But if you’re staying for a while, you may want to invest a day (or two) exploring the surrounding region of Tuscany, which is rightly considered one of the most beautiful areas in Italy and the world.
A jewel among jewels, and by all accounts one of the most beautiful places in the world, Siena is perhaps the town that best exemplifies the sleepy magic of medieval Tuscany.
While much smaller and quieter than Florence, it is equally dense of cultural wonders and artistic treasures, from its stunning Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) to the stately Palazzo Pretorio and of course the world-famous Piazza del Campo. This sloping, shell-shaped square is lined with impressive structures like the Fonte Gaia fountain or the majestic Palazzo Pubblico, with its distinctive bell tower (climb to the top for a heart-stopping view of the whole city and its backdrop of rolling hills). Of course, the piazza is also the setting of the Palio di Siena, that most unique horse race which is also the oldest sporting event in the world.
A modern toll-free highway will have you in Siena in about 1 hour. But if you’re not in a hurry, you can take the old Chiantigiana route, for a scenic drive through the wonderful Tuscan countryside.
The revered wine-making region of Chianti, which starts just south of Florence, boasts some of the most enchanted landscapes anywhere on the planet. If you choose to tour Chianti by car, on your own, we suggest following the old Chiantigiana route towards the town of Greve, where you’ll have a slew of wineries, vineyards and quaint enoteche to visit. While there, be sure to make a quick diversion to old village of Montefioralle: it’s a truly amazing place! Otherwise, many guided wine-tasting tours are available, which usually include stops in 2 or 3 wineries, a couple of characteristic rural villages, and plenty of photo ops along the way!
Pisa is known around the world for its leaning tower, which really is a mind-boggling sight – and not merely one of the most overdone photo ops in the universe… Indeed, the Piazza dei Miracoli (or Square of Miracles, where the tower and the stunning cathedral are located) is well worth the trip all by itself. But there is actually much more to this beautiful city by the mouth of the Arno, which once fought the likes of Venice and Genova for maritime dominance over the entire Mediterranean.
The Cinque Terre (or “Five Lands”) are 5 ancient fishing villages, nestled among the rocks of the dramatic and insanely picturesque Ligurian coastline. While it is nearly impossible to reach the actual villages by car, you can drive (or take the train) to either Lerici, La Spezia or Porto Venere, and from there buy a ticket for the boat service that connects the various villages. Ferries come around every half hour, so you’ll have all the time you want to explore each town, while also enjoying some amazing views from the sea
Alternatively, there is a very scenic railway connecting the 5 villages. And finally, the Cinque Terre are also a very popular hiking destination. Even if you don’t want to spend the whole day on your feet, you could choose to hike at least one section of the trail, for some breathtaking vistas literally off the beaten track…
Of all the gorgeous small towns that dot the Tuscan countryside, San Gimignano may be the most distinctive one of all. Its main peculiarity is the presence of a disproportionate number of massive towers, all built before the year 1300 (hence the nickname of “Medieval Manhattan”). Historians agree that there couldn’t have possibly been a strategic need for so many towers, so the only possible explanation is that they were built by the town’s most powerful families in a centuries-long effort to outdo each other…
Of the 72 “skyscrapers” that used to crowd San Gimignano’s skyline, 16 are still standing. Which, in our opinion, is more than enough to make it one of Tuscany’s “can’t miss” destinations!
Located on a hill-top just above Florence, Fiesole is actually older than the city it overlooks, as it was one of the 12 settlements that made up the core of the ancient Etruscan civilization. Highlights here include the quaint town square, the impressive 1000-year-old cathedral and the striking Roman amphitheater, which is still occasionally used for operas and concerts. In the end, however, its main attraction is probably the breathtaking view of Florence, best enjoyed at sunset, and perhaps accompanied by a nice glass of wine.
Another gem of north-western Tuscany is the quaint town of Lucca, one of the few cities in Italy to preserve its medieval city walls fully intact. As you wander through the narrow old streets of the historic center, stunning vistas lurk around every corner: from the uniquely-shaped Piazza Anfiteatro and breathtaking churches like San Michele in Foro or the Duomo di San Martino, to the Romanesque-Gothic Guinigi Tower, with its tree-covered roof that makes it the city’s most recognizable symbol. 2-in-1
TIP: With a bit of advance planning, you can easily squeeze Pisa and Lucca into a single day-trip!
Bologna is a big city (in fact, it’s bigger than Florence) with endless things to do, see and experience. But its essence can be summed up in its three most common nicknames.
Bologna turrita, the city of towers: of the 100-plus towers of medieval Bologna, ”only” 22 remain today, none more astounding than the so-called Two Towers, which lean frighteningly toward one another (or is it away from one another?) in the heart of the city’s historic center.
Bologna la dotta, the erudite city: Bologna is the seat of the world’s oldest university, the Alma Mater Studiorum, and to this day is one of the cultural and academic capitals of Europe.
Bologna la grassa, the fat one: Bologna is widely regarded as the culinary capital of Italy. Classics like tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagna, Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and of course Bolognese sauce were all born in this area. So if you go to Bologna, go hungry… and enjoy the feast!
Tuscany’s coastline measures over 400 kilometers, which means a rich variety of beaches to choose from. Arguably ,the most beautiful beaches are those of Maremma, on Tuscany’s southern coast. And while it is possible to do a day trip to places like Castiglione della Pescaia or Punta Ala, you’ll be spending much of the day in a car. The beaches of Versilia, on the northern coast of Tuscany, are instead just an hour away from Florence. The nature is a tad less dramatic, but lively seaside resorts like Viareggio, Forte dei Marmi or Lido di Camaiore make up for it with a vast assortment of beach clubs, bars, restaurants and discos.
Snow is probably not what comes to mind when you think of Tuscany. But with 50 km of slopes for all levels of skiers, the town of Abetone is actually one of the top skiing resorts in peninsular Italy. By car, it can be reached by Florence in under two hours, so if you leave bright and early, you can enjoy a full day of skiing and still be back in Florence by dinner time!
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