10 Tuscan towns to put on your bucket list
HILL-TOP towns, endless sunshine, renowned wines, sublime food, undulating hills, haystacks, olive groves, vineyards and cypress trees...Tuscany is the essence of Italy. Travel writer Ann Rickard says If you plan well it is possible to visit many of the iconic towns in one unforgettable Tuscan adventure. Slow down and adapt to the Italian leisurely way of life and you'll enjoy it more.
THE big one of all them all. A must for its art, treasures, culture, history and architecture. But the summer queues outside the Uffizi Gallery mean a three hour wait. Best go off-season if you have no tolerance for long lines. Start your Florence day with a fortifying breakfast at the Mercato Centrale, the huge undercover market brimming with Tuscan produce.
AN HOUR'S train ride from Florence, this sedate walled-town exudes history and refinement - it is birthplace of Puccini after all. Walk or cycle the five kilometres on top of its walls and then stroll the lively Via Fillungo for the designer shops and restaurants. Summer festivals abound in Lucca, the Rolling Stones gave a one-off concert by the city walls in August, it sold out in five minutes.
YOUR jaw may drop (as ours did) at first sight of Siena's magnificent Piazza del Campo with its tilted floor fanning out to surrounding buildings and the soaring Torre del Mangia (tower). Hang out in one of the cafes along the permitre of this most celebrated of all the world's medieval squares - and just watch.
A SMALL town dating back to Etruscan times, mostly overlooked for the more popular (but crowded) San Gimignano. Plenty of tall towers to gaze up to, evocative Roman theatre ruins, a crowning fortress, an Etruscan museum and stately palaces (now municipal buildings) surrounding the elegant Piazza dei Priori, all make Volterra worth leaving the well-trodden Tuscan track.
THE full wonder of San Gimignano hits you as you round a final bend in the winding country road and gaze up to its 14 towers rising like a mini medieval Manhattan. Only 14 of the 72 original towers built in the 14th century remain, but they are visible from far away. Packed to capacity in the summer, but still a glamour-gal, San Gimignano is a must-do.
YES, it isn't quite in Tuscany, but close enough and home to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the famous prosciutto. Giant wheels of cheese in varying ages and enormous legs of prosciutto sit splendidly in deli's all over the city and attract as many tourists as the cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo. The Piazza Garibaldi in the historic centre is a good place to start your food exploration where the restaurants stay true to traditional recipes of Parma and pay respect to the produce.
FAMOUS for its Brunello red wine, this surprisingly small walled-town will welcome you for wine tastings on every corner. Wine is king, don't try to resist as you walk the cobbled streets. After your fill of wine, stop at one of the many restaurants with panoramic views over Val d'Orcia National Park. Drink a glass of Brunello with your pasta.
TINY, and not so well known, but worth a visit. Inside the walls, narrow streets are flanked by handsome buildings. A stroll along the Corso il Rossellino pretty much does the entire town, but it's a great base to explore the nearby wineries. The hotel il Chiostro with its large internal courtyard is a Relais & Chateaux property and surprisingly reasonably priced.
LUXURY shops on the Via di Voltaia nel Corso sell leather bags, exquisite shoes, fine jewellery and beautiful antiques. If you can get past the gauntlet of shops, the panoramic views over Tuscan country-side are breath-sapping. Have lunch at Osteria di Bacco on the Via di Gracciano nel Corso and try the nettle gnocchi with white truffle. Montepulciano is home to the Nobile Wine, an equal to the Brunello (we think.)
DON'T need to say much about this one, other than you simply must take a selfie of you trying to prop up the tower. Pisa is great fun, but crowded, so best to have your fill of the tower first, and then explore the narrow back streets.
You need a car in Tuscany, and parking outside the walled-towns can be tight and tricky, but worth it. The above is just a sprinkling of the dozens of Tuscan towns, many of them are pint-sized, but all charming. It's a case of discovery.