A leaning tower may be its claim to fame, but Pisa is also propped up by a fine Tuscan food scene. If you’ve got just one day, here’s where to go.
Although Pisa is a city of late risers, there is breakfast to be found at Lo Sfizio at Borgo Stretto 54, in the heart of Pisa. Choose an outside seat outside and enjoy a pastry or cold cuts, as you watch pedestrians pass under the mediaeval archways.
Cross the Ponte di Mezzo over the Arno to the left bank and you’ll come to the Corso Italia, Pisa’s main shopping street, where the designer clothes are stylish, but the attitude is friendlier than Florence or Milan.
Climb the Tower
Go back over the bridge and stroll to the Piazza del Duomo, the walled area enclosing four great buildings: the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Campo Santo (walled cemetery) and the wedding cake-like Leaning Tower. Entry is €15 and the experience is odd; the eyes see the entrance as flat, but the body registers the strong angle, so it feels as though you’re climbing a staircase that’s pitching and tossing. Don’t miss the cathedral – entrance free – with its massive bronze doors and startling mediaeval interior.
Time for lunch
Avoid the cafes around the Duomo and retrace your steps to the Piazza delle Vettovaglie, a dusty Medici-era square off the Borgo Stretto. Locals come here to sample the wares of the butcher, deli, bakery and spice shops, while the surrounding streets host the fruit and vegetable markets. Enjoy a €4 lunch time pizza at the trendy Caffetteria delle Vettovaglie, Piazza delle Vettovaglie 33, which becomes a wine bar later in the day.
Walk Pisa’s right bank
Pisa was once a maritime power and its architecture reflects its Roman, mediaeval and Renaissance heritage, from palaces to citadels to aqueducts; the old town can be explored in an afternoon. A must-visit is the Palazzo della Carovana, a sixteenth century palace covered in ‘sgraffito’ – an etched surface.
Sip local wines
The right bank wakes in late afternoon, for coffee, wine and shopping. Visit Bar Pasticcera Salza, Borgo Stretto 44, which has a wide range of chocolates and local pastries. The newly opened Enoteca Borgo di Vino, Borgo Stretto 63, a wine shop and bar, offers a full Tuscan range, from Chianti to Brunello.
Traditional Tuscan fare
Be aware that restaurants that are empty at 7.59pm will be packed by 8.15pm. The menu of La Grotta, Via San Francesco 103 – with stalactites hanging from the ceiling – varies with the seasons, but features expert renditions of Tuscan classics, like a vegetable soup whose liquid is soaked by chunks of bread, or cuts of local beef. Locals crowd into the rustic Trattoria S. Omobono, Piazza S. Omobono 6, for home-cooked pork ribs and sausages, or a beef carpaccio salad, and rough local wine served in water glasses.
At Pisan wine bars the bottles – nearly always Tuscan – are ranged on the counter, with a per glass price tag around their neck. There is also usually a snack buffet, so once you’ve chosen your drink, you can load up on antipasto or vegetable dips, at no charge. A classy place for a glass of something is Modus Bibendi, Via Cavalca, 18 with lacquered gold surfaces, black crocodile trim and extensive wines and cocktails.
To walk it off, stroll along the Arno and enjoy the lights and palaces reflected in the water.
This article originally appeared in Delicious magazine.