Florence: city of mile-high stilettos, the Duomo, romantic red-tiled rooftops, 3-inch tall bistecca alla fiorentina and Michelangelo's David. Everyone should visit this place. Only problem? Everyone does.
Florence's relatively small population of 400,000 is dwarfed by the millions of tourists who swarm to it annually. While the Florentines have a knack for ignoring the hordes, a visitor can feel like one of a herd. So, once you've had your fill of Florence's amazing sights, get out! There's so much to see outside of Florence's city walls. Here's a list of the best chilled-out trips in Tuscany:
Gorge on food and wine
Just an hour's drive south of Florence is one of the Chianti Classico region's best vineyards - Castello di Verrazzano. A booking will earn you an intimate tour of the castle's cellar, vineyard and late-Renaissance gardens. After the tour, lap in the Tuscan scenery over an unforgettable lunch starring Verrazzano's best homemade products: wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and vin santo e cantucci (biscotti dipped in a dessert wine - a Tuscan speciality).
Bliss out on Tuscany's most unspoilt island
If clear turquoise water, amazing seafood and mellow beaches are your style, you have to check out Isola del Giglio. It's worth the few hours it takes to get there. Go scuba diving in what many consider one of the best places in Italy - for its mild water temperature, wildlife and explorable wrecks and caves. The myriad of hiking trails will guide you to secluded beaches, gorgeous lookout points and perfectly uncrowded picnic spots. But for a real treat? Check out Giglio's night sky - the stars and hush will mesmerise you.
Take a cooking class on an organic farm
Spannocchia is one of Tuscany's best eco-lodges - and located just 90 minutes from Florence. The estate comprises a 12th century castle surrounded by 1,100 acres filled with forests, olive orchards, vineyards, vegetable gardens and pastures. Visitors are encouraged to learn about the farm's day-to-day operations, which utilise sustainable farming practices. Sign up for the four-hour cooking class and the farm's resident chef will teach you how to make a three-course Tuscan feast using fresh organic products from the farm.
Take a drive in Florence's backyard
If you haven't got much time to spare but are in desperate need of a tourist time-out, head to Fiesole - just five miles from the centre of Florence. The town was made famous with the help of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View, whose characters chose the town for its unsurpassed views of Florence. While the town itself is charming, we'd recommend you continue driving into the countryside surrounding the town. Its green rolling hills, dotted with farms and villas, provides a much-needed repose from the chaos of the city.
Rested and ready to explore more of Florence? Dive into Lonely Planet's guide to Florence and Tuscany.
This article was refreshed in June 2012