To write about Tuscany would take volumes of books filled with beautiful photos and stories of vineyards, artistic treasures, historical architecture and churches. In fact, there are mountains of books written about Tuscany, one of Italy’s 20 regions! It is often called the heart of Italy as it is in the ‘center of Italy’ containing within its pulsating heart beloved cities such as Florence, Siena, Lucca, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Pienza, Pisa, Cortona, San Casciano, Arezzo, Volterra, Montalcino and Castiglione della Pescaia, to name a few. Tuscans are the descendants of the Etruscans, an advanced people who settled there long before the Roman Empire existed.
During my September Italy Retreat For Women we will visit Florence, Siena, Cortona, and San Casciano in the region of Tuscany (and also travel to other regions). In this post, I will speak a little about Florence and Cortona. And the next post I’ll cover Siena and San Casciano in southern Tuscany, home of a beautiful thermal springs spa.
Florence is known as the home of the Renaissance that brought about great cultural change and achievement that began during the 14th century. It was a time of rebirth of poets, philosophers, literature, music, science and exploration. It was alive with possibility. Even though modern-day Florence is filled with tourists from around the world, all of the possibilities and beauty is felt on every street corner. You can easily walk everywhere (but beware of pick pockets), visit the Uffizi Gallery filled with paintings by Botticelli, Giotto, Raphael, and so many more. Walk 10 minutes from Uffizi to the Academia museum to visit the 17 foot tall sculpture of Michelangelo’s David.
In addition to some of the most extraordinary art and architecture in the world you will be happy to visit the Baptistery across from the Duomo, and churches filled with art, such as one of my favorites, Santa Maria Novella, a 2 minute walk from the train station. While there take a short stroll to the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella.
Florence is filled with exquisite shopping, restaurants and gelaterias. I love crossing over the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) to the Oltrano nieghborhood south of the Arno River to hang out in the neighborhoods and piazzas there.
I am not even doing justice to Florence, but you get the idea. You could be there for a year!
Out in the countrysides of Tuscany you will find jaw-dropping fields of vineyards, olive trees, sunflowers and farmland. After feasting on the glorious city life of Florence, you can drive 15 minutes south and slow down to the pace of the sweet life, la dolce vita.
It is difficult to decide which of the hundreds of Tuscan hill towns to visit, but one of our favorite places during our Italy Retreat is Cortona. We live in a villa in the country side 10 minutes by car to this small town perched on a very high hilltop. Art-lovers appreciate the artistic offerings of art work, leather goods and hand-crafted stationery. Of course, it’s a fun treat to stop by the home of Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. But Cortona is home to beautiful churches and museums too.
The Diocesan Museum houses works of art by artists such as Fra Angelico, Pietro Lorenzetti, Bartolomeo della Gatta, Luca Signorelli and Sassetta. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built over the remains of an ancient Roman Temple. One of my favorite places to visit driving up above the walled city center is the Cell of Saint Francis. This is where St. Francis built a church with his monks and you can visit his cell. There is so much silence here.
From our peaceful villa surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, we settle into a week of connecting to the rhythm of the countryside, but also easily take day trips an hour away by car to Siena, Assisi, Florence and San Casciano. Then of course, our longer ride brings us to the Cinque Terre to take in the beauty of the Mediterranean.
You are welcome to reprint, copy, or distribute Lenora Boyle’s article, provided the above author credit is included.