Recognized as one of the crown jewels of Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast, the family-run luxury Hotel Santa Caterina is a cliff-side Art Nouveau mansion that has been delighting guests for over a century with flawless service and breathtaking views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Hard to imagine that any corner of Tuscany could ever escape attention of tourists. But the Casentino Valley, a rural area wedged into the foothills of the Appenine Mountains a mere 50 kilometers east of Florence has managed to remain mainly ignored by visitors.
Today I take to the back roads of Tuscany toward the Val d’Orcia. The region abounds with medieval hill towns with their own important cultural heritage. Among them Siena and her Piazza del Campo, one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe.
No visit to Florence feels complete without a foray into the narrow alleys of the Oltrarno. Located outside the city’s walls, on the oltr’Arno the other side of the Arno), was from the start home to the traditional Florentine craftspeople carried on their trade. Today’s picture framers, gilders, engravers, enamelers and restorers of fine antiques still do.
To wander around Florence is to walk back in time to the birthplace of modern western culture. The Renaissance began here, in the maze of narrow streets lined with the palazzos and monasteries of the old town. Their façades look like stark fortresses. But step through their foreboding, metal studded gates and a world of serene gardens, elegant cloisters and inexhaustible treasures await.
Florence, the widely acknowledged cradle of the Renaissance, owes its splendor and unique influence on the development of the western world in great part to the dominant ruling family of the period, the Medici.