It’s beautiful. It’s interesting. It is geographically mesmerizing. It is a feast for the senses. Culturally and architecturally it is exceptional. Whatever your reason for visiting this region of Italy, you will discover so much wonderment and beauty to satisfy the most curious and intelligent traveler.
This is Tuscany. Welcome!
With a footprint of almost 9,000 square miles, this central Italian region is a combination of glorious cities, like Florence, Sienna and Pisa, gorgeous picturesque towns like San Gimignano, Montepulciano and Volterra and tiny, villages of jewel-like perfection namely Monteriggioni and Cortona.
Where to start your exploration, is usually the dilemma.
Luckily, there are so many well-constructed guided tours of Tuscany, Italy that will make it easy for you to not only narrow down your preferences with ease but to enhance your trip exponentially.
Art and Culture
So starting with Art and Culture, let’s look at some of the really brilliant Viator Tours Florence has to offer.
The ‘Best of Florence Walking Tour’ will allow you to visit some of the busiest museums and galleries in the world without the dreary drudge of queuing. This 6 hour walking tour, takes you on foot over the Ponte Vecchio which literally translates to ‘old bridge’.
A medieval, stone arched bridge with shops built on top, is over a thousand years old. The shops on the bridge were historically owned by butchers but today offer jewelry and other tourist souvenirs.
An interesting fact is that in 1944 as the British Army advanced towards German occupied Florence, all of the bridges traversing the Arno were destroyed by the retreating army save for the Ponte Vecchio.
The tour guide told us that Hitler himself gave the order to save this landmark from destruction. Whatever the reason, it is an extraordinary bridge to walk over. Or better yet, get a side on view of the Ponte Vecchio from one of the neighboring bridges.
The golden glow of the rich ocher tones of the red-roofed buildings coupled with the pale yellow cloudy tones of the placid Arno is the view of Florence that for me is memorable.
Your Florentine day tour continues with a visit to the Academia Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s statue of David. The sheer scale and perfection of this 17 foot statue is hard to imagine. When you consider that Michelangelo was still in his 20’s when he completed this masterpiece, it is the most compelling evidence of his early greatness that preceded his unequaled work in the Sistine Chapel.
After your exploration of the Academia Gallery, your tour will proceed to the Uffizi Gallery where equally spectacular and world famous art awaits. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is probably the most well-known artwork in this Gallery but prepare for rooms and rooms of some of the greatest examples of art dating from the Italian Renaissance. If you are an art connoisseur you will glide through each of these galleries simply dazzled at the offerings on display.
The journey you take on foot through Florence between these galleries is a feast of architecture and statuary greatness. The wonderful Fountain of Neptune, designed by Bandinelli in the Piazza della Signoria is one of the marvels you will encounter.
Adjacent to the dynamic fountain, is the gory statue of Perseus holding aloft the severed head of Medusa. Free entry to the Duomo, the gigantic cathedral that dominates the ancient center of Florence is just one of many key buildings you will visit on your walk.
Your tour guide is a well-informed and usually tri-lingual history student that gives such in-depth detail as to breathe new life into all of this ancient splendor.
Cypresses on Hills – The Tuscan Picture Postcard
I don’t know about you, but after a day pounding the dusty pavements of urbanized Italy, I am always delighted to get out into the countryside, return to my salubrious Italian villa and soak up the natural beauty of the Tuscan terrain. The picturesque cliche you might have imagined of cypresses standing sentinel around ancient stone farmhouses perched on rolling vine-draped hills are a happy reality.
This is the recurring image that will greet you as you curl around another beautiful bend in Tuscany. If you book yourself onto one of the best bus tours in Tuscany, Italy you can sit back and watch as mother-nature unfurls her majesty. Bellaitalia Tours, starting from Lucca, a walled city in Northern Tuscany, take smaller groups by bus or minivan to two of the most popular destinations in Tuscany: San Gimignano and Siena.
The river Arno meanders through Tuscany, dissecting Florence. If you are a fan of E M Forster’s novel, A Room with a View, you will know that the ‘View’ in question denied to the heroine at the start of the novel is in fact a view of the Arno from her hotel window. The Arno dissects another famous Tuscan destination: Pisa. This lovely city is rather overlooked in many respects. Tourists charge into the City, rush to the famous leaning tower, take their selfies and rush back to where they’ve come from.
In my opinion, Pisa is a welcome respite from the feverish heat and crowding of Florence in high season. The Tower and cathedral occupy such a spacious green area in the old city that allows visitors to take in the architectural phenomenon that is the tower and the wonderful buildings in its vicinity.
Prepare yourself for a narrow tilted walk up the curved steps to the top of the tower. By booking a tour of Pisa you can short circuit some of the lengthy queues that can form at this landmark.
Other interesting points of interest in Pisa is the Palazzo Reale on the banks of the Arno. This wonderful building, once a summer palace residence for a member of the Medici family, now contains spectacular ancient costumes and tapestries along with arts works and sculpture.
On my walking tour of Pisa, we were the first visitors through the museum doors early one morning and the Director of the Museum kindly stepped away from his duties to walk us through each room and give us the history, not just of the great building but the eclectic contents therein.
For a more laid back and less touristy experience, Pisa is very apt. It is a Tuscany Tour that really appeals to families as children are fascinated by the Tower.
And now for something rather different …
Visitors to Tuscany rarely consider that it is a region with a coast line.
More so, the group of islands that make up the Tuscan archipelago are rarely thought of by tourists.
As a slice of history, the island of Elba, the third largest island off the Italian coast after Sardinia and Sicily, is an extremely lovely island that can be reached within an hour by ferry from Piombino on the mainland. The Moby Lines company runs a number of ferry connections to the island and it can be a really fun adventure for you and your family.
Arriving into Portoferraio on the island of Elba, you can pre-book a private tour through the Gruppo Guide Turistiche.
A day in Elba should include a visit to the museum centered round the residence that Napoleon occupied when he was sent into exile. There are other more ancient ruins around the island referencing its distant past, some divine beaches and coves. A day of many activities awaits you and your group on Elba. It is a rather overlooked destination but for me the combination of history and natural beauty make it one of the tours in Tuscany that is most memorable.
It is impossible to cover all of the wonderfully diverse activities that await you in Tuscany.
The region has earned its reputation as a destination that appeals to individuals or groups who want to relax and explore among some of the most beautiful countryside of not just Italy but Europe generally.
The graciousness with which the local Italians welcome guests to this sublime region is everywhere apparent when you join any of the tours that allow you to experience the best of Tuscan hospitality.
I’ve joined many tours of Tuscany over the years and have never been disappointed by the experience. Tuscany is a region that has so much to offer on so many levels.
Tuscany is universally acknowledged as the home of the Italian Renaissance and it is no small statement to say that you will indeed experience your own personal renaissance after some quiet time spent resting under a cypress tree, on an ancient hill in majestic Tuscany.