With its lyrical landscapes, world-class art and a superb cucina contadina (farmer's kitchen), the Tuscan experience is perfectly in symbiosis with the land.
Ever since the Etruscans dropped by to party and stayed, Tuscany has seduced. The Romans stocked their grain silos here, Christians walked stages of a medieval pilgrimage route, and Napoleon plundered art (and suffered terribly in exile in a beautiful neoclassical villa with fig trees and sea view on the paradisiacal island of Elba). Florence's historic churches and monuments were a key stop for British aristocrats on 19th-century Grand Tours – and remain so. And at sundown when the River Arno turns pink, whether you like things old-fashioned and simple or boutique chic, this handsome city will oblige.
An Artistic Powerhouse
Then there's the art. And, oh, what art! The Etruscans indulged their fondness for a classy send-off with exquisite funerary objects, and the Romans, always partial to puffing up their own importance, left their usual legacy of monumental sculptures. But it was during the medieval and Renaissance periods that Tuscany really struck gold, with painters, sculptors and architects creating world-class masterpieces. Squirrelled away and safeguarded today in churches, museums and galleries all over the region, art in Tuscany is truly unmatched. Edgy street art in Florence and countryside sculpture parks bring the art scene right up to the 21st century.
Sensational Slow Food
No land is more caught up with the fruits of its fertile earth than Tuscany, a gourmet destination whose residents spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, discussing and consuming food and wine. Local, seasonal and sustainable is the Holy Trinity and Tuscans share enormous pride in the quality of their produce. Tuscan travel is grassroots: to wineries to taste blockbuster wines like Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; to a family-run pastificio tradizionale where artisan pasta is cut by hand; and road trips in quest of the best bistecca alla fiorentina (chargrilled T-bone steak). Buon appetito!
Tuscany has a timeless familiarity with its iconic Florentine cathedral dome, gently rolling hills dipped in soft morning mist and sculptural cypress alleys. But then, this regione in central Italy is postcard material. Golden wheat fields, silver olive groves and pea-green vineyards marching in sharp terraced rows on hillsides form a graceful prelude to soul-soaring medieval hilltop villages, mountain ranges and fecund forests in the north, and a garland of bijou islands beaded along the coastal south. Get out, explore, hike and ding your bicycle bell, as this rousing landscape demands.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Tuscany.
Home to the world's greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art, Florence's premier gallery occupies the vast U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi (1560–80), built as government offices. The collection, bequeathed to the city by the Medici family in 1743 on condition that it never leave Florence, contains some of Italy's best-known paintings, including a room full of Botticelli masterpieces. A combined ticket (valid three days) with Palazzo Pitti, Giardino di Boboli and Museo Archeologico is available for €38/21 (€18/11 November to February).
The striking green-and-white marble facade of 13th- to 15th-century Basilica di Santa Maria Novella fronts an entire monastical complex, comprising romantic church cloisters and a frescoed chapel. The basilica itself is a treasure chest of artistic masterpieces, climaxing with frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The lower section of the basilica's striped marbled facade is transitional from Romanesque to Gothic; the upper section and the main doorway (1456–70) were designed by Leon Battista Alberti. Book in advance online to avoid queues.
Consecrated on the former site of a Roman temple in 1179 and constructed over the 13th and 14th centuries, Siena's majestic duomo (cathedral) showcases the talents of many great medieval and Renaissance architects and artists: Giovanni Pisano designed the intricate white, green and red marble facade; Nicola Pisano carved the elaborate pulpit; Pinturicchio painted the frescoes in the extraordinary Libreria Piccolomini; and Michelangelo, Donatello and Gian Lorenzo Bernini all produced sculptures.
Entered via the Palazzo Pubblico's Cortile del Podestà (Courtyard of the Chief Magistrate), this wonderful museum showcases rooms richly frescoed by artists of the Sienese school. Commissioned by the city's governing body rather than by the Church, some of the frescoes depict secular subjects – highly unusual at the time. The highlights are two huge frescoes: Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegories of Good and Bad Government (c 1338–40) and Simone Martini's celebrated Maestà ( Virgin Mary in Majesty; 1315).
This fortress palace, with its crenellations and 94m-high tower, was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1298 and 1314 for the signoria (city government). Today it is home to the mayor's office and the municipal council. From the top of the Torre d'Arnolfo (tower), you can revel in unforgettable views. Inside, Michelangelo's Genio della Vittoria (Spirit of Victory) sculpture graces the Salone dei Cinquecento, a magnificent painted hall created for the city's 15th-century ruling Consiglio dei Cinquecento (Council of 500).
At the heart of Florence's university area sits Chiesa di San Marco and an adjoining 15th-century Dominican monastery where both gifted painter Fra' Angelico (c 1395–1455) and the sharp-tongued Savonarola piously served God. Today the monastery, aka one of Florence's most spiritually uplifting museums, showcases the work of Fra' Angelico. After centuries of being known as 'Il Beato Angelico' (literally 'The Blessed Angelic One') or simply 'Il Beato' (The Blessed), the Renaissance's most blessed religious painter was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Florence's duomo is the city's most iconic landmark. Capped by Filippo Brunelleschi's red-tiled cupola, it's a staggering construction whose breathtaking pink, white and green marble facade and graceful campanile dominate the Renaissance cityscape. Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio began work on it in 1296, but construction took almost 150 years and it wasn't consecrated until 1436. In the echoing interior, look out for frescoes by Vasari and Zuccari and up to 44 stained-glass windows.
This awe-inspiring story of how the duomo and its cupola came to life is told in this well-executed museum. Among its sacred and liturgical treasures are the baptistry's original doors: the gloriously golden, 16m-tall gilded bronze Porta del Paradiso (Doors of Paradise; 1425–52) designed by Ghiberti for the eastern entrance; the northern doors (1402–24), also by Ghiberti; and – from the end of 2019 – the spectacular Porta Sud (South Door; 1330-36) by Andrea Pisano, illustrating the story of John the Baptist.
Parts of San Gimignano's Romanesque cathedral were built in the second half of the 11th century, but its remarkably vivid frescoes, depicting episodes from the Old and New Testaments, date from the 14th century. Look out, too, for the Cappella di Santa Fina, near the main altar – a Renaissance chapel adorned with naive and touching frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio, depicting the life of one of the town's patron saints. These featured in Franco Zeffirelli's 1999 film Tea with Mussolini.