Let’s face it, Italy has never, and will never, be short of desirable locations to visit. The country’s gems are somewhat like their pizzas’ WeightWatchers points… endless. In fact, for a modest sized country with a population of 60 million, it’s incredible how many of its cities, regions and locations have achieved global fame, for a variety of reasons, making it one of Europe’s premier hotspots – and deservedly so.
The history of Rome. The beauty of Venice. The fashion of Milan. Style, class and romance, prompting millions of tourists to pour in every year.
This may perhaps explain why the captivating region of Tuscany – sometimes described as a nation within a nation – can at times get lost in the mix. The culture-rich destination is certainly less in-your-face than Rome or Naples. More modest in what it has to offer, for sure. But every bit as enchanting – and in many ways, more so.
Namely, its star attraction is its unrivaled gorgeous countryside. The astonishing beauty of the Tuscan hills, lakes and forests have made it quite the popular setting for Hollywood bigwigs looking to inject some natural appeal amongst the CGI and fake blood of their blockbusters. These have included global smashes such as Twilight New Moon and the Oscar-winning Gladiator, so don’t think you’re a million miles from Hollywood glamour out in these rural fields.
Tuscany is also proudly home to some of the most sought-after holiday locations in Italy, such as Florence and Pisa.
Handily, these iconic locations are all within hours of each other too, so you could easily explore both Florence and Pisa in a week, while still getting plenty of time to relax and bask under the Tuscan sun, with a good book or two (or four).
Pisa, of course, has one main attraction that’ll have you, ahem, leaning in for more. It goes without swaying, I mean, saying, that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is world famous, and has been for many years – due to the fact it looks like it’s about to topple over at any given moment, rather resembling an Italian man who’s been a tad overly generous when pouring himself sweet, sweet Limoncello.
Its iconic tilt was not intentional though. Rather, it came to be when the foundation built in the 12th century was mistakenly rooted in ground that was too soft, or dough-like, if you will, leaving it unable to fully support the weight of the 183.27-foot structure.
Still, if you fancy the 294-step walk to the top, don’t worry about needing to take an emergency parachute just in case; extensive restoration work on the tower has been done – and then re-done – over the course of the last 200 years, and it’s perfectly sturdy now, appearances aside. And if wonky wonders are your bag, funnily enough, in the local area are several other towers – mostly churches – that follow in the tower’s scattered footsteps and also lean, although on a much smaller scale.
The tower is without a doubt the most famous attraction in Pisa, and once you’ve seen it – head tilted, naturally – besides a walk around the cathedrals, perhaps, there isn’t a great deal else going on in the town.
However, Florence is only an hour away – and what it lacks in leaning towers, it more than makes up for in beauty, art and architecture, as well as being the home of Pinocchio, whose story originated here in 1883. And that’s no lie.
Here, you’ll of course want to visit Michelangelo’s David, which stands alone in the ‘Tribune’ of the Academia Gallery. It would be a crime to be in the region and not see one of the world’s most celebrated sculptures, and arguable most famous nude, carved from a single, five-meter piece of Carrara marble. But prepare to stand in line.
In the more rural areas such as the divine Passignano Sul Trasimeno, you can take time off of the tourist track and just immerse yourself in the glorious Italian experience.
A fine restaurant in this picturesque town is El Carro. If there’s better food in Italy, this writer is unaware of it – and uninterested in knowing, truth be told.
The friendly staff serve pizza that will have you screaming “Mamma Mia!” with more joy than an ABBA reunion, and pasta that will have you not caring whether or not you share the enviable Italian metabolism. Even their fries are somehow better than anywhere else in the world, and Italians didn’t even invent them. If you go to El Carro, you’ll go back, that’s for sure.
For shopping, head to Cortona village, which is unrivaled in terms of the quality it offers in shoes – the smell of the leather is worth it alone – bags and jewelery. It’s hard not to be stylish with so much choice around. The seemingly effortless chic style of the locals starts to make sense.
And for a bit of adventure, head out to the islands on the grand Lake Trasimeno. By boat, you can take in the stunning scale of the lake, and visit two remote islands – wild Isola Minore and more touristy Isola Maggiore. On Isola Minore, you may find a boar or two, but you certainly won’t be bored, with luscious landscapes to feast on, and perfect opportunities to fish or hike if that’s your thing.
On Isola Maggiore, you can visit rustic churches atop hills and really mix with the locals, enjoying their sensational food, and buy handmade trinkets of all shapes, sizes and colors for hours, until the day has disappeared. Olive groves, cheeses and cured hams are just a few of the local foods you should certainly take for a taste test if you can.
Italy as a whole has a lot to offer. But Tuscany should definitely not be overlooked, when it has the food, the drink and the beauty. This quieter nation-within-a-nation is worth a detour between Rome and Milan or Venice.