WHAT TO DO IN TUSCANY
Next to the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence houses one of the most famous art collections in the world. Home to quintessential paintings and sculptural works by da Vinci, Botticelli, Michaelangelo and Rafael, the gallery eclipses the other numerous museums in the region both in scope and importance. However, throughout the city of Florence and Tuscany as a whole, many smaller or more specialized museums showcase items ranging from Renaissance sculpture at the Bargello and Accademia museums in Florence to ancient artifacts at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Siena, Florence and Chiusi to stone mosaics at Palazzo Pitti and the Museo dell`Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence.Wander a Medieval Hilltop Town
The Renaissance architecture patronized by the powerful Medici family left an indelible mark on major Tuscan cities; however, medieval architecture is the norm in most villages. In medieval times, towns were closely built on hilltops then surrounded by high city walls, which provided an advantageous defensive position. Today, at least from an architectural standpoint, most Tuscan villages remain almost untouched by the passage of time, occupied by quaint stone buildings and narrow streets. San Gimignano, Cortona, Siena and Montepulciano are the more well-known medieval towns, but other gems, such as Bagno a Lascia, Montalcino and Volterra, also make for a pleasurable day or afternoon trip.Sample Regional Cuisine
Not only do the kitchens in each region of Italy serve dishes distinctly different from their neighbors, but individual towns also have their own particular ingredients and style of cooking. Rustic cuisine characterizes Tuscan tables, with gamey meat sauces and soups based on leftover ingredients like day-old bread. Certain areas have their own specialties, such as the coastal town of Livorno, that serves Tuscan seafood, notably cacciucco, which is an intensely flavored seafood and garlic stew. Likewise the Chianti area is home to the Chianina, the largest breed of beef cattle. Restaurants in Chianti serve grilled Chianina steaks, as well as an impressive variety of other cuts of beef and beef products.Soak Up the Sun
While foreign travelers typically visit Tuscany for its charming countryside and art museums, domestic tourists love the region`s coastline. In the sweltering humidity of summer, Tuscany’s beaches provide a welcome relief from the inland heat. Viareggio, between Pisa and Cinque Terre, is easy to reach and one of the most-popular beach towns. Its smooth sandy beach stretches for miles and the shallow waters are perfect for wading. A string of minor beach towns and resorts trickles down the coast going south from Livorno.Go for a Bike Ride in Tuscany
Tuscany offers an ideal landscape for cyclists of all levels. Whether on paved roads or off road on mountain bikes, its routes have an abundance of interesting places to visit. Tuscany is actually a land of cyclists and wherever you pedal you`re likely to cross paths with other cycling enthusiasts.
Tuscany is mostly a hilly territory, which means putting yourself to the test on its hills and slopes. In truth, Tuscany is great all year round for cycling aficionados, but the best months for touring Tuscany on bike are from March to June and from September to October. July and August are hot months and outdoor sports are limited to early mornings or late afternoons. And keep in mind that almost every small town offers public fountains so if you need to refill your water bottle, then it is worth it to head to the closest village.
Renowned for its stunning landscapes, famous art, and gourmet food and wine, Tuscany is also a great destination for shopping. If you`re interested in shopping for brand name and Italian fashion designer clothes, shoes and housewares, there are several outlets in Tuscany you should head to for great deals.
In the larger cities like Florence and Siena, there are many large shops and brand name boutiques as well as neighborhood markets and the small workshops run by local craftsmen. Smaller towns and villages mainly host local craftsmen, food markets and weekly village markets. It is here you have the hand-crafted products that you can find only in Tuscany and that are produced just in restricted areas or cities. These products are ideal gifts and souvenirs. For example, in Volterra you have alabaster, in Scarperia in Mugello you have knives, in Casetino you have `panno casentinese,` typical orange wool, in Montelupo Fiorentino you have ceramics and Colle Val d`Elsa is known for its glass.
At the markets, you can also taste the regional food products such as the pecorino cheese from Pienza, the panforte and ricciarelli biscuits from Siena, lard from Colonnata, and pan buccellato from Lucca. And let`s not forget the delicious Tuscan oil, wine and vinsanto. The most famous Tuscan wine is Chianti Classico, but it’s not the only one. Other Chianti wines include Montalbano and Chianti Rufina, as well as wine from Montepulciano and Montalcino, Vernaccia from San Gimignano and Morellino di Scansano from Maremma.
Located over the small town of Pescia, near Collodi (home of Pinocchio), there is a mountain area called the Svizzera Pesciatina. It is studded with little villages known as `The 10 Castella` (The Ten Castles), all made from pietra serena stone, which was of great importance during the Middle Ages.
Not many know of this second Switzerland (to use a common local saying), but there are many reasons why this area of the Valleriana has been nicknamed as such. Its lush green valley and breathtaking views are reminiscent of the alpine mountains that border Italy on the north. But even if it resembles Switzerland for its natural beauty, its culture and traditions are undeniably Tuscan.Each of the ten castella, Fibbialla, Medicina, Aramo, Sorana, San Quirico, Vellano, Castelvecchio, Stiappa, Pietrabuona and Pontito, preserves its own identity, and all are worthy of a visit. (There`s actually another village, Lignana, but all that remains is a few scattered ruins). If you`re interested in culture and old traditions, the first things to visit are the museums. Besides the paper processing museum in Pietrabuona there is also the `Rural life Museum` in San Quirico and the `Historical and Ethnographical Museum of Quarriers and Miners` in Vellano. If you are fond of nature and the outdoors then there are several wonderful hiking itineraries. One in particular covers all ten villages in about six hours walking time.
These villages represent Tuscany`s nature as well as the cultural essence of its ancient life. The Svizzera Pesciatina is a place where old crafts and traditions have been protected and survived modern technology. Walking the tiny streets, you will notice many old, medieval houses which still display the historical families` stone symbols. Many of them have been the founders of those handicrafts which are still alive today.
How to get to the Svizzera Pesciatina
Being a mountain area, train travel is not the most common means of transport. The easiest way to get there is by car, but you can take a train to Pescia (arriving and departing from Lucca, Viareggio or Florence). Since the station is centrally located, you can then take a bus to one of the above mentioned villages (each one is served daily by bus service).