Globetrotter’s Blog: Destination – Tuscany

Globetrotter:  Cesar Parroco

Photography by Cesar Parroco

What the place is known for

Tuscany is a region in Central Italy known for its picturesque landscape, famous wines and architectural wonders.  It is the center of art, science and culture during the Renaissance period. It is the birthplace of many a notable people – such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and modern day fashion geniuses likes Guccio Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo.

How to get there

There are many reasonably priced flights to Italy, generally to the larger international airports of Milan or Rome. From there you can take the train or rent a car to get to Tuscany.  In our case, we landed in Venice and took a train to Florence, the region’s capital.  We booked our car through a website. Italy has a good system of highways and roads that are generally good throughout Tuscany and easier to navigate than most of the countries we previously travelled to.  An International Driving Permit (IDP) to accompany non-European licenses is necessary.

Where to stay

The best way to enjoy your destination is to engage with the people and immerse yourself in their culture, instead of staying in the usual hotel, we stayed in an agriturismo – a hotel-like farmhouse managed by a warm Italian family.  There they cultivate their own produce in adjacent fields.  These are then carried directly to the table, giving you the priceless experience of savoring the authentic tastes and scents of the place.

Spending your vacation in an agriturismo in the province of Siena means visiting an infinite landscaped, historical and artistic legacy with vast tourist resources. It is one of the best things that happened to us while in Tuscany. All guests were treated like family friends and we all had our sumptuous dinner together at a specific time and had some fun activity.  The air is fresh, the rooms are beautiful, the rooster wakes us up in the morning and the views are exhilarating.

Must do and see

The territory is very varied and richly colored, with endless rolling greens and fertile hills like those of Chianti, famous for its wine. Florence alone would be enough to promote this region as one of the most-loved destinations by tourists throughout the world with its rich history in art and culture.

However, Tuscany also means Siena with its Piazza del Campo and Pisa with her Leaning Tower. Also extremely fascinating is the so-called Minor Tuscany, scattered with little villages imbued with a medieval atmosphere: San Gimignano, and Montepulciano.

The region’s best kept secret

Forty miles south of Siena you will find Pienza, often known as the Pearl of the Renaissance. Few towns give a better idea of what life was like in 15th century Tuscany. Just down the road is Montepulciano. When you are there, be sure to do three things: look up to see the colorful Pulcinella who strikes the hours at the church of Sant’Agostino; visit the Contucci Wineries, which occupy ancient catacombs beneath the city. You may also want to visit Cortona, a town and commune in the province of Arezzo. It is the setting for the film Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane.

Do it like the natives

Exploring the hills and villages is one the exciting things to do in Tuscany, you can spend the entire morning learning about wines, joining the harvest and watching the locals tending to their sheep.  You can also spend the entire afternoon gathering produce for the kitchen and learning a few Tuscan recipes.

Trip Budget

Tuscany is a tourist destination in a rural setting.  So unlike big cities where you have to spend a lot, here Euro 50 a day for accommodation and few more for gas and souvenirs is already enough.

How to dress

Italians love their clothes and dressing well is second nature to them. After all, this is the land of Versace, Gucci and Prada but in rural Tuscany you can wear what you want as long as you are comfortable.  Just have make sure to check the weather when you visit. Comfortable walking shoes are a must to enjoy hilltop villages.

What to bring

Being serious photo enthusiast, I brought more photo gears than clothes.  My GPS equipped mobile phone was very helpful especially in navigating to find the perfect spot for picture taking. I also brought along a magnetic compass with me to help predict where the sun will rise and set – again, an essential photography gear.

What to avoid

Don’t believe everything that they say on the website especially on choosing your agriturismo.  There are thousands of them scattered all over Italy.  Some might be very cheap but don’t necessarily offer real value for money.

Ultimate travel tip

It always pays to do your research before the trip and looking for a local friend online who shares the same interest can be very helpful. We were so fortunate to find an online friend who recommended a great agriturismo to us.