Our Italian Kitchen Table

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Best Times to Visit Tuscany

Start your trip to Tuscany in its capital, Florence. Fabulous architecture, Renaissance art and top restaurants await. See all the Renaissance masterpieces in one place at the Uffizi and visit the Duomo, the city’s Cathedral. Head to Florence’s main square, Piazza della Signoria, and marvel at its huge sculptures, including Michelangelo’s David outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

 

Discover more of Florence’s history and walk across the ancient Ponte Vecchio bridge. You can now buy art, jewellery and souvenirs from the shops that line the bridge, once occupied by butchers. If you want to pick up Italian delicacies to take home, visit Mercato Centrale, Florence’s main food market. You’ll find treats such as Pecorino cheese, truffle honey, top-quality pasta, as well as restaurants, bars, a deli and a cookery school.

From Florence, take the bus (it’s quicker than the train) to Tuscany’s second city, Siena. This magnificent medieval stronghold is surrounded by ancient walls and is packed with Renaissance art and history. Siena’s winding honey-stone streets are set out like a theatre, all leading to Il Campo, the central Piazza. There are lots of bars and restaurants built around the square, making it the perfect place to relax, people-watch and enjoy an aperitif.

If you’re feeling energetic, walk up Palazzo Pubblico’s tower, Torre del Mangia, for a panoramic view over Siena. Make sure you visit the Duomo, it’s one of Italy’s finest, and a fascinating insight into Siena’s history. Check out the remnants of a second cathedral attached to the main building. Construction work was stopped when the Black Death struck the city in 1348 and it was never finished.

Take in some art at one of Siena’s many museums and galleries. Museo dell’Opera, the Museo Civico, the Santa Maria Scala (Siena’s former hospital-turned gallery) and the Pinacoteca Nazionale are all must-visits.

Next stop; San Gimignano, a small rural walled town in the hills of Tuscany known as ‘the city of beautiful towers’. The stone towers dominate the skyline, and were built between the 11th and 13th century by wealthy merchant families as a sign of their wealth and power.

Around 72 were built, of which 14 remain.

When you arrive in San Gimignano head to the central piazza, tour the 13th century Palazzo Comunale and climb the tower, Torre Grossa, for a stunning view of the town and the surrounding countryside. Sights include the Romanesque Collegiata, the former cathedral, with its frescoes depicting episodes from the Old and New Testaments.

See Etruscan remains at the Museo Archeologico, then head to the Rocca, the town’s crumbling fortress, for pleasing views across the valley. Next door, the Museo del Vino is dedicated to San Gimignano’s famous white wine, Vernaccia.

From San Gimignano, take the bus to Poggibonsi, where you can catch a train to Pisa. Millions of visitors flock to Pisa every year to see the famous Leaning Tower, but there’s plenty more to see. The Piazza Del Duomo offers an impressive view of the cathedral, the baptistery, the cemetery and the Leaning Tower. The Romanesque cathedral is a must-see with its Moorish mosaics and bell tower. Visit Palazzo Blu, the blue palace, which is a cultural centre, and stroll along the Arno River. 

On the riverfront, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo is part of a Benedictine convent from the 13th century and houses medieval masterpieces and sculptures. Wander around the old town, browse the shops and enjoy authentic Italian food in the cafes and restaurants.

Make the 20-minute train journey from Pisa to Lucca, another pretty walled town with cobbled streets, little churches, art galleries and piazzas. Visit the churches at a leisurely pace – San Michele in Foro, the Duomo of San Martino, San Frediano and San Pietro Somaldi. If you want to go shopping, Via Fillungo is a smart street lined with boutiques or go to Piazza San Michele for hand-painted ceramics. For art, the Villa Guinigi and Palazzo Mansi galleries are well worth a visit. Lucca is well known for its superb food, too. Try one of the many specialties from Tortelli alla Lucchese, pasta stuffed with meat and topped with a rich ragu, to soup with farro and beans and baccala (salt cod). 

 

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