Tourists may be well aware that Tuscany has not only to offer art, culture and delicious food. It is a land of history, tracing back their roots from the Ancient Etruscan times to the Middle Ages and through its splendour during the Renaissance.
It would be a fatal error to travel to Tuscany and just visit Pisa, Siena and Florence, leaving out the whole countryside and what makes Tuscany the unique place it is.
The treasure are truly hidden beyond the mountains, the hills, the vineyards, and it is just there waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is to stretch your planning a little further, maybe rent a bike for a day trip to a valley outside of Florence and add destinations such as Lucca, San Gimignano, Volterra, Arezzo and beyond.
Once in the countryside, a lot can be done: either find accommodation in a rustic farm house or in an agriturismo, stroll around a borgo of some medieval village, take cooking classes, go to restaurants and try all the traditional and local food, do wine tasting, spend a day at the terme (spa), experience the real, traditional, cultural bliss that is Tuscany.
Let’s take a tour!
The villages in the countryside outside of Florence
While visiting Florence, don’t forget Fiesole, probably the settlement from which Florence originated. It’s easy to reach it, since it’s situated 8 kilometres northeast of Florence; you can get a taxi or take the bus from the city centre.
The first thing you will notice are the beautiful views over Florence, then you can start exploring the town. The town hall, the Cathedral of San Romolo (a Romanesque construction enlarged in the 13th-14th century) and the church of Santa Maria Primerana (the oldest church in town) all stand in the main square called Piazza Mino.
Fiesole is home to a vast array of archaeological evidence of great importance, such as a Roman theatre still used today for summer events, an Etruscan-Roman temple, Roman baths, the Archaeological Museum and the Etruscan walls.
Montaione is instead located on a hill 35 kilometres southwest of Florence and surrounded by vineyards, olive trees and woods. The historic centre and part of the fortified walls have maintained their ancient structure.
Among the points of interest we can mention the church of San Regolo, which is home to the Madonna del Buonconsiglio by Guido da Graziano (late 13th century); many castles and museums like the Palazzo del Pretorio, which is home to the Civic Museum.
Montaione is also famous for its glass-making; in fact, since the 13th century, bottles, flasks and cruets have been produced here. The village is also known for the white truffle festival held every year in October and for the fine wine produced in the surroundings.
Bagno a Ripoli
Bagno a Ripoli, located about 7 kilometres southeast of Florence, is a town of Etruscan origins that gained importance as a trading centre in Roman times. Romans elected it a spa town (hence the name Bath) and the excavations of Via della Nave show the remains of a building of that era. There are also many castles, Renaissance villas and tower-houses in the town.
San Casciano in Val di Pesa
Located 15 kilometres south of Florence, San Casciano in Val di Pesa is famous for the production of extra-virgin olive oil, wine and other excellent products.
In the surroundings of San Casciano you can visit the observatory of Torre Luciana; the Tomb of the Archer, an Etruscan tomb of the seventh century BC; the Museum of San Casciano with its works of Sacred Art with archaeological finds found in the area and the Quattro Pievi (four parish churches: San Pancrazio, Santo Stefano a Campoli, Santa Cecilia a Decimo and San Giovanni in Sugana), ancient religious buildings of great artistic and architectural importance.
Other things of great importance are the walls of San Casciano, which are the defensive structure of the historic centre of the town, and many beautiful castles (Castello di Bibbione, Castello di Gabbiano, Castello di Pergolato and Castello di Montefiridolfi).
The area of San Casciano is well known for its production of wine and olive oil. The main wineries of the famous Antinori wine firm operate here.
Another little around Florence is the little town of Vinci. Vinci is situated in the hills of Montalbano, a green area of olive trees and vineyards divided between the provinces of Pistoia, Prato and Florence and dates back to the early Middle Ages. There are plenty of things to see in Vinci and many of them are related to Leonardo’s life.
Greve in Chianti
Last but not least, the town of Greve in Chianti is considered the gateway to the Chianti region for its strategic location midway between Florence and Siena. Infact, it is located along the via Chiantigiana road, about 30 kilometres from Florence and 40 from Siena.
Val d’Orcia in the province of Siena
The Val d'Orcia, or Valdorcia, is a region of Tuscany, central Italy, which spans from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata. Its gentle, cultivated hills are occasionally broken by gullies and by picturesque towns and villages such as (rebuilt as an "ideal town" in the 15th century under the patronage of Pope Pius II), Radicofani (home to the notorious brigand-hero Ghino di Tacco) and Montalcino (the Brunello di Montalcino is counted among the most prestigious of Italian wines). Its landscape has been depicted in works of art from Renaissance painting to modern photography.
Within the Val d'Orcia is a strip of land following the Orcia river between the DOCG zones of Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Here the Sangiovese and Trebbiano-based wines are produced under the Orcia Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status. The DOC red wine is composed of at least 60 percent Sangiovese with other local varieties, such as Abrusco, permitted to fill in the remainder of the blend. The dry white wine and Vin Santo style DOC wines are composed of at least 50 percent Trebbiano with other local varieties filling out the rest of the blend. All grapes destined for DOC wine production are limited to a maximum harvest yield of 10 tonnes/hectare with the finished wines required to have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12 percent.
Val d'Orcia is crossed by a nineteenth-century railway, whose tracks, stations and tunnels have been restored to working order. The scenic line connects the small town of Asciano with Monte Antico for tourism purposes, using historic steam engines and carriages.
Val d’Orcia is possibly one of the most charming valleys in Italy and it has been the location for many well-known movies, including Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
The Maremma, the South of Tuscany
Besides the charming Valdelsa (where San Miniato is located), Valdorcia, Val di Chiana, the Maremma is one of the best known areas of the region.
The Maremma is a coastal area of western central Italy, bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. It includes much of south-western Tuscany and part of northern Lazio. It was formerly mostly marshland, often malarial, but was drained by order of Fernando I de' Medici.
It was traditionally populated by the butteri, mounted cattle herders who rode horses fitted with one of two distinctive styles of saddle, the scafarda and the bardella.
The Maremma has an area of about 5000 km2. The central part corresponds approximately with the province of Grosseto, extending northward to the Colline Metallifere and the slopes of Monte Amiata, but the region extends northward from Piombino to the mouth of the Cecina, and southwards into Lazio as far as Civitavecchia.
Sea and fishing towns, mineral hills and archeological parks, tuff cities, the Mount Amiata and natural reserves. Art cities, medieval villages, ancient Etruscan sites, museums, churches and natural parks. Maremma is all this and much, much more.