Expert guide to Tuscany
An insider's guide to Tuscany featuring the region's best hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and attractions, chosen by our expert.
Why is Tuscany so eternally popular? After travelling the length and breadth of Italy for close on 30 years, I think I’m getting close to an answer. In so many other parts of the world, culture is an optional extra, something you do in your spare time.
In Tuscany, it’s at the root of everything – though not in an elitist way. A Piero della Francesca fresco exudes the spirit of a region that has long spent its money on beauty and quality. But so does a bowl of ribollita soup, made with seasonal cavolo nero and served with a spiral of just-pressed olive oil. Cultured Tuscan perfection can be found in a £50 bottle of Brunello di Montalcino riserva; but it can equally well be found in one of the region’s many free pleasures, from its painterly landscapes to a soak in an ancient stone basin fed by a hot spring beneath a walled hill town.
Such things are not absent in the rest of Italy, but Tuscany has a unique concentration of them. It also combines fierce pride and care for detail (olive groves that are kept looking spruce even though there’s little money in the crop these days, the strict building regulations that infuriate second-home owners but help to keep Tuscany looking Tuscan) with unpretentious, down-to-earth manners.
It has a collection of handsome art-filled, historic towns with more than enough to see, do, eat and drink to fill a long weekend, from Siena to Arezzo, Lucca, Pisa and Cortona. Between villa rentals, grand country house hotels, rural B&Bs and boutique townhouse hotels, it has more great places to stay than porcini mushrooms. And while the euro-pound rate continues to penalise Brits, if quality is a criterion, Tuscany still offers good value for money.
Where to go
In the past, each Tuscan comune would conspire to outdo the rest, and the result is an embarrassment of riches. In addition to Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca and Arezzo are all worth at least a day, with smaller hilltowns like San Gimignano, Cortona and Volterra also vying for attention. But don’t let art distract you from landscape: the vineyards of Chianti and Montalcino, the Carrara marble quarries north of Lucca, or the wild Maremma coastal strip are all must-sees.