Tuscany holiday guide
Written by Donald Strachan, Italy specialist and Travel Writer for The Guardian.
The Tuscan landscape forms the backdrop to many a Renaissance painting. Rolling hills are crested with cypress-studded ridges; rhythmic vine terraces and olive groves sweep away to the horizon. At Orbetello and along the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli, birdwatchers enjoy one of Europe's most important migratory stop-offs—and the beaches of the Monte Argentario and Viareggio, respectively, are on the doorstep.
Things to do
Art and architecture; food and drink; roaming the stone streets and staircases of a Medieval hilltop town—these are the mainstays of any Tuscany itinerary. But there is more to the region. Shop for designer threads along Florence's Via de' Tornabuoni or at The Mall, in the Valdarno. In the Apennine foothills, hike the wilderness of the Garfagnana or the monastic trails of the Casentino. And the scenery is just as good from two wheels—cycling is the best way to explore the back-roads of the Chianti or the eroded clay Crete Senesi, south-east of Siena.
Eating and drinking
Seasonality and simplicity are the hallmarks of Tuscan cooking—the best chefs let the ingredients speak for themselves. And why not, when beef from the Chianina breed of cattle makes a succulent bistecca alla fiorentina, and when simple dishes like panzanella (a salad of bread, tomato, Tuscan olive oil, and basil) or a wild-boar ragù hardly need any fanfare.
Tuscany is also one of the world's great red wine regions. Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti all produced within quality-controlled growing zones.
From the Medieval period through to the Renaissance, Tuscany led the way in European art and architecture. In Florence, Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise and Brunelleschi's ochre cathedral dome face each other across Piazza del Duomo. Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci were all Tuscans, and left works across the region, especially in Florence.
Pisa's glory days came a little earlier, during the Romanesque period, yet the city is most famous for a campanile (bell tower) that went wrong: the Leaning Tower. Siena's style is Gothic, in the architecture of the shell-shaped Campo (main square) and on the frescoed walls of its Palazzo Pubblico.