One of the true jewels of Italy is the beautiful and picturesque region of Tuscany located off the west coast. For many the southern area of the region is symbolic of the quintessential Italian countryside, with rolling green hills dotted with an assortment of trees, ancient hilltop villages full of history, and gentle slopes filled with vineyards that are responsible for some of the area’s finest wines. Whether you are traveling here for an Italy vacation reminiscent of that found in Audrey Wells’ 2003 film Under the Tuscan Sun, or if your heart seeks the restorative pleasures of this gorgeous land in the Italian countryside, Tuscany will touch your soul and steal your heart.
Visiting the Tuscan countryside is almost like taking a step back in time to an enchanting region’s stunning panoramic views of breathtaking and rural communities that adhere to a slower and simpler pace of life. This part of the region is responsible for raising several different varieties of grapes for local wines, producing some of the finest “liquid gold” or extra virgin olive oil in the country, as well as other agriculturally based industries.
The people of Tuscany are widely considered to be some of the warmest in all of Italy. This is largely due to the locals’ simple way of life that allows them to live in the present and enjoy every moment of soaking up the day under the Tuscan sun. Whether it is working in the vineyard, taking an evening stroll through the town center, or sharing friendship and laughter over delicious homemade Italian fare, the locals take great pride in their Italian traditions and welcome the opportunity to share them with travelers.
With gorgeous weather most of the year in the southern part of Tuscany, it is often a favorite for travelers looking to center their souls in this magical place of great beauty and peace.
THE TOP CITIES TO VISIT IN TUSCANY
The region of Tuscany is more of an experience than it is any one sightseeing destination. To partake in the full experience, combine leisurely days relaxing in the countryside with visits to some of the region’s amazing towns such as Arezzo, Cortona, Florence, Lucca, Maremma, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena, and Volterra.
- Arezzo: The small but beautiful medieval town of Arezzo which is full of century-old trees and exquisite art masterpieces can be found tucked in amongst four picturesque valleys. It is perhaps the most affluent city in Tuscany and is home to one of the world’s largest gold manufacturing plants. Arezzo is considered an artistic city where artisans make fine jewelry and furniture. This city’s natural splendor has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers and was the setting for some scenes in Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful.
- Cortona: Another charming town of the countryside made famous by the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, is Cortona. This town of winding roads in the Val di Chiana Valley is a favorite among tourists for its film legacy, museums, vineyards, farmhouses, cafes, and restaurants. If visiting the area during the late summer months, do not miss the Tuscan Sun Festival which celebrates local art and music via open air shows, galas, and concerts throughout the town.
- Florence: The city of Florence is one of the largest and best known cities in Tuscany. It is estimated that more than one million people now reside in the town, known as the birthplace of the Renaissance movement. This city is designated by the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be home to an astounding one-third of the world’s artistic treasures. Not to be missed while visiting Florence are the number of fabulous art museums, including the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi.
- Lucca: Among the hills of the Tuscany countryside, Lucca is comprised of primarily flat landscaping but is one of the most delightful towns to visit in the region. This medieval town is famous for its fabulous downtown area and long modern wall. The wall was once built for defense purposes but now serves as one of the town’s loveliest walks as visitors stroll along it in the evenings. While here in Lucca, don’t miss visiting the historical churches and towers, and maybe even consider visiting nearby Pisa.
- Maremma: This southern area of Tuscany is largely undiscovered by tourists and has some of the charm of the countryside, but also showcases seaside views. In early fall the area is home to food celebrations such as the Chestnut Feast and the Grape Feast.
- Montalcino: This gorgeous countryside town has roots tracing back to the tenth century and offers spectacular panoramic views of the land from the top of its city wall. In the heart of the town tourists will enjoy wandering the enchanting piazzas and city streets. Just outside the city center, visitors have the opportunity to see rows of olive trees and grape vines that contribute to the town’s production of olive oil and fine wine.
- Montepulciano: This Tuscany town sits high on a hill that overlooks much of the region’s countryside, which is filled with olive groves and vineyards. It is particularly famous for its production of Vino Nobile wine and for being rich in Renaissance artwork and historical artifacts. Be sure to visit the town’s ancient churches, palaces, piazzas, and open air markets.
- Pisa: Not far from the town of Lucca is the world-famous city of Pisa. Although known primarily for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the city is actually home to an interesting historical complex nicknamed the Square of Miracles. Here travelers can visit and climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tour the magnificent Duomo and see the Baptistery, all of which are a little less than straight because of the once poor soil in the area.
- San Gimignano: Of all the towns of the Tuscan countryside, the small medieval town of San Gimignano has one of the prettiest skylines, comprised of more than a dozen towers. Despite this iconic skyline, the city is perhaps one of Italy’s smallest. Not to be missed here are the stunning tower views and the charming piazzas. This is a particularly lovely place to visit in the evenings when the city seems to take on an almost magical quality.
- Siena: The town of Siena may be one of the most widely visited cities in the Tuscan countryside. The city itself is home to historic cathedrals, art galleries, church museums, tall towers and medieval palaces, but just outside the city limits olive groves and orchards are abundant. The Piazza Campo is an enormous square within the city that is often bustling with ordinary daily activities, festivals, and traditional celebrations.
- Volterra: This Etruscan city sits high upon a hill which offers spectacular panoramic views that include everything from mountains to farmlands. Because this city has roots tracing back to the BC period, it is full of fantastic museums that chronicle the town’s history. Volterra is home to a number of other must-see landmarks including the city gates, several Renaissance palaces, ruins from the Roman time period, the Duomo, and the Piazza dei Priori. This picturesque city is largely untraveled by tourists leaving the magnificent architecture, history, and culture to a select lucky few who do visit.
Regardless of which towns you decide to visit on your Tuscany vacation under the Tuscan sun, there will certainly be no shortage of things to do or see. In addition to sightseeing, make a point to have some real experiences in the region such as taking an authentic cooking class, visiting vineyards and participating in local wine tastings, and even taking a pottery making class. However you choose to spend your time, be sure not to miss the most important activity of all: simply letting your soul rest and breathe in the magic of Tuscany.