Travel and leisure
Travel & Leisure in Tuscany, Italy
A room with a view is a romantic way to enjoy Florence. (Photo: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images )
A Tuscan vacation gives travelers a chance for an urban adventure with visits to the art museums of Florence, the architecture of Pisa and the traditions of Siena. Tuscany also is a destination for a leisurely trip that meanders through the countryside, stops at wineries for tastings or takes a leisure break in a spa town.
Tuscany’s main cities are well-connected to Italy and one another by rail and bus, but a rental car is necessary to explore its countryside and small villages. Since most historic city centers are traffic-free, a car is a nuisance in urban areas, where parking also is difficult and expensive. The SITA bus company operates most intercity services around Tuscany, but travelers should note that some tourist-oriented routes operate only in summer. The railway company Trenitalia’s website is useful for trip planning, but American credit card holders cannot book tickets online.
A family or group of friends might find it comfortable and economical to rent a Tuscan villa, which becomes a home base to explore the surrounding area. Villas usually require a minimum one-week stay but come with the added convenience of kitchen facilities and parking. Some offer swimming pools and other amenities. Companies such as Invitation to Tuscany and Summer’s Leases specialize in Tuscan property rentals. A homey villa alternative is to stay in an agriturismo, a working farm. Agriturismos usually permit a one-night or other short stay and give travelers insight into food production and Italian culture. Single travelers and couples can stay in monasteries and convents, many of which are in historic buildings and offer clean and economical overnight lodgings. Tuscany is filled with bed and breakfasts, hostels and hotels at all budget levels.
Urban stays in Tuscany enable travelers to experience art and culture. Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is home to Renaissance masterpieces by artists including Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Piero della Francesca. Michelangelo’s massive statue of “David” holds a place of honor in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Siena’s stone-paved Campo hosts the traditional Palio horserace twice each summer, and throughout the rest of the year it is the city’s central square, where visitors enjoy coffee, gelato or a stroll. The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the world’s most recognizable structures, and its surrounding cathedral and baptistery also are architectural marvels.
Wine and Country Adventures
The rolling hills of Tuscany produce some of the world’s best-loved wine and olive oil. Many wineries and olive oil producers are open to the public, and an entire vacation can be based around touring and tasting. In the walled hill town of San Gimignano, visitors can stop in any city wine bar or shop to taste the Vernaccia. The entire Chianti region makes the wine that bears its name, which is typically served as the house wine in local restaurants. Brunello in Montalcino and Vino Nobile in Montepulciano are just a few of the other varieties to experience. Many area restaurants serve Vin Santo as a dessert, which comes with hard cookies to dip inside the sweet and strong wine.
A spa vacation is the essence of leisure, and the name Montecatini is almost synonymous with spa. The Tuscan town has been a spa destination for centuries, and in the 1770s Grand Duke Leopold ordered construction of thermal resorts. The natural thermal waters are the centerpiece of the spa industry, and nine resorts offer a variety of therapeutic and relaxation treatments as well as swimming in thermal pools. Visitors also can drink the mineral waters, which are said to heal the liver and digestive system.