Tuscany - Siena or Cortona

Old Apr 29th, 2007, 04:40 PM
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Tuscany - Siena or Cortona

I am going to be in Rome for work and thought of taking a few days off to see Tuscany. I've seen the major highlights of Rome, Florence and Venice, so interested in seeing the beautiful rolling hills. I have 3 days (4 nights). I can't decide between Siena or Cortona. Everything I've read says, if you want to experience Tuscany, go to Siena. Will it be packed with buildings like Florence or will it have the country side feel to it? Since I will have a lot of luggage, I am looking to stay in one place. Also, I'm still undecided about renting a car as I am not that brave. So planning to take the train from Rome to one of these two places. Any help appreciated -- Looking for natural beauty like in the movies and serenity of sorts rather than the packed sight seeing type of trip
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Old Apr 29th, 2007, 05:04 PM
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You're going to need a car to explore the beatiful rolling hills. I've seen a few group "excursions" advertised in the tourist offices of towns in Tuscany, but it seems they mostly go from hill village to hill village and don't spend much time (if any) "getting lost" in the countryside. You could hire a private car, but that would be expensive.

Siena is a city & you won't experience the pretty countryside from there if you plan to head out & try to explore it on foot. Cortona is a small village, but there is very little pretty countryside immediatly around it, IMO.

Most of those scenes of rolling hills topped with cypress trees & umbrella pines, the small church on a knoll, etc. that you saw in "Under the Tuscan Sun" were filmed in the Val d'Orcia around Pienza & San Quirico. I happen to like San Quirico - where you can head out on foot & explore the stuff you are looking for - but a car would even be better. The roads around there are not that crowded if you take many of the dirt roads - which are the most scenic.

Stu Dudley
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Old Apr 29th, 2007, 05:34 PM
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I thought Siena was perfect for exploring Tuscany, in particular Hotel Santa Caterina. The room we had had a balcony (the only one) overlooking the very hills you describe with a garden for breakfast that has the same view that makes you reluctant to leave.
But the other side of the hotel was just outside Porto Romano that led to the centro storico of Siena, a short walk, if you are so inclined, or an even shorter bus ride with the stop just outside the hotel.
The hotel also had parking available, and once you get your bearings it's a pretty straight shot to those hill towns you've heard so much about - San G, Montereggioni, Monatalcino, et al.
I can't compare it to Cortona since we haven't been - we're going this year.
As for driving, all the horror stories about Italian drivers are just that - stories! Our two - two week trips to Italy involved mostly driving and we remark to this day that we never saw an accident - not on the secondary roads, not on the autostrada. The same can't be said for our trips in Atlanta. If you can get over you fears, driving really is the only way to explore the countryside. How else can you stop where the mood strikes and not the bus driver's schedule. Our best "finds" were not even in our guide books - Montereggioni, Montagnana, Caserta, to name a few.
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Old Apr 29th, 2007, 05:37 PM
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Thanks for your reply. So, for the rolling hills (and I just finished watching "Shadows In the Sun"), would you recommend skipping Siena and doing another little village. If so, are you suggesting Cortona is a better base or do you have another recommendation.
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Old Apr 29th, 2007, 08:47 PM
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Nope - not Cortona. Try Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, San Quirico, Monticchiello. If you don't want to rent a car, pick up a bike in Pienza.

Stu Dudley
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 08:18 AM
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Neither!
Siena is fairly big and creates problems getting in and out depending on the times and days you travel. I also rent a car for my trips to Italy and agree that driving is not a problem, but not in cities and at time not around Siena. Not terrible, but I've hit traffic jams on Sundays, on Saturday nights (football game in town)-coming and going.
Why mess with the hassle for such a short stay?
It also is not an ideal base for " seeing the beautiful rolling hills".
There are places you can stay that you can see those hills from your balcony.
While Cortona is amongst rolling hills and is lovely,IMHO it's not a great base to see many of the towns and scenery.
I agree with Stu to stay in the Val D' Orcia area. It best defines "beautiful rolling hills". Driving there shold equal no problem. East actually.
What you are looking for is there. Don't worry about the car.
I'd actually train to Orvieto and start your trip with some beautiful hills and after some time there,head towards the Montalcino area.
If you don't want a car, stay in Orvieto.
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 08:34 AM
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As a contrary position, we loved Siena as a base but did not stay within the walls. We stayed at a great B & B right outside the walls with free parking and good access to roads through Chianti, toward Cortona, Montalcino, Montelpulciano and San Gimignano and Pienza. It was also just up the street from the bus stop into the city (about a 10 minute ride) with free parking. Check out Franceslodge.it.
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 12:29 PM
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We followed Stu Dudley's advice for our 2005 trip to Tuscany and it was wonderful. Our home base was Montepulciano. I wasn't too crazy about Cortona actually but Montepulciano, Montalcino and Pienza are all what you are looking for.
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Old Apr 30th, 2007, 12:37 PM
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On the other hand, if you don't plan to rent a car, Siena has some of the best bus connections for making dyatrips to other hilltowns.
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 03:59 PM
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Thank you so much to all of you for your input! I feel much more confident now (even about driving) about venturing on this alone .. more so than when I started thinking about it. So my plan is
Fri - Take train from Rome to Pienza
- Stay in Pienza (found a place!)
- Explore on foot
Sat - Rent a car
- Check out Montepulciano , San Quirca
Sunday - Drive around some more .. slow pace ... checkout the scenic drive I found between Montepulciano and Montalcino - return car

Monday - keeping it open -- may be a day trip to Siena by bus ... and also thinking of heading back to Rome in the evening via train to be close to airport (not sure if any good place to stay by airport)

Tuesday - Fly home on 10:30AM

That sounds doable and reasonable .. any comments?




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Old May 2nd, 2007, 04:38 PM
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There is no train station in Pienza. Take the train to Orvieto, rent a car, stow the bags in the car, visit Orvieto, return to the car, & drive to Pienza (1 hr).

Keep the car till you leave Tuscany, perhaps even till the morning you depart from Rome. Last time I rented a car in Tuscany, the cost was the same for 3 days as 7 days.

E-mail me at [email protected] to get my Italy itinerary - which includes lots of scenic drives around the Pienza area. It also has some info about walks in that region.

Stu Dudley
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 10:53 PM
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My granddaughter (12 yrs. old) and I just came back from Europe. Spent 2 weeks in Italy. Drove a car in Rome, to Sorrento; then drove to So. Tuscany; Drove to all the hill towns including Cortona and then drove to Florence and from there to Venice. If I can drive (I am a female) all over Italy, anyone can drive, ESPECIALLY IN TUSCANY! Driving in So. Tuscany is a piece of cake. Seeing the gorgeous countryside, which you cannot do unless you rent a car, is priceless!

We enjoyed Siena; Loved Pienza, Cortona, San Gimignano, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Volterra. Would be hard pressed to choose one over the other. Just see whatever time allows, (or you allow.)

We saw a number of countries, but the country that impressed my granddaughter the most was Italy, because of all of the history!

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Old May 4th, 2007, 03:17 PM
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Hi Traveler 2 -- that sounds like a very lovely trip -- I can't wait to experience that myself and report back... I am getting braver... to save time and due to very constrained time restrictions on auto rental places in country side, I am now looking at renting right out of Rome Airport and driving north .. and after some consideration (especially since I won't have a navigator) ... figured it's best to also rent a GPS ... so yes, significant progress in my trip plans and confidence .. now ... I just can't wait!
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Old May 4th, 2007, 11:13 PM
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I rented through AutoEurope and they used Europcar. I had to pick it up in downtown Rome as it was the only place that had GPS, which I rented with the car, however when I picked up the car they had no GPS available. I am not happy about being told I would be available, as I really counted on the GPS because of our situation. It would have saved us countless hours (3 + hours) that we spent trying to find our hotel in Florence; as well as taking wrong autostrada in Bologna. As I mentioned, driving in So. Tuscany was a piece of cake. If I do it again I will take a GPS with me. (You do have to get maps for Europe) but other fodorites do it.

I also agree with Stu. We stayed in San Quirico and really love the area around it, which includes Pienza, which I think would be an excellent choice.

Talking about all this makes me want to get on a plane and go back. This time I would spend my time only in Rome and the Val D"Orcia.

Have a wonderful trip!
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Old May 5th, 2007, 05:16 AM
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Okay someone will flame me for this but:

Why not take the car in Rome and drive to Tuscany? We did that when staying in Montepulciano a couple of years ago and it was NO big deal to get out of Rome (if you choose your pick-up point carefully).

I didn't have GPS and would not have known how to use it if we had had. But I printed out our routes, using mappy.com, and had a good basic map of Tuscany.

We paid no drop off, BTW, the last 2 times we rented in Italy -- so you might drop off in Orvieto, or somewhere nearer Rome, or in Rome or at FCO........
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Old May 5th, 2007, 08:33 AM
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Hi R,

Another solo countryside driver here! I wouldn't want to hassle with driving in the larger citis, but zipping around Tuscany and Umbria without a navigator or a GSP is a piece of cake.

Buon viaggio!
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Old May 5th, 2007, 10:08 AM
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to really appreciate tuscany i would travel by car. the driving is pretty easy, not too much traffic in the countryside. my husband and i have travelled by train and car around tuscany, but you can't really enjoy the scenery if you're on a train. a train is good if you want to get from one place to another in a hurry. tuscany is for rambling around getting lost, finding an out of the way cafe, or local hotel.
have fun! ciao
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