Florence is famous for its picturesque cityscapes where every step is postcard perfect, steeped in art and history. It’s also the home of some of the most enticingly succulent food Tuscany has to offer (Florentine steak!) The city itself is inevitably touristy, but no less beautiful; the sights and sounds and smells – and tastes – are not to be missed, and crowds can be avoided by planning your trip beforehand. But after 3 full days of intense sightseeing, I was ready for something different.
My family and I stayed at a boutique hotel (Ville Sul’Arno), a 45-minute walk from the city centre and closer than most hotels to the surrounding hills. Our aim was to cycle to a town called Fiesole famous for its views over Florence, Roman baths, ruins and houses of prayer.
Being a history geek at heart, I quickly wiki’d the town and discovered that it was (probably) founded by the Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilisation of Ancient Italy, and had been conquered in 283BC by the Romans before they built Florence. Its strategic and scenic position on the hill makes for an absolutely breathtaking view, and I can definitely see the attraction in the beautiful bath town where the sweeping vistas were inspiration for any site of faith and contemplation.
Although Fiesole is a short bus ride away from the city, I set off with my father and brother to brave the hills on bike (leaving my mother in the spa below!) We’d heard it was a tough climb, but in the 30+ degrees heat, the 40 degree hillside was almost unbearable.
We pushed past the monument to the Giro d’Italia (Italy’s answer to the Tour de France) about halfway along our route, and were overtaken by notoriously rowdy Italian motorcyclists screeching around the vicious mountain road bends, terrifying us helmet-less and timid tourists. Even as someone who likes to stay active and adventurous, it took a good 2 and a half hours and a hell of a lot of willpower for me to get to the top without giving up!
Yet a lot of sweat, endurance and a refreshing gelato (or two!) later, we had parked the bikes and could admire the view.
Above, the central plaza. Below, the gorgeous pastel buildings that frame the sloping lanes that lead to a viewing platform that surveys the valley.
The iPhone and Gopro photos I took at the time cannot do the view, the breeze and the massive sense of achievement I felt, half the justice it deserves. All I can say is, even when you’re on holiday and not necessarily aiming to be travelling adventurously, throw something – an activity, a challenge or a physical goal – into your trip, and it will be all the more satisfying for it. I promise.