Ways to Enjoy Siena, Italy


Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

Siena is a great place in Tuscany to use as a home base for making day trips to other locations, such as Florence, the Chianti wine country, and Pisa. I spent ten days in Siena and was never at a loss for something to do. Siena itself has grand landmarks and also some lesser known places to go and things to do. Here are a few suggestions to consider.

Piazza del Campo

Everyone knows about the Campo, the second largest piazza in Italy, the place where the famous Palio horse races take place twice during the summer. This is by far the most popular meeting spot in Siena and a very cool place to people watch. The sloped piazza makes it perfect to lie down or sit in groups and have picnics, talk, write, and enjoy life in Italy.

Campo, Siena, ItalyRestaurants, cafes, pizza shops, and gelaterie are all around, so it is a perfect place to spend as much time as you like without fear of needing to find a place to eat or drink.  The fourteenth century tower, Torre del Mangia, is part of the Palazzo Pubblico or Town Hall, and at 288 feet tall is one of Siena's tallest landmarks.  Although this is one tower I did not climb, you can climb to the top via a narrow winding staircase and have the most beautiful views of the Campo below and all of Siena.

Take in a soccer game

On a whim I decided to attend a soccer game one evening and it was a thrilling experience. Siena recently moved up to the Serie A Soccer League but they still are playing in their old stadium which holds about 15,000 people. A new stadium is under construction at the southern end of the city.

Soccer, Siena, ItalySoccer fans in Siena are passionate and they love to make deafening noises on the aluminum risers as they stomp their feet with the enthusiasm only an Italian can understand. When I attended one of these games just before the team was promoted to the more prominent Serie A, I loved the passion I experienced firsthand in the stands with the local fans.

Make a stop at Consorzio Agrario di Siena

On via Pianigiani you will find a wonderful food store called Consorzio Agrario di Siena and I highly recommend spending some time inside. Here you can taste some locally produced wine, and buy the freshest prosciutto and salami. One of the largest assortments of fresh locally produced cheese takes up a case at least twenty feet wide, and with some freshly baked bread and a piece of fruit, you are set for your own picnic lunch at the Campo or on a park bench. At Consorzio Agrario you will find locally produced olive oils, vinos, pastas, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This is definitely a place not to miss.

Visit the Bottini

It's a safe bet that most tourists never heard of the Bottini, and in fact I hadn't either. The Bottini is an elaborate underground water system in Siena, and there are guided tours available here. An organization named "La Diana" will take small groups of up to eight people through this series of mazes underground. Excavation of these underground waterways began in the year 393 and not completed until sometime during the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.  The Bottini  run below the surface of Siena for a total of fifteen miles. I have not visited these but it is not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia or for children under the age of eight, as there are very narrow passageways in some spots. Proper footwear and even boots are also advised. This is not your typical Italian tourist excursion, but more for someone interested in doing something off the beaten path. Enjoy!

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

Follow Margie on her blog at margieinitaly.wordpress.com


Italy’s Chianti Area and Wine Tasting

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

When I first inquired about a tour in Tuscany to the Chianti wine area, I wasn't quite prepared for the unique experience it turned out to be. It was one of the best days I had in Italy and I would highly recommend this to anyone spending time in Tuscany.

Chianti is a large wine producing zone in Italy which encompasses the provinces of Florence and Siena in Tuscany. Its borders are not strictly defined but it covers this area, extending to the Val d'Elsa in the west and to the Valdarno in the east.  Just driving in this area is a beautiful experience through the rolling hills, with row after row of vineyards and olive trees that never seem to end.

A wonderful guide named Marco transported me into the wine country of Chianti, where I was able to visit two family run wineries. I was with a small group of seven or eight people so I did not feel like I was herded around like I have seen in some tour groups in Italy.

Sant' Appiano Winery Chianti, ItalyThis first stop winery was in a very small village called Sant' Appiano, and in fact the winery is about the only thing that is in this village, aside from a few homes. Aptly named, the winery is called Sant' Appiano.

The winery is operated by a family and I had the pleasure of learning about wine production by the two young owners who are brother and sister. After spending quite a bit of time in the wine cellar learning about the strict criteria that must be met to produce these Classico Chianti wines, I was ready to sample some wine.  My group was treated to a beautiful table set to taste three different wines, and of course there was food to go with the wine.prosciutto and bread to go with the wine, Chianti, Italy

There was an opportunity to purchase wine and olive oil as well, because wherever there are grape vineyards, there are olive groves as well, as the soil is the same for both.  I made a purchase and had several bottles of wine and olive oil shipped home, but if you wanted to carry a few bottles with you, the price was very reasonable. This winery is small enough that they do not export their products out of Italy, so it was very special being able to taste a wine that I knew I could not get in the United States.

The next stop was at a larger winery but still family operated, and this was in the town of Castellina, known as Castellina in Chianti. It seems a little redundant, but that is what the Italians call this town.Wines of Casamonti Winery, Chianti, Italy

This winery is called Casamonti and the owner came outside to greet us. Set high on a hilltop, the views are amazing and not only do they produce Classico Chianti wine here but they also raise pigs and make their own prosciutto as well as several other food items. After a thorough tour and again the education related to the strict guidelines prescribed by the wine consortium, I was amazed to learn that only six people work here and do everything.

Diner at Casamonti Winery, Chianti, ItalyAgain my group got to sample three wines and also had almost a complete meal served in a beautiful room. I felt like some kind of VIP as the entire experience was so personalized. There was also the opportunity to purchase wine here and there was no pressure, so unlike some types of tours commonly experienced in the U.S.

At both places I could sense how very proud the owners were of their winemaking business, and they talked with great pride about how hard they work to conform to all standards. This was a great way to spend a day in Tuscany, and a nice change pace from visiting museums and walking around cobble-stoned streets.

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

Follow Margie on her blog at margieinitaly.wordpress.com


5 Things To See And Do While Visiting The Chianti Wine Region

Tuscany is one of the most amazing regions in the world. Artistic, political and religious revolutions have transformed the area many times throughout the centuries, leaving it an ever-changing hub of culture.

To people living outside the Italian paradise, Tuscany is best known for its outstanding wine country.

Here are 5 things to see and do while visiting the Chianti Wine Region:

Wine Tasting Italy

1) Go wine tasting.

A trip to wine country that didn’t involve wine tasting would be like traveling to the moon without actually walking on it. The Chianti wine country lies in the heart of Tuscany, touching the provinces of Grosseto, Siena, Arezzo, Firenze, Prato, Pistoia and Pisa.

You can taste amazing wine in any of the provinces.

Palio di Siena, Siena Italy Photo by icedsoul photography

2) Witness the Palio di Siena.

Italians love racing. In Siena, the greatest race is the Palio. Ten riders race their horses bareback around the historic Piazza del Campo in the name of honor and rivalry. The 3-lap race, which usually lasts no more than two minutes, is held twice a year and is attended by spectators from around the world.

Races take place on July 2nd and August 16th.

People Watching, Piazza Grande, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

3) People watch in the Piazza Grande.

The city of Arezzo dates back to the rule of the Roman Empire. The Piazza Grande, the city’s medieval square, embraces travelers from around the world as they make their way through the heart of Tuscany.

700 years ago bishops paced the red brick pavement in search of answers from above. Today, you can stroll through the square and observe the friendly locals and eager tourists.

Learn to Cook, Italy

4) Learn to cook.

You’ve never had Italian food unless you’ve been to Italy. In Tuscany, cooking is more like an art form than a nutritional practice.

Learn to cook condiments, appetizers, pastas and desserts in one of the region’s many cooking schools.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

5) Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Few architectural blunders are as visited as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It took over 170 years to construct the 183 ft tall, 14,500 metric ton bell tower.

Located about an hour from Florence, the Tower of Pisa is open to tourists who want to help hold it up using a little trick photography.

Tuscany is the birthplace of the Renaissance. It’s known for its buildings, food, wine and art. When you visit, make it memorable for your own reasons.



Monteriggioni – An Easy Day Trip from Siena

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

On my last visit to Italy I was fortunate enough to be able to stop in the small hilltop village of Monteriggioni. This tiny commune in Tuscany is only 15 km from Siena, and is situated near Castellini in Chianti and Poggibonsi. What makes visiting this town so interesting is its history as an intact walled medieval town which looks much like it did centuries ago.


Monteriggioni is very impressive as you approach on the autostrada and catch a glimpse of it perched high on a hill like a fortress. In the 13 th century Monteriggioni was built by the Sienna people to serve as a buffer and front line in Siena’s long-standing war with Florence. The strategic location of Monteriggioni made it useful as a fortified defense for Siena. Ultimately however Siena lost its war with Florence.

Inside the Walls of Monteriggioni, Tuscany, ItalyWalls of Monteriggioni

I loved walking around this uncrowded town which is completely encircled by well preserved walls which are 10 meters high and measure 570 meters all the way around.  Architecture lovers and history buffs find this place very intriguing and especially enjoy the fourteen towers which rise above the town from different points in the walls.

Monteriggioni Church, Tuscany, ItalyThe town of Monteriggioni actually was a castle built in 1213 A.D. and the entrances to the town are through two gates. The northern gate faces Florence and is called Porta Fiorentina, and the Porta Romano gate faces south towards Rome. An aerial view of this town looks like an almost perfect circle with miniature houses inside its walls.

Piazza Roma

This is the main piazza in Monteriggioni and is very large with a simple Romanesque style church of Santa Maria Assunta which dominates the square.  Other small shops, a hotel, a gelateria and restaurants occupy the square, but I wandered past the piazza and found small alleys where the local people live. Everything here is very old and I had the sense that time had stood still. I am glad I had the chance to see Monteriggioni, even for the short time I was there.

Monteriggioni hotel and shops, Tuscany, ItalyFesta Medievale

Monteriggioni  proudly celebrates every July with this Medieval Festival, when locals dress in medieval costumes, play music and put on shows using ancient instruments. The festival takes place during the first and second weekends in July and the piazza suddenly is filled with people from the surrounding communes as well as visitors from other parts of Italy and Europe.

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas


Spending a Day in Greve in Chianti, Italy

Guest Post By: Karen Mills 

Main plaza, Greve, Chianti, ItalyYesterday I visited the Chianti area.  Chianti is a region in Italy that spans from just below Florence to North of Sienna.  The Chianti Mountains border the area on the west and on the west, the valleys of two rivers, the Pesa and the Elsa.  Many people think that Chianti is an actual town, but it is a region with several towns within it.  Chianti is famous worldwide for the wines that it produces.

It is believed that the Etruscans were the first to cultivate grapevines.  This area between Florence and Siena was the location of many disputes and was under lengthy Roman rule.   Finally, in the mid-1500’s the eight municipalities of Chianti signed the Pact of Pontignano, which defined rules for protecting and promoting their shared identity.  In 1932, the boundaries of Chianti were defined and the production one of Chianti Classico was granted a certificate of primogeniture.  This means that it was the “first” or the “original”.   For wine to contain the designation of Chianti, it must be produced with at least 80% sangiovese grapes.

Bell Tower in Greve, ItalyThe most famous route for touring this area is I222, if you are driving, but I took the Sita bus.   Today, my destination was Greve in Chianti, a small village in the heart of the region.  The route is very scenic with small picturesque villages and vineyards of grapes and olive orchards along the way.  The winding narrow roads going through the hillsides made me glad that I wasn’t driving!  It took about an hour to get out of the Sita Bus station and into the Piazza Trento.  The bus ride cost 3,30 euro for one way, and the buses leave every 30 minutes.  The Sita Station is located on the south side of Santa Maria Novella, and you can buy tickets there and obtain information about the routes and schedules.  The area is very spread out and although many wineries do tours and tastings, they are not really set up for commercial business.  For most of them, it is important to make a reservation before dropping in.  There are many organized tours out of Florence which will allow you to visit one or two of the wineries for tours and tastings.  I have been on one of these before, but found it expensive and disappointing. So, I decided to tackle Chianti town by town on my own.

La Cantine di Greve in Chianti, ItalyWhen I arrived at the stop of Piazza Trento, in the center of Greve in Chianti, I took a right and continued along the main road there and came to the Wine Museum.  I didn’t go into the museum, but did get information on the main piazza, church and a large cantina for wine tasting!

The main piazza is Piazza Matteotti.  There are shops for purchasing picnic items and souvenirs and several restaurants.  The main church in the village is located at one end, and there is a large statue of Giovanni di Verrazano, an explorer of North America whose ancestral home is in Greve.

Wine for the Tasting, La Cantine di Greve in Chianti, ItalyThe highlight of the day was Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti.  This very large enoteca below surface near the Wine Museum has over 150 wines for tasting.  You buy cards for 10, 15 or 20 euro for the tasting.  There are stations where you insert the card and select the wine you want to taste.  The tasting is automatically dispensed and your card debited for the cost of the taste.  The tastings range from .60 to 5 euro depending on the cost of the bottle of wine.  Of course you can buy all of these wines here, and they do ship!  Other wine accessories and souvenirs are also available.  There is a free tasting of olive oils with the purchase of a card.  I loved the olive oil with tartufo and the peperoncini!  There are also samples of cheese and salamis available for purchase.  The cantina is opened for 10 until 7 daily.  I highly recommend a visit!

For more information on Florence sites, visit www.anamericaninitaly.com

Karen Mills is an American woman who made the decision to leave her corporate life behind to live “la dolce vita” in Florence, Italy, Read more about her experiences at An American In Italy or contact her at queenkaren0@hotmail.com

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Guest Post By: Karen Mills


Travel To The Marble Quarries of Carrara, Italy

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

If you are going to Tuscany but looking for some place “off the beaten path” Carrara is the place to go.
There is no place like it and you will be amazed how the sheer immensity of this natural marble basin.
An easy day trip from Florence, Carrara is located approximately 60 miles northwest of Florence and
easily accessible by train or car.Quarries Carrara, Itlay

Famous for the gleaming white marble mountains that can be seen from outer space, Carrara is not
nearly as touristy as Florence or Siena. Carrara’s marble quarries are present day working quarries and
these same quarries produced the white marble that Michelangelo used to sculpt his famous statue of

The Quarries of Carrara, ItalyAs I learned on my tour of the quarries, there are three separate basins encompassing 23 km of marble.
They include Colonnata, Fantiscritti and Torano. I visited the Fantiscritti basin and the white-knuckle
ride in a 4X4 up the mountain was definitely an adventure, but so worth it. The views from the top were
spectacular, and this was the same location where the opening chase scene in the 2008 James Bond
film, Quantum of Solace, was filmed.

Once at the top of the mountain, I was required to wear a hard hat and learned quite about the exterior
quarrying techniques. The entire process is very labor-intensive, and to validate the level of danger
involved in quarry work, there is a field emergency medical facility right at the quarry. A small marble
museum and gift shop are also located at the Fantiscritti quarry entrance.

Marmo Tour Carrara, ItalyThe tour guides are very knowledgeable about the process and the history of the quarry, and the tour
involved inspection of the tools used to do the actual work today, as well the old tools of years gone
by. A few visitors from various countries were also touring the quarries and the guides were fluent in
English, Italian, German and several other languages.

Carrara Marble Tours, Carrara, ItalyAfter this part of the tour was completed, another tour company offered tours inside the quarry, where
you can see a different perspective of marble quarrying. On this shorter tour, lasting approximately 30
minutes, you ride in a jeep close to half a mile inside the quarry and learn how the interior quarrying is
accomplished. The entire process is amazing and you see another part of Tuscany that not many tourists
ever appreciate.

Men especially like this tour after spending hours in art museums and shopping for leather in Florence.
Carrara offers a different side of Italy, a little more adventurous perhaps, and one that will not be soon

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Guest Post By: Margie Miklas


Montepulciano, Hill Town in Tuscany, Italy

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

Piazza Grande, Montepulciano, ItalyTuscany has so many towns and they are all on hills, but Montepulciano is the highest of them all at close
to 2000 feet elevation. Although this walled medieval town in southern Tuscany is not that easy to reach
without a car, it is well worth going for a day trip from Florence.

Arriving at Montepulciano

Although there is a train station in the town, it is far from the center of Montepulciano, and buses do not
stop there very often. Based on the advice of Rick Steves as well as my personal experience, the train
station at Chiusi is the better option. From there, you can take a bus to Montepulciano and the buses run
every hour or so. The best option however is to have a car.

Cantina Contucci Montepulciano, ItalyWine in Montepulciano

Aside from its Renaissance architecture and medieval charm, Montepulciano is known for its wine,
namely Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. There are cantinas throughout the
town and one in particular welcomes travelers in a special way. Cantina Contucci is one of the oldest
wineries in Montepulciano, located inside Palazzo Contucci, where the Contucci family has lived since
the 11th century. On most days you can find the wonderfully friendly Adamo Pallechi inside the wine
cellar, where he has been making wine for over 50 years. He is more than happy to have you taste the
Contucci wines and even pose for a photo with you.

Palazzo Communale, Montepulciano, ItalyPiazza Grande

Piazza Grande is the real heart of Montepulciano, surrounded by buildings dating back to the 15th century.
Palazzo Communale was actually built in the 13th century and later remodeled in the 15th century. This
serves as the current town hall and was also the backdrop for the scene in the Twilight series New Moon
where Edward was standing and Bella ran into his arms. Piazza Grande was also the filming location for a
scene in Under the Tuscan Sun, when Diane Lane watched a flag throwing contest.

Inside Palazzo Communale is the entrance to the clock tower, which you can climb for the nominal fee
of one euro, the short climb of 26 rickety steps will reward you with beautiful views of the surrounding
countryside, as well as a different perspective of Piazza Grande.

Duomo Montepulciano,ItalyAlso located in this piazza is the Duomo or Cathedral of Montepulciano. Built between 1594 and 1680,
it was built on the site of the ancient Church of Santa Maria. Although the exterior facade was never
completed, the interior more than makes up for it, and is worthy of a visit.

Caffè Poliziano

When your feet are tired of negotiating all the hills and you are looking for something to eat or just a
coffee, try one of the oldest restaurants in Montepulciano. Open since 1868, this elegant restaurant has a
balcony with some of the best views of the Tuscan panorama. Good food, good coffee, great views and
Italian culture at its best is my description for Caffè Poliziano.

Montepulciano is one of those Tuscan hill towns that are amazing to wander through, as every corner
provides another photo opportunity and surprise. The smaller towns in Tuscany are some of my favorite
destinations and Montepulciano is at the top of the list.

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Guest Post By: Margie Miklas


Top Tips and Suggestions for Traveling in Italy

Guest Post By: Karen Mills

Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyWhether traveling in Italy for the first time, or a return visit, there are some important things to remember that can make your travel experience a little less stressful.  These things aren’t always easily remembered or recognized if this is your first trip.  It is the little differences in processes, procedures, and culture that can make things uncomfortable if you aren’t aware.

1.            Learn some Italian words.  There are many English speaking Italians, and generally the language barrier is not a problem if you are in the larger cities.  Traveling to small towns can prove to be more of a challenge when it comes to language.  Italians are friendly, generous, and welcoming so a few words go a long way.  Take the time to learn “please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, and Where is the bathroom?” at a minimum.

2.            When you go into a bar (this is a coffee shop, sandwich shop or cocktails) in Italy, always pay first before you order.  Take your receipt to the counter for ordering.  Remember that the prices are different if you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar.  It costs more to sit down, even if you order at the bar and take it to a table.

3.            Most bars have restrooms, but they are for customers only.  Schedule these bathroom breaks around your coffee breaks to insure you are comfortable while you are sightseeing.

4.            When using the trains in Italy, Don’t forget to stamp your ticket before boarding the train.  There are bright yellow boxes that look like time card stamps located at the front of each track.  Insert your ticket to be stamped with the date and time.  This is true for all tickets that do not have an assigned seat, so the regional trains.Florence Italy

5.            Carry a scarf or shawl in your bag to wrap around your shoulders when you enter the churches.  In the summer if you have on shorts, or a short skirt or bare shoulders, entrance might be denied, unless you have something to cover.

6.            Remember that service in restaurants in Italy is different than in the USA.  It is more relaxed, and you must always ask for the check (Il conto, per favore!).   If you are in a hurry, do not go into a sit down restaurant.  In Italy, meal time is almost sacred and the kitchens and wait staff are not prepared to accommodate you in a short time frame.

7.            Sandwiches can be enjoyed in bars quickly if necessary, but won’t be available on restaurant menus.  Italians don’t eat butter with their bread, nor do they pour oil on plates and dip the bread into it……this is an American thing.  They will accommodate you if you ask for it, but it is not their custom.  Salads are served at the end of the meal.  House wines are available in almost all restaurants and are usually much less expensive, but delicious.  I recommend you try them!  Three courses are customary in Italy, but not required.  If you are eating pizza, the three course custom is not expected.  If you decide to try the Bistecca Fiorentina while in Florence, expect it to be served rare.  This is a very thick cut of meat and is customarily served this way.  Don’t be surprised if they are unhappy with your request to cook it longer.

8.            The use of ice in soft drinks and water is not customary in Italy.  If you want ice, you will need to ask for it.  When you do, don’t be surprised if you get only 3-4 cubes.  Ice is an ecological drain, because of the water usage and electricity for freezing as well as the space that it takes up.

9.            Be “ecologically aware”.  In Italy, most lights are on timers, escalators in airports on motion detectors, etc.  In hotels, you may need your key to be inserted near the door to work the lights.  Many places will not use air conditioning, and at certain times of the year, air conditioning may not be available in your hotel.

10.          Make time in your travels to sit in the piazzas and enjoy the culture.  Piazzas are one of the most important cultural aspects of Italy.  In your busy travels, it might be easy to overlook taking the time for this important activity.  Enjoy a beverage or picnic in the square while people watching.

For more information on Florence sites, visit www.anamericaninitaly.com

Karen Mills is an American woman who made the decision to leave her corporate life behind to live “la dolce vita” in Florence, Italy, Read more about her experiences at An American In Italy or contact her at queenkaren0@hotmail.com

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Guest Post By: Karen Mills

Have you traveled to Florence? Visited other parts of Italy? Do you have any advice or recommendations for our readers?

Share your feedback in the comment section below



Florence, a Day Trip To Siena Italy


If you find yourself in Florence, Italy, and are one of the lucky ones that took a extended stay at one of the many hotels or Florence apartments available, you must make time for a day trip to nearby Siena. Just 50 kilometers from Florence, this beautiful Tuscan treasure never fails to deliver a unique experience. Situated on three hills, the extremely well preserved city is surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, and with a mild climate all year, there is never a bad time to visit.

Tuscany Town of Siena, ItalyMultiple trains leave daily from Florence and, in about an hour, arrive in Siena. Travel by car is even a touch quicker, but it should be noted that almost no traffic is even permitted in the city center. Either way, the minimal effort to get to Siena will be well rewarded.

Siena´s historic center, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is worth the trip on its own. This stunning piazza is an architectural wonder that begs some exploration. There are a plethora of impressive cathedrals and museums in close proximity as well.

Of course the food is top notch, as is expected from any respectable Italian town. Highly recommended restaurants include Antica Trattoria Papei, Osteria del Ficomezzo, and Il Canto, which has been rated in the top 50 in the world. Also, don´t forget to try the wild boar that can be found on many local menus. As for the wine, Siena is located in the middle of arguably the best red wine region in the country. So whether you are enjoying a glass with a world class meal or splitting a bottle with some company as you watch the world go by, the wine is sure to be exquisite. Tuscan Landscape, Siena Italy

If you are lucky enough to visit on either July 2 or August 16, the famous Palio di Siena can´t be missed. This horse race is of the traditional medieval variety and is ran in the Piazza del Campo. Wildly popular even beyond Italy, this dangerous and brutal race draws huge crowds and brings a wealth of pride to the local population.

No matter when you choose to discover all that Siena has to offer, the friendly people, picturesque setting, fantastic food and drink, and exciting culture are all waiting to be experienced. The quick trip back to your apartments in Florence will make for a truly unforgettable time in a classically beautiful Siena, Italy.

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