5) SienaThe capital of the Siena province is a popular medieval city, just an hour from Florence on the train it’s worth the journey south to explore.
At the heart of the city lies the Piazza del Campo which is dominated by its red brick Torre del Mangia tower which looks down on the famous Piazza. You might recognize it from it’s appearance in James Bond’s Quantum of Solace.
To escape the heat, grab a seat at one of the many cafes and restaurants which line the outside of the Piazza and sit back and relax enjoying the hustle and bustle of the hundreds of tourists. Once you’ve had your caffeine fix from an Italian espresso, tackle the 500 steps up the Torre del Mangia to get a truly wonderful view of Siena and the surrounding countryside.
Twice a year (July 2nd & August 16th) the Piazza hosts the Palio, a world famous horse race which sees 10 horses and 1 0 riders represent 10 of the city wards, battling it out for the pride of Siena. The riders race around the outside of the Piazza which is covered in clay for the race and remains in the cracks of the cobbles for the majority of the year.
A completely intact walled medieval Tuscan city complete with 14 towers and perfect Italian piazzas is a site worth seeing. This quaint and picturesque commune offers the opportunity to walk the walls of the town giving fantastic views over the Tuscan rolling hills. Each July Monteriggioni takes a trip back in time to its medieval roots and is taken over by locals dressed in period costume with live music, theatre and performances create a unique atmosphere.
3) Chianti Classico Wine Region
It would be impossible to write about Tuscany without talking about the wine. It is what paella is to the Spanish, goulash to the Hungarians, bratwurst to the Bavarians, Tuscany is wine. The Chianti region stretches from Florence south to Siena and the rolling hills in between create some of the best wine in the world.
I’m no wine expert by any stretch of the imagination. However Chianti Classico wine is DOCG certified which means it it tested to make sure it meets quality tests as well as ensuring it is made up of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes which is the grape grown in the chianti region. To learn significantly more about the wine in the region and how it’s grown I’d recommend visiting the Castellare di Castellina winery at Castellina in Chianti. For 20 euros you as get a brilliantly in depth tour of the winery as well as full wine tasting and the opportunity to purchase their wine.
The top of the Chianti region and the jewel in the Tuscan crown, Florence has it all. From history to culture, art to food, there’s nothing you can’t find in this beautiful city.
To truly understand the history, culture and architecture of the city I’d recommend booking either a walking or cycling tour. I opted for the latter, there are plenty of options in the city and they allow you to fully appreciate the Medici’s families influence upon the people and life in Florence.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the most breath taking pieces of architecture in Italy, if not Europe. It houses the largest brick dome ever built and if you’re not claustrophobic I’d recommend climbing up to the top of the dome to get outstanding views over the city. We got up very early to do this and it was worth it to avoid the crowds and the heat!
At the opposite end of the day head up the steps to Piazzale Michelangelo on the south bank of the Arno river. The sun setting and turning Florence and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore red is something you won’t forget.
Finally, Florentine Steak. Get on it. Zazas on Piazza del Marcato is the place to try it.
1) San Gimignano
This walled medieval town north of Siena is a must see if you’re visiting Tuscany. It’s hilltop setting offers unrivalled views over the hills of Tuscany. A UNESCO natural heritage site, it has two main Piazza’s; Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Cisterna which both offer lots of places to stop for an espresso and watch the world go by. For the more energetic and those wanting the best views then climb up the Torre Grossa (bell tower) (around £6), the final climb is up a ladder but the views over the piazza and surrounding countryside is breath taking. If you want to get your hands on some fresh food and experience market day head down on Thursday morning, but be prepared, it gets very busy!