My family and I visited Tuscany in Italy, this past summer. One trip can never do justice to this wonderful part of the world, and one post isn’t enough either. This was my second visit to the country, and we explored Tuscany over 7 days. Having covered good ground, I am highlighting the top recommendations from my Tuscan vacation.
Our villa in Tuscany- Il Cortile Di Pratolino
WHERE TO STAY IN TUSCANY:
I highly recommend setting up base in one place and driving around Tuscany. Though its medieval cities are very charming, constantly packing, un-packing and being on the move every 2-3 days, can be very annoying. Find a villa in the countryside, or an out of the way hotel. It will allow you to explore nearby cities, and also enjoy the beautiful countryside at leisure.
My family booked the villa at “Il Cortile Di Pratolino”. Here are the features of this stunning 8-bedroom property:
– Fabulous swimming pool (the water was cold but bearable)
– Access to tennis courts, horse-riding and lovely walking trails
– Resident staff that was courteous and efficient, including a world-class chef, and housekeepers to clean and cater to our needs (with the exception of lunches and Thursdays)
– Beautiful gardens with a breathtaking view of the Tuscan valley surrounded by mountains
It was like living on a Hollywood movie set! We booked the villa for 13 people, including 2 senior citizens and 5 children, for 7 days, and had a delightful time here.
If you prefer staying in a hotel, with access to more amenities, you could check out my post on Badia a Coltibuono, which was nearby.
The wonderful view of the Tuscan valley from the swimming pool in our villa
HOW TO GET AROUND:
The easiest way to get around the countryside is by renting a car. You can choose from various car rental companies and pick a vehicle at the airport itself. We chose Budget Car Rentals and were very happy with our car.
Keep these things in mind before booking:
– The number of people
– The amount of luggage you are carrying
– The narrow roads in Italy (sometimes smaller cars work better!)
– Whether you need to hire a car seat for your child
– You do not need an international driver’s license, but you will need to show your passport and driver’s license from your own country
– Book online to avoid long lines and waiting, as there is a high demand for cars at peak season
– Pay for the insurance when you take the car, you won’t regret it
If you would rather use public transport, all major towns are connected via buses and trains from Rome and Florence.
THE PLACES YOU MUST VISIT:
Florence is the cultural hub of Tuscany and demands a visit, if only to see the world-famous sculpture of Michelangelo’s David. Pisa too has an undying allure because of its Leaning Tower. Lucca is known for its medieval charm, and Forte dei Marmi is a lovely beachside destination. I didn’t visit any of these places due to time constraints and long distances, but I’m not complaining- it’s just an excuse to go back! Here are the places I visited and my thoughts on them:
This medieval town is best known for the National Archaeological Museum, that houses ruins from the Etruscan period. It has a beautiful Basilica as well.
Though the town is charming with some interesting sights, I feel it can be skipped in favour of other cities in the vicinity.
The famous designer outlet mall, Valdichiana is located near Arezzo. It offers massive discounts on designer brands.
This medieval city is known for its museums, art, lively city square called Il Campo, and beautiful cityscape.
I highly recommend a day trip here if you can manage it.
- San Gimignano
The cramped cobblestoned streets add character to this lovely place. Its black and white Duomo stands apart from the others, and its world-famous gelaterias boast the longest lines! You must include this in your Tuscan itinerary, if possible.
- Gaiole In Chianti
The heart of the Chianti countryside is known for its rolling hills, pleasant weather and delicious wine! We took day trips to the beautiful estate of Badia a Coltibuono in this area, for an Italian cooking lesson, a winery tour and wine tasting. This monastery converted to winery converted to hotel, is simply wonderful!
THE SIGHTS YOU MUST SEE:
Apart from the sculpture of David, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the various Duomos in every town, the Chianti wineries, and numerous little museums; Tuscany is also home to many hidden gems. Here are some of the ones I saw and highly recommend:
- The Chimera in Arezzo
A Chimera is a creature from Greek mythology- a lion with a goat’s head protruding from its back, with a snake instead of a tail. The Chimera sculpture discovered in Arezzo is known to be the best example of Etruscan art, and is definitely worth a dekko. It is housed in the National Archeological Museum in Arezzo.
- Madonna Del Parto in Monterchi
Depictions of a pregnant Madonna are a rare sight. A fresco made by Pierro Dela Francesca, housed in a tiny museum in Monterchi, is the most well-known one. We drove an hour outside of Arezzo to see this work. Its arrestingly beautiful simplicity, was worth the trip!
- The Church of Saint Catherine in Siena
Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the few female patron saints of the Catholic Church. The little church dedicated to her in Siena is beautiful and much quieter than the main sights of the town. Do visit when in the area.
- The Black Roosters in the Countryside
While driving around the Chianti countryside, one cannot miss the large black roosters. These are symbols of Chianti wine, and usually mark the location of a famous winery– local gems that no guide book talks about!
- The Biblical Frescoes in San Gimignano
The Duomo in San Gimignano was special for its gorgeous fresco paintings that showed stories from the bible. Though we saw many churches in Tuscany, this one really stood apart.
THE FOOD YOU CAN’T MISS:
Honestly, the food in Italy is fabulous, no matter where you eat. Their pizzas have the perfect thin crusts, topped with the freshest of ingredients. The pastas and meat platters are cooked to perfection, and bursting with flavour. Even the most touristy spots provide delicious meals. However, here are the things I recommend trying over others.
- Meals cooked by the chef at “Il Cortile Di Pratolino”. These were cooked and beautifully presented four course meals and each one was unforgettable.
- The Coffee aperitif at Il Retorivo Ice Cream parlour in Siena. The alcohol added in was probably responsible for making it uber delicious
- Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano has been voted the world’s best gelateria. The 30-minute-long line was definitely worth the amazing gelato we had there
- A meal cooked by Benedetta Vitali at Badia a Coltibuono. This fabulous chef has appeared in an episode of the Netflix original documentary, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”, for good reason
Clockwise from top: Enjoying the world’s best gelato in Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano; a cheese and meat platter made by the resident chef Giuseppe at our villa; the community meal made by chef Benedetta Vitali at Badia a Coltibuono
This is my round-up of recommendations to make the most of your trip to Tuscany in Italy. I had a fabulous vacation there and I hope to return soon. Do leave your Tuscan recommendations in the comments section below, for the benefit of other readers. Please share this post with someone that may like it.
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