During the Renaissance, two cities were at the tips of everyone’s tongues: Florence and Siena. Of course Florence gained global renown for its artwork and architecture, much of it created by some of the most famous masters of the Renaissance (Michelangelo and Da Vinci, anyone?), while Siena, ever the bitter rival, sought to commission works that would compete with their Tuscan neighbor. As a result, the two cities today are UNESCO heritage sites, and are both renowned as some of the most beautiful cities in the world – and they both still compete for tourist dollars, though smart travelers are finding out how to get the best of both words with our Tuscan vacation rentals.
That’s because they know that no trip to Italy would be complete without a trip to either city. Beginning with Florence, there are an unfathomable amount of sights to see – it’s enough to intimidate even the most seasoned traveler. Palaces, cathedrals, museums – you can’t turn a corner in Florence without running into one. When you do, though, watch out – they may just leave you awe-struck and unable to turn the next corner. For example, imagine strolling down the magnificent Piazza Del Duomo (one of the most visited areas in the world) and seeing, for the first time, the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral staring back at you – the effect is indescribable. Seeing architecture like this makes one long for the Gothic era, when architects sought not only functionality but also aesthetic beauty – both of which have clearly endured over the years (of course, other aspects of the Gothic era, like the Black Plague, are not quite so appealing). Over the years, though, Florence has modernized, and the usual, top-notch shopping and dining that is almost customary in Italy is, of course, present in Florence as well. By and wide, though, the reason to see this city is to appreciate the artwork and architecture that set the whole Mediterranean ablaze in the Renaissance and made the whole of Tuscany green with envy, and the best way to experience this history is with a beautiful flat.
Florence may have the sights, but Siena definitely has the charm. Its palaces and churches, though less grand in scale than those in Florence, are still no less beautiful. Siena, you see, had a major chip on its collective shoulder during the Renaissance, as it seemed to perpetually be standing in the shadow of its more-popular neighbor, Florence. The city, then, began commissioning its own works of art, while also launching urban initiatives to lure high-rolling art patrons, like the Medicis, into its fold. Siena was also designed with aesthetic beauty in mind, and the city made a distinct effort to ensure that all major architectural commissions were done in the same area – its piazzas are therefore encrusted with palace after palace, each of which was commissioned to do justice to the splendor of the commissioning family – which they certainly continue to do to this day. At first glimpse, though, the palace’s facades may not be as initially striking as those in Florence, but Siena makes up for it with the little things, such as beautiful engravings on the city’s doors, or a random, small fountain down a narrow alley. In fact, half the fun of exploring Siena and Florence is finding your own favorite piece of history (preferably one that can’t be found in a guide book!).
Of course, smart travelers know that the best bet is to stay between the two cities and get the best of both worlds, which is why places like Cortona, Monteriggioni, and Montalcino are so popular. In the countryside, you can sample locally grown wine and olive oil, breathe the fresh Tuscan air, stroll through the lush hills, or simply relax by the pool. Stay tuned to hear more about these and other lovely Tuscan towns.
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