Ahhh Tuscany, I literally cannot say one bad thing about this gorgeous area of Italy. If you have never been before it can be a bit overwhelming to plan your trip because there are so many gorgeous little towns dotting the countryside. That is why I wanted to write about my experience traveling there this past summer and highlight The 5 places to visit in Tuscany!
Everywhere you turn in Tuscany you see these never ending rolling green hills with vineyards as far as the eye can see. Gorgeous stone homes built in a long gone era, some older than 1000ad. It truly is hard not to get lost in the rich history that surrounds you, and the wine let’s just say it is fantastico!!!
I love Italian history, architecture, and pretty much anything related to Italian food, this passion started when I studied abroad. In college, I studied with the University of Florence for a few months furthering my Italian language skills and learning about Italian Politics, it was an amazing experience. We used our weekends to explore the countryside and experiment in local food and wine. Some of us even ventured as far as Prague (yes, that was me!) Each of these little towns have their own special history and charm. It is impossible not to fall in love with this little part of the world. That is why it was so important to me to bring my husband and kids back this past summer so that they could experience these places first hand and start to understand my love for Italian culture, food and wine.
If you are planning a trip to Italy and would like to see the Tuscan Countryside here are my recommendations for the 5 towns you must see. Some are well known and others are little hidden gems! For recommendations on food to try while visiting Tuscany please comment or write to me, I always respond!
- Siena– Sitting atop a Tuscan hill just 35 miles south of Florence, Siena provides a glimpse into the rich medieval history of the region. Siena is great as a day trip but I have found that more than a day is needed to stroll through the red brick streets discovering something new around every turn.
There are several points of interest in Siena first and foremost the heart of the city Piazza del Campo where the famous horse race the Palio is held every August. Overlooking Piazza del Campo is the Palazzo Pubblico, which is a 13th century town hall and tower.
Siena Cathedral is the main cathedral of Siena. This 13th century cathedral is known for its marble stripes in symbolic black & white. The intricate carvings in the marble is just breathtaking. The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive.
There is also some great shopping in Siena. Furla, Intimissimi, Wycon Cosmetics and Falconieri just to name a few stores, you can find something for everyone on your gift list.
- San Gimignano– With stunning views of picturesque vineyards from this hilltop town I felt like I was in a 13th century masterpiece. San Gimignano is a quaint village with the main street lined with ceramics stores, souvenir shops, butchers and winery storefronts. Winding through the little streets it is hard to find one that does not give you spectacular views of the countryside or the magnificent towers San Gimignano is so well known for. San Gimignano is known for a delicate white wine called Vernaccia. Vernaccia has been considered since the Renaissance one of Italy’s finest white wines. It is a must try when you are visiting!
Walking up the main street to the Piazza della Cisterna it is easy to succumb to the sights and sounds of this village. Each building has its own intricate details maybe a cross within the brick or vines climbing up the side of windows. Piazza della Cisterna is the epitome of an Italian Piazza, little outdoor cafes serving up Aperol Spritzes while you people watch. We loved just sitting and taking in every little bit of the Italian lifestyle. Overlooking the Piazza della Cisterna is the Torre Grossa, one of the 15 remaining towers out of 72 in San Gimignano. The Torre Grossa houses frescos and other artwork from the 13-17th centuries.
- Florence– For many Florence is the main reason they visit Tuscany. Florence with its rich history and awe-inspiring artwork in museums and buildings does not disappoint. There are so many things to see in Florence so I will list some favorites that in my opinion are a must see.
- The Duomo- The famous cathedral dome dominates the skyline of Florence. Magnificent sculptural carvings in the marble exterior that you can observe for hours.
- The Uffizi Gallery- Considered one of the world’s top art museums, the Uffizi Gallery houses some of the most important works of the Renaissance, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli and Michelangelo and a large collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.
- Piazza Della Signoria- Piazza where the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery is located. Orcagna designed the Loggia dei Lanzi, which sits to the right in Palazzo Vecchio and functions as an open-air sculpture gallery, in 1376.
- Ponte Vecchio- Quaint “old bridge” as translated from Italian houses some of the region’s best jewelers. Situated over the Arno River the Ponte Vecchio is a focal point of downtown Florence.
- Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace- More than just a beautiful green garden area in the heart of Florence the Garden is also the worlds largest open air museum with fountains and sculptures adorning the property.
- Piazzale Michelangelo- Small Piazza outside of the heart of the City where you have a fantastic panoramic view of the city. Perfect photo opportunity!
- San Lorenzo Market- Outdoor market full of stalls selling leather, clothing and souvenirs. It runs from the Church of San Lorenzo along Via Ariento all the way to Via Nazionale. The market is a cheap and cheerful place to search for a bargain.
- San Miniato al Monte- Of all the churches located in Florence this by far was my favorite. It is situated on a hilltop just above the Piazzale Michelangelo and boasts the most amazing view of the city. Noted as the first church in Florence you can easily see the blending in the late 11th and 12th centuries, with Byzantine mosaics and echoes of Classical Rome in the Romanesque Tuscan architecture.
- Castellina in Chianti– Amongst the sprawling Tuscan vineyards Castellina in Chianti is definitely a hidden gem. I had never heard of Castellina in Chianti until my sister rented an old Tuscan farmhouse in the area for our family get together. About 15 km from Siena Castallina in Chianti is a quaint little town with one main street lined with amazing restaurants, gelaterias and produce vendors. We would often go into town just to walk through the shops and have a nice long lunch or dinner, it is off the beaten tourist path so it was never crowded or overwhelming just relaxing. Castellina in Chianti’s history begins with the Etruscan civilization which pre dates the Roman. Signs of this history are evident in the Etruscan tombs just outside the main town streets.
As with other cities and towns in Tuscany black and white truffles are a delicacy incorporated into pasta, steak and even pizza dishes. Black truffles have a bit more of a pungent flavor while white truffles are milder. My suggestion is to try a truffled pasta first, the combination of fresh made pasta with truffles is divine! I want a bowl right now!
Some main attractions in Castellina in Chianti are:
- The massive Rocca (castle), with a huge 14th-century tower. It houses a small Etruscan museum.
- Church of San Salvatore, with an early 15th-century fresco of Madonna with Child and a polychrome wooden statue of Christ from the same age.
- Palazzo Ugolini-Squarcialupi.
- Palazzo Bianciardi.
- The Via delle Volte underground tunnel.
- Montecalvario Mound, outside the town. It consists of four 7th-6th century BC Etruscan tombs.
- Monteriggioni– More so a walled castle than a town Monteriggioni is situated on a hilltop about 30 min from Castellina in Chianti. The castle was built by the Sienese between 1213 and 1219 for defensive purposes, hence on a hilltop as was common practice for many of the towns. Monteriggioni has one main square the Piazza di Roma onto which the Church of Santa Maria Assunta faces. Monteriggioni is most known as the location that Dante Alighieri cited in his work The Divine Comedy. Monteriggioni while small is still breathtaking especially at sunset as you gaze out over the Tuscan countryside.