Tuscany, Italy's largest region, contains a population just short of 4 million. It's the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Art is everywhere, the landscapes are gorgeous (and diverse!), and the food and wine are superb.
Tourists flock to Tuscany's capital, Florence, and many of them also make it out to a few of Tuscany's six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, crowding into the historic center of San Gimignano on warm summer days or heading over to Pisa to take a gander at that leaning tower. A few manage to reserve tickets for the Palio di Siena. It takes a more seasoned traveler to find the two others: Pienza and the Val d'Orchia.
You can also opt to visit the cities of the far northern region of Tuscany in this undiscovered bit of Tuscany. The Lunigiana and Garfagnana are Tuscany's rough and ready rural heart where independent folks have been making their own food for ages, a different kind of foodie paradise in which molecular gastronomy has no place. This is the area of the map from Massa and Carrara north, centered on Pontremoli.
Relax at the Hot Springs
Since the time of the Etruscans, Tuscany's hot springs have been known for their curative properties. The Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme (the Terme at the end of the name indicates the presence of thermal baths) is on the rail line that links Lucca and Florence and offers an enormous variety of spa treatments, including taking the waters at the historic and elegant Terme Tettuccio.
You can even enjoy the outdoors with your spa experience, and it's free at Bagni San Filippo.
Florence: Tuscany's Big Attraction
Florence, although dating from Roman times, recognized its finest moments as a star among European cities between the 14th and 16th centuries. Widely held to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was a nexus for trade in Europe; the wealth those in power drew from this trade is legendary. The rich and powerful few surrounded themselves with writers, artists and scholars who left behind works still marveled at today.
Meaning, of course, that the tourist who wants to see everything will have to stay for quite a long time. A week is really too little for the art lover who can tolerate a city full of tourists.
Also, this means that museums will be full in the season. One thing you can do to alleviate long lines and the fear that you'll not get into your favorites is to buy tickets from a service like Select Italy in advance. It will cost you more, make no mistake, but how much would you pay to assure yourself a visit without, in many cases, standing in line for an indeterminate amount of time?
For those who don't have a week or more to spend in Florence, planning visits to the top attractions should allow you to set your priorities. And for the budget conscious, don't forget there are free things to do in the Renaissance city, too.
When to Visit
One of the best times to visit Tuscany is at the beginning of November when the weather is usually holding, and the clouds conspire to make every picture better than it would have in the clear light of summer. November is also truffle season.
Other Destinations to Explore
Why not combine a trip to Tuscany with a trip to Umbria? Umbria is a fantastic region of Italy, and much less touristed than Tuscany.
Additionally, Tuscany and Provence, France are like twin region in some ways. Both are tourist attractions and deserve to be. Both offer fine food that comes from ideal growing conditions and both have fine local wine and unmatched natural beauty. To explore either well, you'll need a car, because many of the attractions in either region are rural. Getting between the two will take you about 7 hours.