Exploring the Tuscan Hill Town of Fiesole
Nestled in the gentle curve between two mountains high above Florence, Italy, you’ll find Fiesole. Favored by aristocrats and wealthy Florentines for its summer breezes and stunning views, it lies across the Arno River and less than thirty minutes northeast of Florence. I think it’s the best place to see the sunset over Florence.
The ancient Tuscan hill town with Etruscan-Roman beginnings offers opportunities to explore the remains of Roman baths, a Roman amphitheater, and the grassy hill on which Leonardo da Vinci experimented with flight. For centuries, this picturesque village has inspired great literature and renaissance art.
Fiesole was a serendipitous break from Florence’s bustling city landscape for me and my friend Mary, both itinerant shutter-bugs. We found it to be an ideal place to explore while capturing a beautiful sunset over Florence.
While the ATAF Florence city bus #7 will take you to Fiesole, we took a taxi from the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence for a reasonable fare. As we left the city behind and ascended into the mountains, the landscape changed before our eyes.
Our driver dropped us off at the Piazzale Mino da Fiesole and pointed us toward the best place to see the sunset over Florence. He showed us the bus stop for our return trip later that evening on Bus #7, which run close to every half hour until just before midnight.
We arrived in the late afternoon and the sun sets early over Florence in February at 6 pm CET. That left us time to fit in a quick self-guided exploration.'As we left the city behind and ascended into the mountains, the landscape changed before our eyes.'Click To Tweet
What to See in Fiesole
The Piazzale Mino da Fiesole is the hub of the town. It’s a modest piazza with statues including a bronze of Vittorio Emanuele II and Garibaldi on horseback alongside modern, provocative art installation.
At the far end of the square between the town hall and Church of Santa Maria Primerana, we peered through display windows showcasing preserved footprints in the sand, perhaps those of the Etruscan-Romans who lived and walked in this square centuries ago.
The Romanesque bell tower (11th Century) of the San Romolo Cathedral towers over the square.
Quaint, interesting shops flank the piazza on either side, oddly bisected by the slanted foundations and rising sidewalk. To the right, we found a small shop with books and stationery. Further down the road, we passed a small grocer with vibrant lemons, artichokes, and cured meats.
San Francesco Monastery
We followed the taxi driver’s general directions up the ancient winding road toward the lookout. (Did I mention Via San Francesco was a steep climb?)
Thankful to have reached the top of the cobblestone street, the discovery of the Chapel of the Convento di San Francesco (Monastery of Saint Francis) rewarded us. I peered with disappointment through the window of the chapel’s locked door. Then, I discovered an open door to the side which led up a dark, winding stairway. Of course, I had to follow.
Doors to either side of the cramped hallway revealed tiny rooms I can only describe as “cells.” Inside each was a lovely writing desk by a window overlooking the landscape below. I decided that if this were a prison, it was just perfect for me! Imagine the seclusion and time to explore your thoughts without distraction? Turns out these were the original quarters of monks; they prayed and wrote here just above the chapel.
Lost in my own contemplations, I realized the light was fading fast. I hurried back to find Mary so we could catch the sunset we came to see.Imagine the seclusion and time to explore your thoughts without distraction? Click To Tweet
The Best Sunset Over Florence
At the base of the monastery, we found the peaceful, terraced garden that overlooks Florence. Mary and I snapped a few glowing photos as we surveyed the well-manicured gardens and found more sculptures during the “golden hour” before sunset.
Other than a young couple and the ever-present but elusive cats of Italy, we had a private view of the sunset. It was as breathtaking as we had hoped!
We were thoroughly happy to have accomplished the day’s mission, but had worked up an appetite! So, we dined on Tuscan comfort food in a small trattoria off the piazza before making the trip back to our flat in Florence.
(We had hoped to do more exploring after dinner, but–take note–as of this writing, both the Roman theater (1st century BC) and remains of Roman baths (AD 1st Century) close at 7 pm.)
After scrutinizing the bus schedule and engaging in broken conversation with the locals, we boarded Bus #7 home. (Travel Tip: Bring exact change for the bus, and note that once you step outside Florence, few locals speak English.)
While many recommend Piazzale Michaelangelo as the best place to see the sunset over Florence, I suggest instead going a little further up into the hills to Fiesole. Mary and I found it to be a perfect way to spend the afternoon filled with panoramic Tuscan views and, in my opinion, best sunset over Florence.