Leonardo da Vinci, rockstar of the Renaissance, was born in the middle of Tuscany’s rolling hills in 1452. Da Vinci literally means “from Vinci” and the town has become a tourist destination for lovers of the Renaissance genius. Luca and I have visited a number of times with his daughter Alessia but if you just have a few days to visit Tuscany – is it worth a day trip from Florence? Read on for what you can see in Vinci!
What is Leonardo’s connection to Vinci?
Leonardo was born to an unmarried couple in a house technically right outside of Vinci in Anchiano. After his birth, his father Ser Piero and his mother Caterina were quickly married off … but not to each other. Leo’s grandfather wanted a better match for his son who dutifully moved to Florence with his new wife.
Leonardo was left in the care of his grandparents and his Uncle Francesco doing a lot of… well… hanging out in the countryside. As a teenager he would move to Florence where he was apprenticed to Vercocchio’s painting studio. But his childhood in and around Vinci would have a lifelong influence.
It was exactly this simple upbringing and the fact that no-one was trying to prepare him for a great career or destiny within the family that helped shape one of the greatest thinkers and artists of the Renaissance. He came to his own conclusions while observing nature and animals and thus developed an incredible mind.
Interested in Leonardo? Check out this post about his portraits of women: Leonardo’s Ladies.
Vinci’s Museum Overview: A Step into Leonardo’s imagination
A visit to Vinci would be centred around the two museums devoted to Leonardo. The museums are open every day from 10am to 6pm making it easy to coordinate a visit. But there’s one thing that should be clear: none of Leonardo’s original work is actually present in Vinci.
The two museums in town are dedicated to reproductions of the machines which Leonardo sketched and theorized in his notebooks but most of which he never actually constructed, making them a testament to his imagination.
Just outside of Vinci, a short drive or 30 minute hike away, you can see reproductions of most of his paintings as well as the house where he was born and raised.
In short, a visit to Vinci is a visit into the mind of Leonardo.
What you can visit in Vinci in Detail
- Start at the beginning: Visit the church of Santa Croce to see the font where he was baptised after his birth on April 15, 1452.
- Leonardo Museum 1 (Castello dei Conti Guidi) First you’ll want to pick up your ticket which, contrary to logical assumption cannot be purchased in either of the two museums in Vinci, but down below on the street in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci. (Just keep this in mind before going up the hill!) Now for the museum itself: Located in an ancient tower, there are descriptions in English and Italian beside each of the carefully designed models. These include many construction machines meant to transform the land or make use of waterways such as an enormous excavator, a pile driver, and his rapid construction bridge. There are a few of his studies of wings as he tried to understand how to make man fly (something he dreamed of but never accomplished) and from the dreamy heights of the skies to the ponderous weight of war: the many weapons he hypothesized for the likes of the Duke of Milan and Cesare Borgia: his tank, multi barrelled gun and steam cannon.
- Leonardo Museum 2 (Palazzina Uzielli) Not as many translations in English, mostly in Italian. Models of practical nature: how to wind wool, a spindle, gold leaf pounding machine and various cranes used to lift the massive blocks of marble for cathedrals. Many of these are accompanied by a video showing how the machine would work in action (which really helps if you’re like me and not a mechanically minded person). On the second floor you can see reproductions of some of his anatomical studies based on his dissections of the human body transformed into three dimensional models. His attention to detail and desire to see under the skin of a human being is remarkable.
- Click here to visit the Da Vinci Museum’s Vinci Website for more information.
What Leonardo sites can you visit just outside of Vinci?
- Leonardo Paintings (Villa il Ferrale) See all of Leonardo’s paintings in one place in accurate scale reproductions. They might not be the real paintings (now scattered around the world) but displayed next to one another this collection makes for an interesting summary of his artistic creations through time. Here is the link to the villas official site.
- The House where he was born in Anchiano. Set in an olive grove in the middle of rolling Tuscan hills, the views of what Leonardo would have seen every day of his youth are lovely.
How to get to Vinci
- By car It’s about a 50 minute drive from Florence in the direction of Pisa to reach Vinci.
- Using Public Transport Unfortunately there is no train station directly to Vinci from Florence. You can take the train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Empoli (about 30 minutes) and then bus 49 from Piazza Don Minzoni (about 20 minutes) which takes you to the road directly below the museums.
- On a Tour with a driver If you already have a driver taking you to Pisa for a half day tour of the leaning tower and highlights, Vinci would make a nice stop on the way back to Florence.
Where to Eat
CONVinci (Via Roma, n. 15). A cute little wine bar with excellent food. Having lunch here turned out to be such a lovely experience due to tasty dishes and delightful staff. They even brought out games for us to play with Alessia. Just call in advance to book as seating is limited. If the weather is nice, sitting outside under the little fig tree tree is lovely. They don’t have a website but you can find them on facebook by clicking here.
So … is it worth going?
If you are a fan of Leonardo then a trip to Vinci is a step into the mind of a true Renaissance man. You’ll see exquisitely made three dimensional models of the machines he planned in his notebooks and reproductions of his paintings, making it one place where you can experience a huge cross section of the images and ideas he had in his head. The surrounding landscape is beautiful and if the weather is nice and you can take the path to his house, it’s a thirty minute stroll past olive trees with views over the rolling hills and vineyards.
What I had hoped to see was more of an interactive element like in the now popular da Vinci museums in Florence and Rome. If you could work the machines yourself or at least see them in motion this would help make sense of them. However there are videos of how they would work and interactive screens to experience the paintings in detail which was fun for everyone.
Ultimately, if you have a very limited time in Florence and Tuscany and want a more general overview of Leonardo’s life and machines, then I’d go to the da Vinci museum in Florence on Via dei Servi and not spend time to only get out to Vinci. However, if you have a car or are on a tour and combine a stop in Vinci with a visit to a winery or a trip to Pisa then it’s worth it!
Have you been to Vinci? Let me know what you thought in the comments!