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Postcards from Pisa, Italy

visit pisa italy

As the days get colder and colder down here in New Zealand and I try to wrap my head around the idea that I am wearing a parka in July, I can’t help but reminisce on last summer, sweating my way around Europe.

I’ve been meaning to put together some of my favorite photos from the Pisa region of Tuscany for approximately 9 months, but I guess it took a solid week of me waking up and being to see my breath INSIDE my house for the kick in the pants I needed to actually put it together.

And looking through all my photos, I can’t help but sigh and smile.

You see I was lucky enough to visit this part of Italy not once but twice in the past year. The second time was for work and it involved hotel inspections, not quite so fun, but still, it takes a lot of work to make Tuscany suck.

visit pisa italy

I actually stepped foot in Pisa the city back in the winter of 2007 on my very first backpacking trip around Europe. It was freezing cold, raining and I took the train from Florence to Pisa as a day trip to see the Leaning Tower, like most people.

What I found surprised me.

My first impressions of Pisa was that it SUCKED and I couldn’t leave fast enough.

First impressions last a long time, and I hadn’t felt compelled to revisit this area of Italy again until 6 years later. I’m a big believer in second chances, and first impressions at 19 aren’t *always* the best, am I right?

visit pisa italy

What I found surprised me. Not only did Pisa NOT suck, I actually really liked it. I think it had something to do with the fact that Pisa is far more than just a city with a leaning tower. It’s a whole region of Tuscany completely overlooked by tourists who head to Cortona, Florence and Montepulciano.

Tuscany is so much more than that.

If you head west towards the coast, you’ll be greeted by the sprawling Pisa region, with the same famous rolling green hills, flower fields and weird cyprus trees and restored medieval farmhouses that make Tuscany so iconic, but without the tourists!

My kind of Italy!

So come with me on a visual journey to an area of Italy most people don’t see, but remember this is our secret!

visit pisa italy

1. Wine and relaxing at Casale Podernovo

I think it’s pretty rare for a person to say their favorite part of a trip was the hotel where the slept, and that is certainly true for me, for the most part.

However, allowances must be made when you’re sleeping in a restored historic farmhouse complex complete with a winery. Yes, a winery. On the property. Dreams do come true.

For me, these kinds of properties are the reason I love Tuscany so much. And at Casale Podernovo, they get it.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

Because you more or less need a car to get to these properties, it means you get the full on Italian experience that can be more difficult to find in cities.

This also means because these agriturismo estates are own there own usually on a sizeable amount of land, you get a more secluded, relaxed experience. Something I am always a fan of.

It took an hour walking around Casale Podernovo watching the sun set and drinking their wine to change my mind about Pisa – can you blame me?

I mean, just look at it!

visit pisa italy

Fresh after a few days of shooting around Tuscany, Emiliano and I were happy to finish our trip at this farmhouse in Terricciola near Pisa. While shooting for a little bit for our Tuscany video, but we made sure to take a break and really enjoy the property.

Far from the city lights, I can remember almost as if it were yesterday the bright evening skies over the estate and watching the stars come out one by one in the warm summer evening.

Of course, being a total nerd, the perfect ending to my day was getting to fall asleep underneath an exposed wooden beam ceiling.

Bliss.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

The next day I had to myself, exploring Casale Podernovo all morning and hanging out in the sunshine.

I have no shame in that remembering that is what prompted me to finally capture those feelings into words on this post today.

Can I go back yet?

visit pisa italy

2. Exploring untouched San Miniato

Fastforward 3 months and I was fresh off my first big blogging speaker gig at TBDI in Rimini and headed back to the Pisa region to explore for a week.

I was excited to return to an area of Tuscany I was keen to get to know better.

I was also secretly stoked to be there in autumn, which is my favorite season.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

Our first stop – San Miniato!

Never heard of it? Me neither.

Etruscan in original (that’s older than the Romans BTW) San Miniato is a beautiful little Tuscan town overlooked by pretty much everyone.

This is how I imagined Cortona to be like before Frances Mayes set up shop and brought half of America with her.

visit pisa italy

Arriving at sunset we were quickly shown to our rooms at the Hotel San Miniato, and I was pleased as punch to discover I was placed in the Napoleon room.

After all Napoleon was a fucking boss.

Again, few things make me happier than a hotel with a view, woodbeamed ceilings and a canopy in a historic building.

Please excuse me while I have a Josephine moment.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

And if San Miniato couldn’t get any better, it’s world famous as a truffle destination. The elusive white truffles nonetheless.

Little-known fact about me, I am basically a truffle I love them so much. And not of the chocolate namesake, I’m talking the rich strong extremely pungent mushroom variety.

Given half the chance, I will always chose a dish on the menu that involves truffles.

Please take a moment to imagine my pure and unadulterated joy when we had a truffle tasting menu for dinner, and for my last course I ended up with a big bowl of handmade past covered in nothing but white truffle shavings.

Swoon.

visit pisa italy

The next day we spent wandering around the old part of town, taking in the sweeping views over the surrounding countryside and perusing the local market.

And if the truffles from the night before hadn’t won me over, the freshly deep fried zucchini flowers sure did.

How did I miss this being a thing and how had I gone 25 years without trying them?

Totally hooked.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

San Miniato was one of my favorite surprises of the year, and I could totally imagine myself spending a week there exploring the town.

Plus truffles and fried zucchini flowers please!

I love Tuscany!

visit pisa italy

3. Scaring myself at Volterra

Even older, Volterra is a neolithic settlement in Tuscany turned stunning medieval town.

Again overlooked by many tourists who chose to head to nearby San Gimignano, Volterra was another great surprise. I spent the late afternoon wandering the dark narrow streets, popping in for a coffee here and there, and maybe a wine or two because hey, we’re in Italy, before watching the skies darken into my favorite blue hour.

Staring at the beautifully preserved medieval buildings, it doesn’t take much for you to realize this is a place that has seen a whole hell of a lot of history.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

And it kills me to actually mention this, but I feel obligated to tell you that Volterra is an important place in the vampire fiction series Twilight.

The thought of Twilight makes me physically ill, and I hope none of you guys are fans, and if so, I am sorry I am not sorry to tell you to ship shape up and find some better books to read. Feel free to Tweet me for suggestions.

While the movie was shot elsewhere, in spite of it’s unfortunate relationship with the worst book series on the entire planet, Volterra is thoroughly creepy in its own right.

Home to an abandoned insane asylum that once held 6,000 patients and was shut down in the 70’s for being “too cruel.” More nightmare-induing photos here.

visit pisa italy

4. Revisiting Pisa and digging deeper

Ah and finally back to Pisa itself.

As much as I loved the rest of the region, I was nervous to head back to a place where I had such unloving memories.

Putting on my game face, I decided to keep an open mind and not dislike it out of sheer stubbornness. A problem we all have, right? Or is that just me?

Actually don’t answer that.

visit pisa italy

Of course it rained the entire day we were there.

And not just spitting rain here and there, I am talking bucketloads after bucketloads, where the streets turn into rivers and there is no hope for dry feet.

Of course in the main square in Pisa, where the famous Baptistry, Cathedral, the monumental cemetery and famous tower stand, offers no shelter whatsoever.

It was like dejavu all over again. God damnit!

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

However, the main difference between then and now is that I grew up and realized I am not allowed to dislike a place based on the weather, no matter how wet my feet were.

And being the total architecture and history nerd that I am, there’s no way I couldn’t love a place like Pisa.

The beauty of the main square is unparalleled in the rest of Italy, and it’s so beautiful, with the pure white marble echoing across the vivid green grass covered in Asian tourists trying to take the iconic “holding up the tower” picture.

Which of course I indulged in.

visit pisa italy

The last night we went out with a bang at the Bagni di Pisa Palace and Spa. At this point I had seen so many hotels around Tuscany for work, I was about to cry, and I would have been perfectly happy sleeping in a hostel if that meant the freedom from looking for hotel flaws and evaluating room decor.

(I feel like I should add I was not obligated to mention any of these hotels on my blog, but I picked my favorites that I couldn’t resist sharing, because look at them!! I’m not a hotel whore, I swear!)

 

Though of course they saved the best for last, putting us up in the magnificent Bagni di Pisa. An historic luxury spa hotel property 4 km outside Pisa, it was a total surprise. And yes, the palace in its name is a pretty accurate description.

It took a solid minutes to walk to my room.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

Images courtesy of Bagni di Pisa.

Now, have you seen the Grand Budapest Hotel?

First off, if not, go see it now, it’s Wes Anderson at his finest. Anyways, I digress.

The story is centered around the Grand Budapest, one of those incredible luxurious turn of the century European hotels where people went on vacation, you know, just for the hotel.

The Bagni di Pisa felt EXACTLY the same way! The Italian version! It’s as if time has stopped somewhere around 1915 and as you walk down the corridors you’ve stepped back in time. Like I felt there should be bells rung so we could go back to our rooms and have our maids dress us for dinner, Downton Abbey style.

And like the rest of Pisa, this palace has also yet to be discovered by tourists. What a gem!

Basically they had to drag me out of the marble spa and hot pools after they closed. I am not joking.

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

visit pisa italy

If I had to put my finger on a reason why I came to love the Pisa region of Tuscany, it must be because while it is totally overlooked by traditional tourists, it’s filled with amazing and beautiful spots.

Gotta love a place with character and layers! After all, over the years I’ve found that some of the most worthwhile destinations are the ones you have to look past the surface to begin to love.

I could be wrong but I have a feeling Pisa won’t stay a secret for long, and if you want my advice, go there now and spend a few days in the countryside exploring.

Don’t just go to see a lame leaning tower. Pisa is so much more than that.

Have you been to Pisa? Did you see more than just the tower? Would you be interested in exploring some of these small Tuscan towns one day? 

visit pisa italy

 Many thanks for Casale Podernovo and the Pisa Province for hosting me in Tuscany – like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own. Like you could expect less from me!

41 Responses to Postcards from Pisa, Italy

  1. Dana July 13, 2014 at 1:40 am #

    Hi!

    I was in Italy for the first time this past May. I like Italy but I prefered France. For my first trip we explored Tuscany, Venice, and Rome. We only did Pisa a half day and did not get to dig deep like you. Unfortunately it can be so hard on a tight budget. It seems like you go back to italy again and again, which is great! Thanks for the photos!

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

      Yeah I keep going back, I’m definitely drawn to it. The good thing about places like the pisa region is that they can be significantly cheaper than the more touristy areas, I hope you get the chance to go back!

      • NZ Muse July 16, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

        I can definitely see why – Italy is my favourite country, mainly for the food!

  2. Laura July 13, 2014 at 1:43 am #

    Hah, I visited Pisa for the first (and only) time at 19 too, and my initial impressions were similar to yours. I guess I should give it another shot!

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

      Definitely!

  3. Zoe @ Tales from over the Horizon July 13, 2014 at 2:31 am #

    I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Pisa when I went, I need to revisit it too. My favourite place in Tuscany has to be Siena. 🙂

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

      I haven’t been I need to go back!

  4. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer July 13, 2014 at 2:49 am #

    Wow! There is so much to do in that area! I might have to readjust my schedule a little bit for Italy and stay in Pisa a little longer! Thanks for the tips Liz I will definitely be clipping this 😀

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

      It really is a special place worth exploring!

  5. Trevor Huxham July 13, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    That cathedral—wow! Before you posted pics of it to your Instagram last summer I had no idea the cathedral was such a gem. It really amazes me that it was built in the Romanesque style and yet is so articulated, luminous, and vibrant, a stark contrast with the often dark, somber, and primitive Romanesque-style churches and cathedrals you see in Spain.

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Yeah it really is an awesome cathedral!

  6. Teryn July 13, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Hey there! I love the post- this trip looks like an absolute dream! My mom and I have been trying to plan a girls trip to Italy for a while now so your destinations gave me some new ideas! Lovely pictures 🙂

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Ah exciting, be sure to spend some time in Tuscany!

  7. Matt July 13, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    Liz what app do you use to add text to your photos?

    I think all of these photos are gorgeous and they really make me want to return to Tuscany. Most beautiful part of Italy, in my opinion!

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      I just use Picasa!

  8. Mike of Mapless Mike July 13, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I wish I would have spent more time in Pisa and the surrounding area after seeing all your pictures. Next time I’m there I’ll be sure to spend more than half a day there!

    • Liz July 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Go back soon!

  9. amelie88 July 13, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    I’m sorry to admit the Twilight books were the ones that clued me in to Volterra’s existence. After reading all books back to back back in college in an OMG NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, I left the books alone for awhile. Re-read the first one a bit later only to be horrified with “Oh my god, why did I ever think this was good??” If you’ve never been on the Reasoning with Vampires Tumblr (in which the girl points out very hilariously all the flaws in Stephanie Meyer’s poor writing), definitely look at it, it’s amazing.

    But on the bright side, now I know about Volterra and maybe will go there myself someday.

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      haha it’s a pretty cool town!

  10. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling July 13, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    How good are zucchini flowers!! This might sound incredibly hipster-pretentious but I can no longer eat tapas unless zucchini flowers are involved.

    And this whole region looks so beautiful. And lol, I thought the name Volterra was familiar. OK, I’ve read the books and seen the movies, but I’m not a Twihard, I swear. I’m a bit like amelie88, when I read the series at first I was like wow, no wonder so many people are into this! And then by the end of the last book I was like, yeah, this is just getting ridiculous now.

    Still, it’s not as bad as 50 Shades Of Grey. *vomits*

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

      agreed xx

  11. Bekka July 13, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    I’ve never been to Italy, though it is certainly on my list. But after seeing this post it’s definitely bumped up a few spots closer to my “next destination”. I can’t get over how incredible Pisa looks and you’re definitely right, there’s so much more than the tower to explore and experience. That last hotel literally looks devine, and I’m so glad you had a better experience second time around!

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

      Me too! Italy gets better and better every time!

  12. Katie @ The World on my Necklace July 14, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    LOVE Tuscany! I have only been to Pisa of the above places but I actually kind of liked it and thought that the tower and square were quite beautiful – I was there on a perfect sunny day though. I wanted to go to Volterra but ran out of time but managed to go to Greve and Montefioralle in Chianti (my favourite), Florence, Siena and Cortona and I loved them all. It may have made a difference going in September as the crowds weren’t crazy. Will definitely go back to Tuscany to explore more 🙂

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

      Sounds like you have to go back soon!

  13. Captain Miller July 15, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    Prosciutto or jamón? 🙂

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

      toughie but always jamón!

  14. zaby July 15, 2014 at 1:30 am #

    Your photos are amazing

  15. Clay July 15, 2014 at 3:59 am #

    Beautiful pictures and post :)!

  16. Candice @ The Let's Go Ladies July 15, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    I actually would be interested in visiting Volterra because of Twilight.

    I read the Twilight books, and I did not hate them. I’ve read A LOT worse. At the very least, I can say they entertained me enough to want to know what happened next. And most of my travel plans are because of pop-culture or geeky reasons (Game of Thrones tour, hells yeah), so this place might actually end up on my bucket list. Because of Twilight. I’m sorry.

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      haha I’ll try not to judge too harshly 😉

  17. Meghan @ MNMs Adventures July 15, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    Pisa rained on you too?! You could have been describing our day there to a tee – it was torrential rain all day and my feet were so so wet! That being said Tuscany is a dream – we got engaged in Siena in Il Campo (the square) in 2002 and we went back there on our honeymoon all the way from NZ two years later. It is one of my favourite places in the whole world – did you get to San Gimignano – it’s also a very cool town with 13 medieval towers 🙂

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

      Ah I didn’t, I really want to go back!

  18. Victoria July 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Yep! I’ve been to Pisa a few times. In fact, we went just two years ago as part of our three- week-around-Tuscany family trip. We rented a car, started from Florence and worked our way around Tuscany until we got to Pisa, before flying back to Berlin! We stayed in a mixture of hostels, a country house, a villa, a farm, and a hotel. Pisa was the hotel part. We stayed in the 1837, Royal Victoria Hotel. On the river. It was lovely. 🙂

    I love going to Pisa and the surrounding towns and indeed, we also went to Volterra. Amazing! I haven’t read any of the Twilight books as I think that they’re for a certain type of woman (Ahem!), but I do like the films since Robert Patterson is a fellow British person, and I like to support British actors in Hollywood LOL!

    Thanks for sharing babe. The photos are fantastic. 🙂

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

      What a cool family trip!

  19. Matthew July 23, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    I was just in Pisa a month ago and I’m in Le Marche right now! Pisa was a fantastic city and I wish I could’ve explored it more. Any suggestions for young college travelers like me who want to explore the areas you mention but can’t afford to rent a car?

    • Liz July 31, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

      Cool! Maybe a tour or a by bus. Italy and most of europe has awesome public transport!

  20. Yzzah Diaz August 5, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    Wow! After reading this, I’m totally sold out on the idea of visiting that place. Your description somehow makes me want to visit that place right now. The pictures are so beautiful! And just as you said about Volterra (not the Twilight information ’cause I’m not really a fan), it seems so historical and mysterious. Aren’t there a lot of people visiting Volterra? Well, hope I can visit those places soon!

    • Liz September 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

      Yay that makes me happy to hear

  21. Arjun simkhada September 23, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    It is Really very interesting to hear that you have already visit 40 more countries in your early age.among those 40 country have you ever visit Nepal, the birth place of Buddha where top of the world highest mountain Mt. Everest lies. if not please manage your time to visit beautiful & peaceful country Nepal.

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