The Tuscany region of Italy is a perennial favourite. Its storied cities are replete with art, culture and history. Meanwhile, olive groves lined with poplar trees carpet its verdant hills and rows of vines stretch as far as the horizon in its vineyards. Is it time you visited? Find out what you need to know with Mundana’s guide to Tuscany.
What are the must-sees?
Tuscany’s main draw is breathtaking Florence, known to locals as Firenze. Nowhere does art quite like it. This centuries-old city is home to several world-class art galleries. They include the Uffizi and Accademia galleries, the latter being where you’ll find Michelangelo’s David. Be sure to reserve a ticket well ahead of your trip, particularly if you plan to travel in the peak summer season. Another must-see is the city’s splendid cathedral. The Duomo was built from white, red and green marble. Together with the adjacent campanile (belltower), it is an extraordinary sight. Take a walk; cross the River Arno on the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge that has been associated with jewellery selling since the 16th century.
Most travellers to Siena begin in the Piazza del Campo. Laid out in an unusual semi-circular shape, this is home to the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena’s magnificent 13th century town hall. Before you run out of energy, climb the 400 steps up the Torre del Mangia, named after the first bell ringer. Santa Maria della Scala, a former hospital now converted into a museum complex makes another interesting diversion. The centre of Siena is ripe for exploring, with plenty of pavement cafés when you’re ready for a gelato or simply a spot of people-watching. If you can, time your visit to Siena to coincide with the Palio. This fabulous pageant features a bareback horse race around the Piazza del Campo and a colourful accompanying festival called the Corteo Storico.
Charming San Gimignano is known for its towers. In medieval times, there were 72 of them, built from stone in the 13th and 14th centuries. They were a way of demonstrating how much wealth a family had, so everyone aspired to one. These towers still dominate the skyline of this pretty hill town. However, now, you’ll see just 14, but even this diminished number still makes a massive impression on visitors. It’s also a must to wander around the historic centre and admire San Gimignano’s walls. A visit to the fresco-adorned Duomo di San Gimignano, built in the 12th century, is also highly recommended.
Pisa is famous for its Leaning Tower. Its construction hit problems right from the start which the soft ground caused this belltower to sink on one side. Over the years, efforts have been made to prop up the historic structure but it still has a noticeable lean. Climb the steps to the top and you’ll see that they have worn unevenly as a result, though the view’s unchanged. However, this university city has much more to offer than what you’ll see in the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles. Take a stroll along the banks of the River Arno to admire the colourful buildings that line its banks or visit scientist Galileo Galilei’s house, now a museum.
Your first stop in Lucca ought to be the Duomo and the chance to gaze at the Volto Santo, which has long been a symbol of the place. Another highlight is the Torre Guinigi which has trees growing on its roof – a garden in the sky. Rent a bicycle and tour the city’s ancient heart, including its well-preserved walls. The 4km circuit is a must for its views over the surrounding countryside. To fully appreciate Lucca, make sure you also allow plenty of time to explore its labyrinthine old town. The city boasts a hundred or so churches and also many other historic sites, making this the ideal place to book a walking tour.
Within the cities, particularly if you’re based in the historic centre, it’s most easy to get around on foot. Streets tend to be narrow and the traffic can be heavy. Rather than stress about finding a parking space, take a stroll instead. It can be useful to hire a car if you’re planning to travel around a lot. Although, don’t rule out rail travel, especially on long distance routes between major places. Journey times on these superb high speed trains are surprisingly short, making side trips to cities such as Rome, Venice and Bologna a real possibility. Opt for business or executive class carriages when travelling on a Frecciarossa service. It’s first class on Frecciargento and Frecciabianca. Levels of comfort are superior and there is plenty of space.
Let us help you plan your trip
As you get started figuring out your itinerary an important question is whether to find a single base from which to do day trips or spend a few nights in various places on a tour. Both have their merits, so it comes down to personal preference. There’s much to be said for renting a villa with a pool and a pretty view, particularly if you’re a larger group of friends and family. Choose the right location and you’ll be within a stone’s throw of many of the area’s most sought-after cities to visit on day trips.
If you’d prefer to explore at a more leisurely pace and also see those places in the evening, you might prefer to base yourself in the heart of an old town, switching locations when you’re ready to change your surroundings. Whichever option suits you better, rest assured Mundana’s team of experts have an eye for detail and can organise all the arrangements for you. Whether you focus solely on Tuscany or are keen to see more of Italy, we can help you put together the perfect holiday.
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