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!
Welcome to Tuscany!
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.
Of course when you are in Tuscany, you cannot leave without visiting a few select vineyards.
In my opinion, a great day tour in Tuscany is to book a private car and driver with Tuscan Wine Tasting Tours so you can dip in and out of some of the best known and lesser known boutique vineyards in this part of Italy.
With tours that take in the Chianti region, Montepulciano or Brunello di Montelcino hill towns and surrounding vineyards, you can travel along more out of the way routes, get a very personalized perspective from your dedicated driver and enjoy a lovely lunch during your 8 hour tour.
With no waiting around for fellow tourists to rejoin your group or being tied to following the main tourist routes, you will get a wonderful overview of wine production in Tuscany and be dropped to your villa delighted with your day among the vines!
The Flavour of Florence
Anyone who reads my blogs knows that when it comes to Italian food I am a true fan.
I am one of those enthusiasts who gets excited rambling through an open farmers market or stalking the aisles of local supermarkets. The ingredients that inform the regional table grow in abundance along the fertile slopes of the Tuscan countryside.
How better than to really understand and experience the Taste of Tuscany than to sign up for one of the most enjoyable cooking classes I have experienced?
A cooking class, hosted in a traditional farmhouse overlooking the Tuscan countryside follows a morning guided walk through the famous central food market of Florence. Your capable host for the day, educates the group about the various ingredients and what to choose for the cooking class that will fill the remainder of the day.
Classic staples like bruschetta, handmade fresh pasta, roasted pork with herbed potatoes all topped off with the creamy coffee confection that is Tiramisu are all on the menu.
As you dine on the fruits of your labors on the farmhouse terrace, sipping delicious wines, you will be making memories that you can relive at home each time you recreate the fresh plates of foods that you will learn how to prepare.
It is a day of laughter, relaxation and stimulation: as tours in Tuscany go, it is well-run and so friendly and fun.
About Mairead Moriarty
Born and raised in Co Kerry, lived in London, New York, San Francisco, Dublin. Owner of one very battered suitcase, a well-worn passport and a million memories.
It seems very fitting for a travel writer that my surname translates as ‘Skilled Navigator’. Apart from an occasion when, aged 3, I got lost in a Supermarket in Tralee, I have managed to live up to my name! Curiosity is probably the driver that has sent me on magical mystery tours around the world. I want to ‘feel’ a place. I want all my senses to be engaged: from the history and geography that has influenced a country or city, the arts and achievements of its natives, anything and everything really. Regardless of whether I am on a local train travelling through Morocco, or poking around in Marconi’s study in Bologna or on a canal boat weaving through the heart of the English countryside, the same rules apply - ask questions, talk to locals, eat what they eat, sit quietly with nature and simply be. Assimilate as much as is possible so as to understand the soul of a place. That is my passion. That is the compass by which I navigate.