The Tuscany region in Italy is known for its architecture, traditions, culture and rural Italian landscape and atmosphere. While in Tuscany, we recommend visiting the countryside to feel the slow-paced rural life of the Italian people who live here. It is a great experience! And of course you should taste the many famous wines of the region, Chianti being the most renowned of them all. If you go to the region of Maremma, you can enjoy an almost 100 miles long coastline, with white sands and clear water. In the hills of the region, you will also find natural hot springs and spas, for example at Saturnia (Terme di Saturnia). You can practice all kinds of water sports here, you can hike, fishing or just enjoy a lazy afternoon on the beach.
The city of Florence is the administrative and cultural center of Tuscany. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance and the opera, bearing many marks of history and art. It is a town that must be visited if you travel to this region. It was the home of the famous Medici family, who were renowned for their patronage of arts. The historic center of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, due to its Renaissance culture, architecture, and art. The city gave many great artists to the world, like Dante Alighieri, Amerigo Vespucci or Sandro Botticelli, the Italian painter of the early Renaissance, who worked under the patronage of Lorenzo de’Medici. Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance, was considered the greatest living artist during his life, he was a true Renaissance Man. And so was his rival Leonardo da Vinci, also working for the Medici family in Florence. Leonardo was a painter, sculptor, architect, and inventor, interested in many sciences, engineering, anatomy, geology etc, he was called by scholars a “universal genius”. Another famous Florentine man was Guccio Gucci, the fashion designer, and businessman who founded the fashion house of Gucci in Florence in 1921.
Things to see and do in Florence
The domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the largest churches in Italy. It was finished in 1368, but without the dome, that was added later, in the 15th century and was the largest dome built at that time. The cathedral houses many frescoes, painted glass windows, sculptures and also the grave of Brunelleschi and Giotto. For those feeling adventurous, I highly recommend climbing the 463 stairs up the dome to experience the fabulous view of the city. You will need to book your ticket online. A cumulative ticket will cost you 15 EUR and will grant you passage to the Cathedral, the Dome, the Baptistry, the Bell Tower, the Crypt and the Museum.
Palazzo Vecchio was built in the 14th century and was called Palazzo della Signoria, after the government of Florence. In the 16th century, it became the official seat of Duke Cosimo de’Medici I. Later on Cosimo moved his seat to the Palazzo Pitti and officially named his old palace Palazzo Vecchio.
Uffizi Gallery and Vasari Corridor
A very peculiar piece of 16th-century architecture can be found between Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest, largest and most famous galleries in the world, with a priceless collection of Italian Renaissance art. The two buildings are connected by a walkway called the Vasari corridor, built above the ground by Renaissance architect and artist Giorgio Vasari, commissioned by Duke Cosimo de’Medici I. It continues all the way to the Palazzo Pitti, and it is situated right above Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that was not destroyed in World War II.
Piazza della Signoria
Both Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery are situated on the Piazza della Signoria, a beautiful square with many famous sculptures, like the Fountain of Neptune built in 1575. The Piazza was the heart and center of medieval Florence. Now it is filled with restaurants and cafes.
Palazzo Pitti was built in the 15th century by Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. The Medici family bought it in 1549 and used it as their residence. It was the residence of many dukes of Tuscany, it was even used by Napoleon. Today it is the largest complex of museums in the city. It houses the Palatine Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Silver Museum and the Porcelain Museum amongst others.
The Mercato Centrale, the central marketplace in Florence, opened in 1874, offers a large variety of vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meat, fish, and wines. It is a real gastronomical experience to visit the market and taste the fresh foods. If you are interested in Tuscan gastronomy, it is the right place to go.
Things to see and do in Pisa
The city of Pisa is world famous for its Leaning Tower, the bell tower of the cathedral of the city. Construction of the tower began in the 12th century on a 9 feet foundation in a weak soil, so by the time they finished the second floor, the structure began to sink. Due to continuous wars, the construction has stopped for almost a century, so the soil had time to settle. In the 13th century they continued the construction, but in order to compensate for the tilt, they built one side of each floor taller than the other side. The seventh floor and the bell chamber were added in the 14th century.
The tower is located on the Piazza dei Miracoli, beside the Cathedral of Pisa, a beautiful white marble church, that was built in the 11th century. Another very beautiful church is Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina, a nice little gothic church on the bank of Arno river, at the Solferino Bridge.
The Piazza dei Cavalieri is the home of the Palazzo della Carovana, part of the University of Pisa, and two small churches from the 16th century, Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri and San Rocco. In the middle of the square, there is a fountain and the sculpture of Cosimo de’Medici I.
Things to see and do in Lucca
The city of Lucca is famous for its city walls from the Renaissance era that remain intact to this day. The Guinigi Tower tops my list of best places to visit in Lucca, because of the hanging garden at the top of the tower, with beautiful oak trees. It offers a great view of the town. The traces of the Roman amphitheatre can still be seen in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. The Cathedral of Saint Martin is the main church of the city, also called Lucca Cathedral, dated back to the 11th century. There are also beautiful palaces and villas in Lucca, the Palazzo Ducale, the Palazzo Mansi, Pfanner Palace, Villa Guinigi. Today most of them house different museums.
Lucca is the birthplace of the world famous composer Giacomo Puccini, so there is a Puccini festival every July-August held in Torre del Lago, where he lived and composed. Lucca also has a nice botanical garden dating back to 1820, with an arboretum, a pond, a green house and a botanical school. It is open every day from spring to fall and the entrance fee is 4 EUR.