When it comes to Europe, everyone always says “go to Tuscany!” So what exactly is Tuscany and why visit?
Tuscany is a region of central Italy, located a few hours north of Rome, and is home to approx 3.8 million people. Its capital is the historic city of Florence.
The region is home to some of the most extraordinary rural landscapes, beautiful patchworks of fields, small farms, olive groves and vineyards. Tuscany is a photographer’s dream, especially at sunset when the rich colours of the landscape become postcard perfecto!
Tuscany was the home of the Italian Renaissance, where art and science exploded in the middle ages and made this region the epicentre of high culture in the world. The richness of the historic towns of Siena and San Gimignano, as well as the art galleries and monuments of Florence, are testament to this fabulous time in history when Tuscany shined its brightest.
One of the main reasons people visit Tuscany by the busload each year is that it has some of the highest concentrations of UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites in the world (7 designated sites within this small region alone). The seven listed sites include the historic centres of Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, and Pienza, the Val d’Orcia, the main cathedral in Pisa and the Medici Villas and Gardens.
You could spend a month exploring Tuscany, however most people are limited in time. So, below I have listed a few of my favourite places to visit in this world-renowned region.
Florence is a must for any visit to Tuscany (or northern Italy for that matter), being the centre and capital of the region. Florence is a large city, and not the rural image that often comes to mind when you think of Tuscany, but it’s home to some real gems such as the historic old city centre with Duomo Square and Piazza della Signoria. For art lovers, head to Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s famous Statue of David and for some retail therapy you can visit the many fine leather boutiques.
Siena has a great atmosphere about it and would easily be my favourite place in the whole of Italy. I like the massive shell-shaped town square – the heart of Siena, where they hold the famous Palio horse race each year. The square is lined with cafes, gelateria (gelato’s so tasty – yummo) and small touristy boutiques, making it a great place to spend a few hours exploring and people watching. The elaborate 13th century Siena Cathedral is an architectural masterpiece and also well worth visiting whilst in Siena.
Home to the famous ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’. The tower has to be seen to be believed – it looks like it can topple over at any moment. Being scared of heights, we were too chicken to climb to the top, but did take the mandatory tacky tourist photos where it looks like we are holding the tower up.
The beautiful walled hill town of San Gimignano is very different from the other towns in Tuscany due to its unique towers that dominate the skyline. They were built by rich families and at one stage the town had over 70 of these towers. Unfortunately today most are gone and only 14 remain. Our guide called San Gimignano the ‘medieval Manhattan’ and it’s true, the towers do stick up like mini skyscrapers over the other buildings in the old part of town.
On a side note: make sure you visit Gelateria di Piazza for the best and freshest gelato known to man…wow it was good!
Do yourself a favour and head to Tuscany the next time you are in Europe.