The Cinque Terre is only a few kilometers away from the Tuscan border, so many travellers visit Tuscany before or after the Cinque Terre. As I have travelled around Tuscany many times and know it very well, I can help you plan your itinerary and book a room or apartment in a wonderful farmhouse (agriturismo) for you. You can also rent an entire house for your family if you prefer.
Tuscany is one of Italy's most beautiful regions, with a great variety of landscapes and uncountable treasures. Rolling hills with cypresses, vineyards, silver olive groves, poppy fields, sunflowers, medieval villages, stone farmhouses, sandy beaches, small islands, rocky mountain peaks, ski hills, world famous Renaissance pieces of art, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Giotto, simple dishes of the countryside, delicious red wine, golden olive oil… Tuscany is all of this, and so much more. To get an idea of the Tuscan atmosphere, click through this photo gallery.
I am sure if you are planning a visit to Tuscany, Firenze, Siena and Pisa are on your agenda. The Internet and guidebooks are full of information about them, so I am not writing about these towns on this page. (But I do show you some of my favourite photos of these towns below.) Instead, I would like to write about some of my favourite villages and areas in Tuscany, which I highly recommend visiting.
But first of all, an important thing: in order to get a real feel for Tuscany, you should drive! So if possible, come by car or rent a car, and drive around. Look at the map and choose the smallest roads possible to get the best views. You don't see much from the motorways. The roads are winding but good quality and there is usually not much traffic. I often stopped in the middle of the road to take photos. And believe me, you want to stop every minute to take another amazing shot. Nature is so beautiful here. Poppies in spring, sunflowers in summer, grapes, olives, cypresses, forests all around. And those rolling hills! I am in love.
Of course Tuscany would not be Tuscany without those adorable hilltop villages and the medieval farmhouses all over the place. Many of these houses can be rented for your holiday, send me an e-mail if you'd like me to recommend some nice ones for you.
As this website is not about Tuscany, I am not going to write a novel here, even if I could. (Frances Mayes has done that before me.) I am just quickly going to mention some of my favourite places that are really worth a visit.
When you are in Tuscany, you just can't miss the Chianti region. It is situated between Firenze and Siena, and is a very famous wine region. I could drive around the Chianti for weeks and never get bored. In a way, it's always the same: vineyards, olives and farmhouses, but the view is different after every curve. And always picture perfect. Then at the end of that small road, you'll come to a tiny village with a cute piazza, a church, a couple of houses, and if you are lucky, the weekly market. Don't forget to taste some Chianti wine. If you would like to book a wine or olive oil tasting, maybe visit an olive harvest, just send me an email and I'll help you organise it.
I found Montefioralle by accident when I was driving around the Chianti. It's located very close to Greve in Chianti. It quickly became one of my favourite villages in Tuscany, and I have returned several times. Sometimes I was the only tourist in the village, I only met some local ladies sitting in front of their doors. There is a narrow street that runs around the village, it's very pleasant to walk along the old stone houses. Montefioralle is listed among the most beautiful villages of Italy. (I borghi piú belli d'Italia.) You also find a very good restaurant here, Taverna del Guerrino, with an amazing view of the Chianti hills.
Another very pretty village in the Chianti hills. Look for the signs along the road between Greve and Rhadda in Chianti, you'll have to turn off onto a smaller road. Volpaia is surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and forests, and you can enjoy a fantastic panorama of the Chianti hills. Chianti Classico has been made here for centuries. Many houses are owned by the Castello di Volpaia winery, there is a system of wine cellars underneath. Don't miss a wine tasting here, and if you get hungry, head to the restaurant "La Bottega", which is quite famous in this area. In Volpaia I felt like walking around in medieval times.
You can see Monteriggioni from the Firenze–Siena autostrada, it's quite a sight. It's a very well preserved walled castle, dating back to the 13th century. The wall with the 14 towers is really impressive. Inside the wall there is a nice piazza and a couple of streets. It's really worth the stop. A famous medieval festival takes place here every July.
Lucca is a wonderful town, one of my favourites. It's very close to Pisa, so you can easily visit the two places during a daytrip from your farmhouse or even from the Cinque Terre. The best way to discover the town is by bike, you'll find several rental shops. First ride around the 4km town wall, which surrounds the historical center. Then, during siesta time, when the streets are almost empty, you can easily bike all around Lucca, and visit the numerous pretty squares. For a great view, climb up Torre Guinigi. When you get hungry, you can choose from many wonderful restaurants. In the evening, you can listen to Puccini operas all year around.
Everyone knows the name Vinci, but not many people know that Leonardo was actually born in Vinci, a small town in Tuscany. In Vinci everything is about the Renaissance genius, there is a Leonardo museum, but you can also see the house where he was born. Vinci is surrounded by beautiful countryside, I can imagine that it really inspired the master. I envy Leonardo not only because he was an incredibly talented Renaissance man, but also because he spent a part of his life in this picture-perfect place.
When you think about Tuscany, you'll probably think about rolling hills, vineyards and cypresses, and not about high mountains and ski hills. But this is also Tuscany. In the northern part of Tuscany, in the Apuane Alps you can find an exciting mix of Tuscan and alpine atmosphere. It is a hiker's paradise with many hiking trails. The Garfagnana valley lies between these mountains and it's really worth the visit. If you are driving from Lucca, don't forget to stop at the medieval Devil's bridge. (Ponte del Diavolo). My favourite town around here is Barga, its typical Tuscan houses look great with the mountains in the background. During the winter several ski hills operate in this area.
I had been travelling around Tuscany for years when I finally made it to the very south of Tuscany, the Maremma region. I totally fell in love with this area, it was breathtaking and so relaxing after the crowds in Firenze or Pisa. Hardly any tourists, empty streets and piazzas. When we first drove by Pitigliano I couldn't believe my eyes, it looked like a town from a fairy tale. It is standing on top of tufa rocks, above the Lente valley. You should get lost in the narrow streets and admire the huge wooden doors, fountains, old steps and pretty courtyards. Around the central piazza, you will find some restaurants and cafés. Pitigliano is also on the list of the most beautiful villages of Italy.
Sorano is located not far from Pitigliano and the two towns are actually quite similar. Sorano is also standing on top of tufa rocks, and even the houses look like they had been carved out of these rocks. Another place without tourist invasion. Walking around Sorano felt like jumping back to medieval times, only some TV antennas made me realise that I was in the 21st century. Amazing place! I was shocked that my very good Tuscany guidebook didn't even mention Sorano.
Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana are all very close to each other, you can visit all three of them in a day. Sovana is also listed among the most beautiful villages of Italy and I can see why. Try the wine of Sovana, which was made already in Etruscan times. They also make one of the most delicious olive oils in Tuscany.
Well, if you have visited all the above villages and towns, you really deserve to relax. Go to Saturnia and find the famous outdoor waterfalls, the Cascate del Gorello and the Cascate del Mulino. These natural thermal springs have a temperature of around 37°C and are very relaxing. Sit under a small waterfall and you also get a nice back massage. The only downside is that it's awfully hard to get out …