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Toscana - Things to Do

Tuscany is one of the regions in Italy that attract the highest number of tourists, this as a result of its excellent position on the peninsula and satisfactory hotel and other facilities, and most of all to the great variety of environmental, scenic, artistic, cultural and historical attractions.

The area is dotted with charming and often old villages, whose intrinsic merits merge with those of the environment.

Starting from the north, peaceful green valleys lie close to the Apennine ridge: Lunigiana with Pontremoli, the home of booksellers, and Fosdinovo, with its Malaspina beautiful castle (14th century); next, separated by the `marble' Apuan Alps, lies Garfagnana, where Castelnuovo, Barga, with the nearby village of Castelvecchio (home of Giovanni Pascoli, the poet), and, not far from Lucca, the Romanesque Pieve di Brancoli, all deserve a visit. Towards the east, lies the wooded Pistoia mountain, with a host of summer holiday centres, such as S. Marcello, Gavinana and Maresca, and winter resorts, such as Cutigliano and especially Abetone.

Having reached Florence, one can go up the Mugello (Sieve valley) where a visit should be made to the Renaissance Francescan monastery of Bosco dei Frati, with a wooden crucifix attributed to Donatello, the Medici villa of Cafaggiolo (15th century) and the centres of Scarperia, with the 14th century Palazzo Pretorio, and Romanesque Borgo S. Lorenzo with the church of the same name. Once over the Pratomagno ridge (on which the picturesque village of Vallombrosa is perched with its interesting monastery) the visitor reaches Casentino (upper Arno Valley) and Stia, Poppi and Bibbiena, villages with a wealth of art and architecture - but especially with an intensely mystical beauty, amidst majestic forests.

The Eremo di Camaldoli conserves the characteristic cells (11th century) occupied by the hermits; the Verna monastery, with its 14th century church of S. Maria degli Angeli and Basilica (14th-16th century) contains many relics of the life of S. Francis.

The traditional image of Tuscany, of gentle hilly slopes covered with olive groves and vineyards, must be sought in the heart of the region, for example, in the upper Era basin, where one finds splendid Volterra, of ancient Etruscan origin, a town whose ancient intact structure conserves important monuments such as the Romanesque Duomo, 14th century Palazzo dei Priori and an extremely interesting Etruscan museum.

In the upper Elsa valley, between Florence and Siena, lies another small town, nestling in the peaceful green countryside, of equal environmental and cultural interest: this is S. Gimignano, famous for its many towers, the Collegiata (12th century) with a fine interior, Palazzo del Podest (12th-13th century) and the Romanesque Gothic church of S. Agostino.

Nearby and worth visiting are Colle Val d'Elsa, with Palazzo Campana, an example of Mannerism (16th century), and Monteriggioni, with fine twelfth century walls. Past the so-called `Crete Senesi', stands the solitary magnificent abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (14th-16th century) decorated with frescoes by L. Signorelli and Sodoma (Stories of St Benedict); farther on lie Montalcino, of medieval appearance with its beautiful Collegiata (12th-13th century) and Pienza, built by Pope Pius II (1459-62) in the purest Renaissance urban style.

Proceeding south, one reaches Radicofani and the tranquil, picturesque holiday resorts at the base of Mount Amiata (1,738 m.): these are Castel del Piano, Arcidosso, S. Fiora, Pian Castagnaio and Abbadia S. Salvatore.

Another interesting itinerary starts at Arezzo, descending the Val di Chiana, touching Monte San Savino, with its Renaissance Loggia dei Mercanti, and the medieval hamlet of Gargonza; Castiglion Fiorentino and Cortona, a city of art, with a medieval centre; lastly Montepulciano with its late-Renaissance architecture. Not to be missed, lying at the foot of the Colline Metallifere, between Siena and Grosseto, are the solitary abbey of S. Galgano, partly in ruins, one of the most important examples of Gothic-Cistercian architecture in Italy, and the beautiful town of Massa Marittima.

Farther on, towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, one enters Maremma, a protected area in the Maremma Natural Park, including the small coastal chain of the Monti dell'Uccellina, which has typical Mediterranean scrub, the ideal habitat for an extremely rich and varied fauna.

Tourist movement Tuscany is also linked to the seaside resorts, starting from those of Versilia: Marina di Massa, Marina di Carrara, Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Pietrasanta, Lido di Camaiore, Viareggio and continuing with Tirrenia, Castiglioncello, Marina di Cecina, S. Vincenzo, exclusive Punta Ala, Castiglione della Pescaia, Marina di Grosseto, Porto S. Stefano and Porto Ercole - these last two on the Argentario headland.

Not to be forgotten is the Tuscan archipelago, especially the Island of Elba, with a jagged coastline, a particularly mild climate and excellent tourist facilities. Other islands which tourists can visit are Isola del Giglio and Isola della Capraia. Internationally renowned health spas include Montecatini, near Pistoia, with waters suitable for the treatment of the liver and digestive tract, and Chianciano, in the lower Val di Chiana, whose waters are used for liver complaints.

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