From the Roman to the Renaissance era, Tuscany is home to a valuable repository of extraordinary paintings, sculptures, frescoes and architectural masterpieces. Though visitors love Tuscany for its art, there are other good reasons to visit the region. The extraordinary countryside, local culture, gourmets and wine are waiting for those who want to enjoy life. The more you come to know the region, the more extraordinary Tuscany appears. The starting point of a visit in Tuscany is the city of Florence (1h30 trip from Rome and 1h40 trip from Milan).
Florence (Firenze in Italian) is the birthplace of Renaissance and home to famous artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Donatello. The city lies on the banks of the river Arno, in a valley surrounded by gentle hills. Florence is a compact city best discovered on foot. Most interesting sights and landmarks are within 20 minutes’ walk apart.
Head to Oltrarno, the left bank district, which is home to the Pitti Palace, the Boboli gardens and the Piazzale Michelangelo lookout. After a short walk from Santa Maria Novella station you will reach the religious heart of the city where the magnificent tricolour-marble cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto’s bell tower, the Baptistery and the imposing red tiled dome by Brunelleschi that dominates the skyline of Florence will fascinate you.
Not too far away is the splendid piazza della Signoria, the civic centre, dominated by the stunning Palazzo Vecchio and its crenellated tower. Beside the palace is the Loggia de Lanzi, the arcade hosting some world famous statues such as Cellini’s Perseus. The Loggia, the nearby Uffizi Gallery with its huge collection of paintings and the other outstanding monuments corroborate the statement of Florence as an open-air museum.
Our tip: Buy the Florence card and enjoy the city attractions, entrance to around 60 sites and free public transport for 72 hours.
Florence > Pistoia Pistoia > Montecatini Terme
Reach Pistoia, a town located to the northwest of Florence and which is easily accessible by train (30 min trip). Pistoia is definitely one of the undiscovered treasures filled with lovely historic alleys and side streets. Get lost in the town centre and find the Roman Cathedral of San Zeno with a beautiful bell tower and a baptistery dating back to the 13th century, the former Palazzo dei Vescovi with a gothic loggia, and the Town Hall adorned with mullioned windows. Don’t forget to go to the Sala square where a lively popular vegetable market is held every working day. Don’t miss to visit the small nice shops around and to stop in the local restaurants and trattorie for a true Tuscan slow experience.
After lunch take the train to Montecatini Terme (10 min trip), an excellent base for exploring Tuscany. Montecatini Terme is a pleasant and peaceful town reminiscent of bygone days with a big park in the centre, 3 thermal establishments, an elegant wellness centre, high quality shops and nice bars and restaurants. Take the oldest funicular in the world and visit the historic old town. On the top, in the lovely Medieval square, you can have a greedy break in one of the excellent restaurants. Afterwards try a relaxing treatment into one of the spa centres.
If you have one more day to spare, visit the small town of Pescia (1h trip from Florence). In the old medieval town centre you can find very impressive buildings like the Palazzo del Vicario decorated with coats of arms of Florentine vicars, today seat of the Town Hall; the Palagio or Palazzo del Podestà with the original L. Andreotti Museum; the Church of Saint Francesco, with the genuine painting on wood of Saint Francis, painted by Bonaventura Berlinghieri and the Church of San Antonio with its wonderful frescoes which dates back from the 14th century.
Florence > Lucca Lucca > Pisa
Hop on the train to reach the town of Lucca (1h20 trip). Take a walk through the centuries in the confined space of the ancient town. The roads, the roman forum, the medieval churches with precious marble embroideries, the Renaissance palaces of the silk merchants and the city walls, are few of the treasures waiting to be discovered. But one real gem is the roof garden on the top of the Guinigi Tower and the world-famous oval Amphitheatre square. Try the delicious vegetables, fish and meat soups, topped with the excellent extra virgin olive oil from the hills of Lucca and accompanied by local red and white wines are offered in a wide variety of restaurants and bistros.
The next day head to Pisa (30 min trip), the city of Galileo Galilei, which is much more than the renowned leaning Tower. The town certainly deserves more than the unmissable pause at the beautiful Piazza dei Miracoli, a UNESCO heritage site.
Visit the Renaissance-style Piazza dei Cavalieri, located just a few minutes from the Tower. A symbol of the Medici rule over the city, it houses the most important buildings and churches of Grand Ducal Pisa, in particular the Palazzo dei Cavalieri (also called Palazzo della Carovana) with its majestic facade. Discover the historic centre of Pisa, which is divided by the river Arno. The view of the Lungarni (riversides) and the buildings overlooking the river is always spectacular and ever changing. In the month of June, discover the Gioco del Ponte (The Battle of the Bridge), one of the most important historical displays of the city, to celebrate the Saint patron of Pisa, San Ranieri. At dusk on the 16th June, for the whole night, the Lungarni of Pisa turn out their lights and place candles in the window frames of the buildings to create a magical atmosphere.
Pisa > Siena Siena > San Gimignano
About 30 minutes’ walk away from the railway station of Siena (1h44 trip from Pisa), from the steepest and narrowest of lanes suddenly appears the blinding red of Piazza del Campo, one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. The Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia (Tower of the Eater) are the stand-out features of this shell-shapped piazza. Look out for the Fountain of Joy, built in 1419 as a system to bring water to the city centre. 300 metres away from the Piazza, you will find the Santa Maria della Scala, one of Europe’s first hospitals, which is now a museum.
Have a walk to the northern edge of central Siena in the San Prospero quarter and discover the Fortezza Medicea (Medici Fortress), an impressive fort built between 1561 and 1563. Take a break in the Enoteca Italiana and taste its precious wines from Siena and Italy. A few paces away it is possible to visit the Sanctuary of Saint Catherine, Italy’s Patron Saint.
Spend your last day in Tuscany to visit the town of San Gimignano. Take a bus from from Siena to reach Poggibonsi, from where there are frequent buses to San Gimignano. The towered silhouette of San Gimignano, rising from the hills is famous all over the world. San Gimignano architecture is still almost intact as it was some 600 years ago. 15 out of 72 towers once standing can still be admired today. Discover the beautiful Piazza della Cisterna, built in 1327, and considered as the heart of the town. Next to it is the Piazza Duomo, the Podestà’s Palace and the Town Hall.