Florence on a busy day can be bonkers, but we managed to escape the crowds and the stress with a day trip to Fiesole in the nearby Tuscan hills.
About 9km from the city, it takes hardly any time to get there on the number 7 bus from the Piazza San Marco. The only aggro we faced was working out how to pay the bus fare, which made me wonder how there can be so many different ways to get a bus ticket around the world…
That quandary resolved, we were dropped off a short time later in the surprisingly quiet Piazza Mino da Fiesole.
Fiesole has Etruscan and Roman roots as well as amazing views to rival those from the Duomo back in Florence. And while the town will never be a city break destination, it kept us occupied for a few hours and proved the perfect antidote to the swarms of tourists in the valley below.
And it gave our thighs a good workout too, for Fiesole is a village of hills. The old dears lugging bags of shopping up some of the more serious ones – clearly with thighs of steel – put this sweaty and panting correspondent to shame.
In the morning we spent an hour or two exploring the Etruscan and Roman remains in the archaeological park close to the tourist information centre.
The Etruscans were the first to settle high up in the hills about seven centuries before Christ, developing it into one of the most important towns in the area. But several centuries later they were supplanted by the all-conquering Romans from the south. Defensive walls were put up around the settlement but, apart from a few well-hidden stretches, little can be seen of them today.
Some of the remains in the archaeological park that date from Roman times are, however, well preserved. The theatre, from the 1st century BC, is the star attraction and still used today for events and a summer festival.
The bathing complex was reasonably intact and a walk further around the site revealed a couple of temples (or, should I say, piles of stones that the guidebooks suggested were once temples). We stopped off in the museum, which had an enormous and, at times, bewildering quantity of finds from various excavations over the years, some of them fascinating but many rather dull.
So we headed out for a late-morning walk from the 11th century Cattedrale di San Romolo and climbed up the steep Via San Francesco, past the grand Palazzo Vescovile. We reached a viewpoint, with breathtaking vistas of Florence before us. Ahead we could see the familiar dome of the cathedral, to the right what looked like toy planes climbing away from the city’s small airport. A few other tourists joined us to admire the views.
A few steps further uphill we found the pretty Chiesa e convento di San Francesco, which had some old and solitary quarters used by monks and nuns for their devotions in centuries past. We then circled down behind the archaeological park, past the well-tended cemetery, and back into the main square via the Piazza del Mercato.
We stopped for lunch and booze in the Piazza Mino di Fiesole with the sun shining, and then continued our walk towards Borgunto.
Nearby was a place where that noble artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci supposedly tested out his famous flying machines, but it was just too far away for us so we stayed close to the village.
In the narrow streets, we kept getting glimpses of the hills and valleys of Tuscany beyond, and it became clear why author Gertrude Stein and architect Frank Lloyd Wright found the place so irresistible.
We found a plaque marking where Lloyd Wright lived when he was in Fiesole in 1910, on a pretty property on Via di Monte Ceceri.
Back in the main square, the 14th century town hall was the stand-out building, decorated with various coats of arms.
It was a relaxing spot, perfect for people watching and afternoon drinks. Which was fine for me because, with my legs shot, it was time for a beer.