With its familiar picture book collection of art treasures and vistas – think Michelangelo’s David or the view of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence – it would be easy to imagine that you’ve seen all that Tuscany has to offer. But with an excellent choice of flight routes and airports (Pisa, Peretola in Florence, Perugia) and some superb B&B’s, hotels and villas, Tuscany remains a classic choice for a main summer holiday or short-break. To get you started on your holiday plans, we’ve put together a small selection of travel tips and regional highlights.
When to go
Spring and autumn, when the colours are at their most vivid and the smaller towns relatively crowd-free, are particularly recommended. In June, flights are reasonably-priced and there is a good chance of finding some excellent savings on your accommodation. Take a look at our current special offer at the Montestigliano estate near Siena.
City high spots
Florence, Siena and Lucca repeatedly top the charts when it comes to most popular Tuscan towns and cities.
Florence is the most crowded of the three although it is even possible to escape the crowds here. Head for the left bank and wander along the Arno, past Piazza Santo Spirito and towards the Giardino Torrigiani, a 17-acre privately-owned garden, where guided tours can be pre-arranged.
With fewer art treasures but one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, Siena is wonderful at any time of the year. Get the best view of the city – across the Piazza del Campo, the Cathedral and over the surrounding countryside - from the top of the city’s 88m high Torre del Mangia.
The least crowded of the three, Lucca is a maze of cobblestone streets and attractive piazzas, set within massive Renaissance walls.
If you’re after peace and tranquillity, the Tuscan countryside is pretty much unbeatable. Look out over a landscape of gently rolling hills, punctuated by columns of cypress trees and infused with a soft light that’s said to have been the secret magic ingredient for so many painters and architects.
If you can’t choose between a city or countryside stay, the Locanda Le Boscarecce is the ideal solution – located in the heart of the Val d’Elsa hills yet equidistant to Florence, San Gimignano and Siena.
Volterra – often overlooked in favour of its bigger-hitting neighbours, Volterra is a charming medieval hilltop town, with cobbled streets and shops crammed full of alabaster artefacts.
Pienza – the UNESCO world heritage town was the brainchild of the humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) who created what was to become regarded as the ideal Renaissance city.
Pietrasanta – if you’re lured by Tuscany’s long sandy beaches, stop on your way to the coast at Pietrasanta, an old hilltop town with a central main piazza that hosts giant art installations during the summer months.
Lucca villas and gardens – set in the countryside around Lucca, these magnificent villas feature wonderful Baroque façades overlooking gardens filled with fanciful grottos, green amphitheatres, lemon gardens and monumental cypress-lined avenues.
Fiesole – hop on a bus in Florence’s Piazza San Marco and wend your way up away from the crowds, admiring the view as you go, to the hilltop village of Fiesole. There is an Etruscan archaeological museum and amphitheatre to visit and, further up the hill, San Francesco monastery, but the real joy is the view over Florence from the Via Vecchia Fiesolana.
San Gimignano - the town’s teetering towers, each one designed to outstrip the neighbours’ efforts, attract crowds year-round, and with good reason.
Saturnia hot springs – Italy’s best-known hot spring, a series of rock pools with cascading sulphur-rich water, is at Saturnia in southern Tuscany’s Maremma region.
Each town and city in Tuscany has its own special event, some drawing huge crowds, such as the Palio at Siena. In Florence, festivities include Lo Scoppio del Carro at Easter and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino concert programme, while in Montepulciano, the barrel-rolling Bravio delle Botti is an entertaining event at the end of August.
Other special events and festivals include:
Puccini Opera Festival, Torre del Lago, August
La Giostra del Saracino, Arezzo, June
Volterra A.D, one of the best medieval fairs in Italy, August
Cacio al Fuso, cheese-rolling competition in Pienza, September
This is wine-growing territory at its best. The Chianti region between Florence and Siena is Tuscany’s wine-making powerhouse, with activity focussed around Radda, Greve, Panzano and Castellina in Chianti and endless tasting opportunities.
Further south in the province of Siena, the towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano are renowned for their Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines, both originating from the Sangiovese Grosso grape.
Why not consider a short stay in Montelpulciano with guided wine tastings?