the Oltr'Arno - on the south side of the river, and a dizzing climb up the dome of the Cathdral or Giotto's Bell Tower to get a stunning bird's eye view. For the art lovers, one could easily disappear in some of the most famous art galleries in the world, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, the Accademia, with Michelangelo's David, as well as the Bargello and the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. For shoppers, Florence is a mecca for Italian leather, Florentine papers, gold jewelry and fashion. Find some bargains at the San Lorenzo market; marvel at the high end jewelry shops lining the Ponte Vecchio; window shop some of the most famous shops in the world - Gucci, Pucci, Ferragamo, Valentino, Prada, Armani, and many more.
The medieval city of Siena, south of Panzano, offers something for everyone: the architecturally interesting, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo at the center of town, which transforms itself into a racetrack full of medieval splendor and pagentry twice a year for the famous Palio; the breathtaking art-filled Duomo, a magnificent black and white Italian Romanesque cathedral that rivals the beauty of Italy's other major cathedrals; and the Pinacoteca, a museum of Sienese medieval painting. There's plenty of opportunity for ceramics shopping and there's nothing like people watching with a cup of cappucino or a glass of vino on the Campo. Depending on participant interest, we may head out to Siena on our other non-class day.
The Accademia del Buon Gusto is one of our favorite places to visit in Panzano.
Oltre il Giardino serves the richest, most decadent dark chocolate cake, perfect with a glass of red wine.