A Tuscan top ten…if it sometimes seems like travel magazines are in a constant quest to identify “the new Tuscany,” it’s worth recalling that there is still nothing like the classic Tuscany, and always something new to discover in this varied region. Rolling hills and vineyards, rows of tall cypress trees, rustic farmhouses, cities of Renaissance art, and yes, that brilliant Tuscan sun are all ingredients in a classic Italy vacation that centers on Tuscany. With the warmer months almost upon us, we’ve compiled a list of 10 things Tuscan you won’t want to miss:
Florence on the River Arno, Florence the famous, and rightly so: along with Rome and Venice this Tuscan titan of art and culture forms the Big Three, the trinity of must-see Italian cities. Like those other cities, you can make a dozen trips to Florence and see something different each time. From Botticelli to Michelangelo, from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio and beyond, there is so much to take in here that a little guidance can go a long way toward maximizing your time. Check out Select Italy’s many offerings to help you get the most out of Florence.
If you have time for only one hill town during a visit to Florence, make it the one nearest Florence: Fiesole. Just five miles northeast of Florence, this town with ancient Etruscan roots is perhaps most famous for the view that its hillside location affords of Florence. Best place to savor it? From the restaurant terrace of the beautiful Hotel Villa San Michele.
It’s easy to get caught up in the marvels of Florence and convenient too, what with Florence’s airport and train station making travel to it very convenient from almost anywhere in Italy. But absolutely do not think of missing gorgeous Siena, Florence’s historic rival since medieval times. It’s home to the colorful Palio horse race, which occurs twice yearly in the Piazza del Campo. Siena’s entire historic center has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Home of the world’s most famous leaning tower: that’s Pisa. The freestanding belltower, the construction of which began back in (gulp) 1173, rises some 186 feet from the ground. The top juts out more than a dozen feet from where it would it if the structure were perfectly straight. Just as no visit to Paris is complete with a stop at the Eiffel Tower, no visit to Tuscany is complete with a pausing for a photo in front of this tilting Tuscan beauty.
This Tuscan jewel is one of the most enchanting towns in all of Italy. It has Etruscan roots and grew rich from the silk trade. Major sights include the Piazza Anfiteatro, the Basilica di San Frediano and the gorgeous Palazzo Pfanner. Perhaps most impressive, though, are Lucca’s Renaissance walls, which have withstood the test of time. Also remarkable is the red brick Torre Guinigi which, rather unusually, has oak trees growing at the top.
6. San Gimignano
This Tuscan hill town, in the province of Siena, is world famous on account of its spectacular medieval walls and towers. In the 10th century, San Gimignano’s fortifications helped keep the Huns at bay. Independent early on from nearby Volterra, the town got caught up in the feud between Guelphs and Ghibellines, but remained prosperous for much of the early Middle Ages. Today its 14 medieval towers, one as high as 177 feet, still stand proud.
7. Tuscan Spa Bliss
Tuscany’s thermal springs were known and enjoyed by the ancient Romans and the Etruscans before them. Many hill towns and villages have harnessed the mineral-rich waters for use as municipal terme, or spas. Adler Thermae, is a wonderful resort. The resort is near the tiny “spa village” of Bagno Vignoni, a gem of a Tuscan village that invites lingering.
8. Tuscan Wine with a Design Twist
Tuscany and wine go together like cinema and Sophia Loren – a dream pairing! Recent incursions into the Tuscan wine world by renowned architects have poured design innovation into an already wondrous landscape. Call these Italy’s archiwineries. There’s Renzo Piano’s stellar cellar for the Rocca di Frassinello winery in the Maremma, south of Siena. A spire above a glass pavilion is studded with three round mirrors that shoot light down to a realm of 2,500 barrels below. In Suvereto, also in Maremma, Vittorio Moretti enlisted architect Mario Botta (of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art) to give the high-tech cellars of his Petra Wineries some visual exciting with an outsized cylindrical stone structure, flanked by arcades set like jewels into the green landscape. Then there’s the upswept modernist statement that Gae Aulenti built for Antinori Vineyards, in Campo di Sasso on a lush Chianti hillside.
9. Two Amazing Tuscan Spring Events
While Tuscany is prime vacation country in virtually every season, two events are coming up that are worth noting. The first is a four-day VIP gourmet wine-tasting extravaganza we call Divino Tuscany, which will take place from May 17th to May 20th in Florence. Unrelated but amazing in another way, Madonna will be giving a concert at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, which is in Florence, on June 16.
10. Tuscan Villa Experience
Want to laze by your own pool after sampling wines in Montepulciano or checking out art at the Uffizi? Does waking up to the sound of birds chirping and the sight of classic unspoiled Tuscan countryside tempt you? Well, there’s no finer place in all of Europe to check into your own private villa than Tuscany. Easier than you might think, too, and we know some amazing places that we’ll be happy to share with you.
Have your own Tuscan favorites that we may have missed? Let us know!