What to Do in Tuscany

No matter your interests and passions, you can indulge them in Tuscany. Art fans will marvel at world-famous works at the Uffizi, architecture buffs can visit stunning cathedrals and palazzi (not to mention a famous leaning tower), and shoppers will find goodies both designer and handcrafted. Cooking classes, vineyard tours, and scenic country drives with stops at medieval hill towns are just a few more options in the heart of Italy.

6 Piazzale degli Uffizi
Ideally you’d have a whole day to appreciate the world’s foremost collection of Renaissance paintings, housed in the 16th-century headquarters of the Medici court. But for those with less time, highlights include the three great Maestà altarpieces in Room 2, Gentile da Fabriano’s glowing Adoration of the Magi (Rooms 5 and 6), Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Room 7), Fra Filippo Lippi’s ethereal Madonna and Child with Two Angels (Room 8), and the celebrated Botticellis in Rooms 10 to 14. Advance booking is advised.
Piazza del Duomo, 56126 Pisa PI, Italy
Pisa’s famous leaning tower (the campanile of the adjacent Duomo) is part of the Piazza del Duomo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes the Duomo, baptistery and cemetery. Begun in 1173, the tower began to lean almost immediately thanks to soil subsidence. To try to halt the tilt, cables and counterweights have been inserted. A spiral staircase with nearly 300 steps leads to the top of this unique, iconic building.
Via S. Giuseppe, 5R, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
This leather workshop is hidden away in a former Franciscan monastery next to Santa Croce. The Scuola del Cuoio was originally founded to provide skills and work for some of the city’s orphans after World War II; masters and apprentices still produce wallets, purses, journals, and jackets. Take a quick tour of the beautiful cloisters, frescoed corridors, and workspace, or sign up for a full workshop and try your hand at making something of your own. Everything is crafted on-site using traditional methods. Be sure to get your purchases personalized with a gold-stamped monogram.
Via di Piaggiori Basso, 55018 Lucca LU, Italy
The area of gently rolling hills just to the northeast of Lucca is famous not only for its impressive villas, but also for olive oil and wine. A perfect gastronomic stop-off between visits to the magnificent Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani, the 30-hectare farm estate Colle di Bordocheo produces both, and offers tastings and tours for visitors. Estate wines such as the complex, spicy Picchio Rosso (a blend of sangiovese, merlot, and cabernet grapes) and the white Bianco dell’Oca (chardonnay, vermentino, sauvignon) marry well with the house extra virgin and platters of local cheeses and foccaccie. Book ahead and you can add lasagne and cold cuts to the basic €15 per head package, making a fine, rustic lunch. There are also apartments for rent on the estate, which lies in a strategic position for visits to the coast, the lush, mountainous Garfagnana region, Florence, and, of course, Lucca.
Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
The cathedral, usually called the Duomo, is Florence’s most recognizable building. You are able to catch glimpses of its magnificent red-tiled cupola from just about anywhere in the city center. Construction on the church complex began in 1296 and the work—Brunelleschi’s dome and his Baptistery, and Giotto’s bell tower—was completed in 1426. The interior of this architectural is reserved in contrast with the exterior’s marble Gothic facade and its green, pink, and white stripes. Climb the 463 steps up into the dome for a close-up look at Giorgio Vasari’s fresco, The Last Judgment, and a bird’s-eye view of the city.
Il Campo, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
Considered one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares, the Piazza del Campo—or, simply, Il Campo—has been at the heart of life in Siena since it began as a marketplace and meeting spot for the area’s villages; the nine-lined, fishbone-patterned red-brick pavement was laid in the 14th century, giving the shell-shaped square more formal boundaries. Today, Il Campo hosts all the city’s major festivals and events, like the biannual Palio horse race, and is home to a variety of notable sites, including the 14th-century Torre del Mangia brick-faced tower, and the Palazzo Pubblico and Civic Museum, with its rich collection of Sienese School masterpieces. The cafés and restaurants around the square provide welcome shade and sustenance—and great people-watching opportunities—after a day spent exploring the city.
Piazza de' Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
The Uffizi Gallery might get more attention, but the Palazzo Pitti across the river is the largest museum complex in Florence. The vast Renaissance palace itself has been owned by the Medici family, used by Napoleon, and repurposed as home to King Victor Emmanuel III. Today you can visit rooms that house Renaissance paintings by Titian, Raphael, and Rubens; a lavish Medici silver and jewelry collection; a collection of fine European porcelain; and a costume collection. An all-in-one ticket grants entrance to each of the museums: Museo Argenti, Galleria Costume, and Museo Porcellane, as well as the Boboli and Bardini gardens.
Loc. Follonata
The Maremma region of southern Tuscany, about an hour south of Siena, is an area of olive groves, wooded valleys, and ancient legends. One such tale, dating from the days of the Etruscans and Romans, chronicles an epic battle in which Jupiter threw lightning bolts at Saturn—and missed. As the story goes, when the bolts landed on the ground, they formed the bubbling hot springs now known as the Terme di Saturnia. Full of therapeutic minerals, the hot springs feed a variety of pools throughout the valley that have warmed and healed centuries of bathers. Today, you can soak up the goodness at the luxury Terme di Saturnia Hotel & Spa, which offers therapies performed with the waters, or at a free public bathing spot. To find the main one, head down a dirt path just outside of town, past a parking lot and changing area, until you spy a waterfall feeding a series of natural pools, each turned white by the mineral-rich water.
133 Via Cassia per Siena
Giovanni di Piero Antinori became a member of the Florentine Winemakers Guild in 1385—and his descendants have been in the business ever since. Today, the company is overseen by Marchese Piero Antinori—the 25th generation of the titled family—and his three daughters, all of whom were involved in the seven-year project to build this stunning winery and visitors’ center. With a contemporary design crafted with materials like wood, terra cotta, and weathered steel, and featuring views out onto vineyards lush with classic Chianti grapes, the center houses a museum and art gallery, winery and cellar, shop, and rooftop restaurant serving gourmet pairing menus. Four different types of tours are available, ranging from general overviews tailored to the first-time guest (and including tastings of three signature wines), to more in-depth cellar visits (with upgraded cru tastings) and tailor-made experience for connoisseurs.
Corso Rossellino, 53026 Pienza SI, Italy
Find any postcard of Tuscany—likely emblazoned with rolling wheat fields, a rustic farmhouse, spiky cypress trees, and sunlight so perfect it casts everything in a warm glow—and chances are it was taken in the Val d’Orcia. Set in the southern part of Tuscany, this region is considered one of the most scenic in a region replete with pretty panoramas; its beauty is so special that the valley was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, specifically for its landscape. The best way to soak it all up is with a ride through the valley. Take the SR2 route from Siena to Buonconvento (make a quick stop to check out its early Romanesque church), then turn onto the SP146 and meander towards Pienza (famous for its cheese) and Montepulciano (known for its wine). Along the way, you’ll pass one breathtaking view after another, so make sure your camera battery is charged. Arguably the most popular shot is of the hilltop Vitaleta Chapel just outside of Pienza—itself another UNESCO-protected site.
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