Hello Tuscany

After Rome, Tuscany (Toscana) is the second place most tourists visit. Widely regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance in Italy, it is a cultural hot spot with endless palazzi, art galleries, fine churches and statues. The home of numerous artists, inventors and musicians, there are six World Heritage Sites in the region.

Apart from this, the rolling hills and beautiful countryside is the source of some of the best of Italian wines and other produce.

You must see:

12florenceFlorence: (Firenze) 

Fast Facts:

  • The gothic cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, begun in 1296, is the ornate and colourful centre of the old city. Climb to the top of the dome or belltower for postcard views over the city, but don't miss the stunning interior and the crypt. There are 414 steps to the top of the Campanile (belltower) and over 400 to the Duomo.
  • The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) over the Arno was built over a thousand years ago where a Roman bridge probably spanned the river. Shop for jewellery, art, leather and souvenirs located right on the bridge.
  • Michelangelo's 5.17 metres high marble statue of David was completed in 1504. It was originally placed in the square outside the Palazzo della Signoria. The original is now located in  Florence's Accademia Gallery.
  • The Uffizi art gallery is housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi and has Italy's largest collection of Italian Renaissance art originally owned by the ruling Medici family in the 16th century.
  • The huge and ornate Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) once belonged to the Pitti family, rivals to the Medicis. When it was acquired by the Medicis in 1549, they laid out the adjoining Boboli Gardens, now an ideal place to relax after sightseeing.

Eat nearby: Eat in Florence at: www.dininginflorence.com

Extra time:

  • Visit Oltrarno, near the Pitti Palace, to see Florence as it once was, and with fewer tourists. It's like the Left Bank in Paris, or Trastevere in Rome.
  • Take a short trip into the hills east of Florence for a breath of fresh air and a view down over the city far below. Escape to the Hills

Trivia: Leonardo Da Vinci was born in Anchiano, not Florence.

More information: Wikipedia 


Fast Facts:

  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendente) - more than a curiosity - it is the cathedral's 12C belltower. The scientist Galileo is said to have used it for his experiments to discover whether  a larger cannonball would fall faster than a smaller one. Closed to visitors for 20 years while it was stabilised, and reopened in 2001. It is now said not to be tilting any further. A winding staircase of 298 steps leads to the top viewing platform, and a limited number of tourists may climb each day.
  • The Cathedral is not to be missed either. Its black and white marble interior, gilded ceiling and frescoes in the domes make it very beautiful. The breathtakingly beautiful piazza is called the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) and the entire complex has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Eat nearby:

The main square area is geared to tourists and may be expensive. Try Hostaria Pizzeria Le Repubbliche Marinare for fine seafood dishes.

Extra time:

  • Dip your toes in the Tyrrhenian Sea, a little further west at Marina de Pisa. It's on the southern side of the mouth of the Arno River, which flows through Florence.
  • Make a detour off the highway into Lucca, a peaceful medieval rose-coloured walled city. The area is noted for exceptional olive oil.
  • Carrara marble is valued worldwide and has been quarried from the coastal Apuan Alps since Roman times. Bring home a souvenir (there are many!) or visit the Museo del Marmo (Marble Museum) or a nearby working quarry. 

Trivia: Pisa's leaning tower it is just one of seven in Italy and many throughout the world: 

More information: Wikipedia

06chianitSiena and the Chianti region:

Fast Facts:

  • Siena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the panforte capital of Italy, but also well-known for its massive and magnificent fan-shaped piazza, as well as the controversial Palio, the horse race run twice each summer. The 12C cathedral is one of the finest in Italy.
  • Signs with a black rooster (gallo nero) on them signals you are in the hilly region between Siena and Florence where this famous wine is made. Often bottled in bulbous raffia wrapped bottles, Chianti is a light, easy-drinking red wine which dates back to the 13th century. It must be produced with at least 80 percent Sangiovese grapes, and is ideal for pairing with local dishes.
  • There are many villages and small towns that are worth visiting in the Chianti Classico, a 250 square-kilometre region to the south of Florence. They include Greve, Gaiole, Radda, and Renaissance  town of Castellina. With their walls, piazzas, cafes - and perhaps too many people in tourist season - they are still quite delightful. 
  • Fortified hill-top towns Montepulciano, Montelcino, and San Gimignano are also worth a visit. These areas are becoming better known for the exceptional red wines which some people call 'super Tuscans'. Some of the makers were former Chianti winemakers.

Eat nearby: Ristorante Grotto di Santa Caterina, Siena. Mangiando Mangiando, Greve in Chianti.

Extra time: Take a quick trip over the border to Umbria and visit Orvieto, known for its white truffles (and black), and just as importantly, perhaps the finest cathedral in Italy. It might also be the one which took the longest time (three centuries) to build. 


  • Gallo Nero was originally a 15C alliance of Chianti villagers, now the term has evolved to refer to Chianto Classico wines. The 'gallo nero' connection came about, legend says, when a knight from Siena and a knight from Florence decided to solve a land dispute by seeing whose cockerel would crow first the next morning. The Florentine black rooster saved the day, securing this corner of rich and valuable land for Florence.
  • A labyrinth inlaid in the floor of Siena's cathedral was designed to be traversed by penitents on their knees. 

More information: Chianti, Siena


foodtuscanyTuscan Food:

  • A must to try is bistecca alla Fiorentina, massive steak cuts from the huge white Chianini bullocks raised on Tuscany's mountain pastures.
  • Smallgoods include prosciutto Toscana,  fennel-flavoured salamis, as well as salsiccia, sopressata and lardo, a preserved fat.
  • Trattoria menus may feature soups such as ribollita (literally, reboiled) cabbage soup, often thickened with bread, and panzanella, a bread and tomato salad or soup.
  • On the coast there's cacciucco, a seafood stew.
  • Pastas include wide flat pappardelle, tagliatelle, and pinci, a thick dried spaghetti.
  • Desserts usually include panforte from Siena, sponge and cream zucchoto fiorentino, similar to tiramisu and Siena's marzipan biscotto, ricciarelli.
  • Tuscany's favourite bread is a fat and chewy loaf called pane toscano.

Olives and olive oil (best from Lucca but widely available throughout the region), chestnuts from the mountains, honey, saffron, cannelloni and borlotti beans, wild mushrooms, farro, or spelt, an ancient strain of wheat.

Major cheeses include a hard sheep's milk pecorino, silky caciotta Toscana, and sheep's milk marzolino from Chianti.

WINES OF THE REGION: There are around 300 producers in the Chianti region and most offer free tastings and there are cellar-door outlets and enotecas in many villages. The Strade del Vino ( wine routes) are worth exploring. Montalcino is known for brunello, Montepulciano for rosso and vino nobile, San Gimignano for vernaccia. Vin santo (literally, 'holy wine') is a dessert wine often served with cantucci, small hard fennel-flavoured almond biscuits, to dip into the wine.

In Florence, La Casa del Garbo has a convenient location on Piazza della Signoria with a view of Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi. Stay in one of the five apartment suites with full kitchens. 
The 13th-Century Castello Vicchiomaggio, located just outside Greve in Chianti, has rooms and apartments, an excellent restaurant, and also offers cooking classes to guests.

OTHER PLACES TO STAY IN TUSCANY: https://www.zuji.com.au

FOOD-RELATED THINGS TO DO:  Cookery classes in Florence and Lucca. Tasting Places classes,  Lorenza di Medici, Siena


INSIDER'S TIP: Escape to the Hills


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