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3 Fall Day Trips (By Train) From Florence


Autumn in Tuscany is the season of grapevines turned golden within the sun. It’s a time to cherish the fruits of the earth and the vine. Restaurants put up handwritten signs touting fresh porcini mushrooms, and small towns hold sagras, festivals celebrating local food and history.

Living in Florence over the past few years, I’ve relished taking short local train excursions throughout the region of Tuscany, which is subdivided into 10 provinces, each with a capital city, and every with a distinct character, presiding saints, folk traditions and culinary specialties.

Listed below are three day trips on regional trains that may take you to a few provinces. All of the trains leave from the large central Florence train station, Santa Maria Novella, right in the middle of the town. Buy your tickets upfront — I take advantage of Trainline, or you’ll be able to buy tickets from machines within the station, which supply English instructions. The trains themselves move relatively slowly, stopping at small stations that the AV, or Alta Velocità (high-speed), trains whiz right past. Some could also be modern three-car commuter trains; others will remind you of European trains you might have taken years ago, with no assigned seat numbers and windows that may be opened.

On Sundays in October the Tuscan town of Marradi holds its chestnut festival, with food stalls, music and the pervasive scent of chestnuts roasting. But visiting any day of the week will immerse you in chestnut season.

About 28 miles northeast of Florence, Marradi is in a broad green valley called the Mugello, which claims connections to each Giotto and Dante. On the train ride there (see below for information), you’ll pass olive groves, cypress trees and hill towns.

Take the five-minute stroll from the train station, pausing, perhaps, to eat a chestnut fritter. Before you cross the river into town, you’ll pass the neoclassical, 18th-century church of San Lorenzo, where you’ll find paintings by the Maestro di Marradi, or Master of Marradi, an anonymous painter working at the tip of the Fifteenth century and the start of the Sixteenth. The Maestro was probably a pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and he originally painted these paintings for the Abbey of Marradi, which was dedicated to Santa Reparata, a young virgin — in some stories, only 11 years old — who was tortured and martyred for her faith within the third century. Up through the Middle Ages, she was the patron saint of Florence (the Duomo replaced a church dedicated to Santa Reparata). Within the apse of San Lorenzo in Marradi, you will see her on the Madonna’s right hand.

On the chestnut exposition, which is within the piazza where you will see yourself after crossing the river, you’ll find information in regards to the chestnut trees; a lot of chestnuts on display; posters demonstrating how chestnuts may be used, from antipasto to dessert; products, from liqueurs to marrons glacés; and sculptures, including a Nativity scene, set within the hollowed trunk of a chestnut tree. You’ll even be right near the charming little Teatro degli Animosi, and may step inside if it’s open; it was in-built 1792, in a method described as Doric-Tuscan.

Across from the exposition, there’s the Palazzo Torriani, a villa that has belonged to the Torriani family for hundreds of years, and is now a hotel. Tours led by a member of the family may be arranged (call upfront), and the general public rooms include some beautiful painted ceilings from the early twentieth century.

Then climb a flight of steps to the gracious central Piazza delle Scalelle, often used as a market square on festival days, and wander as much as the highest of the town, where you’ll find sweeping views of the roofs and towers of Marradi and the encircling hills. You too can descend and walk along the river, where there’ll probably be a chestnut-roasting operation on festival days.

It is advisable to reserve a table for lunch on the restaurant you passed as you walked from the train station: Ristorante Il Camino, which has tables along the road and overlooking the river. Order the incredible housemade pasta with sausage and porcini, or ravioli with black truffles; try the grilled lamb chops with cherry tomatoes or the meat filet topped with a big porcini mushroom cap. A plate of pasta will cost under 20 euros, a lavish multicourse lunch may cost a little 40 to 50 euros (or about $40 to $50), and there are excellent local desserts — but save room for those chestnut treats.

Marradi also offers loads of stores selling chestnut products to take home. I recently got here back with cookies made with chestnut flour, a bottle of terrific grappa (brandy) made with chestnut honey, and a giant jar of the honey itself.

Train: From Santa Maria Novella in Florence, buy a ticket to Marradi-Palazzuolo sul Senio. The train’s destination shall be Faenza. The ride takes about an hour and quarter-hour (ticket will cost 7.30 euros, each way).

Don’t confuse the town of San Miniato, which is about 31 miles to the west of Florence, within the province of Pisa, with the church of San Miniato al Monte, which is in Florence. The church is unquestionably price a visit, however the town, named for a similar saint, is price a day trip, especially in the event you are interested by truffles. San Miniato, like Santa Reparata, was a martyr saint who was tortured and ultimately beheaded by the Romans in Florence. He is alleged to to have picked up his head and traveled across the Arno River to the location of his church.

You possibly can reach San Miniato in 40 minutes on one in all the regional trains heading west from Florence toward Pisa or the coast. Come during the white truffle festival, which takes place over the past three weekends in November. Shuttles will meet the train and take you up the hill to the historic center; otherwise take a bus or taxi, either of which is able to bring you to the Piazza del Popolo.

The hills around San Miniato yield the highly prized white truffles, in addition to black truffles, and you’ll be able to watch them rigorously weighed and sold on the town even when there will not be a festival. However the white truffle harvest is a significant event. The town’s identity as a truffle destination can also be celebrated in a statue of a truffle hunter, Arturo Gallerini, along with his dog, Parigi, and the world’s biggest truffle, which they found nearby in 1954.

There’s a tourist information office in Piazza del Popolo. From there, walk uphill for five to 10 minutes into town, and also you’ll soon end up within the Piazza della Repubblica, admiring the gorgeous frescoed facade of the seminary, in-built 1650, which surrounds a lot of the piazza.

A staircase will take you as much as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Genesio, which dates to the Twelfth century; the facade is remarkable for inset ceramic plates from North Africa used as decorative elements (the originals are within the cathedral museum). There’s a stupendous bell tower, the Torre di Matilde, named for a strong Tuscan countess from the Middle Ages, who, in line with legend, was born nearby. There’s also tragedy. During World War II, on July 22, 1944, the Germans gathered local people into the church, which was then hit by an artillery shell from the U.S. Army bombardment, killing 55 people. This incident was utilized in the 1982 movie, “The Night of the Shooting Stars,” by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.

Within the nearby Palazzo Communale, or town hall, near the cathedral, is the Loretino Oratory, a small chapel dedicated to the Madonna of Loreto, which originally contained a much-venerated crucifix from the start of the Fifteenth century. The Sixteenth-century wood altar within the oratory includes the scene of San Miniato’s martyrdom, and there are wonderful early Renaissance frescoes on the partitions, with scenes from the lifetime of Jesus; on the ceiling, David peers down, holding Goliath’s head, accompanied by one in all the classical sybils and the 4 Evangelists.

When you head uphill from the cathedral, you’ll quickly (if breathlessly) end up on the Rocca di Federico II, or Frederick’s Tower. This can be a rebuilt structure — the unique, built for the Holy Roman Emperor around 1220, was destroyed during World War II. You possibly can pay to climb the tower for a fantastic view of cultivated fields, cypress trees and hill towns.

All this could allow you to work up an appetite. During truffle festival time, you’ll find stalls and delicacies all over the place, however the town can also be stuffed with restaurants serving local cuisine, a few of which reap the benefits of the identical hilltop vistas you saw from the tower. The butcher shop on the major street, Sergio Falaschi, offers housemade salami to purchase and take home; a restaurant in back has a spectacular open terrace looking on the hills. Essenza also has some tables on a terrace, and offers wine and snacks all day and a full menu.

Train: Buy a ticket to San Miniato-Fucecchio. It’s possible you’ll be offered a route with a change at Empoli, which is able to not be difficult, but there are also many direct trains headed for Pisa, La Spezia or Livorno. Tickets cost 6 euros each way. When you are traveling throughout the truffle festival, shuttles to town shall be available; in the event you are there on a nonfestival day, you’ll be able to take the No. 320 bus, which leaves outside the station every half-hour.

After chestnuts and truffles, you go to Prato, about 16 miles to the northwest of Florence, for dessert. Prato is the capital of its own Tuscan province; it’s an industrial city, essential for textiles because the Twelfth century, and it has a textile museum. But you’ll also get the possibility to see world-class Renaissance masterpieces, and taste the famous Prato cantucci cookies (those you dip in sweet vin santo at the tip of a meal). Prato can also be a middle for Italy’s Chinese population and there are many restaurants offering Chinese food.

Take one in all the frequent trains from Florence to Prato Porta al Serraglio, and walk the short distance to the Twelfth-century Romanesque Cathedral of Santo Stefano. The striped, green-marble facade was added within the Fifteenth century, together with the monumental pulpit on the skin facade of the church, built and decorated by Michelozzo and Donatello, starting in 1428. From the pulpit, the priest could show the general public Prato’s biggest treasure: the Holy Belt, or Girdle, of the Virgin Mary. Mary is alleged to have given the Belt to St. Thomas on the time of her assumption to heaven, and its illustrious journey to Prato is told in gorgeous color in paintings by Bernardo Daddi, which may be seen within the Palazzo Pretorio Museum, together with a multimedia installation on the history of the Belt.

But first, buy a ticket for 8 euros to the cathedral museum, where you’ll discover a room with the unique carved Donatello panels from the outdoor pulpit (the panels outside are reproductions). Listed below are Donatello’s joyously dancing children, with glittering mosaic backgrounds.

The identical ticket will take you into the chapel contained in the cathedral where Filippo Lippi painted his famous Fifteenth-century fresco cycle on the lives of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist. The paintings feature unforgettable scenes: the saints of their youth, in addition to scenes of martyrdom and death. For St. John, the artist created a remarkable scene of Herod’s banquet and the gorgeous dancing Salome in her diaphanous gown — off to the side, you see her along with her reward, the pinnacle of the saint on a platter.

The gorgeous chapel right next to it was painted by Paolo Uccello from 1430 to 1450 with scenes from the lifetime of the Virgin and Saint Stephen.

There’s plenty more to see and do in Prato, all in easy walking distance. There are also restaurants serving local dishes — Prato makes its own version of mortadella, for instance, a pork salami flavored with liqueur, and there are wonderful local wines. Restaurant Le Barrique, as an example, is a terrific wine bar, open constantly from noon to around midnight.

And as you walk down the major street away from the cathedral, stop within the biscotti store, Antonio Mattei, where the cantucci cookies (also called biscotti di Prato) have been made since 1858. You possibly can buy the unique cookies, made with almonds, and likewise variants like hazelnut or chocolate. The cantucci will leave you with a sweet taste of the range and complexity to be present in this fascinating region, so wealthy in history, landscape, art and food.

Train: Buy a ticket to Prato Porta al Serraglio (one stop beyond the central station in Prato, so make sure you wait for Porta al Serraglio); it’s going to cost 2.70 euros each way and take between 20 and half-hour with no changes. There are several trains every hour.

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