What do you say about the Tuscany region of Italy that has not already been said, written, painted, photographed or filmed? As a visitor it is impossible to decide what to see and what to skip – and you don’t want to miss any of it. There is so much embedded in the place that you could spend an entire summer exploring just one facet of this fascinating part of Italy. It is not an area that you can cross off your bucket list with a casual ‘been there, done that.’
Tuscany is located in the west-central region of Italy with a coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is crisscrossed by several mountain chains including the Apennines. The mountains and hills make up more than 65% of the region and that distinguishes and defines Tuscany. Its achingly beautiful multi-hued rolling hills capture your heart like no other. It also partly explains why it is the most visited part of Italy.
Even the diversity of the climate seems made for your pleasure. The coastal region is fair and mild; blessed with wonderful beaches and magical coastlines. Away from the coast, among the mountains, it can get very cold in winter. This fluctuation in temperatures and weather cycles combined with its soil and agricultural output once made Tuscany the main food source for Ancient Rome. Today it is also probably the vineyard of the country.
Tuscany has many famous and notable towns but the large and important cities have grown and developed on the banks of the River Arno. Their names – Florence (aka Firenze), Empoli, Pisa, Siena, Livorno, Viareggio – roll off the tongue like poetry (even if your Italian isn’t good) and conjure up images of splendour.
The region had a civilization and culture long before that of Rome. Known as the Etruscans (from where the name Tuscany is probably derived) they developed an enduring cultural (and language) identity that survives till this day. This long, rich and vibrant history has turned the whole region into a veritable museum and storehouse of extraordinary art – whether it is architecture, painting or sculpture – all masterpieces.
So numerous, wondrous and well-preserved are the historical, artistic and cultural legacies that UNESCO has designated seven whole areas as World Heritate Sites! They are the Historic Centre of Florence; the Historical Centre of Siena; the Cathedral of Pisa and the Piazza dei miracoli (square of miracles); the Historical centre of San Gimignano (a hilltop village with 14 fantastic towers); the Historical centre of Pienza; the Val d'Orcia and the Medici Villas and Gardens.
One could go on and on about Tuscany’s churches, palaces, villages and piazzas. The region has an incredible number of amazing towns like Pisa and its leaning Tower and Cathedral Square and the renowned Uffizi Gallery and Museum but the two shining jewels in this glittering land are Florence and Siena.
Florence is the birthplace of Renaissance and two incredible men – Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. These three factors alone would have made many other renowned cities culturally rich. However, Florence is also the beneficiary of the wealth, power and extraordinary legacy of the Medici family. Without them Florence would not be what it is. Their efforts and patronage either directly or indirectly spawned the Florentine School of art with such alumni as Fra Angelico, Botticelli and a host of others.
Siena is another great treasure chest. Its rich artistic tradition generated the Sienese School. It’s well-preserved art and architecture date from the medieval period. An outstanding example of the city’s artistic richness is its huge and beautiful shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the Cathedral and the Palazzo Pubblico.
Tuscany however, is not all art and architecture. The other face to the region is its natural side. Travel across the rolling hills with their quilt patchwork of olive groves and vineyards; the changing colours of the fields and forests; the fairy tale houses of the small towns and villages and past the picturesque gardens of the villas and you will feel that you are imbibing the Tuscan essence through every sense.
Tuscany has over 120 protected nature reserves and parks. They are home to some of Europe’s oldest forests. One of the most beautiful is Pinocchio’s Park. Carlo Collodi, the creator of The Adventures of Pinocchio, took his pen name from his mother’s village – Collodi. The Park has lovely winding pathways that are populated with statues of characters from the story.
There are other things you can do and experience in Tuscany. You can indulge in gastronomic tours and sample (or gorge on) the fabulous food. Each district seems to cook things their own way, producing their own distinct flavours. Then you could get well and truly happy by signing up for a wine tasting tour. This is after all, Chianti country. The region boasts over 30 wines! Don’t get me started on this aspect of Tuscany. I could spend a whole summer just doing wine tours!
No matter what you do, where you go or what you see, one thread binds all of Tuscany – stunning beauty!