When people think of Tuscany, they often imagine rolling hills covered with vineyards and olive groves. They imagine charming villages and towns and, of course, fantastic marble monuments surrounded by groups of tourists. While all this is true of Tuscany, many people don’t realize how much more it offers. Every trip is not only about the sights but also about the cuisine, regional products and, most importantly, the people and their culture.
Dreaming about sunny Tuscany
Our trip to Tuscany was several years ago, but for the past few weeks, Nico and I have been discussing returning to Italy and revisiting the region. Last time we spent about a month and a half there in July and August. During that time, we mainly explored the Siena and Florence areas. And while we think we got to know these areas reasonably well, we would love to return there. Not to mention that we still have a large part of Tuscany left to explore!
So, dreaming of a sunny Tuscany when it’s perpetually raining in Lisbon (it’s now winter), we present you with a mini-guide to this part of Italy. We hope it will be helpful to you in planning your trip, or at least allow you to satisfy your curiosity – Tuscany is such a frequent setting for Hollywood movies and an admired place by many people from all corners of the world.
Included in this one will be the three most covered topics: typical places to visit in Tuscany, the weather over the course of the year (if you’re planning a trip and don’t know the best time to go there) and last but not least: food + Tuscan wine (this is my favourite topic).
Typical destinations in Tuscany
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and is home to some of the most famous attractions in Italy. We spent over a week in Florence but could have spent even more time exploring and photographing it. We visited the city in late August, and in retrospect, I think it was not the most favourable time. For several reasons. First, we had several days when temperatures reached as high as 38 degrees Celsius, making daytime sightseeing almost impossible. So we mainly left our air-conditioned apartment before sunrise and in the evening. Plus, at this time of year, we felt the city was crowded with tourists (we are talking about the time before covid). If we were to visit Florence a second time, we would probably go there in spring or early autumn.
Nevertheless, we recall our time in Florence with pleasure. In addition to the picturesque Italian streets where you can wander all day, stopping only for food or aperitivo, we recommend several attractions that are not to be missed. I only list three, but there are plenty! If you want to learn more about other corners of Florence, I invite you to read other posts on the subject on Sumfinity.
Top 3 sights of Florence
- The Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest art museums in the world, displaying works by some of the most famous artists. It houses works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to name a few. If we could advise anything, it would be to plan at least a few hours to visit this gallery. The works of art in it you probably know from history books, and they are so outstanding that it is worth stopping by even for a prolonged moment.
- Another must-see attraction in Florence is the Duomo (cathedral), whose distinctive dome crowns this Renaissance church built in 1296. You can climb the stairs inside the Duomo to the roof for an almost bird’s eye view of Florence.
- Ponte Vecchio – this is one of the oldest bridges over the Arno River in Florence. As early as Roman times, there was a stone bridge at this location, which the Ponte Vecchio replaced in 1345. The bridge looks excellent not only from the perspective of the river – the street on the bridge itself is a monument in its own right. It features historic jewellery stores that have been there for centuries.
Siena is a historic city in Tuscany, Italy. It is also the centre of the “Siena” region. It is known for the Palio horse race and its medieval city centre, which is listed as a UNESCO monument.
Top 3 things to see/do in Siena:
- See the Palio horse race. When we visited Siena in August, we were lucky to see the annual Palio. But it’s not just the race that’s important during this multi-day celebration. The streets are then filled with people dressed in the colours of their district, singing and playing various instruments. The most moving thing for us, however, was the parades escorting the horses to the race. Admittedly, during such parades, you may be awakened early in the morning by the drums of the procession, but observing this several-hundred-year-old tradition of the city was an unforgettable experience. You can find a recording of such a parade, for example, on the saved stories on Sumfinity’s Instagram.
- Siena Cathedral (Duomo) – construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century. The Duomo is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.
- Piazza del Campo – Piazza is a city square in the centre of Siena. This square is shaped like a shell and surrounds the Palazzo Pubblico along with the Torre del Mangia (that tall tower in the photo). This is where the Palio horse races are held. The Palazzo Pubblico is also worth visiting because of the art museum inside.
Lucca is a fortified city located in Tuscany. It is known mainly for its Renaissance architecture and fortifications. It is also the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, who composed several operas during his time in the city.
Top three things to see in Lucca:
- The City Walls are the walls that surround the historic centre of the city. They have been preserved almost in their original form, and this is despite the considerable modernization of the city. They were initially built as defensive ramparts, but over time they lost their military significance and became pedestrian promenades.
- Palaces, villas, houses, offices and museums – there are many in Lucca. For example, the Ducal Palace, Pfaner or Villa Garzoni are worth seeing.
- Lucca Cathedral – this medieval cathedral is one of the city’s main monuments. Construction began in 1063 and was initiated by Bishop Anselm (later Pope Alexander II).
Pisa is located on the Arno River in the province of Pisa. It is mainly famous for its Leaning Tower and Piazza dei Miracoli. The city is also home to many other historic buildings, such as the Palazzo del Podesta (Town Hall), Palazzo della Carovana (Commercial Palace), Palazzo Blu (Blue Palace) and many churches, including the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta; Basilica of San Michele Maggiore; Church of San Ranieri; Basilica of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale; Church of Sant’Antonio Abate; Basilica of Santa Maria Spina and Basilica of San Michele degli Scalzi
Montecatini Terme is a spa town in the province of Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy. Those Terms are located in the upper part of the valley of the Elsa River (which enters Lake Trasimeno) in the western part of the Pistoia hills. The thermal baths in this town are the most significant “spa town” in Italy. The town itself has a population of about 20,000 – the perfect size of a city for a relaxing spa weekend.
The Chianti region is a popular tourist destination, and it’s easy to see why. It is a region with magnificent landscapes with charming Italian villages crisscrossing the rolling hills. The region is lined with beautiful villas and vineyards that produce some of the best wines in Italy. If you are not already familiar with Chianti wines – then, if you have the opportunity, look around for them in stores.
Castello Banfi is the most famous of these wineries, which produces high-quality wines. The Banfi winery was founded in 1978 by two Italian-American brothers, John and Harry Mariani. Castello Banfi also houses a luxury hotel with rooms decorated in the fashion of traditional Tuscan castles.
Tuscany and wine
It’s easy to be amazed by the variety of wine regions in Tuscany. There are more than 100 wine regions in the area, each producing different wines. The best way to get a closer look at this diversity of Tuscan wines is to travel by car. You can then visit specific vineyards, learn how the wines are produced and what grapes are used to make them, and then have lunch and return to your hotel with a few bottles to try.
Another alternative is walking tours through Tuscan wineries. Mind you. There is a serious advantage to this way of touring Tuscany compared to a car tour. It is possible to taste wines on the spot – as we know, if you drink, don’t drive! Whereas if you drink a glass here or there and stroll to the next winery, by the time you reach it, the previous glass will have evaporated from your blood. And the next glass will taste even better 😉 Walking tours can also be an excellent alternative for those who don’t have access to their own car or want to explore the country inexpensively. Many popular tourist offices offer guided walks led by local experts who know all about the history, culture and products of their region. You can probably also ask about such a tour at your hotel or hostel. You will surely get some recommendations.
The grape harvest season in Tuscany
If you’re visiting Tuscany in late summer, there’s one thing you don’t want to miss: la vendemmia, or the grape harvest season. In August, people gather at local wineries for celebrations marking this critical moment in the wine calendar. This is when the grapes are harvested from the vines and made into wine. If you search and do some good investigation, you may be able to find a winery where you can help pick the grapes from the vines and then enjoy live music while you wait for your glass or bottle of vino rosso di Montalcino.
Popular types of wine in Tuscany:
With more than 30 different types of grapes grown here, the area indeed celebrates diversity. Bear in mind, however, that 80% of the wines produced in Tuscany are red.
Tuscany is the third largest region in Italy, with such a large number of farms. However, the effect of these plantations is not as significant as, for example, the volume of agricultural production in Sicily or Puglia. This is because the soil in Tuscany is not as fertile for vegetables and fruits as in other areas of Italy. Therefore, growing grapes is an intelligent way to take advantage of this feature of nature here.
One of the most popular types of wine grapes in Tuscany is the Sangiovese grape. This grape has been essential in the region’s history since ancient times. Sangiovese makes up the majority of wines in Tuscany, but each town and winery has grown its own type of varietal of these grapes. Therefore, one Sangiovese may be different from another Sangiovese. It is worth trying each type!
Other popular regional grapes in Tuscany are Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino.
The Malvasia and Trebbiano types are white grapes but differ in their characteristics. Malvasia is a grape grown in Tuscany, but it also grows in other parts of Italy. Trebbiano is grown only in Tuscany and Sardinia. It produces both dry and sweet wines, and its most famous product is Vin Santo (Italy’s version of sherry).
If we look at international grape varieties, Tuscany is also home to Cabernet franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc and Syrah.
Typical food in Tuscany
If you are a fan of refined but substantial food, then the Tuscany region is made for you. Tuscany is famous for making regional olive oil, sunflowers and wine (as mentioned earlier). But in addition to this, it is famous for its excellent cured meats and cheeses.
Olive trees are grown in Tuscany for their fruit but also for oil production. The oil is used for cooking and served on bread with a small slice of local Tuscan cheese or prosciutto.
Sunflowers can grow all over this area of Tuscany – sometimes, it feels like driving through a sea of yellow flowers. These sunflowers grow tall and are full of bright yellow petals. They are often dried and placed indoors during the winter months as decoration.
A popular apetizer for a Tuscan meal is crostini, a grilled bread with toppings. The topping can be anything – olive oil, tomatoes, etc. The bread can be made from wheat or rye flour. It can be a toasted or grilled form of bread.
When you think of Italy, of course, there are pasta dishes…
When you picture Italian cuisine, you probably imagine the country’s classic dishes: spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna with meat sauce and ricotta cheese, or ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese. And yes, that’s right. But there’s much more to Tuscany than just these recipes, which have become famous worldwide.
Pasta in Tuscany is made from durum wheat flour (also known as semolina), which has been ground into small pieces and then mixed with boiling water to form an elastic dough. Pasta comes in various shapes and sizes, including spaghetti, fettuccini, penne, rigatoni, conchiglie shells, cavatelli ditalini, elbow macaroni etc. But what surprised us when we visited restaurants in Tuscany ( and other parts of Italy as well) is that pasta (and risotto) is served as Primi Piatti – the first course before the main course (called Segondi Piatti – consisting mainly of meat or fish). If you want a full menu at a restaurant, you will go through the appetizer, first course, second course and dessert. You can see how people love food in this country!
Another popular first course in Tuscany is Ribollita soup. Italians make Ribollita soup from leftover bread, cannellini beans and vegetables such as onions, cabbage, carrots and celery. They boiled the ingredients in water to create a thick broth and then serve it with fresh pieces of bread. Ribollita has many variations but is usually served before pasta or rice and before meat or fish dishes. It is traditionally eaten in winter, as it warms the body wonderfully if the weather outside is unpleasant.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a Tuscan sirloin steak. This steak is a speciality in Tuscany and is only available in high-quality restaurants, which are often cooked over an open fire. Bistecca is usually served with potatoes, vegetables and sauce. It is usually grilled to rare or medium rare – no one wants to eat a well-fried steak! Portion sizes can vary considerably depending on the chef. Some serve huge portions that are enough to feed two people, while others offer smaller portions for single guests. The most important thing about this dish is that the steak is served on the bone.
Pappardelle al Cinghiale is a pasta dish traditionally made with wild boar meat. The name comes from pappardelle, a wide pasta typical of Tuscany. Cinghiale means “wild boar” in Italian, an essential ingredient in the sauce. Other ingredients in this dish are onions, carrots, celery and, of course, olive oil.
Tuscans take the making of sausages quite seriously. You will often find these cured meats in stores and on restaurant menus:
– Prosciutto (or prosciutto crudo, the raw version of ham)
– Speck (smoked pork)
– Pancetta (salted pork belly)
– Lardo di Colonnata, produced in only one village in Tuscany – Colonnata. This lard-like paste is made from pork fat and is said to have a flavour reminiscent of truffles and almonds. While we haven’t tasted it, others describe it as having “a soft texture that can be spread, but also firm enough to be sliced.”
– Coppa (pork shoulder marinated in wine vinegar)
Pecorino cheese is made from sheep’s milk and tastes similar to Pecorino Romano, except that it is creamier, buttery and less salty. However, it can be hard and crumbly, like Parmigiano-Reggiano. The region’s cuisine often features pecorino Toscana paired with local Chianti wine.
White truffles are an iconic Tuscan symbol
Contrary to circulating opinions, truffles are mushrooms, not vegetables. They have a strong aroma and flavour that is hard to compare to anything else. They can be used in many dishes, including pasta sauces and risotto. Truffles are rare and expensive, so most people who can afford them use them sparingly.
Weather in Tuscany
Italy, in general, has a moderate Mediterranean climate. This means that it has four seasons. However, depending on how far south a region is, such will be the difference in temperatures that fluctuate between winter and summer. Tuscany is centrally located in Italy, so certain seasons and weather will not be as extreme as, for example, in the northern Dolomites.
The weather in Tuscany can be quite rainy during the winter months.
You can expect cloudy days and temperatures which range from 10 to 15 degrees Celsius (50 to 59 F). The heaviest rainfall may occur in December and January.
The summer months are usually warm and dry, but proximity to the sea increases the likelihood of thunderstorms in July and August. Summer temperatures can reach over 30C /86F and even 40C/104F, especially in low-lying areas such as the city of Florence. This is worth keeping in mind if you want to visit Tuscany in the summer. It is then worth looking around for hotels and apartments with air conditioning, and plan to visit outdoor attractions in the morning and evening.
When we visited Tuscany, we stayed in a typical villa on the hill of a former winery. This villa has been converted into several apartments, and a swimming pool has been built on the grounds. Some days were so hot that we were incredibly grateful to be able to use the pool.
Spring and autumn
Spring and autumn in Tuscany are milder than other seasons, making it an excellent time to visit this area in Italy. Of course, there can be rainy days, but they are not as intense as in winter.
It is said that the best months to travel in Tuscany are April, May, June, September and October. However, due to the fact that many people want to explore Italy during this time, accommodation prices may not be as cheap as you would think. The plus side of these months, however, is that many festivities take place in Tuscan cities during this time. For example, in late spring, they hold parades and dances in Florence to celebrate the festival of St. John the Baptist (June 24 each year). Or on June 16 and 17, Pisa is exceptionally illuminated on the occasion of the feast of St. Rani.