Tuscany: The peculiarities of travelling in Italy
The countryside of Italy is large and varied, but Tuscany is the heart of it: old villages but with history, famous and beautiful historical towns, breathtaking landscapes, among which the hills with vineyards dominate.
Tuscany is the definition of romanticism
A few tips on which you should plan your trip / vacation. Don’t just go to Florence and perhaps Pisa, as most do. There are too many other beautiful places to see and you clearly won’t have enough for 2-3 days in Tuscany as many people plan.
Tuscany is the definition of romanticism
You need time to visit all that are worth it. And most importantly you will need a car in Tuscany because many important sites are far away.
Look for lodging in the countryside, with hills, in an isolated location (that’s why you’re in a car!). Maybe in a guesthouse or a room with a balcony/terrace. Only this way you can fully enjoy the charm of Tuscany and it’s cheaper. Do not stay in the big tourist cities – they are crowded, exactly the opposite of the spirit of Tuscany (or at least limit your stay in the big city).
Tuscany is enjoyed on winding country roads, strolling among medieval villages or in the evening, by moonlight, in the living quarters, in the courtyard of the house, with local wine, moldy cheese and grapes.
The most representative areas are in the center, west and south of the region (in the north and east the terrain is too mountainous).
Locate yourself in the center of Tuscany, so you can get from your hotel to all the sights in a relatively short time. It’s best to avoid the freeways and take extremely scenic roads.
What to visit.
Obviously, when you come to Tuscany, you must visit Florence and Pisa, the two main attractions of the region.
What to visit.
Tuscany is gorgeous, and of course you can’t see all the beauty and sights of the area in even two weeks. But you shouldn’t miss Siena , another magnificent medieval town, Arezzo , a city that is also charming, Lucca or even Livorno.
What to visit.
Nevertheless, there are some small towns or medieval villages that cannot be avoided, so remember well these names: San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Palaia, Monteriggioni, San Miniato.
San Gimignano What to visit
If you have time and you are a lover of mountains, you can also reach the Apuan Alps Nature Park or just over the Tuscan border – Cinque Terre National Park .
However, if you plan to walk the scenic serpentine roads that lead to palaces or historic homes with rich local histories, you will be disappointed. Yes, you will find such lanes, but they are closed and guarded. Be thankful that you can take pictures near the gates.
Also, don’t expect very good roads in this area and in general in Italy . Unless they’re motor roads in the center, and they’re not taxed, the impression of the rural idyll may suffer a bit.
Tuscany in Italy is an amazing region that must be visited at least once in your life. The hills covered with vineyards, the scattered ancient towns, one more beautiful than the other, the wonderful Florence, which is impossible to forget.
In Tuscany come and art lovers, and gourmands, and ordinary tourists who want to see one of the most beautiful corners of our planet. Tuscany is best traveled by car, leaving aside the noisy highways and winding through the serpentine narrow country roads, many of which were laid by the ancient Romans. Well, you need to start the journey in the region’s capital – Florence.
The main city of the region is not a young one – Florence (Firenze) was founded in 59 BC. In XI century it reached its heyday, and the Renaissance brought it world fame for many centuries to come.
The first thing to see in Florence is its cathedral, whose full name is Santa Maria del Fiore (La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) – it is the fourth largest basilica in the world; until recently, the cathedral dome at 42 meters high was considered the largest in the world. The construction of the temple started at the end of the 13th century and it took 600 years to complete. The Cathedral amazes the tourists with its exterior; marble of three colors corresponding to the colors of the Italian national flag was used for it.
Florence is home to the famous Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi), one of Italy’s most popular art museums. It exhibits the masterpieces of world art, created by Tiziano, Caravaggio, Giotto and other great masters. It is also home to Michelangelo Buonarroti’s The Holy Family and Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.
The statue of Michelangelo’s David in the gallery of the Accademia di belle arti di Firenze is a must-see.
The most famous palaces in the city are the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. The first was built at the turn of the XIII-XIV centuries as a residence of the rulers of Florence. The second, the largest in the city, is also the former residence, first of the dukes of Tuscany and then of the Italian kings. Close to Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens, one of the finest examples of Renaissance garden art.
Leaving Florence, detour northeast to Fiesole. The distance between the cities is only a dozen kilometers. Fiesole was founded by the Etruscans in the IX century B.C. and is remarkable for the ancient ruins left by their settlements. Ancient Fiesole is a town that was home to the school of the Roman priests of the Augurs. From those times, there are thermae and amphitheatre, which date back to the first century BC. In the city there are many other very venerable buildings – the church of the end of X century, the cathedral of Saint Romolo (San Romolo), built in 1028, the palace of the bishop of the XI century.
The road continues to the south. Leaving Florence behind, after 60 km you arrive in Certaldo, the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of the famous “Decameron”. The ancient and very picturesque town differs from many others in that it has no main square. In its place is a street named after the famous writer Via Boccaccio. The old part of the city has survived since the XIII-XV centuries practically unchanged. The old part of the town is almost unchanged from the 13th to the 15th century. He is buried in the church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo (San Jacopo e Filippo), built in the XIII century.
From Certaldo go to medieval Siena, city of wine. It’s located in the Chianti Valley – and what better way to celebrate Tuscany than with Chianti? The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The symbol of Siena itself is horse racing – the famous Palio (il Palio). They take place twice a year, at the beginning of July and in mid-August on the city’s main square, Piazza del Campo, which for this event is covered by a thick layer of earth.
Here in Siena, the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the city’s main church, is a must-see.
Inside, it is decorated with frescoes by famous Renaissance artists Donatello, Pinturicchio and others. The outside of the cathedral is lined with colorful marble and decorated with numerous sculptures (unfortunately, almost all of them have been replaced by copies). Continuation of the cathedral is Baptistery (Battistero), built at the beginning of XIV century. In Christianity Baptistery is used for the sacrament of baptism. The Baptistery in Siena is one of the greatest monuments of the Renaissance, created in 1428-1430.
- See tips for choosing a hotel in Siena.
Time permitting you can venture further south from Siena into the Val d’Orcia, also a UNESCO heritage site. Here several small towns deserve special attention, especially Montalcino, Pienza and Montepulciano.
We invite you to guided tours of Tuscany with the guide Italia for me, Tatiana Ovsyannikova, who permanently resides in the region.
A town as small as it is famous, Montalcino is the birthplace of the great Italian wine Brunello di Montalcino. Every year in July a jazz and wine festival is held here. If you’re traveling through Tuscany at another time, be sure to have a couple of glasses of the wonderful Brunello and continue on your way.
Listed by UNESCO, Pienza is the birthplace of Pope Pius II. He tried to realize here the dream of the “ideal city”, which Plato first spoke of. During the Renaissance, many artists literally raved about “ideal cities”, and it is in Pienza that these ideas were realized as fully as possible. Unfortunately, the pope died just 4 years after the beginning of the reconstruction of the city, and since then, since the early 1460s, Pienza has maintained its almost perfect appearance.
Montepulciano, another “wine” city in Tuscany, is known not only for the famous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape of the same name, but also for its many palazzo castles built in the Mannerist style in the 16th century. This late Renaissance period is called “cinquecento”. The main attraction of the city is the Church of the Madonna di San Biagio (Chiesa di San Biagio), built in the middle of the XVI century on the project of Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (Antonio da Sangallo il Vecchio). It is a model of Renaissance construction.
If visiting the Val d’Orcia is not in your plans, after seeing Siena, head back towards Certaldo and turn to Monteriggioni. This huge castle with fourteen towers on top of a hill is mentioned in Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, and for this reason alone is worth a look. You may be surprised when you see the panorama of the castle and it seems surprisingly familiar. It probably does: it is these walls and towers that you can see in the movies Gladiator and The English Patient.
From Monteriggioni you should head towards San Gimignano, the famous city of 72 towers. This tiny town, with just over 7,000 inhabitants, is interesting for its towers, the so-called “medieval skyscrapers”. In the 14th century, the construction of such a tower was a sign of wealth and prosperity, and each noble family built its own, higher and more beautiful than the others. Unfortunately, only 14 buildings have survived, but they have ensured a place in the list of historical masterpieces of UNESCO. It is possible to walk around the entire town leisurely for 2-3 hours, but it is necessary to visit it.
The next stop on the route is the ancient city of Volterra. The first settlements that arose on the site of modern Volterra date back to the Iron Age. The fortress walls, by which the city is surrounded, are much younger, but their age is credible – it is believed that they were built in the IV century B.C. Thanks to archaeological excavations a number of monuments of the Etruscans and Romans times were discovered here.
From afar, Volterra seems bleak and unfriendly, but it’s an amazing city which must be stopped for at least a couple of hours.
Once you reach the coast, you can stop for a while in Livorno. A fishing village in the early 11th century, today it is the largest port in Tuscany. The city can not boast a lot of historical sights, it is worth a walk along the picturesque promenade and admire the beautiful villas on the shore.
Opposite the city port you can see the lighthouse tower, built in 1709. And for lovers of abandoned places, the Art Nouveau building of the thermal spa, vacant since 1968 but still very beautiful, is of great interest.
The city of Pisa needs no introduction. Probably everyone on the planet knows about its Leaning Tower (Torre pendente di Pisa) and every tourist visiting Italy wants to get to Piazza dei Miracoli to take a picture against the tower. However, not everyone knows that the Tower of Pisa is nothing but the bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa (Duomo di Pisa). It was built in 1360 (construction lasted almost 200 years), and began to fall immediately after the third tier was built. According to scientists’ assurances made in 2008, the tower finally stopped tumbling – previously it deviated from the vertical by 1 mm per year.
Among other attractions of Pisa it is worth noting the 11th century basilica of San Piero a Grado (San Piero a Grado). There is a version that once was a port of the independent Republic of Pisa, which arrived on the ship St. Peter. At the spot where he went ashore, and built a basilica. Less known to tourists is the cemetery of Campo Santo. It is notable for the fact that the land for it brought the ships from Jerusalem.
Also in the city is located University of Pisa (Universita di Pisa), which is one of the oldest universities of Europe: even in the XI century there were educational institutions. The most famous native of Pisa Galileo Galilei received education at the University, and then he conducted his own teaching activities.
Returning to the starting point of the journey Florence, you must stop in the city of Lucca. It is famous for its churches – there are plenty of them. Most of them were built during the Trecento period, otherwise known as the Proto-Renaissance. The term “trecento” in Italy is commonly used to call the 14th century. It was at this time Lucca was in its heyday. One of the brightest representatives of art of this period is Giotto.
Another attraction of the city are the fortress walls. The castle walls are more than four kilometers long. The city’s most beautiful architectural monuments is the Cattedrale di San Martino (St. Martin’s Cathedral). It was founded in the VI century, and rebuilt in the XI century. Once inside, be sure to look at the marble tombstone from the beginning of the XV century depicting a young woman with a dog at her feet. The monument is considered one of the world’s architectural masterpieces.
- Read tips for choosing a hotel in Lucca
The story would not be complete without Elba. Elba is the largest island of the Tuscan archipelago, besides being the third largest of the Italian islands, after Sicily and Sardinia. Elba’s infamy was brought to it by the famous French free-diver Jacques Mayol, whose life story was described by Luc Besson in The Blue Abyss. He lived on the island in the last years of his life until his suicide in 2001.
Elba is a popular Italian resort, loved by many for its clean sea and fine sand beaches. It can be reached by ferry from the coastal town of Piombino. There are some small communes with museums, churches of XI-XVI centuries and two or three old fortresses. But still the main activities for tourists who come to Elba is beach holidays, windsurfing and walking along the coast or low picturesque hills.