A week wasn’t long enough for me to take in all that Tuscany can offer. With the rolling countryside showcasing olive groves, vineyards, the iconic tree of Tuscany (the ‘Italian Cypress’), medieval hilltop towns, plus fields and fields of Red Robin and Box trees. There was always something to look at or somewhere amazing to visit.
I stayed in Montecatini Terme, a beautiful Tuscan spa town which is a great base if you don’t wish to hire a car as it has a train station. You can visit Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia, Viareggio all by train independently. Montecatini Terme, famous for its thermal waters, is considered one of the biggest “spa towns” in Italy. Today you can still drink the water of the Terme de Montecatini or have a spa treatment.
Well worth visiting is Montecatini Alto, 10 minutes away by funicular railway. With the funicular railway dating back to the 1800s and the village with its medieval origins, it’s a beautiful ancient place to wonder around. As it’s located on the top of a hill the sweeping views over the mountainous countryside are out of this world.
My favourite place was Lucca, which at the minute seems to have escaped the tourist crowds, full of true beauty and I’d say Tuscany’s best-kept secret. A walk around the tree-lined medieval walls built in 1504-1645, and 2.5 miles if you complete the full circuit will make you want to explore further within the walls. Lucca is a peaceful city with an intricate network of narrow cobbled streets and full of charm.
If you don’t hire a car, San Gimignano and Siena are hard to get to by public transport, but organised day trips are available. San Gimignano is a little gem of a walled village with lovely buildings, cobbled streets and nearby wineries and extra virgin olive oil is made, so sampling these products is a must! The hill town of Siena is a very interesting place to visit. It has its shell-shaped Piazza del Campo and gothic Cathedral filled with treasures by Pisano, Donatello and Michelangelo. There are also many medieval towers standing guard over the town. When the famous Siena Palio takes place, it draws crowds from all over the world. The medieval pageantry of the historical procession is followed by the craziest horse race in the world. Bareback riders in medieval costume hurtle around the main square at full pelt. I personally would avoid visiting Siena when the Palio is on, but each to their own.
Florence is where you will find some of the world’s greatest Renaissance works. It’s churches, palaces and streets mean beautiful sights can be seen around every corner. For a great view of the city go to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Once you’ve explored Florence, or you feel like escaping the crowds, get a bus to Fiesole, less than 10 km’s away. On a green hilltop with a small centre, you can easily spend time away from the hustle and bustle of Florence.
My top tips
1) Validate your train ticket at the station before you get on the train. If you forget, then write the date and time on the ticket, it may save you a fine!
2) Pistoia a classic Tuscan town famous for its white and green marble has a great market on a Saturday morning, but the disadvantage of visiting on market day means some of the medieval buildings are hidden by the market stalls.
3) Visit Terme Tettuccio in Montecatini after 4 pm and the entrance fee is cheaper. You can still drink the water and take in the stunning architecture, fountains and ambience.
4) In Florence if you fancy visiting the Uffizi Gallery or the terracotta Duomo or the Accademia Gallery buy a ‘skip the line’ ticket in advance, it will save you so much time.
5) As a few places have several train stations, it’s best to know which station you need to get off at. For example, in Florence the main railway station is Santa Maria Novella and in Pisa the station to get off at for ‘sightseeing’ is Pisa San Rossore railway station.
6) Lucca and San Gimignano must be on everyone’s holiday ‘to do’ list when visiting this region of Italy.
When I’m next in this part of the world I hope to visit Viareggio, a very nice coastal town. I look forward to putting your Tuscany holiday arrangements together for you.