Italy, Part I: Tuscany

If you think about it, the diverse Tuscan landscape has much in common with the Yorkshire countryside; colossal hills coated with a legion of trees, greenery as far as the eye can see, serene and seemingly spotless open space juxtaposed with fragmented rock formations and plethoric forests. But that's where the comparisons end, for Tuscany boasts a rich tapestry of historical legacy, world renowned goods such as wine, leather and olive oil, and unparalleled contributions to the arts, as the birthplace of acclaimed opera composer Giacomo Puccini, Carlo Lorenzini, the author of Pinocchio otherwise known as pen name Carlo Collodi, and pretty much the entire Renaissance art movement.

British holidaymakers flock to Italy because of the promise of outrageously delicious cuisine, lured by the temptation of staples such as freshly cooked pizza, pasta, bread, meats, cheese, gelato, and coffee brewed to the perfect drinking temperature. This all sounds incredibly carb-heavy and fattening but order these and you'll be startled by how simple they are, because Tuscans don't complicate their dishes the way other cultures have appropriated Italian food to be. Food is an integral feature of Tuscan life, and so meals are passionately prepared, leisurely enjoyed with others and savoured, a sentiment which rings true for most facets of the local lifestyle.

Our trip took us to Montecatini Terme, a tree-lined spa municipality in the mountainous northern province of Pistoia, Montecatini Alto, a hamlet in the former whose lofty seat on the Valdinievole is honoured by its named (alto meaning high in Italian), moving on to the walled city of Lucca and one of the most distinguished tourist spots, the historic city of Pisa.

Montecatini Terme & Montecatini Alto

Parco Termale, a public park and gardens which neighbours Excelsior Spa and Tettuccio Spa.
A glimpse of Montecatini Alto poking out from the tree tops of Parco Termale.
Le Terme Tettuccio, Montecatini Terme's grand centrepiece. An active spa built in the popular Liberty style of architecture thought to date back to the Roman era but officially first documented 600 years ago, Terme Tettuccio also hosts regular events, such as the Montecatini Opera Festival (see below). 
A deserted Montecatini Terme town centre on a Sunday afternoon. Italian famously shops close for a minimum of two hours at lunch time, as workers usually go home and dine with their families and rest before returning to work, and many locals leave the town on weekends to visit the coast.
Much of the urban space in Tuscany has retained the Liberty style of architecture, alternatively known as Art Nouveau, which gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
View of Montecatini Terme and the surrounding areas from Montecatini Alto, a small medieval hamlet which stands at 260m above sea level.
View of the Tuscan landscape from Montecatini Alto.
Peaceful backstreets in the hamlet of Montecatini Alto.

Lucca & Pisa

The city of Lucca is a former Roman colony famous for the well-preserved Renaissance walls which surround the city's centre. San Michele in Foro, seen above, is a Romanesque basilica church dedicated to the Archangel Michael.
 Lucca is also well-known for the historic elliptical shape of it's ancient amphitheatre in the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, a public square now home to several cafes, bars, shops and Tindaro, this piece of modern art made in bronze by Igor Mitoraj.
The exterior of the Pisa Baptistery of St. John is made from marble and the chronology of its construction demonstrates the transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles of architecture. The strange juxtaposition of two different materials used for the domed roof is explained by the location of the baptistery: lead slating was used on the inward facing side (as seen above) and tiles on the outward side facing the Mediterranean sea, purposely done to protect the dome from salt the sea air. As it was built on the same surface as the bell tower and cathedral, the Baptistery also leans. 
Across from the baptistery is the Pisa Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Unlike the pristine marble steps and flooring around the cathedral, the walkway leading from the baptistery to the cathedral, also made from marble, is blotched with holes, not by design but to provide friction underfoot so the bishops would not trip while travelling from one building to the other.
The Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) was the last to be built in the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, where these monuments (as well as the New Hospital of the Holy Spirit) can be found. The square is internationally recognised for its great historical significance and architectural interest, the complex serving as a reminder of the cycle of life:  birth, honoured by the Baptistery; life through the Cathedral; illness treated at the hospital; and death, ending at the cemetery. The Campanile (or Leaning Tower of Pisa, as it is better known) sits behind the Cathedral.
The iconic Campinale is the third oldest structure in the square after the cathedral and baptistery, originally built as the bell tower for the former. The foundations of the tower were laid in the early 12th century on an unstable surface of wet soil, meaning the structure could not support its own weight even in the initial stages of development. The first architect is thought to have fled the city once the tower began to tilt, eventually returning to the city and then dying shortly after. Construction was then abandoned for almost a century while Pisa, then an independent state, engaged in battle with Florence, and the third and final architect attempted to rectify the tilt by straightening the belfry, hence the tower's slightly curved appearance. According to legend, in experimenting with notions of gravity, physicist and Pisa native Galileo Galilei dropped two different sized balls made from the material from atop the tower to demonstrate his ideas of free fall.
Fallen Angel by Igor Mitoraj, which lies on the grass beside the leaning tower. Visitors are forbidden from standing or walking across the grassed areas in the Piazza dei Miracoli, and so the pavements can become concentrated and congested with people wanting to take that shot with the tower, especially at peak visiting hours.

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