Know that old chestnut about Under the Tuscan Sun? Well, for the most part it’s true – as the book and then the film portrayed, this is one of Italy’s most visited regions for a very good reason: it’s filled with art, culture, food and drink.
Nearly every time I’ve been to Tuscany, it rained. A lot. So much for that ‘Tuscan sun’ – Tuscan umbrella, more like. However, having said that, I have always enjoyed myself, much more so than in Rome or Venice, even though there are still plenty of touts competing for your Euro and lots of other tourists trying to have that classic Tuscan experience. Here are three places I enjoyed – three out of so many charming towns and villages.
Ah, yes, Pisa, home of the Great Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is worth the cheesy tourist photo but otherwise a lacklustre experience. Depending on when you visit, access might be restricted – just when it seems they’ve got the tower where they want it, something else happens. But few realise that the true must-see spots in Pisa are the exquisite churches nearby – I can’t tell you how many tourists I saw traipsing off the coach, taking a photo, and then getting back on. Take some time and explore Pisa properly – it isn’t a big place so you can do it relatively easily. And should you find yourself hungry, grab yourself a spot of the gelato just across from the tower – it is the most obvious in town, and the tastiest!
I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve been to Florence three times. I went once on my own as a backpacker, then once again with family, and then again on a shorter stay as I was touring the area with a friend. Each of these visits was very different and each in their own way really enjoyable. As backpackers, we had pretty thin pockets so as a result we spent much of time hiking in the parks and hills nearby, and just strolling down the old cobblestone streets, one way alleys, and general maze of shopping streets and commerce that make up this old city. Truly fabulous without spending a dime.
The second trip was an art-infused bonanza, seeing every nook and cranny of Florence’s art museums – which is a feat in itself, because there are many. (Take my word for it: Florence has so much art it really does require an espresso to start with and to finish.) My last trip to Florence was probably the most memorable because it was all about food and drink. Our rule was if there was no English menu, we’d go for it, and despite a few nerve-racking moments ordering, the results were simply delicious – apart from the slight wine headache the next day.
Lucca is virtually a dead zone compared to the hustle and bustle of Florence or Pisa, but that is where you find its charm. Even in summer one can still find some peace walking the two and a half miles along the old city walls, a reminder of how important this village was during the Roman times. Inside the walls is a smattering of churches, shops, a tower and an old Roman amphitheatre. Similar to Florence, the best restaurants speak little or no English, but with some gusto and serendipity, you’ll have a nice meal regardless how little Italian you speak. And without the crowds you can enjoy yourself and then have a hassle-free walk back to your accommodation. For me, even on a rainy day, it’s small towns like these that make me really appreciate Tuscany. The larger places are great, but there are so many hidden spots that are worth a visit.
Posted : Monday, September 27th, 2010 at 13:36
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not criss-crossing the world to have his next travel adventures, he is spending time hanging out on his own website, Sharing Travel Experiences.