Places to See in Tuscany
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Tuscany seems to be everyone's favorite vacation spot these days, and all the world knows Florence, Siena, Pisa, even tiny San Gimignano, with its 13 medieval towers. But Tuscany has so many secret treasures that we really recommend you find a nice villa or farmhouse and settle in for a week. There is more than enough to keep you occupied, including the mandatory half day of wandering lost down a delightful little farm road!

Exquisite Arezzo, home of Petrarch, father of the modern Italian language, and Guido d'Arezzo, inventor of the modern musical scale, is one of the great Renaissance gems in this jewel box of a country. Among Arezzo's many masterpieces, two that stand out are the Duomo, with glorious frescoes by Piero della Francesca and a tomb by Giotto, and the 15th-century church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, with a terracotta and marble high altar by Andrea della Robbia. Nearby Cortona, capital of "Chiantishire," as the British call it, and home to Frances Mayes of Under the Tuscan Sun fame, is one of the oldest towns in Tuscany. Much of its Etruscan wall remains, separating the charming little medieval city from the surrounding olive groves and vineyards.
Ten miles off the Tuscan shore lies Elba, the island where Napoleon spent his first exile until escaping in 1815. Visit his two homes, sip espresso in the charming port of Marina di Campo, or ramble among the hillsides covered with that lush, strongly perfumed mix of bushes, shrubs and flowers known as macchia mediterranea. We suggest you plan to spend at least three or four days on this untamed island, because the great fun of being here is the relaxation it brings. During your stay, hire one of the little fishing boats and sail around Monte Cristo, whence the Count hailed.

Back on the mainland, the seaside resort of Viareggio is famed for its raucous Carnevale parade in February, and the resort town of Forte dei Marmi has some of the chicest cafes and designer boutiques in the country. Just inland is the fascinating home of Giacomo Puccini at Torre del Lago. Visit the home all year round; in the summer stay for a performance of a Puccini opera in the outdoor theatre next to the lake. A few miles away is Lucca, famed for its perfect city walls, the wonderful 13th-century façade of San Michele, and the enchanting elliptical shape of Piazza Anfiteatro. If you go there, notice the palazzo doors as you wander through the town: nowhere in Italy are they more inventive. We also recommend you plan for a long lunch: not that they are slower eaters in Lucca, but one of the most entertaining things you can do in Tuscany is to join the locals on their afternoon stroll along the ramparts.

"Grim," was how D.H. Lawrence described Volterra, an ancient Etruscan stronghold overlooking the sea. The city's massive fortress is indeed foreboding, but its gleaming alabaster façades make it unique among Tuscan centers, and its churches and palaces are filled with countless masterpieces. You can witness just about every period of Italian history in this town, and do it with far fewer fellow travelers than if you were in smaller and less fascinating San Gimignano. By the way, our own personal feeling about the latter is that its best feature is the unforgettable sight of its towers on the horizon. In recent years it has become a tremendous tourist mecca, and unless you like long lines of buses parked along the side of the road, you may be put off by all the ruckus.


Forty miles south of Siena you will find Pienza, often known as the Pearl of the Renaissance. The Italians call it città d'autore, "an author's city," because it was recreated in the 15th century for Pope Pius II by one guiding intellect, the architect Rossellino, who carefully designed its streets, palaces, churches and squares. Few towns give a better idea of what life was like in 15th-century Tuscany. Just down the road is Montepulciano. It enchanted Henry James, although he was perhaps too affected by its legendary wine to notice its splendid medieval churches and Renaissance palazzi. When you are there, be sure to do three things: look up to see the colorful Pulcinella who strikes the hours across from the church of Sant'Agostino; visit the Contucci Wineries, which occupy ancient catacombs beneath the city; take a stroll or short drive one mile out of town to see Antonio da Sangallo the Elder's masterpiece Renaissance church of San Biagio in its magical countryside setting. On the way back to Siena, the 14th-century monastery at Monte Oliveto Maggiore (near Asciano) has frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma, a pharmacy featuring herbal medicines made by the monks themselves, and a terracotta gateway by the Della Robbias.

The savagery of the ancient inhabitants of Pistoia lives on in the weapon that takes its name from their city (though the word "pistol" originally referred to a type of dagger). But the idea of savagery is unfair; this city is an architectural feast, especially the unforgettable Ospedale del Ceppo, with its ornate terracotta frieze and medallions. Nearby Prato is another center of Tuscan art, starting from the Romanesque cathedral (which hosts the Virgin Mary's girdle) and the massive 13th-century fortress.


Maremma is a part of Tuscany that few foreigners have time to visit, and yet it is not only very authentic but also fascinating. The Etruscan tombs outside Sovana lie within the quiet confines of a magnificent Tuscan forest; as you wander amongst the oak groves, you suddenly come face-to-face with stones that were planted there thousands of years ago by a mysterious civilization we still know next to nothing about. Take along a picnic and enjoy it near the Siren's Tomb, if you dare. Also in the area are the unique thermal waterfalls of Saturnia; the ancient hill town of Pitigliano, famed for its lace and its Jewish origins; and the unspoiled coastline, boasting broad sandy beaches, quiet coves, shady pine forests and more than one wildlife refuge.

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