Tuscany Travel Guide

rolling hills tuscany

Tuscany is one the few places in the world where, up to this day, a perfect blend of culture and tradition can be found, owing to the many generations that have preserved it for even up to several centuries later. The epiphany that Tuscany is a quintessence of romance, charm, culinary delight, and of course, sunshine dawned upon many after the film adaptation of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun came out back in 2003. Today, travelers flock to this illustrious region in northwest Italy to either enjoy a restful getaway, celebrate their nuptials, or get a fantastic first-hand experience of the beauty of the place itself. Embodying the very identity of Tuscany, its medley of castles-turned wineries, evergreen cypress trees, cascading hills, and verdant vineyards is simply stunning.

When to Visit

Spring and fall are considered the best seasons for a visit to Tuscany. During these months, you can expect a fair weather, which is perfect if you want to roam the district all day. Spring is also littered with joyous festivals, such as the Easter Scoppio del Carro and the Maggio Musicale Florentino. Fall, on the other hand, is celebrated with the Giostra del Saracino, Palio dela Ballestra and the Display of the Virgin’s Cradle. While summer (July to August) is also a great time to visit Tuscany, the heat sometimes proves to be unbearable, as it can escalate to up to 86 degrees, especially in the valleys.

Getting Around Tuscany

Car rentals are widely available in Tuscany, however, navigating through the city’s labyrinthine roads can be quite a task, so make sure to have a map at all times. Better yet, rent a car that is equipped with GPS. However, if you do not want the headache associated with international driving, then your best option is hopping on the train. Tuscany is serviced by different train lines, such as LFI, FCU and Ferrovie dello Stato. Bus travel is also recommended, especially if you want to visit Tuscany’s small towns and regions. The stops are usually located in piazzas, although you can hail a bus in the middle of a country road.

Things to Do

Photo credit: http://darkosikman.deviantart.com/

Photo credit: http://darkosikman.deviantart.com/

By now, you’re probably looking up for great sights to see in Tuscany, but how about the things to do? Never head back home without ticking these things off your to-do list.

1) Trek (to Monte Forato)

Monte Forato is the ideal destination for a good hike due to its suggestive natural arch that connects two twin peaks, creating a hole that can be seen from Garfagnana and Versilia. You’ll definitely need a good pair of hiking shoes for this; you might as well set aside a whole day for this activity if you truly want to immerse yourself in authentic Tuscan adventure. The part along the crest is exposed, so you have to feel comfortable and maintain good equilibrium so as to stay safe. A trek to Monte Forato is best done in late spring, summer, or early fall.

2) Thermal Baths

A small town in the municipality of Manciano in Maremma, that is nestled atop a hill overlooking the famous thermal springs, Saturnia sits close to an Etruscan necropolis along the Roman road Clodia, which is situated right between the Aurelia and Cassia roads. What turns Saturnia into a magnetic destination for locals and tourists alike are its famous hot springs, which consist of several springs cascading from Mount Amiata to the hills of Albenga and Fiora and reaching Roselle and Talamone. These warm, sulfurous waters were well-loved by the ancient Romans and Etruscans. Legend has it that they were sprang forth in the exact point where Jupiter’s thunderbolt struck in a battle against Saturn. The waters have a temperature of 37.5 °c, known to possess therapeutic and relaxing properties.

3) Go Biking

Mostly a hilly territory, with plains etched along its rivers and coast, Tuscany makes for an ideal destination for cycling aficionados of all levels– from amateurs, to anyone just wanting to pedal and enjoy the beauty of the region, or even to professionals.  For cycling wannabes, the region’s slopes and hills means putting themselves to the test right where many of the sport’s legends trained themselves at– Bartali, Cipollini, and Bettini.

4) Go for Cooking Classes

Forget about eating ready-made spaghetti– how about learning to cook pasta from scratch? Or getting a little more knowledge about wines through a one-day course? Try your hand at preparing some of the best dishes you’ll only find in the Tuscan region, either by taking a half-day or a week-long course. This is not only enjoyable to do; when you’re back home, you’ll get to put to good use a small piece of your holiday!

5) Shop

Tuscany is not only renowned the world over for its picturesque landscapes, scrumptious food, and excellent wines, but for shopping as well. In the larger cities of Florence and Siena, you’ll find long stretches of large shops and brand-name outlets, as well as smaller workshops owned by local artisans. If you’re in the hunt for branded and Italian fashion designer items like clothes, shoes, and house decors, Tuscany has plenty of outlets you can head out to for the best deals.

6) Hit the Beach

If you are not a local, you may have heard little about Tuscany’s beaches that it may be hard for you to imagine that Tuscany even has a coast. The region actually has plenty of splendid beaches. If you are certified beach lover, you’ll definitely fall head over heals for Cinque Terre and Portofino, which have their own version of beauty: awe-inspiring dreamscapes, where the mountain is bordered only by the ocean’s edge.

Tuscany’s Top Spots

Photo credit: http://miriadna.com/

Photo credit: http://miriadna.com/

Tuscany is a medium-sized province that consists of small towns, each having its own flair and character. Here are several must-visit attractions in Tuscany’s key districts:

1) Santa Croce

This 13th century Gothic church is the resting place of many renowned Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Niccolo Machiavelli and Ghiberti. After paying your respects to these masters, revel in the beauty of the church’s notable works of art, such as frescoes by Giotto and the triumphal cross by Cimabue. Admission fee is USD 6.60.

Address: Piazza Santa Croce

2) Duomo di Firenze

Finished in 1436, Florence’s majestic cathedral features a Gothic façade and marble cladding. Its dome, which was considered an engineering marvel during its time, is adorned with paintings by Vasari and Zuccari. The 85-meter Campanile is also a must-visit for those who wish to enjoy Florence’s fantastic views. Entrance is Free.

Address: Piazza San Giovanni

3) Leaning Tower of Pisa

Also known as Torre di Pisa, this inclined tower was created in 1173 by Guglielmo and Bonnano Pisano, but was only finished in 1360. Apart from its peculiar architecture, the leaning tower also plays a role in scientific history for being the location where Galileo Galilei proved his theory about gravity. Admission fee is USD 20.

Address: Piazza del Duomo

4) Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

Considered the foremost example of Pisa Romanesque architecture, this cathedral is the result of Buscheto’s fusion of different kinds of artistic styles. Admission costs only USD 2.65.

5) Piazza del Campo

This plaza serves as Siena’s main hub, and is littered with quaint cafes, restaurants and historic structures. Formerly a Roman forum, the Piazza has eventually graduated as Siena’s main place of trade. Entrance is fee, but you need to pay a sum to be admitted in certain places within the Piazza.

Address: Piazza del Campo

6) Guinigi Tower

This tower provides a lovely view of Lucca, especially during autumn. While you need to climb 130 flights of stairs, the lovely view at the top will definitely be worth your while. Admission is USD 5.30.

Address: Via S. Andrea

7) Convento Frati Cappuccini

If you are not repulsed by images of skulls and bones (lots of them), then you should include a visit to the Convento Frati Cappuccini in your itinerary. The crypts play home to the bones of Friars and other Romans, with their frames categorized in the skull room, pelvis room and thigh room. Donations are accepted in lieu of admission fees.

Address: Strata dei Cappuccini

8)  San Gimignano Bell Tower

It requires you to climb as much as 200+ flights of stairs, but when you reach the apex of San Gimignano Bell Tower, you will be treated to the nice landscape of Tuscany, Italy.

Address: San Gimignano

9) Piazza Grande

As Arezzo’s number 1 place of interest, Piazza Grande offers incredible walking and shopping tours for travelers. Its top highlight is its Town Hall, which has been in existence since the 6th century.

Address: Piazza Grande

10) Livorno- Santuario di Montenero

The santuario is not just a simple place of worship; it is a museum filled with interesting artifacts as well. Located on top of a hill, the church plays home to artifacts that range from inspirational to outright peculiar. A memorial to Mondigliani, one of Livorno’s famous citizens, is located within the area as well.

Address: Piazza di Montenero

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Marv Perez