This is an article from the wonderful English-language publication, The Florentine.
One of my favourite sources for all things Tuscan and more.

7 popular day trips from Florence

You’re spoiled for choice

TF x
April 20, 2016 - 10:18
Florence is beautiful, fascinating and packed with artistic treasures, but when the sun heats up and the crowds accumulate, do like a local and escape to the more peaceful corners of Italy. There are many popular day trips from Florence, reachable within an hour or two by public transport. When deciding on your day destination, where you pick really depends on what you seek. With nature, the seaside, historical sites and art on Florence’s doorstep it’s easy to say you’re spoiled for choice. Here are our top picks.

Fiesole

A beautiful pic of Fiesole by Malavoda (Flickr CC) A beautiful pic of Fiesole hilltop by Malavoda (Flickr CC)
In just a 40-minute bus ride from Florence, (or about a 1.5 hour hike for the adventurous!), travelers can reach the Etruscan town of Fiesole. A welcome retreat into the cool hillside air, olive groves and cypresses, Fiesole boasts unchallenged views of Florence, while also offering plenty of attractions. Arriving by bus places you in Piazza Mino da Fiesole, which occasionally holds markets. From here take a walk up to the Monastery of San Francesco (beware it is a steep street!) to enjoy the views of Florence and have a snack on one of the many available benches. Wander back down the hill and experience the impressive Roman history of Fiesole at the Civic Archeology Museum and related sites: the ruins include an ancient amphitheater, baths and a temple to name a few.
Transport: 40 min by city bus (ATAF)

Siena


A vibrant Siena city centre by Kok Chih & Sarah Gan (Flickr CC) A vibrant Siena city centre by Kok Chih & Sarah Gan (Flickr CC)
With the entire town centre being a UNESCO world heritage site, Siena is probably the most popular day trip destination for visitors staying in Florence. As the train station is situated outside of Siena’s center, the best option for reaching the city is by bus, which deposits you in the most central location. For most people, Siena is famous for its Palio horse race, which runs in the Piazza del Campo (the fan shaped town square) just two days a year. As it’s very festive and crowded around the Palio, this is to be avoided if you’re aiming for a change of scene from Florence.

Rather, head to Siena in the off-season months and enjoy its magnificent medieval history, impressive 12th century architecture and famous artworks. The city’s cathedral is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. The City Hall (Palazzo Civico) is worth a visit - now a museum, its frescoes are important to the city's civic and religious life - don't miss those by Sienese masters Duccio and Lorenzetti. Save up some energy to climb up the Torre del Mangia, a 400-step climb to the top with panoramic views of the city and the rolling Tuscan hills.
Transport: 1 hour by bus


Orvieto

The majestic Orvieto Duomo.  Image by Riccardo Cuppini (Flickr CC) The majestic Orvieto Duomo. Image by Riccardo Cuppini (Flickr CC)
Although it is a slightly longer trip from Florence than some towns, when approaching Orvieto this small town manages to impress even from afar. The dramatic hilltop settlement is perched upon an isolated tuff of volcanic rock, above the rolling plains of Umbrian vineyards, olive trees and cypress. The jewel of Orvieto is surely the Duomo di Orvieto. A masterpiece of Italian Gothic architecture, the elaborate fa├žade, mosaics and Orcagna’s rose window are worth spending a few hours analysing. But beyond this, Orvieto also offers a mysterious underground of archeological sites, an impressive view from the Torre de Moro, an Etruscan Necropolis and more. For a small town, Orvieto certainly packs a punch. The food is good, too.
Transport: 2.5 hour by train


Arezzo

Arezzo's Historic Centre.  Picture by Santi.MB Photos (Flickr CC) Arezzo's Historic Centre.  Picture by Santi.MB Photos (Flickr CC)
Not the most typical of tourist hot spots, Arezzo provides its visitors with a refreshing experience, a little off the beaten tourist track. Wandering the streets you’ll be among less tourists and able to enjoy more local people and fan fare. Sitting upon a hilltop just one hour from Florence, Arezzo is a wealthy city, with a rich history of goldsmithery that lives on today. This is reflected in the impressive Duomo, which took almost 700 years to complete. A place that’s played home to many artists and poets over the years, you’ll be treated to an abundance of artworks and architectural masterpieces bundled together in this small town. Not to be missed is Piero della Francesca’s frescoed high altar chapel in the Church of San Francesco and the Romanesque architecture of Pieve di Santa Maria. The Arezzo Antique Fair that runs the first weekend of each month is a very popular and fun destination.
Transport: 1 hour by train 


Viareggio

Viareggio at Twilight. Photo by Pistolero79 (Flickr CC) Viareggio at Twilight. Photo taken by Pistolero79 (Flickr CC)
For travelers lusting after the ocean breeze, a day trip from Florence to Viareggio is the ticket. On the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the sandy beach of Viareggio stretches over 20km and is one of Italy’s traditional seaside resort towns. Providing less of a historical art and culture experience, Viareggio is a place to simply lay back and relax. Beware that for most of the beach you must pay to enter, however this sets you up with deck chairs, umbrellas and access to a convenient bar and restaurant. After a day of beach lazing it’s also nice to take a ‘passeggiata’, the traditional stroll down the boardwalk, a 3km promenade dotted with interesting shops, restaurants and bars to peruse.
Transport: 1.5 – 2 hours by train


Pienza


Cathedral in Pienza's Piazza Pio.  Photo by stiftunggegenstand (Flickr CC) Cathedral in Pienza's Piazza Pio. Photo by stiftunggegenstand (Flickr CC)
If you can’t get enough Renaissance in Florence, head Pienza for a more compact visual treat. This hilltop town is a UNESCO world heritage site and was constructed by a 15th century Pope to represent the ideal Renaissance town. 500 years later, we can enjoy the architecture of the Duomo and Palazzo Piccolomini, as well as the garden of the latter, and the incredible view over the Crete Senesi of the former. Getting there takes around 2.5 hours when taking the train from Florence to Chiusi and a public bus from there to Pienza.
Transport: 2.5 hour train ride



Cinque Terre


Swimming in the colourful Cinque Terre.  Image by katiedee47 (Flickr CC) Swimming in the colourful Cinque Terre.  Image by katiedee47 (Flickr CC)
A popular day trip, though really better for a weekend, the Cinque Terre is about 2 hours from Florence by train and is generally thought to be among the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. To get there from Florence, take a train from Florence to La Spezia and from there, the smaller regional train will take you between this area’s famous small towns.
The perfect Cinque Terre day trip starts in Riomaggiore, the first village. Leaving here walk the ‘Way of Love’, a path connecting Riomaggiore to the second village of Manarola, where the seafront is a famous vision of the Cinque Terre. Note this path may currently be closed for maintenance but you can still reach Manarola by train. Carry on to Corniglia, the village at the highest altitude, and onto Vernazza, touted by many as the most beautiful of the villages. While here, indulge in dining at the local restaurants where the irresistible fresh catch of the day is always on the menu. Finish your day trip in Monterosso, the largest village, where plummeting cliffs give way to a large beachfront. If rushing through all villages in a day does not take your fancy, take the train to any one of the villages (although Vernazza is certainly a top pick) and simply spend the day wandering winding paths up to the cliff tops for views along the coast and down to the marina to watch the fishing boats, take a dive in the water and explore the shops and restaurants.
Transport: 2 - 2.5 hours by train


To plan your route for any of these destinations, log on to GoEuro and searching on the travel database. Wherever you choose to go, there should be plenty of options, so we suggest shopping around for the fastest and cheapest routes.

The Art of Writing

The Art of Writing
A Tuscan week - in the company of writers - what more could you want.
The Art of Writing is a writers retreat in Tuscany by critically acclaimed author and journalist Lisa Clifford. Our 2016 June 19-25 guest leading tutor is award-winning author Conrad Willams. The Art of Writing offers morning lectures on writing and afternoon individual coaching sessions. Our aim is to nurture you, your writing skills and your project. We want to inspire you to write more and teach you how to improve, without feeling intimidated. Be it a novel you hope to see published, help with a story that’s stalled, an idea that you need time to dream about, even a blog that you want to improve; this retreat is about refining your skills.
Workshops discuss:
  • Writing from a sense of place
  • Character development
  • Structure and drafting
  • Memoirs and research; collecting, collating and recounting stories
  • Point of view and dialogue
  • Daily evening aperitivo with literary interviews and discussions
We also explore the constantly changing world of E-books and self-publishing and what could be the best indie route for you.
Our writers retreat is international. Our past attendees have been from Scotland, England, America, Italy, South Africa and Australia. Our Italian, German and French attendees must have an excellent grasp of English and can write in whatever language they prefer.
Depending on your personal goals, Lisa Clifford will guide you on where to publish and how.
Cocktail hour is shared every evening before dinner with your fellow attendees and visiting authors. There is also time for relaxation by the swimming pool and for walks in our woods.
You’ll stay in your own private apartment complete with living room, worktable and Wifi inside and on your own terrace. Some people may like to share their apartment with a friend and that will reduce their cost.
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Our price includes transport to Casentino, six nights accommodation, breakfast, lunch, dinner plus morning and afternoon coffee/tea breaks at Borgo a Caiano, as well as all tuition. The Art of Writing also includes an afternoon tour of the local area, a unique and undiscovered part of Tuscany. We’ll finish at Lorenzo Cipriani’s farm where you’ll make ricotta and pecorino before tasting Tuscany’s cheeses and salame.

The Art of Writing: in Tuscany.

www.the-art-of-writing.com
The Art of Writing offers morning lectures on writing, individual coaching sessions in the afternoon and guest speakers in the evening. Our aim is to nurture you, your writing skills and your project. We want to inspire you to write more and teach you how to improve, without feeling intimidated. Be it a novel you hope to see published, help with a story that’s stalled, an idea that you need time to dream about, even a blog that you want to improve; this retreat is about refining your skills.
Morning workshops discuss:
  • Writing from a sense of place
  • Character development
  • Structure and drafting
  • Memoirs and research; collecting, collating and recounting stories
  • Point of view and dialogue
  • Evening workshops combine discussion and lectures from guest speakers that specialise in blogging and internet presence.
Afternoon and Evening Skype sessions with literary agents in the US and Australia, as well as publishers in London discuss contracts, foreign rights, the life of copyright and the global market. US agents discuss the biggest holes in the manuscripts they receive.
We also explore the constantly changing world of E-books and self-publishing and what could be the best indie route for you.
Our writers retreats are international. Our past attendees have been from Scotland, England, America, Italy, South Africa and Australia. Our Italian, German and French attendees must have an excellent grasp of English and can write in whatever language they prefer.
Depending on your personal goals, Lisa Clifford will guide you on where to publish and how.
Cocktail hour is shared every evening before dinner
with your fellow attendees and visiting authors. There is also time for relaxation by the swimming pool and for walks in our woods.
You’ll stay in your own private apartment complete with living room, worktable and Wifi inside and on your own terrace. Some people may like to share their apartment with a friend and that will reduce their cost.
Our price includes transport to Casentino, six nights accommodation, breakfast, lunch, dinner plus morning and afternoon coffee/tea breaks at Borgo a Caiano, as well as all tuition. The Art of Writing also includes an afternoon tour of the local area, a unique and undiscovered part of Tuscany. We’ll finish at Lorenzo Cipriani’s farm where you’ll make ricotta and pecorino before tasting Tuscany’s cheeses and salame.

Wonderful Walks


The Renaissance Ring  is a series of lovely walks outside Florence.

It covers a distance of 170 km and can be done in sections as large or as small as you like.
We recently did the one from The Certosa di Galluzzo back into the city and it was stunning.

 For smaller ones in the city:
1    Cross the Ponte Vecchio and turn right, down Borgo San Jacopo and simply wander the whole area of Santa Spirito which is the artisan quarter.
2    Cross the Ponte Vecchio and head diagonally left up the tiny & steep Costa San Giorgio. Follow via San Leonardo, left onto Viale Galilleo, then up to the right to the Monastery of San Miniato al Monte. The on to Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the city, then down the  hill to the river and home along either side of the river. About 2 hours in all.
3   My favourite, Fiesole to Settignano – walk along the hills from one village to the other. http://florencewalks.blogspot.it/2008/06/fiesole-montececeri-settignano.html
Take the #7 bus to Fiesole from Piazzza San Marco. Walk to Settignano, have lunch in the wonderful Caffe Desiderio http://www.caffedesiderio.com/ and take the #10 bus back to Florence.  

This is only a tiny sample of what is available and if you want longer, guided or self-guided walks  in Tuscany or in Italy anywhere, have a look at what Simon Tancred's Hidden Italy Walks offer.


I have been meaning to write something about the Roman origins of Florence for ages now. We all know Florence as a Firenze, the Medieval city, birthplace of Dante and the cradle of the Renaissance. But whenever I have an aperitivo in Piazza Repubblica, I recollect that it was the centre of the Roman Castrum called Florentia. It was founded in 59BC for the settler-soldiers of Julius Caesar in the form of a military camp.
Piazza Repubblica was and still is, the intersection of the two main Roman roads, the north/south Decumanus and the east/west Cardo. Travellers arrived from Rome on the via Cassia and entered the city from the Porta Romana. The names of the gates of an Italian city almost always tell you where the road leads to. Porta al Prato for example leads to Prato.
A few years ago archeologists excavated the Roman amphitheatre beneath Palazzo Vecchio. Today you can visit the ruins on a guided tour. From the outside you can see the way the road slopes down at the side of Palazzo Vecchio, following the incline of the theatre. Piazzza san firenze had a Temple of Isis. The Roman walls surrounded the city on the northern bank of the Arno, which, believe it or not, was a navigable and important means of supplying the settlement.
the Museo storico topografico, Firenze Com'era, is in via dell'Oriuolo, 24 and has a wonderful dioramo of the ancient city.
Fiesole is much older and was an Etruscan settlement long before the Romans colonised it but it too has marvelous Roman ruins.
This is a wonderful article by John Brunton from The Guardian Travel from July. It is well worth subscribing to The Guardian and to The Observer Food Monthly, not just for Tuscany but for all travel. I love it. The text and the photo are all by John Brunton.



Tuscany's chianti classico wine route: top 10 guide
Between Florence and Siena, the Chianti region is Tuscany's wine-making powerhouse. Touring the area provides a chance to visit wine-makers for free tastings, stay at gorgeous agriturismi and dine at authentic trattorias
What is a chianti? This emblematic wine is made all over the Tuscan countryside, but the historic heart lies in a region between Florence and Siena. In 1716, Cosimo de' Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that this region could produce what today is known as chianti classico – easily recognisable by the gallo nero, its distinctive Black Rooster label. The key to the unique qualities of chianti classico is the local sangiovese grape, and right now there is a strong movement to return to the ancient traditions of winemaking along with an eco-responsible trend towards organic cultivation.

WINEMAKERS TO VISIT  
 Val delle Corti
The perfect first step to understanding the complex world of chianti classico is to make an appointment for a tasting at Roberto Bianchi's six-hectare organic vineyard. Roberto is a feisty artisan viticoltore, explaining how for years winemakers were too influenced by guidebooks and gurus, who argued that the austere sangiovese grape needed to be offset by a small addition of "international grapes", such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon, to sell to a global market.
"At that time," says Roberto, "our authentic wines were totally out of favour but the fashion has turned, and people are beginning to understand that what is interesting here is that each village – Radda to Panzano, Greve to Gaiole – has its own characteristics and personality." Roberto only produces three wines, a great vino di tavola for €6, perfect with a plate of salami, an elegant chianti classico that is almost 100% sangiovese, and an intense riserva in the years he feels the harvest is outstanding.
Localita La Croce, Radda in Chianti,  +39 0577 738215 , valdellecorti.it

Villa Pomona
Visiting Monica Raspi you quickly get caught up in her enthusiasm for making chianti classicos. Villa Pomona is a typical Tuscan estate, the perfect mix of biodiversity, with four hectares of vineyards, olive groves and woodland, a sprawling farm that includes an old olive mill converted into holiday apartments and her tiny, cluttered cantina crammed with wooden barrels and stainless-steel vats. Monica was born at Villa Pomona, but grew up in Florence and trained as a vet.
However, as soon as she heard he mother was going to sell the vineyards, she abandoned her career, did a crash course in oenology, and has been producing her own wines since 2007. The vines are in the process of obtaining official organic certification. She follows the traditionalist approach, adding the local colorino grape to 95% sangiovese for her €10 chianti classico, while the riserva is aged for 20 months in barrels plus another six months in the bottle before going on sale.
Localita Pomona, Castellina in Chianti,  +39 055 7774 0930 , fattoriapomona.it

Fontodi
Rows of vineyards at Fontodi vineyard, Chianti Photograph: John Brunton
Fontodi is the exception to the rule that says big wineries charge for tastings, with owner Giovanni Manetti insisting that this is just part of Tuscan hospitality, saying that "even if people stay two hours they don't have to feel they must buy a bottle". And he has certainly created something special here, nestled in the suntrap of the Conca d'Oro beneath the village of Panzano. The whole farm is organic: the 80 hectares of vines and 30 hectares of olive trees. Between lines of vines he plants barley, to help the cultivation of the grape and to feed his herd of 33 Chianina cattle, the iconic local race that is fast disappearing. He follows biodynamic principles in making his wine, and is currently trying an experiment going back to Greco-Roman times, using terracotta vats rather than wooden barrels.
• Panzano in Chianti,  +39 055 852005 , fontodi.com

Le Boncie 
 Giovanna Morganti at the hidden away Le Boncie vineyard, Chianti. Photograph: John Brunton
Giovanna Morganti is something of an outsider in the cosy world of chianti classico. Her five-hectare estate has no sign outside, there is nothing on her website, and you definitely need to call first to taste the wines of what some critics hail as the future – and others criticise for being unstable and unpredictable. Along with cult French winemaker, Nicolas Joly, she was one of the founders of the Vini Veri group, that developed into the influential "natural wine" movement across Europe.
Giovanna makes just a chianti classico, adding small amounts of the little-known local grapes mammolo, colorino and foglia tonda to the sangiovese. It is expensive at €19, but understandable when you see the work she puts in, both in the cantina – where the wine ferments in open-topped wooden tanks – and tending the vineyard, which she planted in the ancient alberelo method, with vines growing free, resembling small bonsai trees surrounded by a jungle of wild plants and weeds.
Localita San Felice, Castelnuova Berardenga,  +39 0577 359383 , leboncie.it


OSTERIE AND RESTAURANTS

A Casa Mia
Hidden away in a tiny hillside hamlet, A Casa Mia is a brilliant discovery, a genuine old-fashioned osteria with just a dozen tables, hearty portions of Tuscan cucina casalinga (home cooking) at reasonable prices, and run by two lively hosts, Cosimo and Maurizio Simoncini who share the cooking and serving. The place is packed each night, so always call for a reservation, and although there is a printed menu, let Maurizio reel off the dishes of the day and get caught up in his enthusiasm.
The huge antipasti dish is a meal in itself, with panzanella, grilled vegetables, a delicious warm tripe salad, bruschette with plump chopped tomatoes and white beans drizzled with olive oil. Follow it with penne con coniglio (rabbit pasta) or asparagus risotto, alongside a €10 straw-covered flask of chianti.
Via Santa Maria a Macerata, Montefiridolfi,  +39 055 824 4392 , acasamia.eu. Pastas €12, mains €12-15

Fattoria di Corsignano
While Tuscany has plenty of chic, gourmet restaurants, it can be surprisingly difficult to track down a reasonably-priced trattoria serving authentic cooking. So when a new restaurant like the Fattoria di Corsignano opens up, it is good news for locals and tourists alike. Elena Gallo serves a creative interpretation of rustic cucina contadino. For wine-lovers, the good news is that the estate's excellent wines are sold at the same price as if you were taking away, while for €35 there is a four-course wine-paired tasting menu.
Even the €10 antipasto is almost a meal in itself, with panzanella salad, smoked ham, bruschettas of grilled zucchini and ricotta with red pepper, a crunchy barley cake and fried bacon with prunes. The Fattoria has elegant B&B rooms available from €90, and Elena's husband, Mario, has planted a small seven-hectare organic vineyard, producing not just a potent chianti classico riserva, made from 100% sangiovese grapes, but a light Vino da Tavola at only €6, which he describes as "old-style Chianti like my babbo (dad) used to make".
Localita Consignano, Castelnuovo Berardenga,  +39 0577 322545 , fattoriadicorsignano.it

VINEYARD AGRITURISMI

Rignana
 The B&B at Rignana, a romantic estate in Chianti.
It is a dusty, bumpy four kilometres off the main road to get to Rignana, the romantic estate of Cosimo Gericke, situated between Panzano and Greve. His agriturismo comprises a medieval chapel, villa, farmhouse and cantina. An olive mill has been converted into a trattoria and there is an infinity pool – a perfect spot for sipping a chilled glass of the winery's crisp, fresh rosato. Cosimo is a charming host, half-German, half-Italian, resembling an eccentric Victorian aristocrat. But he is serious about his wines, having replanted his 13-hectare vineyard when he took over in 1999. Most B&B rooms are in the farmhouse, which has a communal kitchen, but it can be worth splashing out a little extra to stay in the villa, which is decorated with 18th-century frescoes.
Localita Rignana, Via di Rignana, 15, Greve in Chianti,  +39 055 852065 , rignana.it. Doubles €100 (in the farm), €130 in the villa (both B&B)

Fattoria La Loggia
It is impossible to miss the Loggia, as high above this agriturismo is an incredible suspended garden of giant floating terracotta vases. This fattoria produces wine and olive oil, but the real passion of the owner, Giulio Baruffaldi, is contemporary art. He was one of the pioneers of welcoming tourists to wineries in Chianti – opening the agriturismo in 1986 – and has always had a programme to invite artists and run art courses. Over the years he has amassed a fantastic collection that decorate guests bedrooms, communal salons and are installed all over the gardens of the farmhouse.
The rooms here are spacious and luxurious for the price, there is a pool, and barbecue, and the friendly director, Ivana Natali, who has been here for 25 years, is a mine of information when it comes to recommending winemakers to visit. The winery produce a surprising bianco toscano at only €3, while the 2003 chianti classico is a steal at €7.
Via Collina 24, San Casciano in Val di Pesa,  +39 055 824 4288 , fattorialaloggia.com. Doubles from €100 B&B

Fattoria di Lamole
Paolo Socci is one of the most passionate viticoltore in chianti classico, and this extends not just to exceptional traditionalist wines, but his restoration of a medieval hamlet into a rustic agriturismo – and a commitment to rebuild stone terraces for his vineyard, a system dating back centuries but that has all but disappeared. Guests staying the night are made to feel like part of a big family, and have the use of a pool, large communal areas, and comfy rooms with wooden-timbered ceilings, plus a hearty breakfast. The cantina and agriturismo are situated in Lamole, one of the most beautiful villages in Chianti. Book a time for a proper wine tasting with Paolo and he may well take you off in his jeep to see some of the seven kilometres of terrazze he has painstakingly built.
Lamole, Greve in Chianti,  +39 055 854 7065 , fattoriadilamole.it. Doubles €90 B&B



REGIONAL SPECIALITIES

Antica Macelleria Cecchini
The 'singing butcher' Dario Cecchini at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano, Tuscany. 
Dario Cecchini runs his venerable butcher's shop like a theatre, bursting into song or looming behind a whole roast suckling pig ready to wield a fearful-looking knife. The most famous dish in Tuscan cuisine is the Costata alla Fiorentina, a huge T-bone steak, and foodies from around the world come here on a pilgrimmage to place their orders. But this is also perfect to stock up for a picnic with his wonderfully aromatic finocchiona (fennel salami), terrines and even chianti sushi, his take on steak tartare.
For a €20 deposit, Dario will provide a hamper (you pay for whatever food you fill it with), and even show you the perfect picnic spot five minutes' drive away. The Macelleria is always crowded because Cecchini believes in local hospitality, so laid out on a long wooden table are salami, cheeses and his trademark creamy lard infused with rosemary, along with chunks of crusty bread and a giant carafe of red wine – all free for whoever comes in. He also runs Dario Doc, a cheap-and-cheerful burger diner at the back with set menus from only €10.
Via XX Luglio 11, Panzano in Chianti,  +39 055 852020 , dariocecchini.com
Car hire was provided by carrentals.co.uk. Easyjet (0843 104 5000, easyjet.com) flies to Pisa from Luton, Gatwick and Bristol, and Ryanair (0871 246 0000, ryanair.com) flies to Pisa from East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Bournemouth, Liverpool and Stansted. For more information on the Chianti wine region visit chianticlassico.com (it produces an excellent road map - The Black Rooster Roads, for €3)

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