The surroundings of Florence include Monte del Chianti and Settignano.
An easy side trip from Florence, the town of Fiésole sits high up on a hill with beautiful views over the city and the Arno Valley.
Beyond Poggio a Caiano, on the edge of the hills, is the village of Artimino, still surrounded by medieval walls. Features of interest are the Romanesque Church of San Leonardo and the Etruscan cemetery which has been excavated here since 1970.
Villa Médici of Artimino
Near the village of Artimino is the beautiful Villa Médici dell'Artimino, built for Grand Duke Ferdinand I in the late 16th century.
SituationThe little town of Castelfiorentino lies in the valley of the River Elsa, some 40km/25mi southwest of Florence.The townCastelfiorentino was founded as a stronghold directed against the Sienese, but has preserved few remains of those earlier warlike times. The Church of San Francesco (begun in 1213) has a facade decorated with coats of arms. Behind it is the Church of Santa Verdiana, built in the 18th century on the site of the earlier Parish Church of Sant'Antonio; it has a lively Baroque facade (designed by Bernardo Fallani) and an interior (aisled) in Baroque style. Adjoining it is the small municipal gallery (Pinacoteca), with some good pictures, mainly by medieval artists, notable for their deep sincerity and piety as well as their beauty.
Worthwhile is a visit to the municipal museum at Via Tili 27 which has a cycle of frescoes (1484-90) by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. A short distance away is the Cappella della Visitazione (mid 15th century), also with a cycle of frescoes on the life of the Virgin by Benozzo Gozzoli.
The little town of Settignano is a delightful destination for a trip a few miles out of Florence to the east. The 15th century parish church of the "Assunta" in the town center has undergone many renovations.
Not far from Settignano is the famous Villa Gamberaia (72 Via del Rossellino), one of the finest of the 16th century villas and gardens. It was badly damaged in the Second World War but then restored to its former glory. Today it stands in what still looks like a typical Renaissance garden, with geometrically trimmed box hedges, a classically quartered parterre garden and a fountain in the middle, traversed by a great walk from one end to the other.
Villa I Tatti
In the Tuscan hills around Settignano nestle many magnificent villas, with grand gardens. These include the I Tatti Villa, at Ponte a Ménsola, which became Harvard University's Center for the History of the Renaissance after the death of American art critic Bernard Berenson (1865-1959), whose "Collezione Berenson" contains important works of art.
The village of Sammezzano in the Arno Valley, reached by way of SS 69, has a striking castello, originally founded in the Middle Ages but completely rebuilt in Neo-Moorish style in the 19th century. It is now a hotel.
SituationThe prosperous modern industrial town of Émpoli lies in the Arno Valley in northern Tuscany, some 35km/22mi west of Florence on the road to Pisa.
Piazza Fárinata degli Uberti
In the center of Émpoli, in the arcaded Piazza Fárinata degli Uberti, with its Naiad Fountain, is the Collegiate Church of Sant'Andrea, which was originally founded in the fifth century but owes its present aspect to rebuilding in the 11th century (lower part) and the 17th and 18th centuries (upper part and campanile). It has a very beautiful facade with alternating bands of white and green marble.
Museo della Collegiata
Adjoining is the Museo della Collegiata, with a fine collection of pictures and sculpture. It is particularly rich in Tuscan paintings of the 14th-17th centuries. The Church of Santo Stéfano, in the same street, was badly damaged during the Second World War but was completely restored after the war. It has notable frescoes, including work by Masolino da Panicale (15th century).
The township of Vinci, in fertile countryside on the southern slopes of Monte Albano, was the birthplace of the great artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci (born 1452, died at Amboise, in France, 1519).
The medieval castle in Vinci, subsequently rebuilt several times, was opened in 1986 as the Leonardo Museum. It contains a number of models based on Leonardo's drawings. The affiliated library contains reproductions of drawings and handwriting of the universal genius. The house in which Leonardo is said to have been born is 3km/2mi outside the town of Archiano.
Monti del Chianti
A drive through the Monti del Chianti takes you through some of the most attractive scenery Italy has to offer. The Chianti hills, with their olive groves and woods of chestnut and oak, lie between Florence in the north and Siena in the south, between the valleys of the Arno and the Ombrone. Visitors who merely want to enjoy the landscape and not visit all the sights can take in the area in a day. Route 222, the Via Chiantigiana, twists and turns through this region.A trip through the Chianti district can be combined with a visit to Certosa del Galluzzo. Leave Florence on the road to Siena, the Via Senese, then turn right after 5km/3mi towards the monastery. Next stop just further south is Impruneta. A road east from the town center leads to the 222 at the hamlet of Strada in Chianti. Driving south after 10km/6mi we reach Greve, the heart of Chianti Classico, which has an impressive Piazza lined with arched colonnades.The landscape beyond Greve is also extremely picturesque. About 20km/12mi further on there is another captivating view of the Monti del Chianti from the medieval fortress in Castellina. The best route back from Castellina in Chianti is to take the road west to Poggibonsi and then join the Siena-Florence motorway, which speedily returns the visitor to the starting point.
Santa Margherita a Montici
The partly medieval church of Santa Margherita a Montici, about 4km/2.5mi south of Florence in the lovely Tuscan hills (towards Pian dei Giulari), has several fine works of art: the panels "Madonna" and "Santa Margherita" by the Master of St Cecilia (early 14th century), "Madonna della cintola" by Piero del Pollaiolo (1450), an altar in the style of Michelozzo, and finely worked 15th century liturgical vestments.
Parco delle Cascine
West of Florence the Cascine park extends more than two miles along the Arno. Formerly the estate farms of the Medici and then the Lorena family, the park was opened to the public by the Grand Dukes of Lorraine in the second half of the 18th century.Its woodland and meadows make it a favorite picnic place for many Florentines at the weekend, and the large race-course is another major attraction.
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