Florence, the most populous city in Tuscany, advertises itself as Italy’s art capital and it’s hard to dispute. It is undeniably the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and many of history’s most famous artists contributed to the city’s beauty; Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Donatello,
Caravaggio, even Rembrandt, Rubens and Goya. It was also the home of Galileo (who revolutionized astronomy), Dante, Puccini, the list is endless.There is art everywhere you look from the architecture to the shops and galleries and its amazing museums. It is overwhelming and in fact Stendhal Syndrome was named for a French writer who experienced dizziness and disorientation while trying to experience all that Florence had to offer.
A visit to the Uffizi Gallery alone is enough to stagger an art lover. The gallery is home to many of Italy’s Renaissance masterpieces.
The lineups are very long so expect a wait although I discovered one shortcut, by paying an extra 5 euros (added to the 15 euro price) to one of the young people walking the lines, you can jump the queue and the 5 euro goes directly to the Medici Archive Project to help preserve the historic works of art. There are two massive wings full of art and you could spend a full day going through each of the salons so pace yourself.
Next door is the Loggia Della Signoria, filled with beautiful marble statues including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. To see the real thing you will have to wait in line again at the Galleria dell’Accademia where the original of the world’s most famous statue resides.
But Florence is only one part of your Tuscan adventure. Don’t pass up a chance to explore Tuscany’s countryside.
Siena’s biggest claim to fame is the Palio, an annual horse race (July 2 and August 16) that is run around the central square. Ten horses at a time race around the square three times, taking the winner about 75 seconds but drawing huge crowds to the centre of the fan shaped square with the more affluent hanging out on the balconies and restaurants all around the Piazza del Campo.
Just up from the square is the Siena Cathedral, a massive structure that dominates the skyline. The 12th century cathedral is a UNESCO Heritage site, clad in black and white marble, Siena’s civic colours. The artwork inside and out is jaw dropping.
Next stop is San Gimignano and the heart of Tuscan wine country. I stopped at a family vineyard for a Tuscan lunch and to sample some of the wines produced there. I learned that not all Tuscan wine is red, while Chianti is the most famous, Vernaccia is a delicious and fruity white wine and the sweet dessert wine Vin Santo is also produced in the region.
Nearby is the walled Medieval town of San Gimignano, a chance to see the original architecture from the 12th and 13th centuries, especially the surviving towers that made the town famous.
My favourite stop though was the Museum of Torture. No I’m not a sadist but I found it fascinating to see the relics of just how cruel humans can be to one another, designing some of the most horrific and gruesome torture devices you can imagine.
It’s a long 3.5 hour drive from San Gimignano to Pisa, and everyone knows what that city is famous for.
But while the Leaning Tower gets all the attention it is also home to the most important airport in the region (named for Galileo) and some of the most esteemed universities in Italy. Still when in Pisa… you must check out the bell tower. It is part of the Cathedral and Baptistry complex built in the 12th century.
It’s surprising just how much the tower leans… while it has been corrected and leans almost 4 degrees that is still more than 4 meters off centre. You can definitely see how people feared it would topple over and come crumbling down one day, but engineers have managed to stabilize it.
But the best part of Tuscany is its’ natural beauty. It is lush and green with fields of bright yellow sunflowers up the hillsides next to perfectly aligned rows of grapevines, contrasting with the silvery leaves of olive trees. A visit to Italy just would not be complete without a trip to Tuscany.