Not even 20 minutes south of the Florence historic city center is one of the most magical monasteries in all of Italy, La Certosa.
Standing tall on an imposing hill and easily seen from the road that leads to Siena, the monastery was originally founded as a learning center by a nobleman in the 14th century. The structure was gradually expanded by Carthusian monks who transformed it into one of Europe's most powerful and wealthiest monasteries, counting with one of the most reputable libraries of its day, and an impressive art collection which was dismantled during Napoleon's reign.
The large complex is a maze of jaw-dropping interior after jaw-dropping interior, starting with the baroque church of San Lorenzo, which is adorned with an intricate wooden choir, ornate mannerist frescoes, and an impressive marble altar. Following a visit to the church, several cloisters, gardens, cemeteries and adjoining rooms truly helps you visualize and feel the severity of the lives of the monks who walked through these beautiful loggias in complete silence and disconnect from the outside world.
Today, there are only a handful of Cistercian monks who still live at the Certosa (lucky them), and provide daily, donation-based tours of this incredible historic site. These tour guides are as genuine as they come, explaining all of the impressive rules and rituals monks had to abide by in the heyday of the monastery. Best part of these small tours is that at the end, you're led to a gift shop stocked with great souvenirs such as handmade religious objects, tasty olive oil (made from the olive trees on the Certosa grounds), liqueurs, and even CDs of gregorian chants sung by these monks themselves.
La Certosa di Firenze, Via della Certosa, 1. Tel. 055-2049226