Saturday Check in at your chosen airport for the flight to Pisa, where on arrival we will transfer you to the 3 star Superior Hotel Reale, Montecatini Terme (room upgrade available, and 4 star upgrade on some dates). Dinner on the first evening may be a cold platter for very late arrivals.
Sunday After breakfast there will be a Welcome Meeting to introduce you to the area, after which the day is at leisure until dinner.
Monday Siena and San Gimignano Today we embark on a full–day excursion, stopping first at the lovely city of Siena. The shell–shaped Piazza del Campo is one of the best medieval squares in Europe, famous for its beautiful period architecture and also for the bi–annual Palio di Siena horse race, which featured prominently in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. In the Piazza is the Palazzo Pubblico art museum with its Torre del Mangia (Eater's Tower, bizarrely named for its first bellringer who had the nickname Mangiaguadagni or Profit Eater). It was one of the tallest secular towers in medieval Italy, built deliberately to the same height as the cathedral to avoid implying that the church was more important than the state, and is so famous it has inspired the building of near replicas in Spain and the USA, and in Birmingham and Grimsby, UK.
Other things to see are the gothic Piazza Salimbeni, featuring one of the oldest banks in the world, the Palazzo Chigi–Saracini, now the home of Siena's music conservatory, and especially the magnificent 14th century cathedral, with its elaborate marble floors, frescoes by Ghirlandaio and sculptures by Donatello. Later we continue to San Gimignano, renamed in 450 AD in honour of Bishop Geminianus, who had managed to prevent the town from being destroyed by Attila the Hun. This beautiful, walled medieval hilltop town continued to have an astonishing run of luck through centuries of regional wars, largely escaping war damage and so remaining uniquely well–preserved.
Tuesday The day is at leisure until dinner. If you fancy a little out–of–town excursion, about 15 km to the north–west is Pistoia (take the train, or 63 bus), whose walled medieval old town is a favourite with tourists. Pistoia is known today for its flower markets, and said by some to be the source of the word 'pistol', which it first began manufacturing in the 1540s. Alternatively, half an hour by train to the west (ticket around £3) is Lucca, famous for its intact Renaissance walls enclosing a lovely cobbled old town. Further to the west is Pisa, whose walled Piazza dei Miracoli is dominated by the magnificent (but sinking) 12th century cathedral and its world–famous (leaning) tower. In this Square of Miracles the chief miracle is that the tower is still standing. It started leaning even while it was being built, and the higher storeys were angled during later construction to compensate for the tilt, so that if today it was pushed upright it would still look wonky.
Wednesday Florence This morning we head to the capital of Tuscany. Ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence (Firenze, lit. 'the flowering') is a medieval masterpiece of piazzas, churches and palaces. This is where the Renaissance began, the first bankers set up their benches (banca: bench) on the Ponte Vecchio, and the Medicis used their fabulous wealth to create enormous art collections now housed at the Palazzo Pitti (Leonardo, Rubens, Caravaggio...), the Uffizi (Botticelli's Birth of Venus) and the Galleria of the Accademia di Belle Arti (Michelangelo's David, and now Stradivarius violins). We return to the hotel by coach in the late afternoon.
Thursday Wine-tasting tour Today we venture on a half–day excursion into the Chianti wine–growing region for a delightful tour of the Renaissance gardens and wine cellars of Castle Vicchiomaggio, including light Tuscan delicacies and tasting of 4 wines.
Friday A day at leisure, and perhaps an opportunity to do some last–minute souvenir hunting.
Saturday Breakfast and then transfer to the airport for your flight home.