Visitors to Tuscany come for many reasons. Many come in search of fine art, others to explore the extraordinary countryside. Gourmets and wine buffs descend on Tuscany to enjoy the simple yet wonderful cuisine and wine and walkers enjoy the mountain paths.
Florence boasts more world-class art than many countries with many on display at the Uffizi gallery. It really is one of Italy’s most enchanting cities with it’s beautifully romantic setting, shopping aplenty and superb Tuscan food.
With some of Italy’s most striking Gothic architecture on display and gloriously preserved medieval buildings, dominated by Tuscany’s tallest tower and the dazzling Duomo, this city is a must visit. The Piazza del Campo, is perfect for a relaxing coffee break and on the south side of the square, the elegant Palazzo Pubblico stands which has been the seat of the city’s government since the 13th century. The view from the top of the Torre del Mangia is spectacular and not to be missed.
Pisa, famous for it’s leaning tower, offers much more besides this popular attraction. It is an elegant provincial capital which, from the 11th to the 13th centuries, was one of the most important sea powers in the Mediterranean.
Famous for the walls that fortify the city, Lucca is set amongst wine and olive groves. It’s close vicinity to Pisa and Florence make it an ideal day trip. The city has been beautifully preserved, with tall houses and palazzos laid out on a Roman grid, handsome fortifications, pretty squares and Romanesque churches.
This city is one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany. Located in southeastern Tuscany sitting atop a hill at the crossroads of four valleys. Arezzo was the birthplace of Guido d’Arezzo, the inventor of the musical scale, but is most closely associated with Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca.
The Chianti area in Tuscany is one of the most beautiful in the whole region and is a surprisingly wild part of Tuscany, with densely wooded hills that are home to wild boar and porcupines. The borders of the Chianti region extend over the provinces of Florence and Siena. The Chianti wine area extends further beyond the two cities, all around Florence and even toward Arezzo, Pistoia and Montepulciano.
Cortona is one of busiest small towns in Tuscany with the upper town being particularly scenic and offering a view of the town, the surrounding valley and even Lake Trasimeno. The city, enclosed by stone walls dating back to Etruscan and Roman times, sits on the top of a hill about 600 meters above sea level. Madonna del Calcinaio, a Renaissance church, rises at the foot of the town on the road to Camucia. Two miles out of Cortona you will find the mystical Convent of Le Celle, founded by St. Francis between 1211 and 1221 and home to Franciscan monks.
Is a typical expression of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil, pasta and fish feature heavily as does wild game, cured meats, and home made sausages including ones made with wild boar. Tuscany produces it’s own white truffles and other ingredients such as wild asparagus and herbage also contribute largely to the local dishes. Another Tuscan favorite is porchetta or roast suckling pig. Tender suckling pig is flavored with aromatic spices such as rosemary, thyme, sage and pepper and roasted leaving a crisp, crackling crust surrounding the succulent meat. Served with a crusty loaf of the local traditional bread pane toscano and a wedge of cheese made with sheep’s milk, Pecorino Toscana, this simple meal reflects the bounty of the region.
Tuscany is a year-round destination with it’s mildest weather occuring during the Spring and early Autumn making them lovely times for exoloring the countryside and hill towns. Summer is warmer averaging approximately 28 degrees Celsius. Winter is perhaps the most surprising of the seasons averaging approximately 12 degrees Celsius, while it tends to lack any strong presence of harsh weather.
The Italian Lakes
The glorious lakes of the north of Italy are surrounded by picturesque ornamental gardens, ancient villas steeped in history and breathtaking backdrops of majestic snow-capped mountains. From bustling Lake Garda to splendid Lake Maggiore and scenic Lake Como, this region offers a range of experiences and stunning scenery.
The jewel in the crown of Italy’s lakes is a haven of tranquility, superb cuisine and majestic snow-capped mountains. This magnificent lake is some 30 miles long, with depths of over 400 meters making it Europe’s deepest.
Shaped like an upside-down letter Y the lakes shoreline is scattered with villages and palatial villas. One of the main attractions of Lake Como is the town of Bellagio, it is here that the Lake divides into three branches and the views are not to be missed. The town of Lecco is also a must see as it sits where the southern shore meets the lesser-explored eastern shore.
Many visitors to the Lake are attracted by the famous gardens and there are certainly plenty to choose from. At Varenna, you’ll find the Villa Monastero home to one of the most beautiful gardens found at Lake Como. At Tremezzo, explore the Villa Carlotta which has over 70,000 sqm’s of gardens showcasing rare species of flowers and plants from around the world. At Lenno you will find the Villa del Balbianello which is one of the most famous Villas on the Lake. The outdoor scenes of the movie Casino Royale were filmed in front of this Villa and it can also be seen in Star Wars, “Attack of the Clones” & “A Month by the Lake” making the photos of this lake probably the most published of all the lakes.
Lake Como is mild all year round. With short winters which can be cold, but snow is seldom seen, except on the surrounding Swiss and Italian mountains making for a spectacular winter. Spring comes around quickly but Summer really does linger longer.
The beautiful lakeside towns around Lake Garda have charmed foreign visitors for centuries and it’s easy to see why, the large lake is long and slim with contrasting views on each side. The southern lakeshore has a low and rolling countryside with towns and villages nestled amongst the hills and verdant landscapes, whilst the northern side has dramatic fjord-like views, thanks to the surrounding mountains and cliffs. The Eastern edge of Lake Garda dominated by the peak of Monte Baldo standing at over 2000m.
With its enviable climate all year round the Lake is made even more attractive with it’s lush vegetation and Mediterranean trees of, Cypress, Cedar, Olive and Palm. For the more active there are plenty of activities to take part in on the Lake itself. Torbole, Riva and Limone are popular for windsurfing and sailing. Hiking, trekking, horse-back riding and fishing are also popular with both locals and visitors.
The food in this area is prepared slightly differently in each town with each place having it’s own variation of ways of preparing each dish but one thing that they all have in common is that they all use the same locally grown ingredients which are prepared with very little fuss. Fresh sun-dried Lake Garda Fish is one of the most popular dishes, and of course pizza and pasta are a must.
Lake Maggiore can be described as many things with it’s majestic mountains, water, and villages but perhaps the best description was given by Hilaire Belloc who thought that visiting the lake was such “an enchanted experience” that he suspected sorcery.
Even though the northern most point of the lake is in Swiss territory the majority of the lake falls well inside Italy.
The Lake offers a wealth of amazing lakeside villages which can be appreciated in the most relaxing of ways on-board boat trips around the islands found on the lake.
Water skiing, windsurfing and sailing are all very popular activities to take part in on the lake for the more adventurous. For those who like a slower pace you can fish or enjoy the nearby golf courses.
The weather here is generally mild and thanks to the Mediterranean-like climate tropical and sub-tropical plants grow year-round. The water plays a large role in dictating the weather, during the winter it helps to maintain a higher temperature whilst in summer the temperatures are cooled down by the breezes that blow on the water but with an average summer temperature of 22c (72f) it is perfect weather for sightseeing . In winter snowfall is erratic and primarily affects the mountains. Rainfall is heaviest in May and lowest during the winter.