Day 129: San Gimignano > Siena
Our quick stop in Florence ended with an unexpected surprise as I was handed the keys to a free car rental upgrade:
We excitedly hopped inside our new turbocharged Fiat Spider, whom I named Frances (after the leading lady in Under the Tuscan Sun, naturally), and headed south.
Rome would be our final destination with Frances, and we had four nights, giving us plenty of time to explore Tuscany.
San Gimignano was the first stop of the day—about an hour south of Florence and one of the most popular attractions in the area.
The vast majority of villages in Italy (at least in the Tuscany region) are strikingly similar, but San Gimignano stands apart with its unique skyline. From miles away you can see the outline of towers, built in the Middle Ages by rival families competing for bragging rights.
At one point there were over 70 towers standing. Today there’s only 14 left, but it’s still enough to make this village stand out from the rest.
Once again, our day was cut short by the heat wave and we retired to our Airbnb early. This one was a beautifully restored 14th century farmhouse in Sociville, just outside of Siena:
Day 130: Montepulciano > Pienza > Saturnia
The following three days were spent leisurely winding our way down to Rome, enjoying the back roads of Tuscany.
We’d heard great things about Montepulciano and drove through the city center, but the town was quite crowded leaving nowhere to park, so we continued onto Pienza (which a few of you recommended).
Pienza was much quieter and more quaint, and immediately became our favorite village in Tuscany.
Not having to fight through crowds and lines of cars really allows you to appreciate a place so much more!
The sweeping views from Pienza were also some of the best we’d seen in the area.
Just outside of Pienza is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo—an impressive church and manor set in the picturesque countryside. We stopped for a quick visit and a few photos.
Before sunset, we made it down to a town called Saturnia, known for its thermal baths.
Lucas had found a photo of the baths on Pinterest several months before our trip, and after a bit of research we marked the location as our first “must see” place in Italy. The baths have been called “Italy’s best kept secret”, but it was still packed with locals and tourists when we arrived.
These natural hot springs are free to the public, open 24/7, and the 37°C water temperature was just right as the sun was setting. Even with the crowds, it was easily one of our top favorite experiences in Italy.
Day 131: Pitigliano > Sorano > Civita di Bagnoregio
After our skin had been rejuvenated by the sulphuric baths, we finished our last day in Tuscany by checking out a few last towns built on cliffs, that also appeared to be clones of each other.
Pitigliano was the first, and we admired it from afar rather than exploring the center.
Next up was Sorano, which was surrounded by windy roads carved into steep cliff faces. A bit smaller than Pitigliano, but more interesting in my opinion.
Finally, the one we were waiting for the most—Civita di Bagnoregio.
This isolated village attracted a bigger crowd, and for good reason. The dramatic walkway leading to the entrance is the stuff of movies.
The small village sits isolated on top of a cliff in the center of a valley, with a mix of desert-like dunes and blue mountains in the distance. The inside of town is charming as well, and wasn’t too crowded given the extreme heat and hike it requires to make it there.
At the last minute we booked a hotel room in a town nearby called Vitorchiano, thinking we got a great deal at €60/night. Turns out this town was not on any tourists’ radar, and we walked the empty streets until arriving the home of a sweet older Italian lady who had no idea we were coming. Confused and without a Plan B as this small village clearly had no hotels, we also quickly realized that she didn’t speak a word of English.
She led us upstairs and prepared a bed in her guest room that was hotter than the outside air with no AC or fan, while carrying on full conversations in Italian as we smiled and nodded politely, pretending to understand. The situations we get ourselves into sometimes…
The next morning she fed us baskets upon baskets of homemade pie, biscotti and focaccia and sent us away with bags full of more sugary carbs, just like the Italian grandmother we never had.
Day 132: Vitorchiano > Bomarzo > Boccea
After our memorable stay with a village local, it was our last day before returning the car in Rome and we had just two stops planned—a forest of monsters and a decadent palace.
Bomarzo lies a stone’s throw away from Vitorchiano, and is home to the “Parco dei Monstri”, a park of ancient stone sculptures of monsters and other oddities.
We spent the morning walking the grounds and enjoying the shade, before venturing south to a town named Caprarola.
Villa Farnese is the jewel of Caprarola—completely unknown to us until our last host insisted we visit. Clearly not a tourist destination as we only came across a handful people during our visit.
The villa appeared dingy and neglected as we climbed the entrance steps, but as soon as we stepped inside, we were in complete awe.
This massive palace with its unique pentagonal shape and dramatic five-story spiral staircase is covered in masterpiece paintings and sculptures, and said to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture.
Dozens of rooms, acres of manicured gardens, caves, a moat and even a casino—we spent over two hours and barely scratched the surface.
It could easily hold its own alongside any attraction in Rome, and we were both dumbfounded as to why it’s not more well known. One of Italy’s best kept secrets, I’d say.
That evening we managed to find a 4 star hotel outside of Rome for only €75, and soaked up every bit of our night of luxury with pasta and wine. We were ready once again for the big city.
Day 133-136: Rome
During this trip I’ve come to learn that I much prefer traveling off the beaten path—discovering small villages and spending time in nature. Cities have become more of a necessary pit stop to catch up on work and recharge for the next adventure, and I was expecting that from Rome as well.
But not this time. Rome captivated me from the start.
You’re taught about its history in school—from Julius Caesar to the Roman Empire and religion and how it all started here. You learn stories and memorize facts, acknowledging it as a part of life without giving it a second thought.
Then you arrive in Rome. You step on the soil and breathe in the ancient air.
This feeling is the culmination of all those years of history lessons that once felt so distant and unrelatable. Standing at the base of the ruins, walking in the footsteps of gladiators and legends, listening to a classical symphony under the stars—it’s a sense that’s hard to explain, but I’ve never felt more connected to the past and centuries of those who’ve lived before.
During our three days in Rome, we visited a handful of attractions including the Piazza Navona (just lovely at sunset):
The Trevi Fountain (far too crowded to really enjoy it):
The Pantheon, impressive inside and out:
The Colosseum, where we took a Virtual Reality tour—highly recommended if you’re a visual person like I am:
The Forum and Palatine Hill, which really put the scale of the ruins into perspective and was my favorite site to visit:
And of course, the Vatican City. We found the earliest tour possible which met at 7am and were the first group of people inside. Totally worth it!
Rome at sunrise is truly the best time to see the city (this holds true for every city, in my opinion).
The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums turn into a zoo as soon as it’s open to the public at 9am, so it was quite the experience to have it nearly all to ourselves to enjoy in (relative) peace and quiet.
And St. Peter’s Basilica… the size of this place is incredible. So many churches in one:
The most memorable experience for me was attending a live concert by the International Chamber Ensemble. I’d been wanting to see a classical music performance since we arrived in Italy, and after striking out in Florence I found this one in Rome and booked it immediately. We actually extended our visit by one day for it, and I’m so glad we did. Our trip to Italy would have been incomplete without it.
The rest of our time was spent walking the streets, sampling food and sweets, and of course, the local beverages. Here you can’t walk past any eatery without seeing brightly colored orange drinks. Turns out it’s the unofficial drink of Italy, the Aperol Spritz, and it’s quite refreshing on a hot summer day. It’s also become a staple in my daily diet. But hey, when in Rome…
As I publish this, we’re working our way down the boot of Italy to Sicily over the next five days. It will mostly likely be our last road trip for a while, before we return to planes/boats/public transportation as we work our way to Greece then north to Germany and Switzerland.
We’re looking forward to taking advantage of this last bit of freedom and the open road, and as always, you can join us for the ride as I share daily updates on my Instagram stories!