Located in the heart of Italy, the region of Tuscany makes for the ideal getaway this summer. Here are ten reasons to visit.

Florence
Where better to get a bird’s eye view of the architecturally renowned city of Florence than by climbing the 463 steps of the Duomo. The energy expended will be rewarded with spectacular views of this ancient and aesthetic city surrounded by Tuscany’s rolling hills and framed with a flawless summer sky. The best way to explore the city is by foot and an early start is recommended if you want to spend as little time queuing to visit the must-see Uffizi gallery, which celebrates Florence as the birthplace of the renaissance with masterpieces from Botticelli, Giotto, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael on show. You might spend all your days here museum-hopping but make sure to visit Accademia Gallery to marvel Michelangelo’s David. And what if you want a good panoramic of the aforementioned Duomo. Well more step-climbing, I’m afraid, 414 to the top of Giotto’s Tower. Nights out, dining al fresco in Florence prove every bit as enjoyable as this magnificent city’s art and architecture.

Bike the Tuscan Hills
While it is easy to get immersed in the endless art, architecture and culture that oozes from the towns and cities of Tuscany, make sure to take a few days to explore the rolling hills of this special region. And taking any of the excellent cycling routes will get you up close and personal with this exceptionally scenic spot. The Mugello area is ideal for cycling through Montaione, where you will find more than 50km of trails for mountain bikes or Val d’Orcia, which is a valley settled between the Southern Siena hills and the ancient Monte Amiata volcano. Or you can follow the 200 kilometres of L’Eroica route. The annual race on this route takes place every October and celebrates all things traditional from the area which also enjoys a wine and food tradition, with lavish buffets of beef stew, jam tarts, other dishes of the Tuscan tradition and gallons of Chianti wine at the food stops.

Tuscan food and wine tours
Spend a day or two traversing Tuscany tasting some of the finest food and wine you are ever likely to sample. The Casentino Taste Trail Tour takes you from the valleys of the Casentino and winds its way through mountains, castles, parks, forests and farms, where you get to taste Abbucciato aretino chesse, Red Cetica potatoes and Prosciutto del Casentino, which is made from wild pigs. The Terre di Arezzo Wine Trail, the Taste Trail of the Tuscan Valtiberina or the Cortona Wine Trail are other options.

Medici Villas
Patrons of the arts, this renaissance family of popes and politicians ruled the region for centuries. The Medicis, as you will surely remember from school history lessons were Lords of Florence from 1434, then Grand Dukes of Tuscany from 1569 and ruled until 1737. Their extensive legacy includes the constellation of the Medici Villas, like Villa Castello which was the residence of Cosimo I, where you’ll find a beautiful garden, created by Niccolò Tribolo, while Villa Petraia is regarded as one of the most beautiful Medici residences, that still contains  the original furniture and has  an enchanting park outside.

Picnic in Pisa
A Tuscan trip will, no doubt, include a visit to Pisa to see the world-renowned leaning tower. And while you are there, you should take an afternoon stroll (or taxi) out to the San Rossore and Massaciuccoli Park. The Parco di San Rossore was once an estate belonging to the Savoy family and will make the perfect place to lounge about with your favourite cheeses, wines and bread for an afternoon picnic. The park’s paths are lined with an incredible variety of flora and fauna and you can also venture out for a coastal stroll if you have the energy.

Leaning Tower of Pisa and Duomo

Palio of Siena
Worth a visit to Tuscany for this event alone, the Palio is held in Piazza del Campo, in the historic centre of Siena, a historical tradition that dates back to 1633. Taking place every July 2nd and August 16th, it consists of an exciting horse race representing the different districts of the city. The winning team celebrates with dinners held in the streets of the contrada (district).

Tuscan Spas
Treat yourself to a day at one of the many Spa locations around Tuscany, where there are over one hundred places to enjoy the hot springs. There are seven historical thermal baths in the spa town of Bagni di Lucca, where the waters flow from 53 springs, with a temperature varying between 39 and 54 centigrades. The Terme della Versilia at the Hotel Villa Undulna houses springs abundant in bromine, sodium, and are ten times richer in iodine than seawater; thus leading to its classification as bromo-iodic salt thermal water. The Tombolo Talasso Resort has recently been renovation into a thermal resort, Spa and thalassotherapy centre specialising in water massages, hydro-massages with algae or salts, underwater hydro-massages and body jet showers fueled by the sea water, which is only 800 metres from the resort.

The Nature Train
What better way to savour the spectacular Tuscany landscapes than from the vantage point of a slow moving steam train. The nature train passes through Tuscany in the Terre di Siena allowing you to savour areas of the Val d’Orcia and Siena province. And the nature train’s itinerary is combined with fairs, festivals, exhibitions and markets where you can taste local products. The train runs from March to December but not the busy summer months. May, September or October visits would be ideal time to hop onboard.

Elba
This year marks the bicentenary of Napoleon’s exile to Elba so what better time to visit Tuscany’s largest island, where the celebrations will continue throughout the summer. Islanders are preparing many historical re-enactments and a plethora of music and theatre events. The re-enactment of the landing of Napoleon at Portoferraio, which took place on May 4, 1814 will be staged and Napoleon’s original tent will be on display. The ferry trip across adds to the adventure as you will also get to enjoy a vibrant island surrounded by crystal blue waters which prove better than any hotel swimming pool.

Barga
The medieval town of Barga is one of Tuscany’s many hidden gems, nestled in the heart of the Serchio river valley, in the province of Lucca. The drive from Lucca is less than an hour as you arrive at this delightful location in the Tuscan-Apennine hills, and Barga is recognised as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, due to its historical, artistic and tourist importance. The castle remains in tact and has been recently restored, while the Duomo dates back to the eleventh century and houses a wooden statue of the town’s patron saint, St Christopher. You may also get to meet some ancient Scotsmen, as there was a large influx of Scots to Barga in the early 20th century.

For more information about visiting Tuscany, visit

http://www.italia.it/en/discover-italy/tuscany.html.

Ed Leahy

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