Tuscany areas:Florence Siena Lucca Chianti San Gimignano Arezzo Pisa Versilia Cortona Montecatini Garfagnana
Useful information for visitors to Tuscany:
It's impossible to divorce Tuscany from our preconceptions. A row of cypress trees breaking the blue sky on a rolling hilltop. Olive groves and grapevines marching tidily down the side of a slope. Little medieval hill towns gazing down upon a country that has been carefully cultivated since the time of the Romans. It has been said indeed, that rather than take a photo of the modern landscape, you can gaze into a painting by Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael or Piero della Francesca. Much of the scenery is simply unchanged in 500 years.
Where to start with Tuscany though? We have the 'art cities' of Florence, Pisa and Siena - the galleries and museums, devotional buildings and architecture of Florence (Firenze) alone could swallow your entire vacation in Tuscany. Another week would just about deal with Pisa and its Campo dei Miracoli around the Leaning Tower and Baptistery. There is lesser known Lucca, a perfect medieval city within its unbreached medieval walls. But let's take a few other highlights without which no tour of Tuscany is complete.
Siena is a superb medieval city, which depopulated a few hundred years ago due to the Black Death and never quite filled up again. Indeed parts of this opulent and stylish town, around the stunning black-and-white marble Duomo, retain a semi-rural air. Cobbled streets spiral toward the central 'Campo' site of the twice yearly Palio horse race. There are dozens of little hill towns south and west of Siena, with San Gimignano (the city of towers) being best known. Montepulciano, Cortona and Pienza are joys, but also see lesser-explored Pitigliano, Massa Marittima and Volterra.
Between Florence and Siena we have Chianti, superb wine country of course and a popular retreat for British and American expats. The main towns of 'Chiantishire' are Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti. See too the medieval cloth town of Prato, with the Castello Imperator and a fine Pisan-Romanesque Duomo. Another undiscovered gem is Pistoia, with a well preserved medieval core. Heading towards the coast we have Pisa, Lucca and then the coastline of the Versilian Riviera. The most famous of the resorts is Viareggio, a fashionable resort in Victorian times, and still a fun seaside town, with great gelaterie, restaurants, beaches (though you will have to pay) and the huge February carnival. Livorno (or Leghorn as Brits dubbed it) is often dismissed as a bombed and uninspiringly rebuilt port town, but there is a lovely old town of canals and humpback bridges, a 'little Venice' indeed. Offshore we have the isle of Elba, once home to a defeated Napoleon.
The southern Tuscan coast becomes the Maremma, once a malaria-ridden backwater but now home to the famed Maremma cattle and the 'butteri', cowboys who tend them. The countryside rises to the hills of Monte Argentario and the rather lovely and very ancient town of Orbetello. South of Siena we come to the remarkable San Gimignano, a little town that became a powerful republic, albeit briefly. The soaring towers are monuments to the pride and hubris of the warring families of the town. Volterra is something quite other - built remote and striking on a high plateau, DH Lawrence wrote that it 'gets all the wind and sees all the world ... an inland island'. Thence on to Massa Marittima, an important mining town since pre-Roman (Etruscan) times. And south of Siena spreads the countryside of the Crete Senese ... which is probably that Tuscan countryside that most of us first-time visitors picture in our minds.
We can't leave southern Tuscany without visiting the Abbazia dei San Galgano, one of Italy's most stunning Gothic buildings, and the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, with its superb Renaissance frescoes. On to Montepulciano, at 600 metres above the sea it's the highest hill town in Tuscany. Then to Pienza, a Renaissance new town created from scratch by Pius II in 1459. Another lovely hill town nearby is Montalcino - wine buffs will know the name.
Eastern Tuscany's main towns are Arezzo - a beautiful Etruscan, Roman and medieval city, and the home and inspiration of movie clown Roberto Benigni (much of 'La Vita e Bella' was filmed here). Finally on to Cortona, from whose heights you gaze down upon Lake Trasimeno. The town has the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca, a fine Duomo and the Museo Diocesano.
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