It’s worth going to Padua just to see Giotto’s masterpiece in this chapel. The fresco cycle has been brilliantly and painstakingly restored; to prevent further damage you have to spend 15 minutes in an air-conditioned chamber before you can go in. Once in, it’s breathtaking, every surface bursting with colour and life. Giotto was the first artist to portray Christ as a real person and the story of his life covers the walls of the chapel while the entire wall above the chapel entrance is covered by his terrifying depiction of the Last Judgement. Just remember to book your tickets in advance online.
In Sardinia, spend a morning wandering around the Bronze Age megalithic ‘nuraghi’ that dot the island. Little is known about the nuragic people or their culture although most archaeologists assume the buildings were used as religious temples, meeting halls, or military strongholds. The best example, dating from somewhere around the twelfth century BC, is Su Nuraxi Barumini. The complex includes the fortress and the village surrounding it. Walk through the village where you can see remains of stone huts and then climb down the narrow stone steps that lead to the fortress to get the real atmosphere. From the inside there are several chambers off the main tower and looking up you can see the blue sky through the dome at the top.
If you want an authentic medieval Tuscan competition but don’t fancy battling the crowds in Siena’s palio, go to Montepulciano for the Bravìo delle Botti on the last Sunday in August. The eight contrade of Montepulciano compete for the Bravìo, a beautifully painted cloth banner by rolling barrels weighing 80 kilos in an uphill race for more than a kilometre. The barrels are rolled by two athletes called "spingitori" and the race winds through the streets of the town’s historical centre until it reaches the churchyard of the Duomo in Piazza Grande. The townspeople dress up in lavish medieval costumes and a number of important ceremonies take place on the morning of the race, while in the afternoon there is a procession to prepare the entrants for the event itself. The festival is also an excellent opportunity to sample some of the 'vino nobile' wine which comes from this area of Tuscany.
Take a day trip to Montalcino, a medieval walled town set high on a hill. Spend the morning wandering around its narrow streets and squares before going to sample the world famous Brunello wine. The most atmospheric place to do this is in the Enoteca La Fortezza, situated inside the 14th century fortress that dominates the skyline. The stone vaults are filled with excellent wines and you can also buy local prosciutto, salami and pecorino cheese. Glasses of Brunello start at about €4 and the friendly staff are happy to help if you need some advice on which wine to choose.
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