Missed out on a summer holiday this year? Actually, September or October, when the weather is still warm, prices are lower and the crowds dispersed, is possibly the very best time to visit Italy. Plan your stay carefully and you can roll city, country and seaside into one holiday and get even better value for money!
Take an extended autumn break in Florence and you’ll get more than just a city break. These are our top 5 day trips from the city – all easily accessible by train or bus.
Best view of Florence
Jump on the no. 7 bus in Piazza San Marco and wind your way up to the Etruscan village of Fiesole, just 7 kms from the city centre.
The ruined remains of the amphitheatre and Roman baths are worth a visit but the big attraction is the view. Enjoy glimpses of Florence as you meander up in the bus towards Fiesole’s small piazza, then walk up Via San Francesco to a terrace of panoramic gardens that overlook the city.
Plan your trip for early evening and, if you’re lucky, you’ll experience one of the best sunsets in memory.
Just 80 kms to the west of Florence, Puccini’s birthplace, Lucca, sits on plateau encircled by massive 16th century stone walls.
Wander from one little piazza to another until you reach the vast Piazza Anfiteatro, stroll along the main Via Fillungo shopping street where eye-catching shop windows stand side-by-side with tower houses and churches, or climb up the Guinigi Tower, once home to one of Lucca’s most influential 15th century families, for some spectacular views.For a different slant on the city, pick up a bike at one of the many bike rental shops and cycle the city walls – 12 metres high and in some parts, up to 25 metres wide.
With the distinct advantage of being fairly flat, and with many pedestrianised streets, Lucca is a great city to explore by bike. Lucca is just over an hour from Florence by train.
Beach life, Italian-style - Viareggio
Tuscan beach life – endless rows of sun-beds and ombrelloni lined up on vast strips of perfectly manicured sand - doesn’t suit everybody but if you like the idea of lazing on a sun-bed far from the bustle of the city, accompanied by a good book and the sound of the sea, Viareggio is hard to beat.
Linger over a cappuccino at the Gran Caffé Margherita, the most famous of the Liberty-style buildings that line Viareggio’s Belle Epoque promenade, and indulge in a seafood lunch at one of the main reasonably-priced restaurants along the seafront.The journey by rail from Florence to Viareggio takes around an hour and a half.
The beach at Viareggio is just a 10-minute walk from the station.
Thermal baths at Montecatini Terme
Just 40 minutes by train from Florence, Italy’s biggest spa town, Montecatini Terme, offers an altogether different experience and atmosphere to Tuscany’s hilltop villages and towns.
There are around ten ‘public’ baths, including the astonishingly beautiful Spa Tettuccio where ‘spa treatments’ are as much about drinking the waters to cure specific ailments as seeking beauty therapies – but the real attraction of a visit here is the lavish Liberty-style architecture.
Wander through town along the Viale Verdi, lined with shops, cafés and restaurants, past the historic Gran Café Gambrinus, to the section of the town where most of the spas are. The steep trip up through countryside on an ancient funicular cable car, to the picturesque medieval Montecatini Alto, is also worth doing.
The village’s pretty little Piazza Giusti has several cafés and restaurants, but wander beyond the square up to the clock tower and the Chiesa della Carmine to explore a traditional Tuscan hilltop village.
Towers in Tuscany - San Gimignano
Touristy, yes, but riveting. San Gimignano is Italy’s answer to Manhattan, home to towers which are of questionable architectural beauty but symbolic of the struggle for power and wealth between rival factions in medieval times and a classic example of the primeval urge to ‘beat your neighbour’.
Of the original 72 towers, just 14 remain but the setting is enchanting.
The bus journey from Florence (via Poggibonsi) takes just over two hours.