When thinking of Italy, images of Tuscan landscapes, cultural sites and Mediterranean beaches come to mind for many people. One might think that Tuscany is the epitome of Italy itself. Which, of course, is not the case. It would not do justice to Italy with all its different regions, if one would break down this wonderful country to a single region.
But what is for sure, that just like Italy itself, Tuscany offers the most different facets. It is a region so diverse and rich in interesting places, stories and images that one could fill a whole library of them. So you can imagine how difficult it is to describe Tuscany in a single article. We will try anyway and will of course refer to many other articles in which we will go into more detail about this place of desire and destination.
The famous cities of Tuscany
It is not surprising that a region with such sounding and world-famous cities like Siena, Pisa or Florence, the art city par excellence, is one of the most popular destinations in the world.
The splendor and history of Florence is inextricably linked with the Medici family. Thanks to them, Florence was one of the most influential cities of all during the Renaissance, both in art and in business and politics. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that in a country like Italy, with countless historical sites, churches and works of art, Florence is said to house more than 20% of the country’s artistic heritage.
Nestled in a green hilly landscape, the city represents the gateway to Tuscany, so to speak, and is far from being a mere museum city. With a manageable size (370,000 inhabitants), it is easy to explore on foot and immerse yourself in the lively Italian hustle and bustle.
A little further south lies its smaller sister (53,000 inhabitants) and eternal rival, Siena. Inseparable from this city are the various districts (contrade), each with its own very strong identity. In the world-famous Palio horse race, these compete against each other every year and fight for fame and honor for the winning district.
In terms of culture, however, Siena does not have to hide in any way and, like Florence, was one of the capitals of the fine arts. So you can also find countless sights and worthwhile destinations or you can just drift a little and stroll through the maze of narrow streets.
And then there is Pisa. A city which has become an icon thanks to an unstable foundation and the tower built on it. Of course, the leaning tower on the Campo dei Miracoli as an ensemble with the impressive cathedral is a must-see in Pisa. But to reduce the city only to this would not do it justice. Built of pink bricks in the Renaissance, this student city has a very special charm and casual atmosphere.
In the shadow of this triumvirate, however, there are still somewhat „unknown“ cities which are definitely worth a visit. To call them insider tips would be going a bit too far, but they are not yet completely taken over by mass tourism.
Lucca, for example, also called the city of 100 churches, can be called a little jewel of Tuscany. Located just north of Pisa, this city (55,000 inhabitants), surrounded by a thick city wall, has been able to preserve most of its medieval structure. The Guinigi Tower with its hanging garden and the Piazza Anfiteatro are without a doubt among the most popular sights. In addition, the birthplace of the famous composer Puccini, offers countless villas, narrow streets and beautiful gardens.
Also the next town Viareggio has a connection to Puccini. Because a little outside is the „Lago di Massaciuccoli“ on whose shore the composer wrote the operas „La Bohème“, „Tosca“ and „Madame Butterfly“ in his villa. Otherwise, the town, located next to Lucca on the coast, is known as a seaside resort. Founded in 1902, it has managed to preserve its historical somewhat curious Liberty style.
Tuscan landscapes, olive oil and wine
Green hills as far as the eye can see. Roads which wind through high cypress avenues. Yellow wheat fields interspersed with red poppies and, of course, olive trees and grapevines. These are the images that come to mind at the sound of Tuscany. As cliché as they may be, a large part of this wonderful region actually looks like this.
The prime example of this typical Tuscan landscape is the Val d’Orcia, the agricultural backcountry of Siena. The relatively flat plain, interspersed with cone-shaped elevations, provided many artists of the Siena School with grateful motifs for their landscape paintings during the Renaissance. Even today, no Tuscany calendar is complete without a picture from this area. The Val d’Orcia, whose name is derived from the Orcia River, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
The Chianti region presents itself in a completely different way. Situated between Siena and Florence and surrounded by the Chianti mountains, it is more wooded but just as lovely and hilly. Everywhere one encounters massive castellos and abbeys perched on the hills, surrounded by high protective walls. Greve, Castelnuovo Berardenga or Panzano are some of the countless beautiful medieval villages in the Chianti area. Of course, you will always come across vines, wineries and cellars where you can taste the delicious Chianti wine.
The wine and the olive oil is in Tuscany in general a very formative element. One could make whole itineraries from wine-growing area to wine-growing area and through olive groves.
A point of contrast to the classic Tuscan hills is the Apuan Alps to the north. Beyond the Carrara area, famous for its white marble, the roads wind ever tighter and more winding uphill into the valleys of these mountains.
When talking about the scenic diversity of Tuscany, one must not forget the Mediterranean coast. We will deal with this in the next chapter.
Bathing vacation in Tuscany
Hardly any other place we personally associate so strongly with vacations as Tuscany. Because since early childhood, this was always the destination for a beach vacation with the family. Tuscany has a lot to offer in terms of beaches.
In the far north below La Spezia you will find the Marble Riviera, with huge beaches covered in fine white quartz sand. Further south around Viareggio stretches Versilia. Around the big seaside resorts it is often the case that the beaches are managed by local cooperatives and you have to pay for the entrance, the bagni.
A little outside the centers, however, there are always sections that are freely accessible.
In the large bay of Follonica there are also some beautiful beaches and not to forget Elba, an island of Tuscany which is perfect for a beach vacation. Here you can snorkel and dive in numerous rocky bays. As an island, of course, it has a huge selection of beaches.
The diversity of Tuscany
In addition to these destinations, Tuscany offers countless other facets, some of which are less well known.
As the home of the Etruscans (ca. 800 BC), Tuscany offers some unique cultural sites of this ancient people.
In addition, the region is located in a volcanic area, so it has several hot springs, which have been used for cures since Roman times.
Climate of Tuscany and the best time to visit
The climate on the coast is Mediterranean. This means that the summers are hot and dry, the winters are mild and partly rainy. In spring there are already up to 8 hours of sunshine per day, but also occasional showers and wind. From April temperatures rise to about 18 degrees Celsius. In summer, temperatures often reach the 30 degree mark and even at night it stays in double digits. Autumn continues to be summery warm, whereby the tendency to showers increases, especially in the interior and mountains. The water temperatures allow bathing vacations from about June until the end of September. Autumn only appears at the end of October, with November recording the most rainy days.
Tuscany can be visited at any time of the year. Decisive for the best travel time is what you want to do.
- Beach vacation: June to September
- Active vacations: Spring and fall
- City trips: March to June
Some practical information
If you want to visit primarily the cities and cultural centers, you can do this without any problem by train. The train network is well developed and the trains run at regular intervals, so you can travel from city to city without stress and in the shortest possible time.
However, if you want to discover more of rural Tuscany, you are relatively dependent on a car. Being on the winding roads and discovering the beautiful hilly landscape can be a pleasure. However, one should not underestimate the time required. Even if the physical distance between different places is not too great, it can take a little longer on the winding, country roads than you would expect. Therefore, we recommend choosing the itinerary wisely and combining the different destinations in order to save unnecessary kilometers and driving time.
In practically all tourist places, parking is subject to fees. Therefore, parking should also be included in the travel budget.