Honeymoon Diary Part III: Livorno, Tuscany, and Umbria

This is the third installment in a tripartite series on my Italian honeymoon. Be sure to read the first and second parts here. 

At this point in our trip, we were totally spent. Seven days of walking—and no less than 8 hours per day—will take its toll on you, and having foreseen this, we steered our honeymoon to a more relaxed pace. Renting a compact, manual-transmission Ford Fiesta from Hertz in Florence, we plotted for five days of cruising around Central Italy.

Our first stop was Livorno, or Leghorn in English, a beautiful seaside city to the west of Florence that has virtually no foreigners and whose tourist population counts only the wandering Italian. Arriving around midday, we lunched on fresh smoked tuna, grilled swordfish, and fried calamari and shrimp. How do €9-12/plate sound to you?

Beyond admiring the sea and enjoying its edible bounty, there is little to do in Livorno, so we headed north to nearby Pisa to witness its notorious leaning tower. Boy does it lean, far more than I’d imagined! There is a cathedral adjacent to it and a nice stretch of lawn to sunbathe on, but like Livorno, a few hours of strolling through the city are more than sufficient.

Driving into the Tuscan wine valley from Florence is surreal. The landscape is lush, verdant, and endless, and you see vineyards dotted with olive trees in every direction the eye can wander. We pulled in to Panzano, a small town hailed as the birthplace of the famous salad panzanella—essentially tomatoes with croutons—and where an internationally acclaimed butcher by the name of Dario Cecchini operates three meat-glorifying restaurants

At Dario DOC, we sampled the half-pound gourmet burger, a thick, unseasoned ground beef patty stripped of a bun and accompanied by Tuscan beans in olive oil, tomato stew, and roasted potato cubes, all for €15. A moist olive oil cake sprinkled with sugar and paired with Tuscan coffee rounded out our meal.

As superb as the cuisine can be in rural Tuscany, it’s the picturesque scenery that’s the real eye candy. Italy is so green, it’s therapeutic. This is why renting a car and foraying out on your own, unconfined by public transportation, is indispensable.

On our transplant from Florence to Perugia, which is considered the capital of the Umbria region, we stopped in Siena, a hilly city characterized by narrow alleyways and lined with shops and cafes. Here we dined on the bistecca alla fiorentina one last time and sampled cherished Sienese pastries, including the spiced Italian fruitcake panforte (“strong bread”) and almond-based cookies called ricciarelli.

Perugia is the home of the Casa del Cioccolato Perugina. We bought several palettes of their chocolates from the local supermarket, and they are indescribably delicious, with flavors ranging from pistachio dark to caramel milk. Lindt has a line of Italian chocolate palettes too, and we spotted a few original varieties like one stuffed with crushed Lotus biscuits. Fiercely sweet, one small square will more than do.

We were sure to spend a half day in Assisi, the revered town situated in the hills where St. Francis, St. Chiara, and St. Stefano lived and prayed. Views of Umbria are unrivalled from this perch, and if you have time, dine in one of the town’s panoramic restaurants. Assisi is inundated with tourists, and it is interesting to note how many are senior citizens from the USA. In fact, American tourists seem to largely contribute to the tourist demographic in Italy--we ran into them everywhere!

Our trip came to its end in Rome, our starting point, where we dropped off the rental car at the airport before checking in and hiking to the distant terminal. Of note, if you had little time to shop for souvenirs or delicacies while exploring Italy, the Leonardo di Vinci (FCO) airport will console you. It is a marketplace and mall in its own right, brimming with Italian products and even a Musei Vaticani shop. Load up on goodies here, but bear in mind that delicacies are priced at a premium relative to what you would find in city stores.

A few tips about driving in Italy:
  1. Apply for an international driver’s permit before you go. You’ll need it along with your driver license to operate a car in Italy.
  2. Be sure you are comfortable driving stick shift, as automatic cars are virtually nonexistent in Italy. Rent an economy- or compact-sized vehicle especially for driving through Tuscany, where the roads are narrow and winding.
  3. A GPS is crucial. We couldn’t have gone far without it.
  4. Expect a series of roundabouts wherever you go. Be sure you yield to traffic in the roundabout before entering it.
  5. Look for paid parking structures on the periphery of major cities like Siena—car traffic is restricted in the city center, as we grimly discovered. We were blindly following the GPS’ instructions to Siena’s “centro” and soon found ourselves crawling through pedestrian-only streets as shopkeepers glared at us—that was a harrowing experience!
  6. Get used to fueling up on your own—gas stations are generally self-service.
  7. Bridge networks and freeway connections are not so straightforward. Be vigilant and cautious as you change freeways or enter/exit extended bridges.

And now for the photos:

Smoked tuna in Livorno

Grilled swordfish with a sauteed vegetable medley in Livorno

Calamari and shrimp fritters in Livorno

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Dario DOC's grilled half-pound burger with Tuscan beans, tomato stew, and steak fries (Panzano)

Panzano

Panzano

1200g of bistecca alla fiorentina in Siena

Seafood spaghetti in Perugia

Assisi


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