Wednesday, 1 February 2017

I've been to Tuscany before. What should I see this time?

Today I want to try to provide some hints on the amazing diversity of Tuscany. More than once, readers have written to me to say "I've been to Tuscany before. What should I see this time?" To research your next trip to Tuscany, you basically need to list the aspects that you've already experienced and then to expand your options. Here are some ideas.

Art, yes, done that - then what about architecture as such? Renaissance architecture, yes, done that - then what about vernacular architecture? Head out into the Tuscan countryside and follow some of those quiet, narrow roads - they all lead somewhere, as often as not to farmhouses and hamlets that have grown over the centuries from mediaeval watch towers. It's this almost random agglomeration that gives much of Tuscan vernacular architecture its charm. Tuscany is also dotted with ancient monasteries and parish churches created in the same spontaneous manner. Because they are all invariably built of stone, you'll have no trouble finding inhabited structures documented as dating back to before the year 1000. Settle down in an ancient courtyard for a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere as well as the architecture!

Vernacular architecture in Tuscany
Vernacular architecture in Tuscany
Wine tasting at a winery, yes, done that. But was it at some industrial scale place with several minibuses (or touring buses) parked about the place? From about April onwards, the grape vines begin to sprout and the Tuscan countryside takes on a deep green colour. Right up until the vendemmia in September, it becomes a real pleasure to stroll along the strade bianche that traverse the vineyards and visit one of the many small, traditional wineries of Chianti and elsewhere in Tuscany. You don't need to book in advance - if someone is available, you'll be able to look around and taste the two or three wines that they make. Look for the roses planted at the ends of the rows of grape vines - like canaries in a mine, they warn of imminent danger, in this case mildew. Some wineries still grow crops between the rows of vines, among them irises (giaggioli), the roots of which are harvested for extraction of a stabiliser used in perfumery. Mixed cultivation like this is a reflection of the old coltura promiscua common even in the early 20 C.

Irises planted between rows of grape vines in Tuscany
Irises planted between rows of grape vines in Tuscany

Walking tour, yes, done that. A walking tour of Florence, maybe, but what about the numerous walking paths from one village to another. Some are hilly, that's true, but there are others that are no more than a bucolic stroll. These are popular among Tuscans too, especially if there's a chance to dress up in ancient costumes like the group of pilgrims below on their way to Monteriggioni. There are several excellent guide books describing the most popular routes plus the villages and wineries that you will encounter along them. This is really a great way to get to know the real Tuscany and real Tuscans!

A country stroll under the walls of Monteriggioni,Tuscany
A country stroll under the walls of Monteriggioni.
Go to the seaside, yes, done that. To Forte dei Marmi? Many people, including a very large number of Italians, enjoy nothing better than lying in a deck chair under a sun umbrella in neat rows with hundreds of other like-minded sun worshippers at Tuscan beaches. But Tuscany has numerous stretches of truly beautiful coastline and charming fishing villages, especially in its off-the-beaten-track southwest, around Monte Argentario and Talamone. Here you can swim, go boating or diving around interesting rocky promontories and dine in excellent fish restaurants. Also see my post of the delightful beaches and old town of Castiglione della Pescaia.
Talomone port on the Tuscan coastline
Talomone port on the Tuscan coastline

Take a horse and wagon ride through the Chianti countryside - OK, well, that's something really different. Luca Perrotta who works from Montespertoli, fairly near to Florence, does regular private and shared horse and wagon excursions through the Chianti countryside. He also does excursions that last three days through the unjustly-neglected area of south-western Tuscany known as The Maremma. These excursions are absolute magic for families with children.

See my post on taking a horse-drawn wagon tour through Chianti.

Horse and wagon excursion in Tuscany
Horse and wagon excursion in Tuscany
In future posts, I will have more suggestions on how to refresh yourselves with new and interesting sights in Tuscany. For now, don't forget: one of the objects of a vacation is to relax, and there is no place that offers a greater variety of tranquil locations combined with wonderful weather and views than Tuscany. See you here soon!

Relax in Tuscany
Relax in Tuscany.

Sights, activities, events and places to stay in Tuscany.

Vernacular art of Tuscany.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
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