"The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo".Any piece on Tuscany has to begin with an ode to one of its greatest sons, Michelangelo. Tuscany's contribution to Italian history is so magnificent, that it can easily be regarded as a nation on its own right. The architecture, the history, the people, the cuisine―each aspect of Tuscany leaves you overwhelmed and mesmerized.
So, without any delay, let's get past the customary introductions, and begin our journey through one of the most picturesque regions of Italy―Tuscany.
What can you say about a city that is postcard-perfect? Florence is among Italy's crown jewels, and used to be the seat of the Renaissance movement. The Renaissance flavor hits you as soon as you enter the city, with the Duomo di Firenze's silhouette defining the skyline. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore ranks among the largest churches in Italy, and is automatically a major draw for visitors who come here. Another Florentine attraction is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest museums in the world. Architecturally speaking, the Medici influence is still evident all over the city, from the Fontana del Nettuno, to the grand Uffizi Gallery. As you walk over the city's oldest bridge, the Ponte Vecchio and gaze at the Arno river gushing below, you're just left with one wish―to make Florence your home.
The coastal town of Pisa has been a tourist magnet since ages. Pisa used to be a major port held in the same league as Genoa, but its claim to fame in the recent times has been the Piazza dei Miracoli. What can be termed as a charming blot among Italian architectural marvels, the evidently imperfect Leaning Tower of Pisa is what brings most visitors here. Which is a little bit of a shame, considering how Pisa has so much more to offer; from its famed University of Pisa, to several Romanesque buildings, churches, and museums.
The name is sure to ring a bell if wine happens to be your choice of tipple. Chianti's famous reds include Chianti and Chianti Classico, along with Colli dell'Etruria Centrale, Pomino, Vin Santo del Chianti, and Vin Santo del Chianti Classico. Besides being a prime center for viticulture, Chianti's breathtaking beauty is evident in its little Roman churches and ancient villas, interspersed with neat rows of grape vines and olive plantations.
Siena's most prominent event is the Palio di Siena, a horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo, which is the main square. Tourists flock to see this race that takes place on July 2 and August 16 each year. This thrilling and rather violent race has its roots in the medieval era, and has been kept alive even in the present times, like most traditions in Italy. To sample the gorgeous Sienese art, visit the Museo Civico, which houses some very impressive frescoes.
Lucca is a charming little village, replete with all those Tuscan elements that make it worth a see. We're referring to cobbled streets, piazzas that stretch endlessly, pretty little cafés that serve the most delicious pici all'aglione, and all of this nestled within those imposing Roman walls. Lucca is worthy of an exploration on foot, but you can even rent a car and visit Montecatini Terme and enjoy the thermal spas here.
Monteriggioni is your classic walled castle, typical of the medieval times. Fourteen towers are a part of the fortifying wall, which were used by the guards protecting the castle. The Medieval Festival of Monteriggioni is an annual affair that takes place every July, and is one of the most beautiful festivals in the region. It gives you a glimpse of life as it was back then, complete with costumed men and women, duels, acrobats, and of course medieval cuisine.
"If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo."
Michelangelo's words maybe enough to capture the essence of Arezzo, or maybe not. The town sits prettily on top of a hill, overlooking the four valleys―Valtiberina, Casentino, Valdarno and Valdichiana. Arezzo was, unfortunately, at the receiving end of some pretty nasty WWII bombing, but you might remember it from Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning film, La vita è bella (Life Is Beautiful).
Saturnia is a speck of a village in southern Tuscany, but is perhaps the world's only original natural spa. The Terme di Saturnia, located right outside the village are a group of springs with sulfurous water flowing at a temperature of 37.5 °C (99.5 °F). They are well-known for their therapeutic properties, which aid physical and mental well-being.
The name Costa degli Etruschi may not be taken alongside the famed Costiera Amalfitana, but yes, it does deserve a mention. The Etruscan coastline begins southwards from Livorno to just beyond Piombino, where you take a ferry to the island of Elba. The scenery you'll encounter along the way is beautiful and memorable. The coast is lined with Italian hamlets and vineyards, serving some delicious grub.
It is impossible to bid goodbye to Tuscany without paying a visit to the birthplace of the Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci. His greatest works have a place of honor in museums all over the world, but this village is where he spent his early years. Around half a million tourists come to Vinci annually, to visit Museo Leonardiano, which houses notebooks that contain sketches drawn by the master.
It's hard to contain Tuscany in a matter of ten places. We've somehow managed to do that here, though. But Tuscany, just as the rest of Italy, does deserve multiple visits.