So you’ve probably read up on all the things there are to SEE in Tuscany but how about the things to DO? A vacation in Tuscany offers so very much, from the experience of standing below Renaissance palaces, impressive monuments and Romanesque churches built hundreds and hundreds of years ago to the wonderment of seeing in person masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and many other greats.
But after you’ve been to a few museums and admiring the works of art, it all sort of starts to look the same, right? We’ve been there, too, so we know how it can be! We suggest you read about and consider including a few other activities in addition to sightseeing that will make your holiday in Tuscany memorable!
1. Day-trip to Cortona
The ancient hill-town of Cortona is the major attraction on the agricultural plain of the Valdichiana, its steep streets giving an unforgettable view over Lago Trasimeno and the Valdichiana. In the wake of the film of Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona was briefly the second most popular Italian destination for US tourists after Venice, but although it still attracts busloads of tourists nowadays, its steep little streets have not yet lost their charm.
2. The monasteries of the Casentino near Arezzo
The wooded area called Casentino, near Arezzo, are the cradle of medieval Tuscany. Since the area is not central to the most popular destinations and definitely not the type of landscape you see on postcards and guidebooks, only few people venture there. Italians, though, love it. The Casentino forest is actually a national park, with great hiking and horseback riding itineraries. The park is dotted by ancient towns with castles and old churches. But the most impressive sites are La Verna and the Camaldoli Hermitages. La Verna is famous because St. Francis of Assisi received his stigmata here and it is a popular destination for pilgrims. Camaldoli is one of the most impressive Benedictine monasteries in Italy, dating back to the 13th century. Hiking through the Foresta Casentinese to the hermitages is an unforgettable experience.
(Photo by Friar’s Balsam)
3. Visit Vie Cave
Tuscany was home to one of the most ancient Italic civilizations: the Etruscans. They were powerful and thriving long before the Romans made their appearance on the scene and visiting the remains of their ancient world is one of the most impressive experiences both for adult and younger visitors to the region. One of the most incredible hikes in the entire region is that though the network of roads carved by the Etruscans through tall tuff stone walls near the beautiful town of Pitigliano: the so-called Vie Cave. Nobody really knows how Etruscans managed to cut these passages through stone, nor what their actual function was. The most credited hypotheses are that they were either water channels or sacred roads connecting burial grounds and other sacred grounds. A magical walk you won’t easily forget.
(Photo by Sbrinz81)
4. Picnic on Monte Amiata
Most people know that Tuscany is made of gentle rolling hills and open countryside. Most of those landscapes, which are typical of the Val d’Orcia and of the Sienese Crete, were created by an ancient volcano, Mount Amiata. Mount Amiata is thehighest peak in the region, at 1700 m above sea level. Its slopes are dotted by small villages and towns, which have a distinct atmosphere. A visit to Mount Amiata is a way to discover a completely different facet of Tuscany, with its beech tree forests, the chestnut groves, the small churches hidden among large volcanic rocks. The woods that cover the top of the mountain are one of the most popular picnic destinations among the locals, who venture there to escape the heat of the long summer days. There are equipped areas where it’s possible to barbecue and sit at one of the many picnic tables. Or you can bring your own picnic food and choose a more private hideaway spot in the woods: it’s never too crowded. If you feel like some sightseeing too, the town of Abbadia San Salvatore has a fabulous medieval abbey, and the drive from Castiglion d’Orcia to Montalcino is simply breathtaking, especially if you are travelling by motorbike.
5.Visit Borgo di Isola Santa in Garfagnana
Another area of Tuscany which is very different from the better known images of the region is the mountain area north of Lucca called Garfagnana. This area is dotted by remote towns, semi-abandoned villages, and old large farmhouses where life must have been very hard only 50 years ago. Garfagnana is perfect for hiking but also to spend some time away from it all. One place that certainly allows for an away-from-it-all get away is the hamlet of Isola Santa. The hamlet is on the border of a small lake in the heart of the Apuan Alps. It was abandoned long ago, and some of the houses have recently been renovated and transformed in vacation rental apartments. From the hamlet, trails through the surrounding woods lead to other small abandoned villages: a magic hideaway in Tuscany.
(Photo by Rufux)