The central Italian region of Tuscany is brimming with world renowned tourist icons, decadent Renaissance art, delicious Tuscan food and sublime local wines.
Count the towers of San Gimignano
The gorgeous fairytale medieval town of San Gimignano is overloaded with picturesque churches and towers at every turn and its compact enough to explore on foot in a day. The historic center of the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss the mediaeval Palazzo del Popolo (peoples Palace) which contains exquisite frescoes alongside an interesting museum and gallery. The crowning glory is the Torre Grossa (Great Tower) which dominates the skyline rather majestically and is the town’s tallest tower at 200 feet tall. In fact San Gimignano used to have 72 towers in total, but only 14 remain today. Get a birdseye view from one of the observation decks at the Clock Tower, the Podesta's Palace which gives a superb view of the Piazza Duomo and the Rocca, which is literally a massive rock on the outskirts of town.
Sample the sublime Chianti
This one little word will elicit images of lush grape-strewn hills, romantic castles and of course endless glasses of delicious Chianti Riserva red wine! The region of Chianti is of course famous for its production of the sangiovese grape, of which at least 80% goes into the wine’s production. Spend a few hours (or even a few days) touring the local vineyards and tasting the various Chianti and Super Tuscan wine blends. Stay at a local guesthouse and enjoy leisurely meals at the local trattorias of hearty ribollita soup, crostini topped with pecorino and the ubiquitous panzanella summer salad.
Explore the Great Tuscan Artists
As well as impressive landscapes and delicious cuisine, the region is also famous for its great Tuscan artists, whose names trip easily off the tongue; Michelangelo, Botticelli and da Vinci. Rising to prominence in the 13th century, these greats gave rise to the birth of the Renaissance period. And the best place in the world to admire the very best collection of such works is at the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery in the World Heritage city of Florence. The gallery is divided into ‘rooms’ dedicated to artists such as Giotto who is best known for the 1310 painting ‘Madonna di Ognissanti’. Botticelli’s great paintings of Birth of Venus and Primavera both attract large crowds as does the Leonardo da Vinci room, which features his works ‘The Annunciation’ and ‘Adoration of the Magi’. Get here early and prepare yourself for the vast crowds.
Discover medieval Siena
The beautiful medieval city of Siena has long rivalled neighbour Florence in cultural and historical terms. The city has preserved its gothic heritage which has influenced other cities within Europe with its art, architecture and town planning. And the highlight of UNESCO-listed Siena has to be its Duomo, aka the Siena Cathedral with its handsome black and white Italian Romanesque façade. Within the cathedral are the Libreria Piccolomini, Baptistery, Crypt and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo museum which houses the famous works of ‘Maestà’ by Duccio. The impressive structure houses works from many important European artists and attracts over one million visitors every year. Admire the spectacular view over the city from Il Facciatone.
Enjoy the festivals of Arezzo
More than 2,500 years of history are encapsulated in the Tuscan city of Arezzo. And the best way to immerse yourself in the medieval history is to catch the annual Giostra del Saracino Festival (Joust of the Saracens) which takes place in the beautiful main square, Piazza Grande. Knights mounted on horseback score points by charging at a wooden target board and it’s virtually compulsory for all attendees to wear medieval costumes. Held on the third Sunday of June and each first Sunday in September. Each summer the city hosts the annual theatre event, the Arezzo Wave Love Festival.
Don’t forget to dip your toe into the cultural delights of Arezzo too! Don’t miss the exquisite Arezzo Cathedral (Duomo) in the heart of the city, browse the fascinating Museo Archeologico and check out the vast Antiques Fair which is held each first weekend of the month on Piazza Grande. With over 500 stalls you’ll be hard pressed to find more treasures on one site.
Get to the Leaning Tower of Pisa before it straightens!
Probably the most famous cultural sight within Tuscany is the iconic La Torre di Pisa, aka The Leaning Tower of Pisa. But it’s just been revealed that the tower is actually beginning to straighten – its regained 2.5cm in the 12 years! Located on Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo, the Romanesque architecture tower was closed to climbers for many years but is once again open. La Torre di Pisa was originally built at a bell tower for the Pisa Cathedral in 1173. And the famous lean is caused by subsidence – much of Pisa is built on unstable marshland. Cue the cheesy photos!
Get back to nature on Elba Island
The Mediterranean island of Elba forms part of the Tuscan archipelago and is the perfect spot for swimming, watersports and outdoor activities. Much of the island is also part of the Archipelago Toscano National Park which is ideal for walking, climbing and spotting local wildlife. Chill out on the superb island beaches of Spiaggia di Sansone and Spiaggia e Relitto di Pomonte, where you can try scuba diving. Challenge yourself to ascend Monte Capanne, which will take moderately-fit climbers around two hours, which rises to 3,343' (1,019 m) and offers panoramic views of Corsica, Monte Cristo and the mainland.
Elba Island has also featured in historical tales as this is the location of Napoleon’s exile, when he was forced out of France by the coalition in 1814. Elba’s history is absolutely fascinating and makes for one of the most interesting things to do in Tuscany: it dates back to the pre-Roman period and was chosen as the settlement of both Ligures (ancient Indo-Europeans) and then the Etruscans (ancient Italian civilization). Elba is Tuscany’s largest island and indeed the third biggest with Italy. The main highlights are the rich cultural heritage which is evident within the quaint hilltop towns and traditional castles and the huge array of leisure and recreational activities on offer, from swimming, hiking, kayaking and diving.