There's far more to this green corner of Tuscany than Italy's iconic Leaning Tower. Usually hurtled through en route to Florence and Siena's grand-slam queue-for-hours sights, this is the place to take your foot off the accelerator and go slowly – on foot or by bicycle or car.
Siena is a city where the architecture soars, as do the souls of many of its visitors. Effectively a giant, open-air museum celebrating the Gothic, Siena has spiritual and secular monuments that have retained both their medieval forms and their extraordinary art collections, providing the visitor with plenty to marvel at.
The eastern edge of Tuscany is beloved by film directors who have immortalised its landscape and medieval hilltop towns in several critically acclaimed and visually splendid films. Yet the region remains bereft of tourist crowds and offers quiet trails for those savvy enough to explore here – or those simply in search of peace, tranquillity and mountains of natural beauty.
Tuscany's third-largest city is a quintessential port town with a colourful history and cosmopolitan heritage. Declared a free port in the 17th century, Livorno (Leghorn in English) attracted traders from across the globe, who brought with them new customs and habits, exotic goods, slaves and foreign forms of worship.
Once a maritime power to rival Genoa and Venice, Pisa now draws its fame from an architectural project gone terribly wrong. But the world-famous Leaning Tower is just one of many noteworthy sights in this compelling city. Education has fuelled the local economy since the 1400s, and students from across Italy compete for places in its elite university.
Despite being barely a blip on many visitors’ radars, Southern Tuscany is really a region for the Italy connoisseur. Here you'll encounter the intensely atmospheric Città del Tufo, a trio of still-inhabited hill towns that have been sculpted from volcanic rock since Etruscan times.
A local legend says that when Venus rose from the waves seven precious stones fell from her tiara, creating seven islands off the Tuscan coast. These little-known gems range from tiny Gorgona, just 2.23 sq km in size, to the biggest and busiest island, 224-sq-km Elba (Isola d'Elba), best known as the place where Napoleon was exiled.
Napoleon would think twice about fleeing Elba today. Dramatically more congested than when the emperor was exiled here in 1814 (he managed to engineer an escape within a year), the island is an ever-glorious paradise of beach-laced coves, vineyards, azure waters, hairpin-bend motoring, a 1018m mountain (Monte Capanne) and mind-bending views.
Arezzo may not be a Tuscan centrefold, but those parts of its historic centre that survived merciless WWII bombings are as compelling as any destination in the region – the city's central square is as beautiful as it appears in Roberto Benigni's classic film La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful).
The Apuane Alps & Garfagnana
Rearing up inland from the Versilian Riviera are the Apuane Alps, a rugged mountain range protected by the Parco Regionale delle Alpi Apuane (Apuane Alps Regional Park; www.parcapuane.it) that beckons hikers with a trail of isolated farmhouses, medieval hermitages and hilltop villages.