The natural beauty of Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is every bit as mesmerising and varied as the picture postcards suggest, from the cypress-lined olive groves, to the wineries, to the long, untainted golden sands and beaches along the coast. This is a land where a gentle drive or peaceful saunter through the undulating countryside is an absolute joy, as you look down on an isolated farmhouse sitting amid swathes of lush green fields or over a sea of golden sunflowers beneath the rich blue sky. Yet a visit to Tuscany is far from complete without exploring some of the region’s magnificent cities, where you can witness the birth of Renaissance art or the splendour of Italian architecture – and every city is as individual and unique as the last.
Sitting dramatically on a hilltop, the ancient city of Volterra is arguably one of the most impressive day trip destinations in the world. Hidden behind a cinnamon-brown wall of sienna stone, Volterra is – in literature at least – a city of vampires, a reputation you’ll appreciate as you wander with your partner through the eerily silent streets, bathed in the dark shadows of traditional Italian houses. From the grand Piazza dei Priori, encircled by medieval buildings, to the breath-taking Roman amphitheatre, Volterra reflects two thousand years of history yet is so small that it can be easily navigated on foot in a day. In truth, though, no guidebook can do this city justice or enable the tourist to soak up the remarkable atmosphere; a personal visit is absolutely essential.
Famous for Torre pendente di Pisa, Pisa is an eternally popular university city. Arrive early and you can appreciate Earth’s most famous leaning tower without the hordes and take a more leisurely climb to the top for a view over the Piazza dei Miracoli and the surrounding buildings. Beyond the Square of Miracles, you’ll adore exploring the narrow streets with their smattering of traditional craft shops or the Piazza dei Cavaleiri, once the headquarters of the Knights of St Stephen. The city museums – the Opera del Duomo and Museo delle Sinopie – are also well worth a visit.
It was here that the Renaissance was born, but Florence is not a city only for die-hard art enthusiasts. With a fine collection of museums, churches and palaces housing some of the world’s most prized artistic works, art and architecture blend seamlessly. Among the must-see sites are the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, whose white-edged terracotta dome dominates the skyline, the library of San Lorenzo, with its exhibition of Michelangelo’s works, and the Ponte Vecchio which spans the River Arno. An afternoon appreciating the Giardini di Boboli is a great outdoor activity, with its statue of Andromeda and other fine sculptures.
So… when do you want to go?
These are only three of Tuscany’s finest cities and with others – Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and Arezzo – to explore, you’ll be spoilt for choice on your visit to Italy’s most beautiful region.
The average high temperature in June is a pleasant 27C (81F), rising to 30C (86F) in July and August. However, July and August are peak times, so visit either in June if you can, or September, when the temperature high is still 27C (81F) and the queues are a little shorter.