Tuscany or Porto ?

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Tuscany or Porto?

It has been a couple of weeks since I published my post about Tuscany, so it’s time for a new story. But, some doubt…are we going to continue in Tuscany today, or are we going to enjoy street art and delicious food in Porto?

The decision came last Saturday, after an Italian party. Without thinking too much about it, I had accepted an invitation to an Italian community party here in the Algarve. But when the evening approached, I honestly felt a little nervous. It was to be a party for Italians only, so only Italian would be spoken, and my spoken Italian is not that good…Besides, I don’t know anyone there “Nessuno!”

That afternoon, I almost threw in the towel, but I had a serious conversation with myself, using the words, “you’ve been through much worse”-😊 So I went…

And I am so glad I did. It was a really nice evening, filled with fantastic Italian food, good live music and, most of all, great people! Everyone was up for a chat with “the odd one out,” and they were all equally patient with me. Of course, you may wonder why I wanted to go to that party in the first place? Well, the reason is simple: after a year of home study, I wanted to practice my Italian conversation, and I can tell you that I practised a lot!

That evening, as a starter, we ate delicious focaccia with different toppings, such as caramelised red onions, cherry tomatoes and rosemary. Yesterday, I tried to make these focaccia variations at home and they were delicious. So, to get the necessary holiday feeling, I will gladly share the recipes with you at the end of this article.

We ended the evening with a dance, and I drove back to Carvoeiro in complete happiness, thanks to the people of “Casa Italia” – Grazie mille a tutti, e stata molto divertente!


The decision has been made – today we are going back to Tuscany! Last time, we ended in Abbadia Sicille and, from there, we continued to Siena. After a 40-minute drive, we reached the centre of Siena. We parked the car in a place indicated by our GPS, and when I saw the difference in altitude between the carpark and the historical centre, my spirits dropped. Not because I don’t like the idea of walking up, but for some of my fellow travellers, this was a bit too much…but again, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out that a number of enormous escalators made the journey to the historical centre a piece of cake. The tour guide was saved again …☺. Viva Italia!  The city of Siena is really a dream and, again, a “piazza” is one of the most important places in the city.  This time it was Piazza del Campo.

Piazza del Campo is a shell-shaped, slightly sloping square with the impressive Palazzo Pubblico as its main feature. The most striking thing about the Palazzo Pubblico is its enormous 102-metre-high tower, the “Torre del Mangia.” Today, the Palazzo Pubblico serves as the city hall.

Palio della Contrade

Twice a year (2 July and 16 August) in this square, the Palio delle Contrade, a horse race in which the 17 city districts compete against each other, is held. Each district has one representative on horseback who tries to drive, as fast as possible, 3 laps around the square.

Unfortunately, we were too late for this spectacle, and, moreover, it is perhaps not the wisest thing to do in these corona times 😉…. so here is a borrowed photo.

Duomo di Siena

A stone’s throw away from Piazza del Campo, you will find the Duomo (cathedral) of Siena.  This beautiful Gothic-style cathedral dates back to the 12th century, and important artists like Michael Angelo (there he is again 😉) have contributed to it. The façade is so richly decorated that it almost makes you dizzy. There is so much to see that you hardly know where to start. What an incredible masterpiece! 

Next to the Duomo, you will find the “Campanile” (the bell tower) with an impressive height of 77 metres. In my opinion, this tower looks very much like the bell tower next to the “Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore” in Florence. 

If you walk from the Piazza del Campo to the Piazza del Duomo, just before you reach the Duomo, you will pass under an enormous arch. This arch is actually a side door in the façade of a part of the Cathedral that was never finished due to lack of money. It is hard to imagine how enormous this cathedral would have been if the work had been completed…


From Siena, we continue to Monteriggioni, an old fortified town whose ramparts are still intact and where everything breathes history. Monteriggioni is a very small town but has a few good restaurants, so a good stop for lunch.

Monteriggioni is often the setting for advertisements and films such, as Stealing Beauty, Prince of Foxes and, my absolute favourite, The English Patient!

Colle di Val d’Elsa

Famous for its crystal glasses and Pinocchio, Colle di Val d’Elsa is a gem in the Tuscan countryside… but I will not bore you with any more details. The pictures speak for themselves!

In the meantime, the travellers in the back of the car have very sore bottoms, as the suspension of the BMW does not turn out to be optimal and the back seat is quite uncomfortable. So maybe the next time in Italy we should hire an Italian car?

Now, it is time to find our hotel in San Gimignano. This was quite a challenge as the GPS of the same BMW sent us a couple of times in the wrong direction. In the end, the solution was the old-fashioned way: ask a local for directions. The rooms in the hotel “Relais Cappucina” are fine and the staff is very friendly, but the restaurant in the hotel was the first (and fortunately the only) culinary disappointment during the entire trip. In its parking lot, you will find a huge collection of “Vespas”, which I love. ❣

Speaking of Vespas, there is a very nice film on Netflix about the origin of the Vespa. It takes place right after World War II and is based on a true story. Really worth watching! Click here for a link to the film Piaggio”

San Gimignano

The next morning, we awoke to a view of the beautiful San Gimignano. The silhouettes of the 14 famous towers look fairytale-like in the rising sun. These towers were built between the 12th and 14th centuries by the richest families of San Gimignano. The towers (once there were 72) served as homes and defences, but, above all, as prestige objects. The higher the tower, the richer the family.

From San Gimignano, we drive through the beautiful Tuscan landscape to Pisa and Lucca. The undulating landscape with its extensive vineyards and olive groves and the tall cypress trees form a magical picture that never bores.

Because this post is going to be too long again, I will skip Pisa and Lucca. I suspect that you have seen the leaning tower before 😀. So, here are the promised recipes.

Cipolle Caramellate – caramelised red onions

This is my absolute favourite as a topping on focaccia or bruschetta, and it’s so wonderfully easy to make.


  • 1kg red onions
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Pepper and salt
  • Olive oil


Clean the onions and cut them in quarters (they may be a little coarse). Place the onions in a large frying pan and sprinkle them with olive oil. Let the onions slowly become soft/glazy on moderate heat.

Add the 2 large tablespoons of sugar while stirring, allow to cook for 5 minutes and then add half a tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar. Stir well and finally add pepper and salt to taste. With a lid on the pan, let it cook for about half an hour on a low flame.

The onions are ready when they are soft/glazy and a little syrupy.



  • 450 gr flour
  • 400 ml water
  • A smooth spoonful of salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 packet of yeast (7gr)


In a large bowl, mix the flour, the yeast packet and the two tablespoons of sugar. Then, while stirring, slowly add the water.

When the dough is reasonably firm, add the salt and mix it again with the rest of the water. Now, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and knead the dough until it becomes soft and elastic. Sprinkle a thin layer of flour over the dough and cover the bowl with plastic foil. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Line a large, square baking tray with baking paper and brush with olive oil.

Pour the dough onto the baking tray and sprinkle with olive oil. Spread the dough all over the baking tray and let it rise again in a warm place for half an hour.

Mix half a glass of water with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (stir well) and brush this mixture over the dough. Make the well-known “dents” in the dough with your fingertips and finally sprinkle the dough with coarse (sea) salt.

Bake the focaccia in a hot air oven for about 25 minutes at 180ºC and in a normal oven for about 25 minutes at 190ºC.

To make it even easier/clearer, you can watch a short video of the recipe here. Video Focaccia preparation

You can also combine the focaccia with roasted cherry tomatoes, rosemary and other vegetables.

Buon apetito !

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and, next time, we will be back with news from Portugal. Stay healthy!

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch) Português (Portuguese (Portugal))



  • Anja 07/12/2021 at 4:58 pm Reply

    Echt!!!!!je moet alles bundelen! Gaat een best-seller worden! I am so proud! ❤️

    • johanna 18/12/2021 at 10:32 am Reply

      Dat zou ik ook echt graag willen maar ik denk nog steeds dat ze daarvoor niet goed genoeg zijn……❤❤❤

  • Nicki 08/12/2021 at 9:23 am Reply

    Joke, for those of us who haven’t been able to travel you create the most wonderful ‘armchair’ journeys! I was back in Sienna, which I last visited some 38 years ago! Enjoying the Tuscan countryside. And your photography is wonderful. Happy, happy Christmas Joke and I hope I will see you in 2022.

    • johanna 18/12/2021 at 10:34 am Reply

      Thanks Nicki ! Thats is so good to know. I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas and all the best for 2022 !!

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