Discover Tuscany

by Elizabeth Jones
Stripes Europe

Tuscany is a dream destination for anyone who craves beautiful scenery, incredible food, some of the world’s finest wines and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Stretching from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea, Tuscany is the heart of Italy. Travelers will find rolling green hills, sunflower fields, olive groves, medieval towns, historic cities, welcoming locals, delectable gastronomy, prestigious wineries and so much more when discovering this beautiful region for the first time.

ENCHANTING TOWNS

Tuscany is more than the major attractions of Florence, Pisa and Siena. Although those cities are highly notable and worth exploring, make time for some of the quaint towns boasting contagious Tuscan charm.

Casale Marittimo
Located on a hill only 12 kilometers from the sea, this medieval town is known for being one of the most beautiful in all of Italy. Dating back to the year 1,000, tourists will adore the old yet, unspoiled architecture found throughout Casale Marittimo. Must-see sights include ancient castle ruins, the 18th-century chapel of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Church of Sant’Andrea which was built upon the previous church’s ruins.

Castellina in Chianti
Underneath the city walls of this town resides a tunnel called Via della Volte that wraps around the city from underground. In the tunnel, travelers will find a wide array of small family-owned shops showcasing local goods as well as fabulous restaurants. Other places to visit in Castellina in Chianti are the Palazzo Banciardi, Palazzo Squarcialupi and Church of San Salvatore.

Cortona
Cortona is a common bucket list village for many. This hilltop town provides astonishing views from its walls overlooking the Chiana Valley. Even on a clear, sunny day—which is very common in Italy—Lake Trasimeno can be seen from Cortona. Make a stop at the art-filled Diocesan Museum, picturesque Santa Margherita Sanctuary and historic Girifalco Fortress.

Lucca
A tourist-favorite, Lucca is at the top of everyone’s list when visiting Tuscany. The picturesque town known as “the city of a hundred churches” due to its vast amount of religious buildings is best explored by foot or bike to embrace its beauty. Walk the city walls, experience the buzzing atmosphere in the city center and visit Amphitheatre Square—a perfect architectural illustration of Roman times filled with cafes, restaurants and live music. 

Vinci
Does Leonardo di Vinci ring any bells when seeing this town’s name? It should since this is the birthplace of the great polymath. Just around almost every corner, this Tuscan town pays tribute to di Vinci featuring his childhood home and church where his baptism took place, as well as a museum and library dedicated to him and his works.

Pienza
Perched upon a hill overlooking the Val d’Orcia Valley, Pienza is a must when in Tuscany.  Known as the "ideal city of the Renaissance,” this town is an architecture lover’s dream filled with gorgeous 15th-century buildings including the striking cathedral, Piccolomini Palace, Town Hall, and the bustling central square of Piazza Pio II. Pienza is also known for cheese—specifically, the Pecorino of Pienza! This delicacy is made from sheep’s milk and varies from subtle to strong in taste depending on how aged it is.

GASTRONOMIC SCENE

One doesn’t travel to Tuscany without indulging in some of the finest foods and wines of the world. While there is a plethora of gastronomic experiences to be had in Italy’s most popular region, here are the absolute must-haves.

FOOD OF TUSCANY

“Primi” - First Course
Must-have Tuscan soups include “ribollita,” a vegetable and bread soup and “pappa al pomodoro,” a tomato and bread soup with olive oil. For a pasta starter, opt for “pappardelle,” a wide noodle pasta typically served with a wild boar ragu or mushroom sauce. Bread will also accompany all meals and the type served will vary by region, however, it’s common for it to be a traditional white, plain and unsalted loaf.

“Secondi” - Second or Main Course
The main meals in Tuscany feature wild game to include hares, boars and various types of birds. Find them roasted, in stews or in pasta sauces. The main attraction of main courses throughout Tuscany is “bistecca alla fiorentina,” a juicy steak derived from Chianina cattle. The steak bursts with flavor with the seasoning of local spices.

“Contorni” - Side Dishes
Typically, contornis are side dishes to secondis, consisting of vegetable dishes. The options of contornis are endless as you’ll find a variety of sides that consist of green beans, brussel sprouts, potatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and so much more.

“Dolce” - Dessert
Tuscan meals leave little to no room for dessert with their hearty and filling dishes. However, calories don’t count while in Italy so trying “cantucci” will be absolutely worth it. This dessert should be familiar since it is also known as “biscotti,” but there is no better place to indulge in these crunchy almond cookies than in Tuscany.

WINES OF TUSCANY
Italy has two exclusive wine ratings—DOC and DOCG. Of the two, DOCG is the most prestigious. DOCG stands for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita,” meaning “controlled designation of origin guaranteed.” This is the highest rating that a wine can be awarded due to the many aspects that go into achieving this rating. From grape varieties, ripeness, area of production, winemaking procedures, barrel or bottle aging, color, alcohol levels and other key aspects—achieving the DOCG rating is quite the obstacle. While in Tuscany, sample—or hoard bottles of—these popular DOCG wines produced throughout Italy’s finest region.

Chianti and Chianti Classico
The difference between these two popular Tuscan wine variations is that Chianti Classico is considered to be higher end than that of Chianti due to being harvested by the finest wineries in the Chianti region. All Chianti wines are required to be made with at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. While most Chianti wines are 100% Sangiovese grapes, many wine producers like to blend with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.

Carmignano
Produced in the provinces of Firenze and Prato, this lesser-known wine is a dry red and is a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes.

Brunello di Montalcino
Made in the Siena area around the town of Montalcino, this famous red wine is made from Sangiovese grapes features earthy notes of espresso.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
This red wine is made from at least 70%, but mostly 100%, Sangiovese grapes grown near the town of Montepulciano. Featuring aromas of dark red berries and spice, this wine has a versatile taste making it an exceptional choice to pair with a variety of dishes.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano Annata
Tuscany is mainly known for its vast array of red wines, but this white wine is notable as it is one of Italy’s oldest wines. Made from Vernaccia grapes, this dry white requires no oak fermentation or aging which leaves a crisp and hint of bitter taste.

Super Tuscan Wines
Wine producers throughout Tuscany began experimenting with a variety of foreign grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Super Tuscan Wines are expensive red wines that are the product of mixing non-indigenous grapes with Sangiovese grapes. The most popular of the Super Tuscan Wines include Tiganello, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Redigaffi and Messorio.

UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCES

Traversing Tuscany wouldn’t be complete without immersing into various classes, tastings and tours. From Airbnb, TripAdvisor, tourism sites, villa management offices and more, it’s simple to find the experiences that will be unforgettable during a trip to Tuscany.

CLASSES

Cooking - Learn to cook the region’s cuisine so you can bring Tuscan food home with you.
Grape stomping and winemaking – Play a role in a traditional method of winemaking that dates back to the 3rd century C.E.
Photography - No need to be a professional photographer when one can show you the ropes on how to snap gorgeous photos.
Pottery-making - Embrace your inner artist and create a pottery masterpiece.
Painting - Learn to paint a picture of Tuscany’s landscape that can decorate your home.
Leather crafting - What better way to take home the perfect souvenir of Italian leather than to create your own product (purses, handbags, totes, belts, and more).

TASTINGS

Wine - Knowing all the wines produced in Tuscany can be overwhelming. Find your favorite Tuscan wine through a wine tasting.
Pizza - Indulge in different kinds of pizza made with the freshest ingredients.
Pasta - Try all kinds of pasta dishes and learn how to distinguish them from one another.
Cheese - There are a variety of regional cheeses to discover and delight your taste buds with.
Gelato - Don’t be surprised if your favorite gelato flavor changes after you’re introduced to countless flavors.

TOURS

Historic spots - Take the stress out of planning and let a guide lead the way on seeing the region’s best historic sites.
Hidden gems - Those who prefer to venture off-the-beaten-path can find tours offering to show lesser-known but equally beautiful sites throughout Tuscany.
Horseback riding - Whether you wish to ride horseback through a town or through open Tuscan fields, there’s a tour out there for you.
Photo shoot - Don’t settle for selfies and hire a photographer to take you around and snap photos of you and your loved ones.
Vespa - Opt for an exhilarating way to travel through the countryside and through the towns dotting the region.
Bike - A great way to see a city’s charm without having to walk everywhere is by bike.
Hiking - A hiking tour offers the opportunity to embrace the beautiful nature Tuscany offers.
Cities - Without a doubt, each city or small town in Tuscany will offer a walking tour. 

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