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Exploring Tuscany – Town and Country Day Trips from Florence.
Why would you want to take a day trip from Florence? There’s a wealth of things to do in Florence, the capital of Tuscany. It’s known as the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ for good reason. The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by 14th-century walls. The Piazza Della Signoria is gloriously highlighted by Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune The stunning Cathedral or Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore has a famous terracotta-tiled dome by Brunelleschi and a bell tower by Giotto.
The Ponte Vecchio, built in the 14th century straddles the river, lined with artisan goldsmiths shops that seem to be held up by stilts.
Of course, you could spend a week in the Uffizi – a day just looking at Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ and da Vinci’s ‘Annunciation’ and then another week visiting some of the other galleries and museums like the Galleria dell’Accademia where you’ll find Michelangelo’s ‘David’.
And yet, if to visit Tuscany and venture no further than Florence is to miss some of Italy’s finest towns and cities, some of its best architecture and first-rate food and wines. So why not stay for long enough to spend some time and take a day trip from Florence, exploring other towns and cities in Tuscany or venturing into the countryside.
Towns and Cities to visit in Tuscany:
Each of these towns and cities is within easy reach of Florence, either by train or car. And, each has a unique offering. Read on to find out more.
Lucca: Not everyone goes to Lucca for Buccellato, but everyone SHOULD try this special, spiced raisin bread. It’s sold throughout Lucca, but the best-known place to buy it is a famous historic pastry shop, Taddeuci, right in the heart of the City. Make sure you get there early as it generally sells out by mid-day!
Apart from a fancy pastry, Lucca is a fascinating place to visit. Well-preserved Renaissance walls surround the whole historic city centre. The massive 16th and 17th-century ramparts are popular for walking – wide enough to be tree-lined too. There are great museums and historic houses open to the public too.
Pisa: Famous for the leaning tower, Pisa is a charming city with an ancient, elite university. The Tower itself dates back to 1172 and it began to sink once construction reached the second floor, thanks to shallow foundations in unstable soil. Ongoing battles between Pisa and neighbouring regions meant that everything stopped for almost a hundred years – and that saved the tower because the underlying soil settled and building continued.
In addition to the tower, the Piazza Dei Miracoli is home to the Cathedral or Duomo, the Baptistry and the Campanile. Under the rule of the Medicis in the 15th century, at the start of the Renaissance, the university was revitalised and Galileo Galilei became professor of astronomy.
Pistoia: Apart from being a great food centre, the city of Pistoia is also home to a fine historic Piazza, where buildings include the Palazzo del Comune and the Palazzo del Podesta.
Pistoia is also home to Italy’s third dome at Chiesa Della Madonna Dell Umiltà – the first being in Rome and the second in Florence. And, it’s a great place for artisan food and drink, with local sausages and mountain cheese specialities here.
Livorno: A port just to the north of Pisa, Livorno is best known for a unique and hearty fish soup, Cacciucco. Livorno was a duty-free port from the 16th century until the unification of Italy 150 years ago and the result was a cosmopolitan merchant population and workforce.
The Cacciucco served today is reputedly less fiery than the original version with influences from the Levant, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Armenia, Persia and more which was a kind of hotchpotch of fish left over from the morning fish market mixed with a whole range of spices! Apart from trying the soup, which is a must, it’s worth a visit to the thriving traditional fish market, though you’ll need to arrive early in the morning!
Siena: Looking out over the UNESCO listed historic centre of Sienna with its fabulous medieval buildings, it is easy to understand why people fall in love with this part of Tuscany.
Drink coffee and try the local nougat, Torrone in the Piazza del Campo looking out at the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, and Torre del Mangia, a slender 14th-century tower which you can climb for sweeping views of the countryside. And, don’t miss The Cathedral, a vast Gothic marble building, humbug striped in black and white, dominating a small square. Built between 1215 and 1263, it’s full of treasures by artists such as Donatello and Michelangelo.
If you’ve had your fill of the towns and cities then there are plenty of really rather special food and drink experiences. Try visiting some of the vineyards scattered across the Tuscan countryside for example. They range from historic wineries like Capezzana, a historic winery where wine and olive oil has been made since as far back as the 7th century to stunning wine resorts and hotels such as Conti di San Bonifacio, where you might be forgiven for missing the winery altogether.
If you are lucky, you might be able to visit one of the many Olive Oil mills. Again, you can pick from ultra-modern facilities to traditional co-operative mills like the one we visited in the Montalbano hill in Quarrata, Tacinaia, Pistoia
Then, there’s cheese. How about visiting a mountain farm to see the making of ‘ Pecorino a Latte Crudo Della Montagna Pistoiese’. It’s still handmade, from the milk of black Massese sheep (an ancient breed from Tuscany) that are milked by hand and graze in the olive groves of the hills around Pistoia
For truffles, visit when one of the truffle festivals is taking place. The most famous is in a tiny hilltop medieval village, San Miniato. You’ll learn all about hunting for truffles and get to see and taste some of the finest truffles in the world. And, just taking part in an Italian festival is something really special.
Finally, what trip to Italy would be the same without learning more about pasta. Try heading for another village in the hills of Tuscany, to Martelli Pasta is a family-run business located in Lari, a small medieval village near Pisa, that has been making pasta using old-style traditions since 1926. Only the best Italian durum wheat semolina is used to produce an exceptional artisan pasta. Visit the village and you might be allowed to see the pasta being made – even if you don’t you’ll get to buy something very special to take home.
In short, if you happened to be planning to visit Tuscany and Florence, allow yourself time to explore. If you don’t you’ll miss out on some of the best things to see in an easy day trip from Florence.
Thinking of visiting Florence or Tuscany yourself? Why not pin this post for later.