Tuscany (Italian: Toscana) is a region on Italy's west coast, on the Tyrrhenian sea. It is one of the most popular places to visit in a country that is itself one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. There are several reasons to visit Tuscany: some of the most important ones are seeing Renaissance art in Florence, eating Tuscan food and tasting the excellent local wines, and after all this enjoying a day at the beach in Viareggio.
|Arezzo (AR) |
|Florence (FI) |
|Grosseto (GR) |
|Livorno (LI) |
|Lucca (LU) |
|Massa-Carrara (MS) |
|Pisa (PI) |
|Pistoia (PT) |
|Prato (PO) |
|Siena (SI) |
- 1 Florence (Italian: Firenze) – Capital of the region and considered the centre of the Renaissance. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are many hot springs in Tuscany, which have been prized since ancient Roman times, if not earlier.
The small towns, villages, castles, villas and vineyards of Tuscany make a welcome change from the traffic and noise of some of the larger Tuscan cities.
Florence and Pisa have important airports. Every major city has a railway station.
- 1 Pisa International Airport (PSA IATA), 1.5km (1 mile) south of Pisa city centre.
- 2 Amerigo Vespucci International Airport (FLR IATA), four kilometres from the centre of Florence.
Delta Air Lines (US carrier) has a direct flight from New-York JFK to Pisa, offering a cheaper, alternative to flying into Florence.
Florence, Pisa, and Grosseto are important rail destinations. Florence has two major rail stations, Santa Maria Novella (SMN) in the city centre and Campo di Marte (CdM) a bit further away.
Connections from Florence to the rest of Italy by train are generally fast and frequent and EuroStar Italia services are available. Easy connections can be found to:
- Cinque Terre (reachable by train to La Spezia or Riomaggiore, or connecting from Genoa)
Night train services are available from Florence to:
From the central station of Florence you can easily reach most places in Tuscany, including:
- Siena (1.5 to 2 hours)
- Pisa (1 to 1.5 hours)
- San Gimignano (by train to Poggibonsi, 1 hour ride, and then a bus that runs every 30-40 minutes, 25 minute ride)
- Volterra (also reachable by bus from Poggibonsi)
Toscana Mobilitá has a useful website for bus routes and schedules in Tuscany. The site is mostly in Italian, but is simple to use. (The Tuscan bus companies Siena Mobilitá, Tiemme, and Toscana Mobilitá seem to be affiliated.)
Siena Mobilità [dead link] has bus schedules (orari) for and between a number of popular towns in Tuscany including Florence (Firenze in the schedule), Siena, San Gimignano, Arezzo, Cortona, Montepulciano and Chiusi among others. Local services for several cities are marked urbano. The interurban services are all under the tab servizio extraurbano.
Google maps identify bus stops throughout Tuscany for both local and interurban routes. If you click on the bus stop symbol, you can get a list of bus routes serving that stop. Using Google Streetview, you can often identify which side of the road the stop is situated and hence which direction of travel is served by the stop.
Bus users should purchase their bus tickets before boarding the bus. Most Tabacchi-shops (tobacconists) sell bus tickets. Sometimes newsstands and bars may also sell tickets. You must tell the ticket seller your destination so that your ticket will be valid for the correct fare zones. After boarding the bus, stamp your ticket in the machine located behind the driver.
Be aware that many routes have either reduced or no service on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Schedules indicate reduced service as festivo while the regular work day schedule is feriale. Many bus stops have posted schedules.
Blue-coloured buses are for interurban service while orange-coloured buses are for local service. Interurban buses can serve local stops along the route.
Tuscany is world-famous for its churches, including the Duomo and Baptistery, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato al Monte and several others in Florence; the Duomo and Baptistery in Siena; and the Duomo and Baptistery in Pisa.
Tuscany is also known for its great museums, especially the Uffizi in Florence but also the Bargello and Accademia, the Musei dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence and Siena, the museum in the Palazzo Pubblico and the Pinacoteca in Siena, and the Museo Archeologico in Arezzo, among many others.
The small town of San Gimignano deserves special mention because while none of its churches or museums are very large, it contains so much beauty in such a small area. The town of Pienza is itself practically a museum in the round, as its foremost claim to fame is its architecture. There are many other beautiful small towns with great art, including Cortona.
Which segues into the other great draw of a trip to Tuscany: The beauty of the countryside. In order to understand Tuscan painting, you need to see the Tuscan countryside, which except for the relatively recent introduction of sunflower cultivation is still similar to what you can see in paintings by great Gothic painters like Giotto (Florentine), Simone Martini and Duccio (Sienese).
- The National Park of the Tusco-Emilian Apennines. extends lengthwise for about 60 km from the high valleys of the mountain torrents of Parma and Baganza up to the Passo delle Forbici, opening up to include on the Tuscan side the calcareous massif of the Pania di Corfino, and in Emilia the chain of the Alps of Succiso, of Monte Cusna, the valley of the river Secchia and the isolated range of the Pietra di Bismantova.
- The National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago. the Park was established in 1996 and it covers an area of over 18,000 hectares in addition to 40,000 hectares of sea. It is managed by an organization with the same name, that has its headquarters in Portoferraio (on Elba Island). The Park falls under the jurisdiction of the Province of Livorno and that of Grosseto.
- The National Park of the Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona and Campigna. Following the Arno upstream you enter the district of Casentino surrounded by mountains to the north and the east. Here the National Park of the Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona and Campigna offers a uniquely moving and unforgettable experience: that of discovering one of the oldest forests in Europe.
- The Maremma Regional Park. the Maremma Regional Park (Parco Regionale della Maremma), also known as Uccellina Park (Parco dell’Uccellina) covers a coastal area between Principina a Mare and Talamone near Grosseto, Magliano in Toscana and Orbetello, right up to the Livorno – Rome train line.
- The Park of Migliarino, San Rossore and Massaciuccoli. the Park of Migliarino, San Rossore and Massaciuccoli was established in 1975 and covers 24,000 hectares between Pisa, Viareggio, San Giuliano Terme, Vecchiano and Massarossa. What makes this park so special is what lies around its borders: the Tirrenian Sea, Lake Massaciuccoli and the rivers Arno, Serchio, Canale dei Navicelli and Morto e Burlamacca.
- The Montioni nature park. managed by the Municipale Administrations of Grosseto and Livorno. Park status from 1998. The park extends over 7000 hectares and rises to 300m at Poggio al Checco, its highest point. The territory has a large artistic and culture heritage, from ancient archeological finds to Etruscan and Roman remains which have been found under medieval constructions such as the Pievaccia, the ruins of Montioni Vecchio Castle and Montioni Thermal Baths.
- The Livorno Hills Park. the Livorno Hills Park encompasses a vast area between the districts of Livorno, Collesalvetti and Rosignano Marittimo. It’s nickname is ‘the lost island’ due to the fact that this stretch of land was an island until it attached itself to the mainland thousands of years ago. The park has not only areas of outstanding natural beauty but also but has also been subject to interesting archeological, artistic and cultural discoveries.
- [formerly dead link] The Archaeological Park of Poggibonsi. the visit starts with a short documentary film that illustrates the results of twelve years of excavation and the most important archaeological, architectonical and naturalistic aspects of the Poggio Imperiale site.
- The Parks of the Val di Cornia. the Parks of the Val di Cornia, in Tuscany, tell a thousand-year-old story which begins with the Etruscan people and bears witness to centuries of extraction and working on metals, proposing also splendid natural, coastal and hilly environments. The system includes 2 Archaeological Parks, Natural Parks, 3 Museums, 1 Documentation Centre, included in the area of the five municipalities at the extreme south of the province of Livorno, opposite the Island of Elba.
- The Zoological Park of European Fauna in Poppi. this is the first and only park dedicated to European Fauna open in the municipality of Poppi (Arezzo).
- The Pinocchio's Park. : Pinocchio’s Park is in Collodi, lovely ancient village that has remained virtually unchanged since the last century. Its charming collection of houses, nestled among the hills, leads the way to Villa Garzoni and its lovely 19th century garden, often considered among the most beautiful in Europe.
- Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany. A UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of 16 major and 11 minor villas owned by the powerful Medici family in the 15th-17th centuries.
Besides wandering in beautiful cities and looking at Renaissance art, there are many other things you can do in Tuscany. For example, you can learn to cook or just taste Tuscan food, do trekking, golf or go to a health spa.
See also: Wine tourism#Italy
Most of the important traditional wine producers are located along the axis formed by Florence and Siena. The most famous region is Chianti along with neighboring Montalcino and Montepulciano. The white wines are less famous than the reds, but as an exception the Vernaccia of San Gimignano is recognized as a DOCG wine. The Tuscan wine industry has evolved a lot during the last 30-40 years, and the result is what is called Super Tuscan wine, famously produced in Bolgheri but also in Maremma and many other parts of Tuscany.
Tuscany offers great biking opportunities, especially the central part. The hills and small cities give a pleasant variation, but it is rather strenuous, as July and august can be very hot.
Thermal Springs: Terme di Saturnia Saturnia
Tuscan food is known for its relative simplicity and its reliance on the high-quality ingredients from its many farms.
A small selection of the rich regional Tuscan cuisine comprises:
- ribollita — bread soup with vegetables
- zuppa di verdure — green vegetable soup
- pici — thick spaghetti
- pasta e fagiolli — pasta with beans
- bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak)
- prosciutto Toscano — a dry cured ham that legally can only be called such if it is produced in Tuscany using traditional methods. Unlike the better-known prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele, which are cured using only sea salt, prosciutto Toscano is cured using a special mixture of sea salt with various local spices, thus giving it a unique flavour.
- panforte, a unique dense Sienese fruit and nut cake
- cavallucci - Sienese Christmas cookies, made with almonds, candied fruit and also spices like anise and coriander that presumably date back to the time when Siena had a monopoly on trade with the East
- ricciarelli - almond paste cookies, also a speciality of Siena
- biscotti di Prato, also called cantuccini - the almond biscuits most travellers to Italy are already familiar with originated in the Tuscan town of Prato and are still manufactured there
In addition, Tuscany has its own traditional cheeses, including Pecorino Toscano, a much milder cheese than the better-known Pecorino Romano and a great accompaniment to prosciutto and melon or just to eat with fresh bread, and Pecorino di Pienza, perhaps an even better appreciated local sheep cheese.
DOC, DOCG, IGT?
Tuscany has over 30 wines with a Denominazione di origine controllata certificate, some of which have also obtained the Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita certificate. The denominations witness to the strong dedication of the people of this land to vine-growing, and their deep knowledge of wine-making techniques. But some of the best Tuscan wines are labeled with the less strict Indicazione geografica tipica designation, often a sign of a more modern, "international" wine.
The question about what to drink in Tuscany is easy to answer. The region is famed for its wines, most notably the sangiovese reds Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Of these, Chianti can be anything from inexpensive, drinkable plonk to, when it comes to the best examples of Chianti Classico, a world class wine. The wines of Montalcino and Montepulciano are generally of a high standard, and in particular Brunello regularly receives lots of awards (something reflected on the price as well). If you are not prepared to pay a fortune for your wine but would still like something a bit nicer, both Montalcino and Montepulciano have the common man's version of their wines, Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano.
Of these traditional wines perhaps only Brunello has the power to accompany a big Florentine steak, bistecca alla fiorentina. For something fleshier, you have to turn to the Super Tuscan wines. These commonly use cabernet sauvignon to complement or to completely replace the traditional grapes. Famous examples are Sassicaia and Tignanello.
There are loads of hotels in the cities that are major tourist attractions, including Florence and Siena, and there are also plenty of agriturismo spots and villas in the countryside. If you are seeking less expensive accommodation, you are more likely to find it closer to railway stations in cities like Florence, but some other cities' railway stations are outside the city walls, and some major destinations such as San Gimignano don't have any railway station at all. You may also try your luck at local tourism agencies, which may have a list of relatively inexpensive accommodations, such as apartments for rent by the day or week and pieno pensioni (boarding houses that provide 3 meals a day).
- Umbria, to the east, shares Tuscany's rolling hills but is further inland and higher up; it is also less densely populated, and has an equally good but distinctive cuisine that features black truffles and mushrooms.
- Lazio, to the south, was the heart of both ancient Rome and the Papal States, and though it, too, has beautiful countryside, it is above all the region of Rome.
- Emilia-Romagna, to the north, is another region traditionally known for its great food (especially in Bologna) and rich in history, including the extraordinary and very well-preserved Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna.
- Liguria, up the coast to the northwest, contains the Italian Riviera and the historic port city of Genoa.
- The Marche, which shares a short, mountainous border with the eastern side of Tuscany, is a lesser-known region, but one that also has quite a long history including the hill city of Urbino and also features the spectacular Grotte di Frasassi (Frasassi Caves).