The name Tuscany evokes visions of a scenic region highlighted by gently rolling hills blooming with yellow sunflowers, ancient olive trees, charming villas and, of course, the lush greenery of vineyards. Exploring the region is a wine lover’s dream with famous world-class wineries dotting the countryside. A drive through Tuscany will bring you to towns like Montepulciano, Lucca, Siena, the bell tower town of San Gimignano, on to the leaning tower of Pisa and no doubt ending up in gorgeous Florence for unmatched art, a prominent history and exquisite shopping.
Driving through Tuscany
If you are fearless enough to rent a car and discover the wonders of Tuscany on your own, you will find that a leisurely drive through the Tuscan countryside is the best way to explore the area. Just beware of all the speedy Mario Andretti wannabes on the road. Venture off and avoid the main highways. Find a winding cypress lined road to find your way through olive groves and vineyards to guide you to tiny ancient towns with stone houses and cobblestone streets. Stay for lunch, or at least a coffee at a local café. You may stumble upon a festival or farmer’s market in your travels and meet some interesting people along the way.
A Land of Wineries
Italian wine from the Tuscany region is appreciated worldwide. Sample notable native vintages like Chianti, Burnello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the dessert wine Vin Santo. You will also find Tuscan variations of foreign favorites like Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Recently, high quality but “unofficial” wines dubbed “Super Tuscans” made their appearance. You can participate in a wine tour that combines sightseeing with a classic Tuscan lunch and personalized wine tastings, or you can just stop at a family-owned local vineyard at the side of the road to buy some local wine.
Hill Towns and Renaissance Centers
Exploring the hill towns of the Tuscan region will bring you back to another time. The classic walled town of San Gimignano, the town of the bell towers, is world famous for its 14 medieval towers that create a memorable skyline against the countryside. Pick up some Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine, produced from an ancient variety of Vernaccia grape. Montepulciano is another walled city that is known for its impressive square, a castle and, of course, its Vino Nobile wine. Lucca has a well-preserved city wall that allows you to walk around the historic center while admiring panoramic views. Siena, another classic medieval hill town, is known as the home of the Palio, a summer horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo. Pisa, famous for the leaning tower, also offers a river walk and the homes of Byron and Shelley.
Be sure to leave enough time to discover the Renaissance city of Florence. The Piazza Della Signoria is in the heart of the historic center and offers an open air sculpture exhibit. Buy Italian gold jewelry from a shop on the Ponte Vecchio as you cross the Arno River, and purchase tickets for the popular Galleria deli Uffizi for a view of masterworks by Michelangelo, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Do not miss Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’ Academia. Boboli Garden is behind the Patti Palace, offering fountains, gardens and spectacular views. But the most popular attraction in Florence is the Duomo or cathedral, built in 1296 to hold 20,000 people.