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Heavenly landscapes and divine cuisine
Rolling hills and winding roads, soaring cypresses and secluded farmhouses – Tuscany is the land of dreams. The picturesque villages scattered in its countryside have served as the inspiration for the masterpieces that hang in the world-class musuems of its Renaissance cities. For lovers of art, archicture and sun-drenched wines Tuscany is the place to expand one’s understanding of how the marvelous can be expressed and experienced through all the senses. With greats like Galileo, Dante, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Puccini, Meucci and Bocelli, the Tuscan contribution to comprehending while living the sights, sounds, smells and flavors of the world is truly unparalleled. With a visit to the place that created such genius, visitors can appreciate Florence, Siena, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, Pisa and Lucca.
Few buildings in the world are as iconic as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Intended to serve as a free-standing bell tower for the adjacent cathedral, construction began in 1173. When the builders noticed that their first three stories were slanting slightly, they stopped their work. For 100 years the unfinished tower was left untouched until another group of hopeful builders added four more floors, integrating an opposing tilt to the structure in an attempt to create an equilibrium. In 1372 the tower was completed. Standing at 186 feet (on its higher side)/183 feet (on its lower side) the tower was an architectural marvel. Its seven bells, however, were never allowed to ring for fear that the reverberation might cause the structure to collapse. Still standing/leaning tall, the temptation to a snap a few selfies with it can hardly be resisted!
Please note that reservations to enter the tower and its UNESCO recognized cathedral complex on the Piazza del Duomo are required for groups.
Every year more than 1.3 million people visit the Galleria dell’Accademia, with most coming to behold a singular masterpiece: the “David“. The unrivaled statue’s perfection was crafted from a single slab of marble by Tuscan sculptor Michelangelo. Meant to symbolize the strength of the Florentine Republic, the replica presented to Queen Victoria in 1857 was ordered to cover its immodesty with a dettachable fig leaf. The leaf itself has developed a following of its own and is often loaned to museums across the world. The Accademia features other legendary sculptures by greats like Giambologna, as well as Gothic paintings and a few of Botticelli’s Madonnas. For music lovers the Musical Instrument Museum is a must. The wing showcases handmade instruments by Antonio Stradivari and displays the early versions of the piano, designed by Bartolomeo Cristofori to please the Medici court.
Though his exile on the small island was short, Napoleon made his mark on Elba. The flag he designed and raised over its highest point, Portoferrario, in 1814 continues to represent the local population to this day. His flare for creating stately residences inspired him to refurbish several buildings on the island, where he made two estates. The first Villa dei Mulini, and the second, Villa San Martino. A former warehouse, Napoleon converted the structure into a handsome, frescoed dwelling fit to host his favorite guests.
The hilllside villa built on Etruscan ruins is tucked into the forests of Fontelucente. With five terraces overlooking its olive groves, Florence, Castle Poggio and its fountains and sculptures, its Neo-Renaissance style is truly something to behold.
Medieval Montepulciano and its “vino nobile” is ensconced in the reveries that slowly give way to the surrounding Tuscan countryside over which it reigns supreme. Rising above the undulating hills and the other glorious vineal varieties the region proffers, the wine made on the tuff mountain has always been regarded as a drink destined for nobles. Just below the city’s soil lie a series of wine cellars with cathedral-like vaulted ceilings chisled into the rock over centuries. Descend into the cool, semidarkness while the scents of wood, earth and fruit envelope you during your visit to the historic heart of what lends this unique place its heritage.
The Uffizi Gallery, commissioned in 1580 by Cosimo de’ Medici I, originally housed government offices. Today, the building is one of the most famous musuems in the world. With works by revered artists like Giotto, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Rubens, vistors can be swept away by the sheer beauty displayed in its three wings.
During exile Napolean lived at Villa dei Mulini. A collection of period furniture is on display there, as well as his imperial library from Fontainebleau. The emperor, who stayed just nine months on the island, helped to modernize it by building a road system, proposing regulations and developing the industrial sector.
The ethereal atmosphere of the Sant’Antimo Abbey enchants all who enter. The chapel glows with the way the soft, natural light shimmers on its yellow onyx and travertine walls. The balance and simplicity of the abbey lends serenity as it warmly welcomes you to sit and stay a while. Built around 814 at the foot of Montalcino, legend has it that Charlemagne founded it. A walk around its verdant valley grounds is also worthwhile.
Formerly an Etruscan hill settlement, the city is believed to have been continuously inhabited since the 8th century B.C. With so many layers of lives and a distinctly medieval appearance, it is no wonder that it lends itself as the ideal setting for vampire novels and films. No need to fear what follows dusk here, as the warm glow of the city lights cast off any would-be covens. During the day visit the alabaster producers and museums.
This excursion can easily be combined with: San Gimignano
Experience how Siena’s charming streets through its quaint quarters pull you in to its heart: the Piazza del Campo. The contrade neighborhoods you pass through are the font of beauty and pride that fuel the Palio horse race held in the seashell shaped square twice each year.
Arezzo will surprise you. A city older than Egypt’s Alexandria, it contains some impressive sites, such as the Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve, known for its bell tower of 100 holes, and Piazza Granda, site of knights’ tournaments.
This excursion can easily be combined with: Cortona
Lucca is a fabulous little city known for its opera house (Puccini was a native), bicycle route around its walls and its circular bread, the buccellatto, which allows the locals to go about their daily lives as they carry the staple home like some sort of a delicious bracelet. Lucca is a place that will appeal to all of your senses, for its sights, sounds, scents and flavors.
This excursion can easily be combined with: Pisa
Discover the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”. San Gimignano, the town of towers, offers those who stroll its streets the opportunity to enjoy the art and architectural treasures of its historic facades. The masterpieces born of family feuds were meant as ostentatious demonstrations of importance and ascendancy. Try our cultural “Treasure Hunt” for local sites and hidden gems, a unique way to explore in-depth the culture and history of this special place.
This excursion can easily be combined with: Volterra
Pisa has pizazz. Its Piazza del Duomo is better known as the “Prato dei Miracoli”, an apt name for the grassy field on which one of the world’s most iconic and miraculous buildings stands. Or…leans. Snapping a selfie with the Tower tops myriad bucket lists. The monument intrigues, as does the people watching there. Everyday tourists contort themselves into hilarious poses to get The Photo. Sometimes visitors are so captivated by the oblique building at the city’s core that they do not notice the surrounding area abuzz with daily life. In the shadow of the Leaning Tower lays an urban expanse great for a little shopping, espresso sipping and site-seeing. For those with limited time, focus will, of course, stay on the UNESCO recognized Duomo Square and its four masterpieces of medieval architecture – the bell tower, the cathedral, the baptistery and the cemetery.
Entrances tickets to the complex can be organized upon request.
Please note that buses are not allowed in the city center; groups must factor in the public shuttle bus cost from the parking area to the old town.
This excursion can easily be combined with: Lucca and Lari.
For more information on the Tower, please read further in the section “Cultural & Historic Sites"
Pistoria is a city with both medieval and Renaissance elements; an open-air museum that demonstrates how art becomes lifestyle. As you stroll its streets you can enjoy its ornate facades and its unforgettable striped churches.
This excursion can easily be combined with: Vinci
Tuscan food and wine is created with the hands as an extension of the heart. You simply can’t help but fall in love with the homemade specialities, distinguished by the their wholesome simplicity. With few, high quality ingredients, no condiments are needed, as the authentic food speaks for itself. The various areas offer a variety of interpretations of Tuscan cuisine and it is fun to explore their differences though cooking courses often held at country estates and local restaurants.
In a small village on the marble mountains, the “white gold“ of bacon can readily be devoured. The rich flavors of this type of ham were originally intended as a calorie-laden food for the poor. Visit a “larderia“ producer for a tasting.
Lari is a lesser known Tuscan town located within castle walls. Its biggest draw is Europe’s smallest pasta factory, situated in its center. It is so tiny, in fact, that if you blink you might miss it. Though mini, the Famiglia Martelli has been proudly making their pasta there since 1926. The family-owned and family-run factory specializes in five types of pasta: maccheroni (rigatoni), penne, fusilli (corkscrew pasta), thin spaghetti and thick spaghetti. The Martellis warmly welcome visitors for a tour. The walk-through gives insight into the art of making pasta, the original way. The process is a long one, as the semolina pasta is still made by hand and hung to dry. The brothers, who usually give the tour, emphasize that what they produce in a year a modern factory pumps out in five hours. At the end of the tour it is possible to taste the difference in their artisanal approach to one of Italy’s staple ingredients. Visitors can purchase a bag (or two, or more!) to take home as a souvenir.
This excursion can easily be combined with: Pisa
In autumn have the chance to participate in an olive harvest. The meditative atmosphere created by the rythms of working with your hands while picking the fruit will give you peace. At the end of the day watch as the fruit is pressed into “liquid gold“ at the mill. After a lovely, long day of “work”, you can take home a bottle of olive oil with you and sip a glass of wine as you toast Mother Nature and her creation of such perfect products.
Spring / Autumn
Hop on board to enjoy the relaxing way the historic steam train, the "Treno Natura”, chugs through the rolling, lulling Tuscan countryside. The original centoporte (multi-door) cars will bring you to stations along the way, where you can get off to take a walk on the footpaths, to reach old town centers and do tastings at farms or at the markets. When there are special events, like rural village fêtes, fairs and festivals, special itineraries are designed to get you there. Try this unique way to experience the extraordinary artistic and cultural heritage of the region.
From afar, the polished, white peaks of the Apuan Alps seem to be snowcapped. As visitors draw near, the mountains reveal that their lustrous appearance is from their marble make up. Visitors can tour the centuries-old quarries, which include tunnels, caves and cathedral-like rooms carved into the rock. Great sculptors like Michelangelo selected to use the stone from this area for their masterpieces.
The visit lasts 30 minutes. The first part of the tunnel, which is about 600m long, is done by minibus. The second part is done on foot and at a temperature of about 18°C. The quarries can also be done with an exciting Jeep tour.
The highest point on Elba Island is the 1.019 m high Monte Capanne. Passengers seeking a thrilling ride to the top can take the historic cable car. After enjoying the panorama of the Tuscan Archipelago and coast, hikers can then decide to do the 90 minute walk down or do the 20 minute return trip back to Pozzatello.
Try our cultural “Treasure Hunt” to discover the local sites and hidden gems of San Gimignano. This is a unique, interactive way to explore in-depth the culture and history of the special place. Fun for people of all ages – and yes! – with a prize for the winner!
No other composer can claim to have given more impetus to Italian Opera than Giacomo Puccini. The Lucca native created the majority of his works in his villa in Torre del Lago. In recognition of the virtuoso, the Puccini Festival was created in 1931 and is held every summer on a stunning stage directly on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli.
In 2006 the famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli initiated an innovative project uniting art, culture and territory when he had an open air amphitheater built near his hometown of Lajatico. An extraordinary way to be enchanted by the beauty of sound and the heart of the Tuscan hills. The theater hosts just one or two of his concerts each summer, then remains silent the rest of the year - hence the name “il Teatro del Silenzio” (The “Theater of Silence”). When Bocelli finishes his performances, the stage is dismantled and the area is transformed into an artificial lake.
Chianti is amongst the most famous of the Italian red wines. In honor of this famous tipple, the charming village of Greve hosts a lovely wine festival each year. The triangular Piazza Matteoti is at the heart of the festivities, where countless stands offer local treats and tastings of Chianti Classico. Enjoy the lively event with live music and other attractions for the whole family to enjoy.
Competitors in this unique event roll an 80 kilo barrel 1,650 meters. The race starts at the Piazza Savanarola and ends at the Piazza Grande.
The carnival of Viareggio dates back 1873. The resort town on the Versilia coast becomes of the best locations to celebrate mardi gras. A parade of multi-colored papier-mâché floats passes through the town, along the seafront promenade as locals and visitors watch. The exact date of the event depends on when Easter and Lent fall each year.
The legendary Palio of Siena bestows great honor on the winning contrada neighborhood in just 100 seconds. The one-of-a-kind horserace has taken place twice a year since the Middle Ages. Each summer the citizens of Siena transform their beautiful Piazza del Campo into a racetrack, where the 17 contrade districts compete for glory. Though the city is small, it is divided into 17 distinct communities, each with its own identity, unique totem, patron saint and community center. On race day they also have their own horse and jockey to represent their neighborhood, traditions and pride. The riders do three laps bareback. In the blink of an eye the adrenaline-filled moment is finished, with celebrations in the winning district to follow.
Elba’s Grape Festival takes place in Capoliveri. The locals, inhabiting the four districts of the town, participate in various competitions to represent their neighborhood. The fun-filled event also includes the opportunity to sample wines and treats, giving wine-enthusiasts the possibility to gain unique insight into island life and the ancient farming techniques still used to produce vino on the island.
During this festival a small town southeast of Siena celebrates the end of the chestnut harvest. Extending across the entirety of the historic center of Piancastagnaio, the festive atmosphere is complete with decorations, art exhibits, pleasant aromas, music and dancing. The chestnut is the protagonist on Monte Amiata, where is was once the main food source available to its inhabitants. Try it roasted, boiled and served in polenta, cakes and side dishes.
The medieval festival is organized during the southern migration of the bird and features local foods and products, presented in various stands throughout the beautiful village, so locals and visitors can try pasta with a boar ragu sauce, roasted quail, mushroom soup, honey and wine. Archery competitions and local dances and parades in historic costumes complete the event.
The "Orcia DOC" certification was created in 2000 with the intention of both protecting and promoting the wine and the region in which it is grown. The Orcia Valley produces Sangiovese-based wines and is famous for its truly “Great Reds”, Brunello di Montacino and Nobile di Montepulciano. The cultivation of the wines is still largely done manually by vintners who enjoy their time spent in the serene UNESCO-listed nature just as much as their product. For this reasons, locals have dubbed their reds, ‘‘the most beautiful wine in the world.“
The Orcia Wine Festival celebrates its wines with tastings in the company of the producers themselves. The aromas, flavors, morsels and stories that come with each glass create an unforgettable experience for wine enthusiasts. The entrance fee includes a souvenir tasting glass and visits to the vineyards and wine cellars sprinkled throughout the postcard perfect countryside.
The western part of Elba island affords some jaw-dropping views from the partly elevated coastal road. The panoramic tour begins in the south and wraps around the southwestern coast through the fishing villages of Cavoli, Seccheto, Fetovaia and Chiessi. Then the road leads north towards Patresi, Zanca and the small mountain hamlet of Marciana Alta. Marciana Alta, nestled in the chestnut forests, is the oldest settlement on Elba.
On this excursion you get to see two postcard-perfect cities: Volterra and San Gimignano. Start your tour by passing through the city walls surrounding Volterra. The city of Etruscan origin has an ethereal atmosphere, which has recently been featured as the backdrop for various mystical films, like “Twilight”. A private guide will describe its unique history and take you to an alabaster workshop. Following the tour enjoy a saffron-themed lunch at a local country estate before continuing on to San Gimignano. Once there, the guide will take you around the old town, which is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site for its marvelous medieval architecture.
Tuscany is postcard perfect. With its sun-drenched spans of waving fields, rolling into the hills that then give way to its Renaissance cities, it’s no wonder why so many artists and directors draw inspiration from and feature it as one of their favourite back drops. Even Pope Pius II desired to capture the beauty of his birthplace, Pienza, in transforming it in just 3 years into a model city for others. The area is noted not only for its architecture, but for its regional specialities. With award-winning Pecorino producers, tastings can be easily arranged. Neighbouring Montepulciano offers one of the most sought after wines: the Vino Nobile.
For an unforgettable day excursion tot he art and culture capital of Florence, it is easy and budget-friendly to get there by train. With a certified tour leader see some of the most important sites of the old town: The Duomo Complex is considered one of the best examples of architecture to be admired in the world; the Palazzo Vecchio incorporatesin its facade some of the most distinctive elements of Renaissance buildings; the Ponte Vecchio and its famous jewelry shops.
Entrances to the sights are available upon request. The admission prices and headphone rental fees are extra.
Siena’s charming streets lure you in through their quaint quarters…until you arrive at its heart: the seashell-shaped square, the Piazza del Campo. Start to understand how the contrade neighborhoods are the font of beauty and pride that fuel the Palio horse race held there twice each year.
With its iconic round based bottle, Chianti is more than a fabulous wine, but a lovely region. Visit the vineyards sprinkled throughout the hillside, enjoying the winding, country roads lined with streching cypresses as you do.
When traveling in Italy you inevitably visit a lot of churches, as they were the fulcrum for most towns and still house some of the best works of art. Though they are all unique and beautiful, after a while they start to look the same. Except for the ruins of San Galgano Abbey. The once impressive, vaulted ceilings of the caved in on this former place of worship, leaving just the frame intact. The aim of Gothic churches like this one was to make followers feel small. This church succeeds with its soaring, two story walls and open view of the sky above. As you walk its nave, feel the grassy carpet cushion each step.
Massa Marittima is set on a hill, enveloped in well-preserved medieval walls. Considered to be one of the most charming towns in all of Tuscany, it is noted for its harmonious architecture and serene feeling.
Tuscany has a few secrets up its sleeves. One of the most protected is the fact that beyond the dreamy countryside its name usually evokes, it has some truly beautiful beaches and islands. Elba is the largest and can be quickly reached from the mainland. Its most famous resident was Napoleon, who was exiled here in 1814. Among his contributions are a couple of villas, which can still be visited today.
The boat ride begins at Porto Azzurro and cruises along the 12 km coastline. As you go, you will pass some smaller islands and see how Elba’s small beaches alternate with creeks and cliffs. As thousands of gulls nest here, the area is aptly named, “The Seagull Coast.” Upon return to Porto Azzurro, the group can have some free time. For those interested, there is a small mine (with a fee to enter), that includes a short train ride through the replica of the mine shaft (the train usually runs every 30 minutes). The visit lasts about 15 minutes. At the end of the visit there is a workshop that includes an exhibit of Elbian minerals and there are demonstrations of how to fashion semi-precious stones. The group will then move on to the beautiful medieval village of Capoliveri. The narrow, arcaded streets of this hill town hold an array of small, artisanal shops and cafès where visitors can taste local foods and wine.
The distinction is blurred between the precipice and the towering dwellings built upon it in the small town of Pitigliano. Daring villagers carved houses and underground passageways into the tuff. One quarter is referred to as, “Little Jerusalem”, as it has a large Jewish community that has been active since the 15th century.
The neighboring village of Sovana displays elements of its Etruscan, Roman and medieval past. With caves, tombs and wine cellars hewn into the rock, a visit to a wine cellar makes for a very unique experience.
Montalcino is synonymous with its wine known worldwide: Brunello. Beyond this handsome wine the town itself offers some great sites, such as its 14th century castle, bishop’s parsonage, lively cafés and shops selling artisanal products and local specialities. The Sant’Antimo Abbey is located in the valley below the village. If you are lucky, you can hear the monks doing Gregorian chants.
Today you will drive to San Martino and Napoleon’s summer residence, Villa San Martino (entrance optional – extra charge). Napoleon turned this building into his country estate in 1814. It has beautiful decorated frescoed rooms, and houses the original furniture and pieces of art that belonged to Napoleon. Of special interest are the frescoes by Ravelli, especially those in the ‘Egyptian Room’.You will then contunue to Portoferraio, the capital of the island. After a short walk through the old-town, you will reach Napoleon’s official residence, Villa dei Mulini (entrance optional – extra charge), where Napoleon held court during his time in exile on Elba (1814-1815). The Villa treasures a vast collection of household furnishings from this period, as well as portraits and caricatures. The imperial library, which came from Fontainebleau and houses over 1,100 works, is worth seeing. You will wind up the day with a tasting of local wine.
Carrara is known for two important contributions to Tuscan art forms: marble and bacon. Located in the Apuan Alps, visitors can easily spend a day learning about both. The Fantiscritti Cava Museum & Marble Quarry allows you to understand how rock is extracted from mountains to then be shaped into masterpieces. The “Larderias” show you how bacon is made into delicious culinary greatness.
Discover the marvelous Cinque Terre area, made up of 5 small towns along the rocky coast of Liguria. Until recently the villages could be reached by sea alone. Though now there is a train connecting them, enjoy the excursion today in the way it once was done: by boat. Start in La Spezia and stop first in Portovenere, where you can enjoy an hour strolling around the harbor area or doing the short hike up to its fortress. Then continue on, around the massif where the church of San Pietro is perched, to begin your visit to the Cinque Terre park. Vernazza is the first of the five; have an hour to see its colorful houses and lively shops, which create a cityscape considered to be the most beautiful of the coastal chain. Board the boat again and enjoy viewing the three middle villages as you cruise to the fifth town, Monterosso. The former fishing village on the bay has a sandy beach, where you can relax before you take the train back to La Spezia for your return trip.
The itinerary may change in the advent of inclimate weather.