Tuscany travel guide
2 minute summary
Tangled knots of vine stretch as far as the eye can see and as you pause momentarily to dab your brow from the heat of the day you’re reminded, yet again, what a good idea it was to decline that coach trip to Florence. Tuscany’s cities are incredible and contain an inordinate amount of Renaissance art and Romanesque architecture; however, during the summer they can become packed and more akin to Napoleon’s 18th century invasion rather than a cultural sightseeing tour.
Walking or cycling to lesser-known villages and towns, especially outside of the summer, offers a much more medieval vision of Tuscany with surrounding scenery promising endless opportunities to enjoy life outdoors. Staying on a working farm is a great way to envelope yourself within Tuscany’s most idyllic rural images and if you fancy eating al fresco with grapes hanging overhead and chickens scratching around in the yard then agriturismo is definitely the way to go.
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Tuscany map & highlights
Make the most of your time
If you think Tuscany starts and finishes with Florence then you’re way off as from the coastline of Maremma to the mountainous landscapes of Garfagnana, there’s much more to Tuscany than just tourist hot spots. Often the best way to explore is to bin the guidebook; and setting off on foot or two wheels lets you wind your way through the agricultural land surrounding the likes of Arezzo, Lucca and San Gimignano, en-route to who knows where. Strolling to the echoes of church bells and ascending pigeons forms an indelible soundtrack and no sooner than you’ve embraced the Apennines and cavorted in Chianti you’ll be planning your next trip quicker than steam dissipating from that first espresso.
The sloping, red bricked Piazza Grande is the perfect place to sit and take stock in Arezzo with an intriguing border of dusty antique shops and Gothic style facades adding to the Sunday morning ambience. Like most Tuscan towns, Arezzo takes its heritage very seriously with numerous medieval processions making their way through the narrow cobbled streets during the course of the summer.
This lesser known region of northern Tuscany is quite possibly one of the most fulfilling for hikers thanks, in no small part, to the highly impressive Apennine Mountains. Following well tramped donkey trails over alpine ridges and through dense beech forests, filled with wild mushrooms, presents a banquet for the senses alongside several challenging ascents, including Tuscany’s highest peak: Monte Prado.
No trip to Tuscany is complete without at least a glass of Chianti and Greve’s Saturday morning market is the perfect place to pick up some accompanying bread, olives and fresh pecorino. The local butcher, Macelleria Falorni, is the toast of Tuscany and adding a hunk of his cinghiale (wild boar) to your ever burgeoning backpack is a treat for carnivores intending to explore classic Chianti hillsides.
Views from Panzano’s hilltop location are truly beautiful and if you find yourself on the scenic Chiantigiana highway, somewhere between Florence and Siena, this is an attractive place to pause for lunch. Although many come to Panzano to visit the famous Tuscan butcher, Mac Dario, or the surrounding Chianti Classico wine estates, sometimes it’s better to explore with a little less purpose.
San Gimignano’s 14 towers, medieval piazzas and art-filled churches have resisted all manner of destruction which has made the hilltop town a huge draw for cultural travellers. Things can get very busy in the summer but if you can find time to visit either side of May or September, San Gimignano is an absolute treat especially when appreciated from an outdoor terrace over a cool glass of Vernaccia.
If Leonardo da Vinci were alive he wouldn’t be unfamiliar with the views from his home town’s medieval ramparts as the steeped olive groves and grape vines haven’t changed all that much since the Renaissance. The obligatory museum is housed within an oval shaped 12th century castle and is well worth a look, although the 3km vineyard walk to the hamlet of Anchiano is probably more memorable.
Medieval heritage is everywhere you turn in Tuscany and the walls surrounding Volterra paint a picture of what life was like back in the Middle Ages. The city’s lifeblood stems from the Piazza dei Priori and makes for an ideal starting point to discover Volterra’s Romanesque cathedrals, Roman amphitheatre and 13th century gates as well as an assortment of traditional alabaster workshops.