Pisa – Much More than a Leaning Tower

Pisa – Much More than a Leaning Tower

If you plan to see The Leaning Tower of Pisa, before flying out from Italy’s Galilei Airport or before taking the train to Florence from Pisa Centrale Station I’d recommend you don’t hop straight on a bus.

There’s much more to Pisa than the campanile so take time to wander through the city’s streets, people watch in a piazza and take in the atmosphere. Stop for gelato on the banks of the River Arno. You’ll see all this and more on the 1.5 km walk from The Leaning Tower back to the main Centrale Station.

The River Arno, Pisa

Pisa’s River Arno at Sunset

 

How to get from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Pisa Centrale Train Station

There are two walking routes and I’m going to take you on the longer one which is easier on the eye and only takes around half an hour depending on how long you linger. But before you leave check out my pictures of The Leaning Tower of Pisa The Field of Miracles and Pisa Cathedral.

From The Leaning Tower point yourself in the direction it’s leaning towards and head down Via Santa Maria.  There are some restaurants and trattorias down here if you want to eat before leaving and plenty more before you arrive at the station.

Via Santa Maria, Pisa

Via Santa Maria, Pisa

I have a thing about old doors and windows and couldn’t resist stopping to take a picture of this lovely old door on Via Santa Maria.  I wonder what lies behind number 108?

Old Door in Pisa

Old Door in Pisa

 

Piazza dei Cavalieri

Continue down Via Santa Maria passing Grand Hotel Duomo on your left; after this take the fourth left onto Via dei Mille, walk to the end and cross over the road onto Via Corsica.  Follow this road until you arrive at the grand Piazza dei Cavalieri or Knights’ Square.  This grand square was the political centre in medieval Pisa, where the citizens would meet to protest or celebrate.  There are statues dotted around and although some of the buildings are currently being restored they’re lovely to look at.

Palazzo della Carovana

Palazzo della Carovana

 

Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Pisa

Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Pisa

 

Walk straight through The Knight’s Square into Via Ulisse Dini where the street narrows and the scenery changes.  This street connects Piazza dei Cavalieri with Borgo Stretto and in Etruscan times was a stream.

Looking down Via Ulisse Dini

Rooftops in Via Ulisse Dini

Piazza St Felice, Pisa

Pizzeria in Piazza St Felice, Pisa

 

Medievel Columns in Via Ulisse Dini, Pisa

Medievel Columns in Via Ulisse Dini, Pisa

A small building in Via Ulisse Dini displays the medieval columns of the church of SS Felice e Regolo.  During restoration in the 20th century the columns and stonework of the original medieval building were revealed.  The old stonework really stands out against its backdrop of a modern bank.  At the end of Via Ulisse Dini you’ll come to a T junction.  Turn right and head down Borgo Stretto.

Chiesa di San Michele in Borg

This is a dark, narrow street but after a minute or two you’ll come across the contrasting brightness of the marble façade of Chiesa di San Michele in Borg, a big wedding cake of a of a building.

Chiesa di San Michele in Borgo

Chiesa di San Michele in Borgo

 

Ponte di Mezzo

Keep walking until you come to Piazza Garibaldi  right next to  the Ponte di Mezzo which crosses The River Arno.

Ponte di Mezzo, River Arno, Pisa

Ponte di Mezzo, Pisa

De’ Coltelli gelato shop

Here you have a choice – you can carry on walking over this bridge towards the station or you can take a small detour.  If you turn right from Piazza Garibaldi and walk along the banks of the Arno for about a minute you’ll come to a beautifully ornate red brick building.  But we’re not interested in that.  We’re interested in De’ Coltelli gelato shop that’s next door to it.   I had my first pistachio gelato here – one of the best gelatos I’ve ever tasted – must be due to the organic, seasonal ingredients this gelato artisan uses.  It’s worth walking to the station just for this!

Pistachio Gelato from De' Coltelli , Pisa

Pistachio Gelato from De’ Coltelli

 

I paused on the Ponti di Mezzo to to enjoy my gelato and the sunset which turned the River Arno gold and bathed the beautiful stately homes along its banks in soft sunset hues.

The River Arno, Pisa at Sunset

The River Arno, Pisa at Sunset

 

Once across the bridge carry on down Corso Italia which takes you down a pedestrian shopping street. Perfect for last-minute retail therapy.

Pisa Mover bus ticket

This street leads straight down to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.  Pisa Centrale Station is right opposite. If you’re going to the airport buy your Pisa Mover bus ticket at the station magazine kiosk in the foyer  (€1.10) You’ll need this before you get on the bus. Take the right-hand subway beneath the rails and exit the  station.  Straight ahead at the end of the path is the bus stop for the Pisa Mover bus service that’ll take you on the 7 minute ride to the Airport.  The bus departs every 10 minutes and stops in front of the departure terminal check-in A.

Pisa Centrale is Pisa’s main station with routes to many of the bigger cities in the region.  Florence is just an hour by fast train at just €7.90 single.

How to get from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Pisa Centrale Train Station

I’ve made a little map so you can see the exact route.

Map Leaning Tower to Pisa Centrale Station

From Pisa Centrale train station to the leaning tower? Easy just do it all in reverse!

Have you been to Pisa? Did you take a look around the city or did you just visit the Tower?  Do share any other places worth seeing or any tips you might have for visiting the city.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa stands, or should I say leans, in the Piazza dei Miracoli in the medieval part of Pisa.  On my journey home from Florence there was no way I could fly out of Pisa’s Galilei Airport without stopping off at the Field of Miracles to take a look at the iconic campanile, the Baptistry and Pisa Cathedral.

Given World Heritage Site status by UNESCO 25 years ago, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is just a five-minute bus ride and a 30 minute walk from the airport. Easy to squeeze in a quick visit before my flight and a lovely way to round off my trip to Tuscany.


Directions here on how to get to the Leaning Tower of Pisa from Centrale Station, Pisa


The Square of Miracles, Pisa

The Square of Miracles, Pisa

Piazza dei Miracoli or The Square of Miracles

I arrived at The Square of Miracles, which is on the perimeter of medieval Pisa, just as the sun was going down and bathing the ornate buildings in a warm, golden light. The white marble buildings stood out against the rich green of the grass of the lawns where students lay enjoying the last of the sun. There are three buildings in the square, The Baptistry, The Cathedral and, of course, Pisa’s Leaning Tower. I didn’t have time to go inside the buildings or to climb the tower but still really enjoyed my brief visit.

If you don’t want to miss out on climbing the tower like I did then it’s advisable to pre-book tickets. Check rates and availability for an all-inclusive guided tour of the Baptistry, Cathedral and leaning tower.

The Baptistry

The marble Baptistry at Pisa is also on the lean by 0.6 degrees towards the Cathedral. It stands slightly higher than the tower and is the biggest baptistry in Italy.  The lower section with rounded arches is Romanesque style and the upper sections with pointed arches are Gothic style. At first I thought my photos were completely skewed until I found out that all three buildings in the Square, and other towers in the city, are all on a bit of a lean. The sandy soil in the area is the guilty culprit for this squiffiness.

The Baptistry at Pisa

The Baptistry at Pisa

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta – Duomo

Between the Baptistry and the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands the centerpiece of the complex, the impressive Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta designed by architect Buscheto and the oldest of the three structures. Building started in 1064.  In 1595 a fire destroyed most of the Renaissance art works although many mosaics and the famous pulpit survived.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Pisa

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Pisa

The design is Romanesque but there are many influences and styles from other cultures including Byzantine and Islamic. Pisa was a Maritime Republic and trips to North Africa and the Middle East by sailors are depicted on various parts of the cathedral. The large bronze doors of the cathedral decorated with Moorish themes are right opposite the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an iconic piece of Italian architecture standing 55m high and on the tilt to 5 degrees. Of course I knew it leaned but had no idea to what extent until I saw it up close. How on earth does it not topple over!

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Construction goes back to 1173 but the bell tower was leaning before the third floor was even finished and work interrupted throughout construction. The tower is actually slightly bent from an attempt to straighten it to prevent it falling.  In 1275 the tower was enlarged and three new levels added. In 1350 the belfry was added and the tower finally completed in 1372.

Check rates and availability for an all-inclusive guided tour of the Baptistry, Cathedral and leaning tower.

There are 294 worn steps to reach the top. A gallery and arcade is located on each level except the last one where there are 7 bells. The tower was closed from 1990 to 2001 because of instability whilst engineers tried to stop the tower from toppling but it’s now open again to visitors. The Leaning Tower of Pisa actually leans a little less today due to corrective work. It’s now at the same inclination that it was 200 years ago.

Tickets for the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Check rates and availability for an all-inclusive guided tour of the Baptistry, Cathedral and leaning tower. Book online or in the Square of Miracles. I’d recommend booking in advance to avoid queues – it gets very busy in high season.

I loved watching people doing what looks like Tai Chi whilst trying get that cheesy travel shot.

Tourists posing at The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Tourists posing at The Leaning Tower of Pisa

I spent a really pleasant hour wandering the Field of Miracles and marvelling at the tipsy tower. There’s more to Pisa than the tower and I saw many more sights on my walk to Pisa airport. I also had the best gelato ever. Here’s how to get to the Leaning Tower of Pisa from Centrale Station, Pisa.

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A visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Field of Miracles

 

 

 

Catania Cafe Culture

Catania Cafe Culture

Catania’s cafes and bars are the perfect place to indulge in a cup of coffee and a cannolo when the sightseeing begins to take its toll. There are some gems when it comes to Catania’s cafes; chock full of character, charm and full of dazzling displays of the best Sicilian paticcerie. Sicily takes the sugar rush to a whole new level.

Sicilian Pastries

Sicilian Pastries

Cannoli in Sicily

Our first morning in Catania we stopped off at Caffè del Duomo on Piazza Duomo and I couldn’t wait to try Sicily’s most famous pastry – Cannoli. In the film ‘The Godfather’ there’s a classic line ‘Leave the gun. Take the cannoli’.  And after tasting one I can see why.  Holy Cannoli!  A crisp tube of fried dough is filled with rich, fresh, ricotta, sweetened with honey and sprinkled with ground pistachios – or if you prefer, chocolate shavings or candied fruit.  Worth every single calorie! We sat outside overlooking the square while I indulged in my creamy, dreamy cannolo and a cup of coffee.  Cannoli is the plural in case you were wondering.

Cannoli in Catania

Cannoli in Catania

The Caffè del Duomo has tables out on the square under shady awnings but don’t just use the waiter service – go inside and check out the interior which has a Belle Époque feel to it. Built in the 1800s, the walls are lined with curved shelves holding brightly coloured liqueurs; a bank of frosted glass lights cast a glow over a red marble counter and at the back of the café the curves continue with a stunning red marble spiral staircase. In most cafes it’s cheaper to stand and drink your coffee at the bar so if you’re just in the market for a quick Espresso out of the sun then head for the bar.  Savoury snacks are available on the hot buffet table ‘tavola calda’ if you’ve not got a sweet tooth.

Best Catania Cafe – Prestipino

The following day, during our tour of Catania’s La Pescheria and marketplace, our guide took us to the café next door to Caffe del Duomo. I hadn’t even noticed it the day before – probably too busy swooning over my cannolo. Prestipino Boutique is the smaller of two Prestipino cafes and my favourite of all that we visited.  A tiny place but big on taste. On entering I was presented with a ‘Biscotti con Mandorla’ a small, swirled almond biscuit.  Light and delicate on the outside, the swirls were slightly crisped on the outer edges but as I bit through the crispness I was surprised by a delectable marzipan paste flavoured with pistachio.   It was so good it actually brought tears to my eyes.  It really did!

Prestipino Boutique, Catania

 Prestipino Boutique Bar, Catania

A glass cabinet takes up most of the space in the café containing shelf upon shelf of deliciousness.  Fruits of Martorane are miniature works of art.   The marzipan fruits and vegetables are so perfect it seems wrong to bite into one.

Olives de Sant Agata

There’s a tray overflowing with Olives de Sant Agata; small, green, marzipan olives to commemorate Catania’s patron saint and the olive tree she sheltered beneath.  Saint Agatha was a chaste young virgin who resisted the advances of an ardent suitor, a magistrate. As punishment he had her horribly tortured including the severing of her breasts and her body rolled in hot coals. Minni di Sant’ Agata are individual Cassata cakes made to resemble breasts (complete with cherry nipple) alluding to Saint Agatha’s tortuous fate.

Minni di Sant’ Agata

Minni di Sant’ Agata

Don’t let the gruesome tale put you off, they’re actually delicious sponge cakes laced with liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese and a chocolate or vanilla cream.  A large savoury selection is also available at Prestipino Boutique and I hear their Pasta Alla Norma is a winner.

Minni di Sant’ Agata

Minni di Sant’ Agata cakes in Sicily

Organic Ice Lolly

Not strictly a café but a tiny shop with a counter onto Via Etnea sold me the best ice lolly I’ve ever had.  Sublime, natural, organic fruit ice-lollies and crushed ice drinks were on sale in every fruit flavour imaginable. I chose my favourite fruit – raspberry.  A really healthy way to keep cool. Well, until you have it dipped in white chocolate! That lolly was Out. Of. This. World.

Raspberry Iced Lolly dipped in White Chocolate

Raspberry Iced Lolly dipped in White Chocolate

Aperol Spritz

Catania Cafes have a very welcome savoury tradition which we discovered on ordering a late afternoon drink. Aperol Spritz is a bright orange aperitif made with Prosecco, Aperol (a bit like Campari) and soda water. Gin can be added for extra kick.

Aperol Spritz

A Refreshing Aperol Spritz, Catania

The Spritz cost about €7 each and came with a host of tasty nibbles; potato crisps, tomatoes, mini pizza dough balls, savoury biscuits and, of course, the Sicilian speciality Arancini (meaning ‘little oranges’ due to their colour and shape). Arancini are deep-fried rice balls stuffed with meat or mozzarella and tomato sauce or cheese and ham and are totally yummy. When we ordered we thought the drinks were a little pricey but with all those tasty treats thrown in they turned out to be great value.

Aperol Spritz and Snacks

 

Aperol Spritz and Snacks

Catania Hotel

Our Catania hotel was the Una Hotel on Via Etnea which, along with many of the bars in the city, offer a whole buffet of nibbles which you could help yourself to during the 2-3 aperitivo hours. In fact you could have skipped dinner altogether with the amount of food on offer; heaps of different canapés, salads, salami and cheeses. Perfect with a glass of Prosecco and the fabulous view from the hotel’s roof top terrace.

Check rates and availability for Una Hotel in Catania

Prosecco & Buffet at Una Hotel, Catania

Prosecco & buffet at Una Hotel, Catania

So, there you have it, Catania’s bar and café culture on a plate and there’s lots to like.  Are you a cafe person?  Which country’s café culture is your favourite?

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two cups of Italian coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting my visit to Catania.  All views, opinions and new found love for cannoli are, as always, entirely my own.

 

 

 

Catania – the City in one Day

Catania – the City in one Day

The Port city of Catania, Sicily’s second largest city, is situated on the east coast of the island, just south of where Italy puts the boot in. Mount Etna looms on the horizon, swathed in haze, huffing a near constant stream of smoke and an occasional dribble of red-hot lava.

Catania is a brooding city with many of the buildings constructed from dark grey basalt lava rock. There’s a plentiful supply. You may think at first glance that my photographs of Catania are in black and white but they’re not, that’s just the colour of the place. The city makes up for its shadowy hues with the vibrancy and atmosphere of its colourful markets, sunny disposition and the energy of a student population. So, what to do in Catania, Sicily?

Piazza Duomo Catania, Sicily

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