Nature and Landscapes of Tuscany
The enchanting Colline del Chianti (Chianti Hills) and its flourishing vineyards are a strong attraction for tourists from all over the world, for the sweetness of the landscapes, the history, the mild climate, good food and of course the excellent wine. They stretch for about 20 km, between the provinces of four of the most important and visited Tuscan cities, Florence, Siena, Pisa and Arezzo.
The Sweet Valley Between Florence and Siena
The gentle valleys that open between the slopes are jewels of nature and culture. The Val D’Elsa, which takes its name from the river that cuts through it, is located between Florence and Siena and is dotted with characteristic historic villages. In ancient times it was inhabited by the Etruscans, of which numerous testimonies remain and in medieval times with the construction of the via Francigena, it became an important economic, political and military hub.
Val di Chiana
The Val di Chiana is divided between the provinces of Siena and Arezzo and extends to some municipalities in Umbria between Perugia and Terni. Thanks to the fertility of its lands, it has always been considered il granaio dell’Etruria (granary of Etruria). Its importance in Etruscan times has been shown by the high number of archeological sites found in Arezzo. The historic artifacts discovered in this area range from prehistory to the period of the Roman Republic and subsequently to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Since ancient times the Val di Chiana has distinguished itself for the production of fine wines and now for chianina, a breed of white cow once used as a working animal and now raised for its meat.
South of Tuscany, between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto, between hills, medieval villages, vineyards and olive groves, dotted with castles, abbeys and ancient bridges, lies the Val D’Orcia, recognized in 2004 by UNESCO as a cultural heritage site for its enchanting agricultural landscape and historical buildings linked to the ancient via Francigena. Pienza is a shining example of the region’s well preserved Renaissance character.
The Historical Cities of Tuscany
Is known to all as the cradle of the Renaissance. Thanks to the Medici family who built their legacy here, the city thrived over the centuries, becoming one of the most famous cultural and artistic centers in Italy. It is built around the Arno river which has brought fortune, being an excellent shipping channel for commercial traffic, but also ruin, due to the violent floods that have caused significant damage to the city and its priceless works of art.
Florence has kept its splendor and charm intact over the centuries, it offers occasions of amazement and wonder thanks to its innumerable treasures. Following a path that winds through the two poles of the city, the political one that has its center in Piazza della Signoria and the religious one that revolves around the magnificent cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (whose extraordinary dome, the largest ever built, defies the laws of gravity and aspires to heaven), you can admire the majestic architectural works created by the most prestigious artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Masterpieces loved the world over, including Michaelangelo’s David, are kept in the numerous museums among which the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Pitti stand out.
A walk along the Lungarno will allow you a splendid view of Ponte Vecchio, with its colorful houses and goldsmith shops and, if you cross it, you can get lost in the winding alleys of the Oltrarno which maintains its historic character and is rich in splendid monuments.
Located in the heart of Tuscany, in the midst of rolling hills, it is considered the most beautiful medieval city in Italy. Its centerpiece is the airy Piazza del Campo, with its particular shell shape, where the Palio, the famous bareback horse races, takes place on July 2 and August 16 each year. Dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico, its tower and other splendid fourteenth-century buildings, it showcases the marble Fonte Gaia at its center, a masterpiece by the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia. From here you can easily move through the various districts of the city (terzi), each of which boasts unmissable monuments like the two-colored Duomo, the work of the most important architects, painters and sculptors of the time including Donatello and Michelangelo among others.
Unmissable stop of a Tuscan holiday, it is mainly known for its leaning tower but is packed with incredible sights. The Piazza dei Miracoli is one of the most beautiful in the world, a Unesco World Heritage Site because of the amount of architectural masterpieces it houses. The Duomo, the Baptistery and the ubiquitous leaning tower are extraordinary examples of Pisan Romanesque, which combines Gothic elements, classical, early Christian, Lombard and oriental motifs. But Pisa boasts an older history, born as an Etruscan and then Roman port from the first century B.C. Thanks to its strategic position on the Arno and access to the Tyrrhenian Sea, it became a Maritime Republic in the 11th century, experiencing an extraordinary economic and consequently artistic development. For this reason, it is full of important monuments, from medieval churches to the more recent palaces and military architecture.
It grew in importance in the 6th century with the arrival of the Lombards who made it the capital of Tuscia, in the following centuries it maintained its relevance, so much so that Dante himself spent long years of exile there. Today Lucca is known above all as the city of a hundred churches. Its walls, which have remained intact since the 1500s, truly house one hundred churches. Just venture into the maze of its narrow streets and squares to find them. The best known is undoubtedly the Cathedral of San Martino which is home to the sublime funeral monument sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia in memory of Ilaria del Carretto.
The Small Villages of Tuscany
Equally splendid and rich in history, are the countless villages scattered throughout the Tuscan territory, appreciated both for their artistic and natural beauties and for having given birth to illustrious personalities of our culture.
The birthplace of the famous Leonardo, is located in the lower Valdarno. It was the land of Etruscans and then the seat of a Roman castrum until it was dominated by the Counts of Guidi and subsequently subjected to Florence, then becoming a theater of many wars. Located on the slopes of Montalbano, rich in vineyards and olive groves, it was a source of inspiration for Leonardo who often painted its natural beauty. His first important drawing, dated 1473, is of this countryside and is considered the first representation of pure landscape in the history of art.
Is the birthplace of the famous author of the Decameron, Boccaccio. Last municipality in the province of Florence, located in the center of the Val D’Elsa, it is a village rich in history (Etruscan settlement, later Roman and later an important medieval center) and houses a museum dedicated to Boccaccio and his famous tale of a group of noble friends who go to the country and tell stories during the plague.
In the province of Siena, there is the splendid San Gimignano known as the city of a hundred towers, in whose heart stands the Duomo, a real jewel of the medieval era, full of extraordinary frescoes. Nearby Monteriggioni boasts an almost intact defensive wall dating back to the 14th century as well as a medieval castle which watched over the via Francigena, and today is one of the most evocative stages of the hiking route dedicated to it.
Montalcino and Montepulciano
Are two other wonders in the heart of this enchanted land. To reach them, go up the hills, along a cluster of vineyards, small country roads and colors ranging from yellow to green, to red. Here the palate is spoiled, as well as the eyes, thanks to the famous local wine: Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano. In the countryside near Montalcino, Gregorian chants can still be heard in a famous abbey founded by Charlemagne.
The Flavors of Tuscany
The territory rich in landscape and climate contrasts produces a rich range of wines with high quality presence with DOC and COCG denominations equal to 60% of regional production.
The great diversification of the production areas extends from the terraces of the Valtellina to the morainic areas of the lakes to reach the Apennine hills of Oltrepò Pavese. The bubbles of Franciacorta, the reds of the Valtellina and the Barbera and Bonarda productions of the hills, guarantee the breadth of colors and scents that go well with traditional recipes.
The polenta is often accompanied by important productions of cheeses such as Fontina della Valtellina and Gorgonzola. The dairy-based creams are combined with risotto, among which the internationally known risotto alla Milanese or more simply saffron yellow from Mantua and the pizzoccheri from Valtellina stands out. Meats and lake fish are the basis for traditional recipes such as Cassoeula, Milanese cutlet and Lario perch.
The confectionery production sees the best pastry shops of the Milanese for the making of Panettone, those of Cremona for the Torrone and those of Mantua for Sbrisolona cake.