We had the pleasure of spending the month of July 2011 discovering 5 amazing places to see 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.
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.
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. I recommend this walking tour of Lucca.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Whatever your vacationing preference, Tuscany, Italy is sure to please with it’s spectacular views, friendly people and amazing food.
Plan Your Trip to Tuscany
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Best selling tours of the Tuscany region
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.
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Have you ever been to Tuscany? Do you have any tips for places to see in Tuscany and things to do?