5 Places to See in Tuscany, Italy

This is a guest post by A Cook Not Mad

We had the pleasure of spending the month of July 2011 in Tuscany.

Yes it was hot, probably the hottest weather we’ve experienced in a long time.

We rented an apartment in the small town of Massarosa.  There were only 2 other English speaking (as a second language)  people but the experience is something we’ll never forget.   We’d like to share our 5 favourite neighbouring areas in Tuscany.

1. FLORENCE

My personal favorite, Florence, is a beautiful city full of history, architecture, art and food.  After visiting one or all of the world famous galleries like the Uffizi or the Accademia Gallery to view Michelangelo’s David treat yourself to a steak Florentine. 

You will want to skip lunch if you are going to pay homage to the altar of steak but if you need something to bridge the gap head to the San Lorenzo market and pick up a lampredotto sandwich.  The simmered fourth stomach of a cow, sliced thin and garnished with green sauce and a splash of cooking juice on the bun, this sandwich is only served up in Florence and has been for hundreds of years.

Now that you’re fueled up, hit the city and open every door because behind one could be a hidden feast for the eyes or stomach.  The Museo di Palazzo Vecchio is open late so you can end your day by slipping into an art coma from its over the top interior.

View of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

2. LUCCA

We loved Lucca and fortunately our apartment was only a fifteen minute drive to the walled town.  Once called the city of a hundred churches, because it seemed that there was a church on every corner, Lucca is now a nest of art, artisans and all things Tuscan.

Lucca was the capital of Tuscany and was fortified with huge walls that you can now walk or cycle around for a great view of the town and the surrounding hills.

For a better view climb the steps of either one of the two towers Guinini or Torre delle Ore.  Before hitting the stairs up pop down the street to Lucca’s oldest coffee shop Caffe di Simo for one of the best coffees you will ever have.  A honey soaked pastry or treat along with that and you are ready for the climb.

Back on the ground don’t be afraid to check out every street, you can’t get lost and you will find some of the best places where you may not expect like Forno Casali where they make an all corn foccacia that is a unique and delicious bread. 

Don’ be surprised if it’s still warm from the oven and good luck walking a block without tearing into it.

View of Lucca from Torre delle Ore 
Street Art Lucca Style

3. CHIANTI/SIENA

If you are lucky enough to have a car on your trip you could not have a more romantic and beautiful drive than through the rolling vineyards of Chianti.  Perfectly cultivated rows of grape vine line the estates along with olive trees, vegetable gardens and flowers. 

Lunch at a vineyard or estate is a must and we highly recommend Casamonti Estates.  At Casamonti not only is the host gracious, the food delicious, the wine splendid and the estate incredible but you get eat the legendary Cinta Sinese pig. 

In fact not only do you get to eat it but you can see the whole process of raising and processing this historic swine into mind bending prosciutto, salami and guanciale, a gigantic cured cheek.  If you call ahead they may even sell you fresh Cinta meat, such as ribs or an arista (roast).

 

At Casamonti Estate

Within ten minutes you can drive into the bustling city of Siena.  The walled portion of the city sits up high in the middle and once inside you can walk all through its sloped cobblestone streets and steep stairs.

Siena has a long list of museums and galleries worth checking out but you may have a sore neck if you do it all since some of the best paintings are over head. If you’re short on time don’t miss the Cathedral of Siena, it is a great example of the Italians love of extravagant art and interior design and well worth the ticket price.

Panforte, a dense unleavened fruit cake, originated in Siena and is wonderful with a piece of pecorino cheese and a glass of prosecco.

The Cathedral of Siena

Inside the Cathedral of Siena

4. APUAN ALPS

If your drive through wine country was a little too mundane this drive is sure to clear the cobwebs.

Highway 13 from Castelnuovo through the alps to Massa on the other side is the most spectacular piece of dangerous road I have ever driven.  A virtual one lane ribbon of pavement glued to the side of the mountains that wiggles its way along the Garfagnana valley, through the Alps (literally) and down the mountain side to the ocean.

Your reward for braving the insanity, is some of the most incredible views of marble capped peaks and lunar like landscape you can find.

Hiking trails are available at every possible stop so you better bring some water, the Apuan Alps produce one of the finest waters in the world, my opinion.  Water from these mountains is said to supply the whole country.

We loved the Fonteviva brand, it tasted like you were drinking from a glacial stream.  The fact that we had just climbed a mountain in 40+ Celcius weather may have had something to do with it.

Village Along Highway 13
Devil’s Bridge in Borgo a Mozzano

5. VIAREGGIO

If spending a day driving is not your thing maybe a day at the beach is more your style.  Viareggio  has some of the most interesting beaches we have encountered.

The main beach running down the coast through the heart of the city is serviced by a beautiful boardwalk lined with restaurants, shops and gelaterias.

The ocean however is only accessible through private beach clubs that own sections of the beach. The clubs will rent you a chair and umbrella on a beautifully kept beach for about Û25 a day, people will often rent out space for the summer like a cottage.

A Tuscan tan is something to be proud of here and the darker the better, some so dark they looked a little purple.  The chairs are stacked in like cordwood so good luck flinging a frisbee or tossing around a football.

If free is more your style (you still have to pay for parking) and you don’t mind a relatively unkept beach, head towards Torre del Lago and the dunes.  With no trouble at all you can find your own stretch of sand and the people are much more interesting.  No beach chairs here just a few kilometers of drift wood strewn coast, same ocean, same Tuscan sun.

Beach Chairs at Viareggio
The “free” beach, Torre del Lago

Whatever your vacationing preference, Tuscany, Italy is sure to please with it’s spectacular views, friendly people and amazing food.  

Have you ever been to Italy?  What is your favourite memory of Italy?

Bio: A Cook Not Mad, a food blog with bouts of travel, was started by Tim & Nathalie Harris in 2011 after they sold their business and decided to travel through Europe.  Now that the adventure has started they don’t want it to end.  Join them as they travel farther bringing you tasty recipes and pretty pictures from different parts of the world.

guest writer

50 Comments on “5 Places to See in Tuscany, Italy”

  1. I believe that Tuscany is the most beautiful region from Italy!

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  2. I love Lucca! It reminded me of York in the UK, with the walls and the tiny, easy to get lost in streets. Except, a bit warmer, and with cheaper wine ;) Great post!

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  3. Beautiful! Italy is on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing all of the great tips and pictures.

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  4. I also recommend Cortona in the spring/summer.

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  5. I am so upset we missed Lucca. It was on our list, but we ended up spending 5 days at a farmhouse near Castel del Piano in southern Tuscany (Siena & Chianti too) and a week in the hills above San Remo in Liguria and 3 days in La Spezia. Then our time ran out. But I am in love with the sound and sights of Lucca. Thanks for the great pics.

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    • Staying in a farmhouse sounds great. Lucca was definitely one of our favourite spots, we went 4 times while we were in the area. We would love to go back and spend even more time in Tuscany, anywhere in Italy really, European really know how to live.

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  6. I knew I should have opted to go to Lucca instead of Pisa ;)

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  7. I first fell in love with international travel when studying abroad in Florence. I have been back a couple times and continue to write about it a lot, especially the art and history of the city. You include a couple places I have not been, so thank you for the ideas!

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  8. I enjoyed this article very much. We often read articles about Italy and they are about the same places we have heard a thousand times. But this post is like a breath of fresh air because it showcases some unique places (and it is really interesting). I didn’t even know about the Apuan Alps. Well done!

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  9. Lucca is definitely on my list to see.

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  10. Lucca sounds like my kind of place. I can’t wait to explore Tuscany!

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  11. Great list! Highway 13 looks like it is for me! I love drives like this.

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  12. Have a great time!

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  13. I am surprised to see the Apuan Alps on the list, not many people make their way up there! We loved that area too (esp. Barga, which made our Top 5 Tuscany list), but Florence didn’t do very much for us, to be honest. There were so many people, it was hard to enjoy the town. Two more places we ADORE in Tuscany are San Gimignano and Volterra – can’t wait to go back there.

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    • We loved the Apuan Alps so much we drove through twice, loved Barga and San Gimignano. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy Florence. It was pretty busy when we were there as was most everywhere in Italy but we got such great advice from our innkeeper that it really made our visit worthwhile.

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  14. Wow. This post–and the beautiful accompanying photographs–really takes me back to my time in Italy. Wonderful guest post. Thanks for allowing me to relive some very happy memories :)

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  15. We visited all these wonderful spots when we did a 2 week trip to Tuscany! A good tip is to stay in the hilltop village overlooking Florence called Fiesole especially in summer as its a bit cooler and less frenetic. It is a quick bus ride down to Florence and buses run frequently. Our Dave part of Tuscany was the Chianti region and encourage yout to look up all the castles in the region. Sipping sundowners and eatin pizza at a trattoria in the main piazza in Sienna was a highlight. We stayed in agritourism accommodation which was centrally located to explore the region.

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    • Sounds like you had a good time. We stayed at a friend’s apartment that we rented out in Massarosa and drove to all the nearby towns. Ended our Italian leg of the trip with 3 days in Florence. We can’t wait to go back.

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  16. I fell in love with Italy when I stayed in Lucca and with a hire car explored as far as I could drive in a day… and then I was lucky in life to live in the historic centre of Florence for many years. And, yes, Chianti, Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Pisa and many other places hold great memories for me.
    But, if you have the opportunity to visit Tuscany again I cannot recommend more highly unknown la Maremma. It is a land of breathtaking natural beauty where la dolce vita is in everyday simple things that make you smile. Today I visited one of its marshlands and watched a hundred pink flamingos take flight…
    Donna

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    • How lucky you are to have lived in Florence. We found it was a real “city”, the energy reminded us of our days living in Manhattan.
      Thank you for the tip on ma Maremma, we will definitely check it out next time around.

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  17. I adore Italy! I have never been to Tuscany but I am heading there as part of a trip to Umbria in April. The suggestions here and the beautiful photographs have made me even more excited about my trip. The Apuan Alps look particularly stunning. Do you have any suggestions for a good place to take a cooking class? Would love to do that while I am there.

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  18. You’re gonna love it. I would suggest to go to Casamonti Estate. They were supposed to start doing classes. Email me through the blog and I’ll get you the owners contact info.

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  19. A beautiful shot of the Cathedral in Siena! My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Tuscany and your blog showcases all the best of the region.

    We were lucky enough to visit Florence, Siena, Pisa and Lucca. Siena was, by far, our favourite place. There’s nothing like enjoying a gelato while doing a spot of people watching in Piazza del Campo.

    Just wish we could have been there during Palio de Siena!

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  20. Hey Gavin,
    We spent our honeymoon in France 15 years ago, how can anyone go wrong with a European honeymoon? Palio de Siena would definitely be something to see, maybe next time!

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  21. Yes, Florence is really beautiful city, hope to see it one day :)

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  22. I come from Tuscany, in particolar from Camaiore (a short drive from Viareggio and Massarosa). I lived many years in Florence and since 1 year I am working in Germany . I am very proud of my country, especially since I am living abroad in a modern city, empty of history and with a permanent grey sky.
    I am very happy when I read also foreigners feel themselves welcome and appreciate all tuscan beauty. Reading this story I have a bit of homesick! Thank you very much for your blog post! :)))

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    • Jennifer, sorry that we made you home sick. We felt very welcome throughout Tuscany. Only one person was a little cranky, a shop owner who didn’t want to sell us pine nuts haha. We found Tuscans to be very proud of their region and country and rightly so, it is god’s country, so amazingly beautiful.
      I hope you make it back once in a while.

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  23. There is a documentary film about the Devil’s Bridge and 11 more mysterious places in Tuscany: http://www.mysterytuscany.com/

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  24. Never been to Italy before, the Devil’s Bridgeis is really nice and beautiful as i can see from the photo above, we are planning for Europe tour by end of this year, maybe to include Italy in our travel plan:)

    Simon

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  25. I look forward to visiting Italy this year. Love your blog and beautiful pictures!!

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  26. I had never even heard of Lucca! Maybe I actually need to do some research before I go to a country :)

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  27. We agree with all 5 places, but Tuscany is much more like Pienza, San Gimignano, Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia and ….

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  28. [...] 5 Places to See in Tuscany, Italy [...]

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  29. How not to love Italy?
    Food, wine and the loving mediterranean weather…
    I loved Siena and Firenze as they are full of history and art. In Siena, I specially enjoyed the BEST artisan ice-cream ever in a gelattaria nar the left corner of the Palio. There were so many flavors! I had to have 2 ice cream cones! I hope to get back there.
    I do agree with you, Pisa isn’t worth staying for too long. Half a day is more than enough to know a little. It’s just a tower, the baptistery and tons of burglars!
    I wish you nice trips!

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  30. Tuscany is beautiful and offers such a variety of landscapes and activities for all tastes.. For a less touristy side of the region, I suggest visiting the “Maremma” in the south, still quite unknown to foreigners. Lots of wine tasting, great food, hilltop vineyards medieval villages, beaches!
    Raffaella recently posted..Argentario Running Tour: athletics by the Tuscan sea
    Raffaella recently posted..Argentario Running Tour: athletics by the Tuscan sea

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  31. Thank-you very much for your wonderful advice. My dad and I are travelling to Tuscany in June this year and it gave us heaps of really cool ideas. We loved the idea of driving from Castelnuovo through the alps to Massa. I would love to know more details on this drive, how long it took? Where you stayed? Any advice would be great!

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  32. […] What makes it extra-jaw-dropping? Renowned for its Italian Art Nouveau architecture, the Tuscan beach town of Viareggio is again in vogue. There is 15-kilometer-long beach that goes from Forte dei Marmi in the north to Viareggio in the south. I fell in love with the Tuscan Riviera when I went here last summer. The photo is taken at Bagno Arizona in Viareggio. You can also read Caz and Craig’s post about it at yTravelblog. […]

    Reply
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