So you’re off to the Tuscan sun? Grape growing and the cultivation of wine has been central to the agriculture of Tuscany for nearly 3,000 years. When you’ve answered the call of Chianti there’s Renaissance opulence, al fresco lunches, and some of Italy’s most captivating historic sites to escape to, here. Take a look at some of these Tuscan must-sees!
What to See
Michelangelo’s statue of David is the highlight in any art-lover’s fantasy, but there’s more than his rippling abs and miniscule manhood to keep the conversation going. The Uffizi Museum itself is a masterpiece packed with masterpieces, with views of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from one side. Accademia’s focus is on sculptures.
Tucked behind the art-filled Pitti Palace you’ll find sun, shade, tweeting birds, and rainbow-filled fountains in one of Florence’s most fabulous gardens. It’s well worth a peaceful stroll here when you’ve filled up on statues and Renaissance artworks inside. Don’t miss a selfie with the Roman God of Wine astride a turtle at the Bacchus Fountain.
There’s a mind-boggling 1500 years of engineering behind the making of the dome! The finely detailed facade and starkly contrasted interior will transport you back to Florence in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. It’s a long way up those 414 steps to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower, but the views over Florence make it worth the climb.
This former residence of the rich offers pure escapism under the Tuscan sun. Botanical rarities bloom in gorgeous gardens. Gurgling water features soothe the soul, and refined works of art throughout the Villa Reale remind us that the way wealthy people live hasn’t changed much since the 17th century. Another glass of 1823’s finest, while you’re here?
Refreshing mountain air, pristine nature and miles of hikeable and bikeable trails make a visit to Il Ciocco’s Living Mountain a highlight of any trip. This is Tuscany as you haven’t seen it on the TV: a tranquil escape spanning 1,700 acres in the heart of the Serchio Valley. It’s the perfect place to take an afternoon nap while you digest all that pasta.
In 1546, this shipyard launched the first galera that had ever been constructed entirely by local craftsmen – now that’s teamwork! Maritime enthusiasts will love the history lesson on the long-lasting relationship between Pisa and sailing. Peer through the cracks of wrecks and get up close to everyday items from the ancient Etruscan and Roman port.
What to Eat
The word Ribolita means ‘boiled twice’, which is exactly how Tuscany treats this special soupy concoction of beans and kale. It’s a real comfort food classic that’s served with toasted bread on the day it’s made. The second day, it’s cooked again in a pan with olive oil. Waste not, want not.
Pici and pappardelle
Often associated with the pretty city of Siena, the thick hand-rolled pici is a spaghetti-like pasta with tomato, garlic and breadcrumbs. Spot the locals tucking into huge bowls and if you’re still hungry, don’t miss the crespelle and testaroli pastas that are just as famous in Tuscany, made with a crepe-like dough.
It wouldn’t be Italy without gelato. Some say it was invented in Renaissance Florence by Bernardo Buontalenti – there’s even a creamy flavour named after him (ooh-er). Treat yourself to a scoop or three at the world-famous Dondoli in San Gimignano. Once the world gelato champion, this boutique gelato bar has a list of 40 amazing oddball flavours to try, including saffron.
Lunch in a Chianti winemaking commune
The Tuscan countryside (and its tipples) takes on new meaning with a wine experience in the Chianti Hills. The winemaking commune of Radda is nestled amongst olive groves, rustic farmhouses and wineries, perfect for learning the intricacies of winemaking. Enjoy a delicious lunch, and get stuck into the only research that counts – the tastings.
You’ll need to reserve a table in advance but Podere Còncori is a small-scale biodynamic winery with a secret farmhouse vibe. Relax after lunch with more syrah and pinot noir, or walk through the vineyards with the winemaker.
A Weekend Away
Siena makes a great base for seeing Tuscany and the Chianti region. It’s also an excellent weekend away, and nothing at all like Florence. Grab a Siena Pass and see the beautiful Cathedral of Siena and the frescos in the crypt, which were only discovered in the 90s. Other highlights include the Piccolomini Library, the Opera Museum, and the Baptistery.
It’s an easy train, bus or car ride from Tuscany to Pisa, so if your sights are set on the tilted attraction, book your Leaning Tower of Pisa Fast-Track tickets before you arrive, and make it your first stop. That way you’ll miss most of the crowds, and you might even get that essential photo of yourself pushing it over, with no like minded tourists in the background!
The two thermal baths in Montecatini both let you soak your weary bones where Italians have been bathing for over a century. Bliss out in the Redi thermal complex, with medicinal water sourced from the Leopoldine and Rinfresco springs. Or try the bigger Montecatini Terme, surrounded by ancient trees and landscaped gardens. There’s even a free concert every day!