Tuscany, along with the other central provinces of Italy, perhaps captures the beauty of Italy in its entirety. The Chianti countryside is famous for fine Italian wines and the landscapes are a paradise of medieval hill towns, rows of cypress trees, olive groves and vineyards. Tuscany was the birth place of the Renaissance: the Cultural Revolution which gave rise to some of Italy’s greatest masterpieces in art and literature. The humanist era between fourteenth and sixteenth centuries was named the ‘rebirth’ or ‘renaissance’ due to its extraordinary achievements.
Michelangelo, Leonardo da’ Vinci and Botticelli are among the great Tuscan masters of revolutionary sculpture, painting and architectural feats that introduced the radical changes which began to surge through Europe. Tuscany is also the birthplace of the Italian language, expressed in the genius works of Dante, Petrach and Boccaccio. The incredible achievements during the renaissance of Tuscany, with its great capital, Florence, have had a lasting impact not only on Italy and Europe, but also the rest of the world.
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The Italy of Your Dreams by Sarah Mastroianni (26 March 2011)
Welcome to Tuscany ("Toscana" to Italians), where the rolling hills, charming towns, hospitable locals and rich cuisine combine to introduce travelers to the Italy of their dreams.
Whether you're looking for some big-city shopping and sightseeing, a beach on the sparkling Mediterranean, or countryside relaxation in one of the region's many hill towns, Tuscany has it all. Situated in the heart of Italy, Tuscany borders the Mediterannean to the west, and the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche, Umbria and Lazio, in a clockwise fashion.
The region's capital, Florence, ("Firenze") is one of Italy's cultural centres. The city is credited with being the birthplace of the Italian Reniassance, and is home to many interesting cultural gems. Visit the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") which connects the two banks of the Arno river, and browse through the jewelry stores. Visit the Uffizi and Accademia art galleries, where you can contemplate some of history's most famous works of art such as Michelangelo's David, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Finally, stroll through the San Lorenzo market stalls, and haggle over the price of a chic leather jacket or bag.
If you have the beach in mind, journey to one of Tuscany's many seaside towns, such as Viareggio, Follonica or Castiglione della Pescaia. Viareggio, other than being a resort town, is also known for its Carnival festivities and its prestigious literary prize.
While big cities and sandy beaches have their time and place, a traveler cannot grasp the essence of Tuscany without visiting a characteristic hill town or two. As a home base for seeing the countryside, I recommend traveling an hour south of Florence through the Chianti region, and staying in Siena. A city steeped in history and tradition, Siena is a wonderfully preserved Medieval masterpiece. Start your stay with a leisurely drink or gelato in the Piazza del Campo, Siena's main square and the stage for the Palio, a medieval horse race that is run twice a summer. Contemplate the Palazzo Comunale, and take a trip inside to marvel at its beautiful frescoes, or climb the bell tower and brace yourself for breathtaking views of the city and countryside. Also visit the Duomo of Siena for a history lesson, and more breathtaking views of the city if you choose to climb to the top. Walk through Siena's alleyways, sip the locally produced Chianti, Brunello or Vernaccia wines and relax.
Other charming towns that are worth a visit are: San Gimignano (the city of 100 towers), Pienza, Montepulciano, Lucca and Pisa (home of the Leaning Tower.
A friend once told me that a person would have to work hard to find bad food in Tuscany, a sentiment that I share wholeheartedly. Be adventurous and try some of the following local specialties, paired with the wines mentioned above: Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Steak Florentine, Pasta al Cinghiale (pasta with wild boar sauce), Finocchiona (cold meat with fennel flavour), and Panforte, a Sienese treat. After dinner, sip some rose-coloured Vin Santo and dip your Cantucci cookies, all the while appreciating the "dolce vita" that is personified by Tuscany.