When Traveling to Tuscany, why Pisa?
February 12, 2015
Next time you’re planning a trip to Italy, consider flying into Pisa. During the summer months, airlines often serve Pisa with non-stop flights from the US, making it even more convenient for many travelers than flying into Florence. Pisa is the perfect starting point to explore the delightful city itself, as well as nearby Lucca, the many villas, and even the popular Cinque Terre area just north of Pisa. In today’s blog, I’ll reveal my jet lag recovery formula, found only minutes from the Pisa airport. Then we’ll travel the few kilometers into the city center, and learn why Pisa is about so much more than its bell tower.
Hotel Bagni di Pisa
Nestled along the base of Mount San Giuliano in the hamlet of the same name, the 5-star Hotel Bagni di Pisa is the ideal spot for recovery from jet lag when flying into Pisa’s Galileo Galilei airport.
The summer spa residence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in the mid-1700s, the villa that is now the Bagni di Pisa has hosted many greats including Gustav of Sweden, George IV of England, and Percy and Mary Shelley. It had fallen nearly to ruins in recent decades, but was recently resurrected by the capable management of the Wellness Spa Company. Although it’s bigger than most properties I recommend (about 40 rooms plus a number of suites of varying sizes and configurations), the Bagni di Pisa is so graciously managed and well maintained that I would not hesitate to return. Be sure to ask me about the Junior Suite with frescoed ceiling and loft bedroom if you plan to visit. Breakfast is outstanding. If the muesli, homemade yogurt, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and warm brioches – I could go on and on — don’t tickle your fancy, just ask the staff. Chances are they can make whatever you desire.
But the biggest reason I suggest the Bagni di Pisa for that first night in Italy after the long trip over is its spa. Spotlessly clean and run by a very professional staff, this is an oasis for the body and soul. Huge terry robes and slippers appear in your room soon after arrival. Don them (with your swimsuit underneath) and take the winding stairs all the way down. You’ll enter a calming environment where “treatment” can be as simple as a few minutes in the indoor or outdoor pool (which has the strongest jets I’ve ever experienced!) to one of a number of massages, to a trip to the “hamam”. This wonder is kept under lock and key and really is quite unique. The underground cave features an immersion tub with spring waters that gush forth from Monte San Giuliano and contain a number of curative elements. Another section of the cave offers the chance to lie on naturally heated tiles to ease aching muscles and joints. The morning after your arrival, take the 30 minute guided walk up through olive groves to a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Pisa lies a mere 4 miles from the Bagni di Pisa Hotel and a few miles from the Ligurian Sea. While Pisa is world renowned for its leaning tower (the bell tower of its lovely cathedral), I found that it offers much more. Pisa’s origins date from at least the 5th century BC, as surmised from an Etruscan necropolis discovered only in 1991. Once located right on the Ligurian sea at the mouth of the Arno, Pisa was a Roman colony and became a leading Italian naval power in the 11th century. Its power declined over the next 200 years as that of Lucca, Florence and Genoa rose. The gradual silting up of the port of Pisa contributed heavily to its decline.
Many of Pisa’s architectural gems are located on the Piazza dei Miracoli (Miracle Square), pictured above. The phenomenal Baptistry is the largest in Italy and has perfect acoustics. Our group was mesmerized when the caretaker sang a few notes while we listened to the echoes. The Monumental Cemetery, considered a de rigeur stop on the Grand Tours of Italy in the last century, is a spectacular oblong Gothic structure that was nearly destroyed by an Allied bomb in 1944. Many of the frescoes that once covered all of its walls were compromised by the bombing; restoration projects lend hope that many will be returned to their original positions over the coming years.
The city is very walkable, and we peeked into a couple of very nice hotels if you plan to stay a couple of days. Consider the sweetly frescoed 4-star Hotel Bologna, centrally located yet on a quiet street with a nice interior garden for afternoon aperitivi. Or splurge on the 5-star Hotel Orologio; although frankly I didn’t find the management to be very friendly.
Interesting “cocktail party” facts….
• Galileo Galilei, considered by many to be the father of modern science, was born in Pisa in 1564. Some of his theories of uniformly accelerated objects derived from his observations as a teenager of the swinging chandelier in Pisa’s Monumental Cemetery. We can still see this chandelier today!
• The city’s bell tower now leans at about 4 degrees after being straightened a bit during the last decade of the 20th century. That means that the top of the tower is about 12 feet from where it would stand if the structure were perfectly vertical.
Pisa would make the perfect post-tour extension after our Tasting the Lost Corners of Tuscany adventure, which will run from October 12-19, 2015. Deposits on this trip are due FEBRUARY 28, so sign up soon!