February 14, 2023
Tuscany is one of Italy’s most venerated and visited regions in Italy welcoming up to 50 million tourists on a yearly basis. Famous for its Chianti wine, its Renaissance art, its luxurious truffles, and spectacular towns, it is no wonder that travellers flock from far and wide to experience Tuscan delights first-hand. However, whilst Florence, Siena and Pisa are never missed on a Tuscany trip, there are a whole host of hidden gems which ought to be seen. Nestled into the landscapes are charming towns which lie in wait to be discovered. Here is a list of 5 locations in Tuscany which should be added to your bucket list.
When you think of the Tuscan countryside with its rolling hills and pine-tree dotted roads, you are thinking of the landscape which surrounds Pienza. The drive in is almost worth the visit in itself but stay a little while and even more delights will unfold before you. Pienza is often referred to as ‘the ideal city of the Renaissance’ and was constructed in the 15th Century under the jurisdiction of Enea Silvio Piccolomini who later became Pope. This was Piccolomini’s hometown, a humble and unassuming village which he transformed into a utopian Tuscan village. Beyond the Palazzo Piccolomini which is worth popping into, the cathedral is a remarkable sight and site. As you walk around it, you begin to take note of slanting floors with cracks running throughout. The cathedral’s immense weight burdened the foundations to such a degree that the hilltop upon which it was built has started to collapse. This is now controlled through the insertion of glass plates within the cathedral’s interior, but it is nonetheless and exciting scene to behold! Pienza is also famous for its production of sheep milk cheese – cacio. The Pecorino of Pienza is world renowned and you will find many shops selling different varieties along with other tempting local delicacies. When dining in town, make sure to try their specialty dish: pici con cacio e pepe!
Just a short train ride away from Florence lies the small sleepy town of Pistoia. Although it was voted as Italy’s Capital of Culture in 2017, many Tuscan travellers mistakenly decide to forgo a visit. Pistoia brims with art and culture, and visual delights await at every turn. The town’s epicentre is its Piazza del Duomo which houses the impressive cathedral both in terms of its intricate façade and the majestic interiors. The perfect way to start your day in Pistoia is with a coffee and a cornetto at the Caffe Duomo di Treno Giuseppe which overlooks the expansive piazza. Once the site of many an important medieval ceremony, the Piazza del Duomo stays current with the annual Pistoia Blues Concert which attracts thousands of spectators. The main square is converted into an enormous outdoor arena where a many international artists (Noel Gallagher, Mumford and Sons, and Sting to name a few) have performed! On any other given day, Pistoia is worth visiting for its array of churches, cloisters, palaces and monuments which were designed by some of Italy’s most famous artists and architects from the Renaissance.
For a coastal escape in Tuscany that is a deeply concealed gem, head to Baratti. A popular seaside location for locals but hardly infiltrated by tourists, Baratti is perfect for laid-back, unpretentious beach life. The beach at Baratti is free meaning there are no facilities yet the sandy stretch and crystal-clear waters are idyllic even in May and September. Near the beach is an adorable kiosk – Al Polpo Marino - which sells fresh calamari and octopus sandwiches. Further down the coast is the town of San Vincenzo whose beach offers a few lidos complete with deckchairs and restaurants. Regardless of where you set your base for the day, make sure not to leave before the sunset; it may just be one of the most beautiful you have ever seen!
Fiesole can be reached with a 15-minute bus from Florence and is a perfect escape from the sometimes-overwhelming city crowds. A lazy afternoon can be spent strolling around this hilltop town, admiring the sprawling views over the Tuscan land- and cityscapes as well as exploring the traces of history which have been left over many thousands of years. The Archaeological Museum is the perfect place to start your time travel as the impressive Roman-Etruscan remains leave much to be marvelled at. Next, fast forward a few hundred years at the Bandini Museum which display fine examples of medieval and Renaissance Florentine painting. For the best views over Florence, head to the Convent of San Francesco which lies at the very top of Fiesole. To refuel during a busy day of sightseeing, there are plenty of cutting-edge restaurants to grab a table at. Many up-and-coming chefs choose to set up shop in Fiesole in order to avoid the hefty Florentine prices. This gives them more opportunity to play and you will therefore find an exciting selection of eateries dedicated to elevating traditional Tuscan cuisine. Highly recommended are Coquinarius Fiesole, da Tibero a San Casciano, and Terrazza 45.
This medieval hilltop town seems as though it is charmingly stuck in time. Yet, behind the old stony façade, plenty of surprises can be discovered! Down an unassuming cobbled street lies the Galleria Continua, one of the most important galleries for modern and contemporary art. The contrast between the crumbling allure of the historical city and the gallery’s sleek tones creates an exciting dialogue between Italy old and new. San Gimignano’s immensely picturesque setting is characterised by its many looming towers which can be spotted from miles away in the Tuscan countryside. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries, they were considered as medieval skyscrapers representing the economic and political prosperity of the various Patrician families in the region. Today, 14 towers stand strong, yet it is said that by the end of the 1500s, 72 towers had been erected!
Despite its modest size, San Gimignano retains a buzzing atmosphere that culminates in its large and slanted main square which is flanked by inviting bars to spend the afternoon or evening in. As the day progresses, the town’s inhabitants begin to spill into the piazza ready for an aperitivo to begin or end their night in. Before settling in for your own evening drink, make sure to pass by Gelateria Dondoli, an ice cream shop which has won a variety of awards for its exquisite flavours. Dondoli is more proof that this medieval town is still full of life, dynamism and energy.
Photos by Instagram accounts of: @toscana_saporita, @pallisd, @fortunatesonphoto, @trizzy.pa, @simone.menini, @osteria_fratelli, @enryb14, @borogovoi, @tasteforcook, @slow_living_hotels, @emikodavies, @dominikpflumm, @giangliet, @rickfgang, @coquinariusfiesole
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Words and Photographs by Antonia Fest