A Travellerspoint blog


San Gimignano, The Town of Fine Towers

"As a matter of fact, I'm writing a book. My memoirs: Letters from San Gimignano." ~ Tea with Mussolini

sunny 20 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

The tiny, walled town of San Gimignano is high up on the rolling hills of Tuscany. The hilltop towns were built so the enemies could easily be seen from a far. There is also evidence that Attila the Hun and his Hun army lived in this part of Italy. When trying to take over a castle at Silvio, the Saint Geminianus intervened to save the castle. The church that was built on the site was named after him and the walled city of San Gimignano grew around it.

The skyline of San Gimignano

During the Black Death in 1348, more than half of the population of San Gimignano died. After this period, the growth that the town was experiencing stagnated. The town submitted to Florentine rule and many of the towers were reduced to the height of the houses. Today, it is still very much the same Gothic and Medieval town from centuries ago.

San Gimignano has also featured in many movies, such as Tea with Mussolini, and it is not hard to see why.

Scenes from Tea with Mussolini in San Gimignano's square


San Gimignano is not know as the 'Town of Fine Towers' for no reason. During the Middle Ages, rival families keen to show off their wealth, started to built towers, the one higher than the other. By the end of the Medieval Period, the town had a total of 72 towers. The town council then ordered that no tower be built higher than the tower of the Palazza Comunale and this seemed to end the rivalry. During the ages most towers have been destroyed by war and natural catastrophes. Today, only 14 towers remain, but these Medieval skyscrapers are still an impressive sight to behold.

The Palazza Comunal (Municipal Palace) has been the seat of authority for San Gimignano since the 13th century. Next to it is the highest tower in the town, the Torre Grossa (Great Tower). It stand at 54m. Climb the tower for amazing views of the town.

Torre Grossa

Eating gelato on the steps of the Torre Grossa

Views from the Torre Grossa


After enjoying the sights of San Gimignano, we headed towards Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a wine farm just 5km outside of the town. Here we did a tour of the cellar and met some farm animals. We also attended a great class where we all made our own pasta. It was then cooked and served to us for lunch. During lunch we also tasted the Vernaccia wine, which is made solely from the grapes in this region.
Check out the farm here: Fattoria Poggio Alloro

Fattoria Poggio Alloro, making and eating our own pasta


The view of San Gimignano from the farm's restaurant

Next stop: The Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence

Posted by Anja Fourie 23:43 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy wine pasta san_gimignano making_pasta Comments (1)


"I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves." ~ Roger Allam

sunny 13 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Where did we stay? Hotel Garden

Cobblestoned streets, narrow alleys, brown tiled roofs and towers give Siena its distinctly Medieval feel. All buildings in the town have the same brownish colour. The colour Sienna takes its name from this city, as this is where it was produced during the Renaissance. The city is rich in history and culture. A total of 7 popes originated from Siena and it has the oldest bank in the world. The city is surrounded by high medieval walls and until 100 years ago, the gates of the city were still locked every night. Siena is an ancient city in Tuscany, that made its money by many travellers coming through the area on their way to Rome. During the 14th century, Siena was as rich as big European cities such as Paris and London.

"I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves. They are dark, fierce, and aristocratic, very different to the much paler Venetians or Florentines. They have always looked like this, as the paintings of their ancestors testify. I observed the groups of young people, the lounging grace with which they wore their clothes, their sense of always being on show. I walked the streets, they paraded them. It did not matter that I do not speak a word of Italian; I made up stories about them, and took surreptitious photographs." ~ Roger Allam

The walls of Siena: The tour bus had to park outside the thick Medieval walls, and we walked further towards the town centre.

The medieval streets of Siena


Siena is divided into 17 contrades (districts). Each district has their own symbol and flag. Some of the districts are Aquila (Eagle), Drago (Dragon), and Torre (Tower). In the Middle Ages, each Contrade was a different military troop, set up to defend Siena against Florence and the Medici. As time has gone by, the contrade have lost their military functions and the districts are simply areas of local patriotism. Loyalty to your contrade is taken so seriously, that marrying outside of your contrade is seen as a 'mixed marriage'. Siena may be a maze of alleyways, but it is always easy to know in which contrade you find yourself. The symbols of each contrade are displayed everywhere to designate territory. Each contrade has their own symbol, flag, animal, mythological associations, traditions, etc. The entire history and way of life in Siena is shaped around the contrade you are from.

Symbols of the Selva district (left) and the Aquila district (right)

Piazza del Campo

The entire city is built around the Piazza del Campo. As the 17 different districts have strict boundaries, the Piazza is the only neutral ground in Siena. It is forbidden to fight in the Piazza. It is the principal public space in Siena and regarded as one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. The square is shell-shaped and the brick patterns divide the Campo into 9 sections. Locals come here to relax and bask in the sun.

The Piazza del Campo

Twice a year, the famous Palio di Siena horse race is held around the Campo. 17 Horses take part in the race, each jockey representing one of the 17 districts. The race is fast and dangerous. In the past a lot of bribery used to take place, but in the last couple of years it has been made law that no amateur jockeys may race and only professionals are to be used. The James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, features the Palio di Siena as well as scenes from Siena.

Scenes from Quantum of Solace featuring the horse race in the Piazza


The square also hosts the Palazzo Pubblico (the town hall), and the Torre del Mangia. The tower is literally named 'Tower of the Eater', after Giovanni di Balduccio, who was known for his gluttony. At 102m, it is built exactly the same height as the cathedral in Siena, as a sign that the church and the state have the same amount of power. Climbing the more than 400 steps, gives you an amazing view of the whole of Siena and is truly worth it. The steps are not for the unfit and if you have a fear of heights, do not look down the middle of the steps.

The tower sticking out above the town

Climbing the steps of the tower

Views of Siena from above


The gothic dome of Siena was constructed between 1259 - 1260. After this another extension was planned to almost double the size of the Cathedral. In 1348, construction to the cathedral was halted due to the Black Death. The work was never resumed. Today the uncompleted outer walls of the extension can still be seen south of the cathedral. The floor of the new planned nave is now a parking lot and a museum.

Uncompleted walls of the cathedral's extension

The Cathedral

Next Stop: More Medieval madness, towers and gelato in San Gimignano

Aerial view of the Piazza and Siena
Credits to: Touropia. They listed the Piazza as the 3rd greatest square in the world.

Posted by Anja Fourie 01:39 Archived in Italy Tagged italy towers old horse medieval siena james_bond palio quantum_of_solace Comments (1)

Isla de Capri

"There was a magical timelessness to Capri. A special atmosphere, and a sense of history." ~ Kitty Pilgrim

overcast 11 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Capri is the summer destination of the rich and famous of Italian society, with celebrities such as Sophia Loren and Giorgio Armani all flocking here during the warmer months. Benito Mussolini also had a house here during his tyrannical reign of Italy. It is currently standing empty and proves to be a hard sell.

To get to the island, take a ferry from Sorrento's harbour. It only takes about 25 minutes. The island is quite small, only about 10km, but the beautiful blue water and small town atmosphere truly makes for a relaxing afternoon.


The ferry from Sorrento takes you to Marina Grande. This is the main harbour of Capri, as the name suggests. Taking a boat ride around the island will show you the sights, such as Marina Piccola, the Blue Grotto and the Love Rock. Marina Piccolo is where all the celebrities have houses and you can see mansions blending into the cliff side. The Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzura), is only accessible during low tide. The sunlight and seawater work together in this cave to create an luminous blue cave roof. As we were there during high tide, we could unfortunately not enter.


Punta Carena Lighthouse

The bluest blue water of Capri

Marina Piccola

The Love Rock: It is said that when the boat passes underneath the Love Rock that couples must kiss and this will ensure that they will stay together forever.


Capri's most famous square is the Piazza Umberto I, more famously known as Piazetta. The islanders call it Piazza. From Marina Grande, the funicular takes passengers to the Piazetta. It takes approximately 3 minutes with the funicular, 20 minutes by bus and 40 minutes by foot, to reach the top. From above you can see the whole harbour and town.

The funicular and the piazza at the top

The view from above

Posted by Anja Fourie 11:50 Archived in Italy Tagged water boat travel italy island amalfi capri Comments (0)


"Positano bites deep." ~ John Steinbeck

overcast 14 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Where did we stay? Hotel del Mare Sorrento

The little town of Positano is built on a mountainside of the Amalfi Coast. This popular tourist town has steep little streets all the way down the beach. All the houses are built in the enclave here. There are car parks at the top of the hill as this small town simply does not accommodate anything bigger than a motorcycle or bicycle.

"Positano is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff except that stairs are cut in it. I believe that whereas most house foundations are vertical, in Positano they are horizontal. The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water lips gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide." - John Steinbeck (Harper's Bazaar, 1953).

Narrow Streets of Positano

Under the Tuscan Sun


Positano is made popular by movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun. The lead character, Frances, walks on the beach and explores the streets of Positano. She also meets Marcello here.

You can see the cliffside houses of Positano in the background. This is one of the most popular movie locations for Positano. If you are a fan of the movie, explore Positano and take a photo at the railing where Frances is standing at. It also gives great views of the surrounding area and the beach below.

In the movie, Marcello also introduces Frances to Limoncello. This is a Lemon liquer that Positano is very popular for. Families and restaurants usually make their own Limconello. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as a type of after dinner digestive. Positano shops are lined with lemon souveniers and bottles and bottles of limoncello. It is made from the zest of lemons steeped in alcohol. If you are trying to imagine the taste, to me it tastes similar to a chilled and alcoholic MedLemon. The limoncello will be served mostly in restaurants as a complimentary drink after dinner, as digestif.

Do yourself a favour and buy a few bottles of these. They are fairly inexpensive here and the towns along the Amalfi Coast are definitely known for making great Limoncello.

When life hands you lemons, make limoncello

Drinking Wine at Positano Beach

The Beach Cliffsides of Positano

Mount Vesuvius spotted on the road out of Positano

Goodbye Positano - Amalfi Coast Sunset

Posted by Anja Fourie 03:42 Archived in Italy Tagged beach italy amalfi positano lemons limoncello under_the_tuscan_sun Comments (1)

Rome, The Eternal City

"Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning." ~ Giotto di Bondone

rain 16 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Where did we stay? Hotel Giotto

Read about my previous visit to Rome here: When in Rome....

The rolling hills and the beautiful villas of the Italian countryside pave the way towards Rome. Centuries ago the views on the road towards the Eternal City wouldn't have looked that much different than the one we are seeing now. The great Roman capital, seen as the Capital of the World in ancient Roman culture, has a history dating back to over 2,500 years and is seen by many as frozen in time.


The best way to see Rome? Buy a ticket to one of the many Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Companies. Rome is a big city and these buses stop at all the major sightseeing destinations which makes it really easy to navigate Rome.

We explored Rome by bus as well as by foot.
Here are some of the famous sights of Rome that we saw:


"In Rome, I particularly love the history, churches, sculptures and architecture and the fact that you can walk along a tiny cobbled street and turn the corner to find the Trevi Fountain." ~ Philip Treacy

The Trevi Fountain is truly hidden between buildings and along narrow, cobbled streets. The one moment you are walking along rows of restaurants and shops and the next the narrow street suddenly opens up into the big square hosting the Trevi Fountain. The marble sculptures are beautifully white even in the dreary, rainy Rome. During this visit, the Trevi Fountain was under construction and all the water was emptied, but it gave us a unique close up of the fountain. A ramp was built across the fountain and you could truly see the sculptures up close.

Throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder. If you do this, legend says that you will return to Rome. This may just be a legend, but for me it came true as I have returned to Rome. The fountain is emptied every night and the money is used for charity.



"Rome will exist as long as the Colosseum does; when the Colosseum falls, so will Rome; when Rome falls, so will the world." - Venerable Bede

The largest amphitheatre ever built and 2000 years old, the Colosseum is seen as the iconic symbol of Rome. On the first Sunday of the month, entry into the Colosseum is free. You can also stand in the queue to buy a ticket to enter the Colosseum. If you do not want to wait in line, there are plenty of people selling tickets to group tours. The Colosseum is located just off the Roman Forum. The Arch of Constantine is also located here. It marks the victory of Constantine over Maxentius.



The Pantheon is one of the best preserved ancient buildings of Rome and still remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. It is the best preserved of all the ancient Roman buildings, as it is the only building that has been in continuous use over its history. It used to be a temple and today it is used as a Catholic Church.
The first king of the Kingdom of Italy, Victor Emmanual II, is buried here. The Il Vittoriano was built in his honour.


Built in honour of the first king of the unified Italy, this monument is jokingly called the "Wedding Cake" by locals. It has been controversial since its beginning as a large part of medieval Rome was destroyed for it to be built. The glaring white marble on the exterior makes it stand out, and not in a good way, compared to all the other buildings with their brownish colour.


Also under construction on our visit here, the Spanish steps is a popular place for tourists to sit on and relax. Eating on any of the 135 steps is unfortunately illegal, as the state would like to keep the steps clean. The Spanish steps leads up from the Piazza di Spagna to the Trinita dei Monti Church at the top. The steps got their name from the Spanish Embassy which was hosted in the piazza at the base, but it should actually be named the French Steps. The building was funded by French diplomats in 1723, and the church at the top as well as the surrounding area is the responsibility of the French state. The steps also contan the French Fleur symbol.


This ancient square in Rome hosts four ancient Roman temples as well as the remains of Pompey's Theatre.

Julius Caesar's Assassination
It is right in the middle of Pompey's theatre where it is believed Julies Caesar was assasinated. Compare the remains of the theatre and the columns still standing on the left, to this depiction of the assassination by artist Jean-Leon Gerome. It is not very hard to imagine Caesar being stabbed right here on the steps of the theatre.


Roman Cats
According to legend, Caesar brought cats to Rome from Egypt. On this spot where he met his final demise, the stray cats of Rome live. The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is right opposite the square. They care for all the stray cats here and run a neuter programme. You can visit the cat shop for some goodies or make a donation.


The Piazza del Popolo is a large square in Rome. The name translates to the "People's Square". There are street musicians performing here and the square is wide and open. To get here you can follow the Via Del Corso, the central road of Rome, all the way to the end. Before the age of railroads, this square was the traveller's first view of Rome. Public executions also took place in this square until 1826.

A view of Rome

The best part of the square is that you can access the Pincio. As you enter the square from the Via Del Corso, you will see an outlook to the right of the square. Follow the path up to the Pincio for great views of Rome as well as the dome of the Vatican in the distance.



1. DO GET A MAP: Rome is a really easy city to navigate if you have a map.
2. DO ASK ABOUT THE SEATING FEE: As everywhere in Italy, some restaurants charge a seating fee to simply sit at a table and drink a glass of wine. That glass of wine can become expensive very quickly.
3. DO GET A TICKET TO A HOP-ON HOP-OFF BUS: In a big city like Rome, the ticket for this type of bus is definitely well worth the money.
4. DO BEWARE OF PICK POCKETS: A very busy city and notorious for pick pockets. Hold your bag close to you.
5. DO VISIT THE POPOLO: The view from above here will give you stunning views of the city.


Posted by Anja Fourie 02:09 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cats rome colosseum trevi caesar assassination popolo Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 98) Previous « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. » Next