The central Italian region has a special vibe – not only with us Europeans. The city republics of Florence and Siena are the epitome of beauty, science and grace – but also of greed for power and unscrupulousness. Modern capitalism was invented in Tuscany. This is where the Middle Ages came to an end, where banking was invented. This is where da Vinci researched, Michelangelo painted and Galileo created a new world view. In the cities you will come across this glorious past every step of the way. But also the landscapes between the Maremma in the south, the Chianti area between Florence and Siena and the Etruscan Riviera are among the most beautiful in Italy.
Italy to France: Venice, Florence, Rome & Paris
Etruscan town with amphitheater
2000 years ago the Etruscan-Roman city of Russellae ruled the Maremma. It was protected by a three-kilometer long city wall made from massive blocks. Right at the top sat the amphitheater, where today performances take place again. Opening times are from 8:30 am to sunset. Audio guides are also available in German or English. Don't forget sunscreen and water on hot days! There is very little shade.
Jewel of medieval architecture and culture
With its patrician houses and religious buildings, the Tuscan city is a jewel of medieval architecture and culture. Heart of the old town is the Piazza Grande with the Palazzo delle Logge from 1573 and its tall, narrow residential buildings. To the west of the square stands S. Maria della Pieve, one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in all of Tuscany.
From the highest mountain on Giglios to a swimming cove
Start in Porto Giglio at the ferry docks and follow the mule trail to Giglio Castello. This is where the trail becomes incredibly beautiful. It leads to the top of the highest mountain on the island, the Poggio della Pagana, with a view of the azure-blue sea glittering 500 meters below. As a reward for your efforts, you can take off your shoes on the beach of the Cala delle Cannelle and take a dip in the sea. (3 hrs, 8.9 km, elevation change: 490 m)
Gleaming white marble quarries
Against the picturesque backdrop of the Apuan Alps and the white marble quarries lies the small town that owes its riches and world-fame to the marble. Even today, about one million tons of marble are mined every year. The best-known work of art made from Carrara marble is Michelangelo's David. The historic quarries can be visited and one can learn a lot about the past of marble mining in the Museo Civico del Marmo. The precious material has also been used throughout the city, one example being the Romanesque Duomo di Sant'Andrea dating back to the 11th century. In front stands the Fontana del Gigante. This peculiar fountain of Baccio Badinelli is a monument to the 1951 capsized Andrea Doria, which stands on two dolphins in the form of Neptune.
Wolves and golden eagles in the mountainous wilderness
This protected area lies along the Apennine ridge in Toscana and Romagna. Its woods are considered among the largest and the best preserved in Italy, and house a rich variety of flora and fauna, such as wolves and golden eagles among predators, and many species of ungulates. The forests and a number of natural habitats of the area are rich in traces left by man during the centuries: by walking in the Park, tourists can see small villages with stone houses, mule tracks, and above all the two charming sanctuaries of Camaldoli and La Verna.
Medieval castle above the coast
The town on the Maremma coast is dominated by a medieval castle. Today it is a popular seaside resort on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Along the sandy beaches – seven kilometers north of the village – are extensive pine forests. Between the rivers Bruna and Ombrone, the Padule di Castiglione (one thousand hectares of wetland) was left to its own devices and has developed into a true paradise for waterfowls.
Lively market town in southern Tuscany
The little town with a medieval castle, a picturesque old town and a vibrant market is typical of southern Tuscany. Thanks in part to its traffic-free city center, Cetona is considered one of the 100 most scenic towns in Italy. Visitors don't have to drive through a belt of industrial complexes to reach the old town, which has changed little in the last 200 years. Interesting sites include the Franciscan Monastery and the Castello di Fighine, both of which now contain gourmet restaurants.
Home of Pinocchio
The village 16 kilometers east of Lucca is well worth a visit. There have been written “stories of a jointed doll,” which made their way into world literature as the Adventures of Pinocchio. The Parco di Pinocchio reminds of that. Above the village sits Villa Garzoni, a great baroque Luccan villa with a stunning terrace garden dating back to 1652.
View of the sea, the mainland and an island
This mountain path offers magnificent views of the mainland, the ocean and the Isola del Giglio. It begins and ends in the port city of Porto Santo Stefano. The trail passes through gently rolling hills that stay green even in winter. (3:15, 10.4 km, elevation change: 340 m)
Watermills and burial chambers in a surreal, weathered landscape
This rugged trail will lead you from the ancient Etruscan city into the valley to the romantic Casa Molino, a former watermill. People have been using this path to fetch water for generations. On the way back, you will take a mule trail that passes a pre-Christian burial chamber, the Necopoli del Portone. (3:15 hrs, 11.9 km, elevation change: 400 m)
Mountain pass with a German military cemetery
The mountain pass crossing the Apennines reaches a height of 903 meters. At the time of the Roman Empire, the Via Flaminia led across the pass. During World War II there were military fortifications in connection with the Linea Gotica, the Gothic Line, which was still fought over in April 1945. At the summit lies a German military cemetery. With more than 30,000 fallen soldiers it is the largest in the whole of Italy.
Tarot Garden near the coast
The Tarot Garden of Niki de Saint Phalle is located on the south-western tip of Tuscany, a short distance from the Mediterranean coast. A visit can be easily combined with a trip to the beach. With the sculpture garden, the artist has created together with her partner, Jean Tinguel, a dialogue between sculpture and nature, a place to dream, a garden of the imagination. The 22 figures, oversized, colorful sculptures made of polyester, replicate the tarot cards.
A personally guided tour of Florence
Crystal clear waters and countless bays
The small island of Giglio off the Tuscan mainland offers clean beaches and countless bays with crystal clear waters ideal for swimming and diving. Hiking trails lead into the island's interior. Most of the nearly 1,500 residents live in the three villages Porto, Castello and Campese. Giannutri has about ten inhabitants. On 13 January 2012 the cruise ship Costa Concordia with more than 4,000 people on board came too close to the rocks of Le Scole and tore open its hull. It capsized only a few hundred meters north of the port.
Residence of St. Francis
The monastery on the southwestern slope of Mount Penna dates back to the times of St. Francis of Assisi, who was there for the first time in 1214 and had built just a few simple huts and a small church at the time. Here is where ten years later, Francis supposedly received the stigmata of Christ. After his arrival, the birds of the forest settled on an oak and welcomed the saint with their song. At the site of the old oak, the Chapel of the Birds was built in 1602. Remarkable, however, is the Basilica, which wasn't built until a hundred years after Francis' death.
Renaissance town at the foot of the Apuanian Alps
The city in northwest Tuscany is not as well known as its sisters Florence and Siena and is thus much calmer. It was considerably more important in the late Middle Ages, however, due to the protection of the German emperors. The city at the foot of the Apuanian Alps is surrounded by a huge wall. The main buildings date back to the Renaissance period. The cathedral was built on the fundaments of a Roman amphitheatre. A romantic footpath leads through the city that has been home to many composers such as Puccini and Boccerini. Sixteen km to the east there is a village worth visiting: the story of Pinocchio was written in Collodi. And just above the village is a terraced garden dating back to 1652. Pisa is just a half hour's drive away.
Coastal region of Tuscany
The coastal area in Tuscany extends from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Apennines. A flourishing region in Etruscan and early Roman times, it became marshy and was largely abandoned in the Middle Ages because of malaria. Reclamation was begun in 19th century by the grand dukes of Tuscany and was continued in the 20th century by the Italian government. There are now wide fertile areas, rich borax mines, and good hunting grounds; cattle and a noted breed of horses are raised. Cities include Piombino (a port) and Grosseto. There is a National Park protecting the beautiful coastline.
Tidy, clean and affordable private beaches
The Marina di Pietrasanta, with its tidy, clean and affordable private beaches, is ideally situated for a beach holiday . In the evenings one can stroll in the pedestrian area of Pietrasanta without encountering tourists. Instead, one finds the comfortable Italian life-style and great restaurants. One can reach the Marina di Pietrasanta from Pietrasanta via the several kilometers long avenue “Viale Apua”.
Pearl of the Middle Ages at the edge of the Maremma
The “Pearl of the Middle Ages” is not a coastal town as the name might suggest, but sits on a hilltop 20 km inland. In the 13th century, the emerging mining town confidently granted itself the status of autonomous republic, where up to 10,000 people lived. The Romanesque Città Vecchia dates back to this time. Its central point is Piazza Garibaldi, a fantastic ensemble with its cathedral being a copy of the one in Pisa. After the city fell to Siena and later to the Medici, it lost its importance. Also malaria and the plague took their toll. At the end of the 18th century only 500 inhabitants were left. As a result of this radical depopulation the medieval cityscape was preserved. Only with the draining of the marshes in the 19th century, malaria was finally defeated.
City of Red wine near Monte Amiata
The small town, approximately 50 kilometers south of Siena, is looking down onto the rolling hills of southern Tuscany. Its origin is the fortress from the 14th century that bears witness to the medieval hostility between the Florentines and Sienese. Montalcino is best known for the red wine, thriving in the shelter of Mount Amiata, with 1,700 meters altitude the highest mountain in Tuscany. Ever since the winemakers have limited their harvest and reduced the barrel aging to two years, the Brunello di Montalcino is considered one of Italy's best wines.
Highest mountain in Tuscany
This volcano last erupted 180,000 thousand years ago. Today, at 1,738 meters, it is the highest mountain in Tuscany. Its slopes are heavily forested, with beeches, and oaks and chestnut trees predominating. They are home to short-toed snake eagles, Egyptian vultures, lanner falcons and wolves. There are trails to lead you through the forest to the summit cross, where you can take in an expansive view over southern Tuscany.
Fishing village on rocky peninsula
35 km south of Grosseto the mountain sits just off the coast and forms an almost-island that is connected to the mainland only by three headlands. Susanna Agnelli, granddaughter of the Fiat founder, could prevent this place from being developed into a resort for mass tourism. Today the eastern promontory is a nature reserve with the picturesque fishing village of S. Stefano joined up to it. From the Spanish fortress above town, one has a splendid view across the sea. Orbetello, which lies on the central headland, dates back to Etruscan times.
Habsburg spa town with Art Nouveau architecture
This spa town, founded by the Habsburgs, is now one of the largest and most renowned spas in Italy. It is also a major center for Art Nouveau architecture. At the northeastern end of the resort, you will find the valley station of the cable railway that can take you up to Montecatini, the original town. This cable railway, called the Funicolare di Montecatini Terme, is the oldest one in Italy. From the market square of Montecatini Alto, you can enjoy the view while drinking a cappuccino.
Scenic view of Umbria from the third-highest mountain in Tuscany
The mountain is relatively easy to climb, although it rises to 1,148 meters above sea level. It offers a phenomenal view of the Umbrian mountains. The large cross on the summit stands as a reminder that the path leading up the third highest mountain in Tuscany was once used by pilgrims celebrating the Stations of the Cross. (2:40 hrs, 9 km, elevation change: 380 m)
Panoramic summit with view of the ocean
The mountains surrounding Massa Marittima are heavily forested and do not usually offer much by way of a view. But this trail leads directly to two mountaintops boasting bald summits high above the forest canopy and offering a 360 degree view. On a clear day, you can even see the island of Elba. (3:30 hrs, 11 km, elevation change: 500 m)
Once the important connection between Florence and Bologna
Prior to the building of the highway this pass over the Apennines was the most important link between Florence and Bologna. During World War II the Gothic Line, the defense line of the German troops, ran over the wooded pass. Today there is little traffic. However, for motorcyclists the pass seems to have a magical attraction. On weekends the Chalet Raticosa, a restaurant on the summit at 968 meters, is usually frequented by hundreds of bikers.
City of students and tourists
Of the 87,000 inhabitants 50,000 are students. One would assume that Pisa is strongly influenced by the university, if there wasn't the Piazza dei Miracoli: The “Field of Miracles”, the ensemble of Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Baptistery with the white marble facades, is one of Italy's main attractions. Those who want to climb the Torre Pendente must not be afraid of heights and reserve the ascent a few hours in advance. The less touristy parts are a bit more docile but Mediterranean and lively at the same time, with lots of nice shops and cafes that invite you to rest.
Vibrant market area with shops and cafes
The city in the fertile Ombrone Valley is worth a visit because of its historic center. Around the vibrant market area with shops and cafes medieval buildings of great charm can be visited, the Cathedral and the octagonal Baptistery being of special note. At the beginning of July Pistoia becomes the Mecca of the Blues fans when the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berre perform at the annual festival in the cathedral square.
City built on the rocks
Between narrow valleys of the province of Grosseto a huge tuff rock towers and a medieval town seems to have grown out of its plateau. The narrow streets do not permit traffic. Only two-strokes clatter through the streets. Below the town grave cellars were carved into the rock, and they are still used for storing wine or as workshops and stables. In the picturesque alleys small but fine restaurants serve local dishes. Etruscan sunken roads were hollowed out in the tuff rock – the Vie Cave. They are over 2,000 years old, up to 20 meters deep and 3 meters wide. Particularly impressive is the Via Cava di Fratenuti.
The only Cistercian abbey in Tuscany
In the 12th century, the eremitic monk Galgano lived in the wastelands surrounding the hill of Montesiepi. Cistercian monks arrived after his death in order to clear the virgin forest and make the land arable. They built the Abbazia di San Galgano in the French Gothic style and it remained the only Cistercian church in Tuscany. Its economic decline began as soon as the 14th century as famines and plagues swept over the monastery and pillaging mercenaries made the area dangerous. Eventually, the roof of the church was sold and the church itself was left to become a ruin. The romantic beauty of the site was rediscovered in the 19th century. Even without its roof, San Galgano is regarded as the most important Gothic building in Italy.
Vineyards, castles and flower-adorned villages
The Valle d'Orcia delights visitors with its charming cultural landscape, its castles and its winding village streets. This short loop trail begins in Bagno Vignoni, which boasts a thermal pool in place of a central square. People have been bathing here sine Roman times, including numerous popes. The path will lead you to the Castello Ripa d'Orcia, which offers a magnificent view of the Val d'Orcia.
The coastal region between Marina di Massa and Viareggio is also known as the Tuscan Riviera. It is home to numerous beaches lined with spas. The oldest is the glamorous Viareggio, where the first baths were opened in 1827.
Birthplace of Leonardo and his 16 half siblings
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 in Vinci – hence his last name. His father, a notary, was 25 years old when Leonardo was born. Leonardo's mother was the 22-year-old Arabian slave Caterina. She later married the owner of a potter's workshop and had five additional children. Leonardo's father married four more times and had nine sons and two daughters from his last two wives. Today, this tranquil town has a population of 15,000 and lies on an idyllic back road near Florence. The house where Leonardo was born is in the part of town called Anchiano. There is a museum in the medieval castle overlooking Vinci, which houses drawings and models of the artist's inventions.
Etruscan city in an timeless landscape
Perched high above the valley of Cecina on a hill surrounded by a rugged, barren landscape, Volterra is one of the oldest Etruscan cities. The Medici fortress called the Fortezza Medicea dominates the city and today serves as a prison. The city's main square, the Piazza dei Priori, has the oldest surviving town hall in Tuscany, the Palazzo dei Priori. The only surviving part of the Etruscan town wall is the gate called the Porta all'Arco, which dates to the 4th century BC. Of particular importance is the archaeological museum Museo Etrusco Guarnacci in the Palazzo Desideri Tangassi.