Tuscany is a destination best explored at a leisurely pace. With its breadth of history, art, culture and cuisine, in order to truly discover its essence it's important not just to tick off points on an itinerary, but to slow down, relax and seek out a more authentic kind of experience. |
The ideal way to uncover the true heart of Tuscany is on well-organised small group holidays. Instead of traipsing the well-worn tourist trail, you'll travel the back roads and byways of the region, encountering the sights, sounds, tastes and local people that make this wonderful Italian region so unique.
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites
While the cultural highlights of Tuscany are many and varied, small group holidays that include any of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites provide a well-rounded insight into the historical and cultural importance of the region.
Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa
Just beyond the town centre of Pisa is the Piazza dei Miracoli. The Square of Miracles has been the centre of the city's religious life since the eleventh century, with the construction of the Romanesque Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta. The magnificent Baptistery of Saint John and the bell tower – which, of course, we now know as the Leaning Tower of Pisa – make up the trio of highlights. Climbing the 294 steps of the bell tower has become somewhat of a tradition (and challenge) to the hordes of tourists who visit the site every year.
Firenze, Heart of the Renaissance
The historical centre of Florence has been deemed one of the world's greatest man-made creations. Although the city itself dates back to Etruscan times, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries under the far-reaching patronage of the Medicis it developed the overwhelming cultural and artistic gravitas that endures to this day. The magnificent Renaissance architecture of buildings like Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, the Uffizi and the jaw-dropping Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore hold within them a cache of priceless masterpieces: Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and countless others who defined the course of history are present on their walls.
The Rolling Hills of Val d’Orcia
The landscape of Val d'Orcia lies beneath a sunbaked blanket of agricultural crops and vibrant poppy fields, strewn over rolling hills. Dotted with medieval castles and rural villages, this is the enduring and iconic image of Tuscany as we know it today. The faithful muse of so many of the great Renaissance artists, this region more than any other inspired an entire era and led to the creation of a new aesthetic genre.
San Gimignano: The Manhattan of the Middle Ages
San Gimignano is one of the must-visit sites on small group holidays around Tuscany. Situated on one of the most important pilgrimage routes of the Middle Ages, the unique and striking skyline of torre was created by the wealthy families of the town, as they competed to build the grandest residence. At the height of San Gimignano's cultural and economic power there were 72 such towers, but today just 13 remain.
Medici Villas and Gardens
The most recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Site encompasses two gardens and 12 villas commissioned by the powerful Medici family (their hunting lodges and summer residences), which are situated in the landscape surrounding Florence. The magnificent villas also include more of the Medici's extensive collection of Renaissance artworks.
Along with Siena and the stunning Renaissance town of Pienza, these important UNESCO sites of Tuscany reveal an astounding depth of history and culture. The opportunity to explore the landscapes and landmarks that shaped the destiny of the modern world in so many ways is one to be welcomed with an open heart.
Elle Scotter is the Marketing Executive of Back-Roads Touring, a company with 25 years' experience creating tailor-made small group holidays that go off the beaten track to delve a little deeper into the true heart and soul of a destination. Travelling in comfortable mini-coaches with a tour size of generally no more than 18 people, their holidays provide a flexible, friendly and relaxed way to tour. On itineraries across Europe and the UK, you'll experience the road less travelled with Back-Roads Touring.
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