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Stay at I Giullari in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence

May 02, 2019 Written by: Pascale Hughes for I-News
I Giullari close to Florence villa, drone view

Pascale Hughes take a Da Vinci tour in and around Florence following in the steps celebrating his life 500 years since his death. 

The climb up Monte Ceceri is by one of many trails that meander through the Florentine hills. It winds past olives trees and rows of vines, then, higher, under cypresses, stone pines and prickly pears.
Glimpses of Tuscan farmland, the faded ochre of grand Medici villas and soft smudges of smoke from burning olive branches can be seen when the branches thin. It’s impossible not to stop in wonder, taking in this most Italian of views at every bend – but that’s not why I’m here. 

More than five centuries ago, Leonardo da Vinci climbed this same path, directing a party carrying ropes, wood, fustian and silk – materials he would assemble into a flying machine. 

It’s not a particularly long climb – I reach the top in under an hour. A hazy, pink Florence is far below to the west, and the ground drops away sharply ahead of me. Legend has it that Leonardo’s assistant, TommasoMasini, was strapped into the machine before leaping off the edge here. He glided through the air before losing control and crash-landing a kilometre away, near the town of Fiesole –alive but with many broken bones. A startled farmer found him and wheeled him back to Leonardo in the back of his wagon. 

Many places lay claim to Leonardo, perhaps the most famous polymath of the Italian Renaissance, who died 500 years ago, on 2 May 1519. As an engineer, he was one of the first Europeans to explore the science of flight; he studied everything from palaeontology to architecture. And his paintings and frescoes, of course, remain some of the most famous works of art around today. 

Milan is perhaps where he was most productive, living there from 1482 to 1499 as he worked for Ludovico Sforza and created everything from the city’s canal system, which still works today, to The Last Supper. He spent many of his later years in Rome, and died in Amboise, in the Loire Valley.But it is Tuscany, where he was born, and Florence, where he trained, that perhaps reveal the most about Leonardo’s life and influences. 

Art and patronage 

From the narrow streets with shrines at their corners, to grand palazzos with coats of arms crowning every angle, Florence is in many ways unchanged since the days of Leonardo. He came to the city aged 15 as an apprentice to painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio, before becoming an artist in his own right, supported by Lorenzo de’ Medici. 

Leonardo came to the city aged 15 as an apprentice to painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio.

Thanks to the patronage of the Medicis and wealthy guilds, the city was fertile ground for artists – Lorenzo’s patronage was instrumental to the Renaissance – and today, their legacy lives on in a trove of art and architecture. The enormous Uffizi Galleries read like a who’s who of Renaissance masters and have several of Leonardo’s works. Room 15, which opened last year, is dedicated to the paintings of Leonardo and the artists who inspired and admired his work: from Verrocchio to Luca Signorelli, Lorenzo di Crediand Pietro Perugino. The unfinished Adoration of the Magi shows Leonardo’s revolutionary sfumato technique – in his words, “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke”. 

Next to the Uffizi, the legend of Leonardo’s lost painting, The Battle ofAnghiari, lives on in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Salone dei Cinquecento – Hall of the Five Hundred – where the city’s 500-member grand council conducted its affairs. 

The fresco showing Florence and its allies defeating Milan in June 1440 was considered one of Leonardo’s finest works by his contemporaries, but it disappeared when the room was renovated in 1563. It’s thought that it could lie hidden behind one of the frescoes by Vasari that now line the walls – Vasari, who admired Leonardo’s work, included the words “Cercatrova” (“Seek and you shall find”) in one of them. 

Beyond Florence 

Thirty kilometres west, and far from the tourists, street vendors and slightly harassed Florentines, is Vinci, the town that gave Leonardo his name. The illegitimate son of a respected lawyer and a peasant woman, he grew up 3km away in a farmhouse in Anchiano, high in the Tuscan hills. 

Today, it’s a museum, the Casa Natale di Leonardo, where his links to the area are explored through copies of his drawings of the countryside, and a Leonardo hologram tells visitors about his life in Tuscany. 

The house is on a network of paths ranging over the Montalbano hills. The narrow Strada Verde path connects Anchiano to Vinci, trailing 3km through ancient olive groves and past fragrant rosemary hedges. 

Halfway down is Villa del Ferrale, a grand estate with a digital exhibition of da Vinci’s paintings. The opportunity to stare at a full-size Last Supper without being ushered out after your allotted time makes up for it not being the original. 

Villa del Ferrale, a grand estate, has a digital exhibition of da Vinci’s paintings, including the Last Supper

At the bottom of the trail, in Vinci itself, the Museo Leonardiano– spread across a castle and a neighbouring palazzo – contains miniature, moving models of Leonardo’s inventions, including machines for weaving and lifting heavy objects, and a section on his anatomical studies. An exhibition exploring the impact of the local landscape on his work runs until October and the Uffizi has lent an early drawing depicting the mountains of Montalbano. 

This scenery, whether sketched or painted with oils in shades of blue, appears in the background of almost all Leonardo’s art, no matter where it was painted, an echo of the land that shaped him. 

Travel essentials 

Getting there


Vueling flies from Gatwick to Florence from £80, and British Airways flies from London City. Otherwise fly to Pisa – an hour away by bus. Regional departures include EasyJet and Jet2. You can go by train too – from London to Paris, then changing at Milan. It’s easiest to break overnight in Paris. 

Staying there

Tuscany Now & More has IGiullari, a villa in the hills above Florence which sleeps 18, from £176 per person per week (£3,165 total). A three-day Leonardo da Vinci tour costs £465pp including transport. 

In town, Riva Lofts has doubles from £130, B&B. 

More information

Entry to the Uffizi costs £17.30, closed Mondays. Palazzo Vecchio costs £20.30. In Vinci, entry to the Museo Leonardiano, the Casa Natale and Villa del Ferrale costs £11. 


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