• week end trips in Tuscany

Beyond the Maremma

Tuscany is well, Tuscany. It’s Italy’s most popular holiday destination. It needs no introduction and you certainly don’t need me to convince you to come and visit. As well as being a favourite with Italians and foreigners alike, Tuscany is also one of the country’s biggest regions with hundreds of kilometres of gorgeous countryside and breathtaking cities.

Little connects the Maremma with its northern neighbours. Hugging the border, the Maremma has a lot more in common with Lazio and its capital Rome than the bright lights of Tuscany. Life in the Maremma is wild, rural and unapologetically humble. The Renaissance masterpieces make way for festivals wrapped up in centuries of country folklore and dishes that are served at the family table without fanfare but plenty of rustic flavour.

While the Maremma’s history, heritage and traditions differ from those in Northern Tuscany, geographically, at least, it’s close enough for a few satisfying day trips.

First stop, Siena. It’s not hard to justify a day trip this city. Siena is an hour from the resort and while you could easily lose days here, you could just as easily spend a fantastic day exploring the sites with an early start. It all begins in the Piazza del Campo. This seashell-shaped square has adorned a thousand postcards and is one of Italy’s most iconic sites. Best known as the site of the Palio di Siena, held on July 2 and August 16, the square began life as a marketplace in the 13th century and flourished into a neighbourhood for the city’s noblest families. At its centre is the Palazzo Pubblico, the former town hall and now a gallery filled with gorgeous frescoes. Climb to the top of the clock tower to admire Siena from above.

Siena is not, however, the sum of its piazza. If you only see one other thing in the city, make it the Duomo, a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. And while you’re at it, grab yourself a slice of the city’s emblematic sweet, the panforte, a spiced nut cake that dates back to the year 1000.

Another fantastic day trip takes you a little further past Siena to San Gimigiano, known as the Manhattan of the Middle Ages for its many towers. Only three of these remain, one of which can be visited. These huge towers were a sign of power and each noble family built theirs bigger and better than the last in a centuries’ long game of comeuppance. San Gimigiano has some of Tuscany’s best artisanal gelaterias where you can taste classic flavours like pistachio and nougat, along with a few less traditional offerings like lavender and berries.

While you’re exploring San Gimigiano, spare an hour or two for the nearby Abbazia di San Galgano. This breathtaking cathedral and abbey are said to be where San galagno set the famous  Sword in the Stone ( similar to the King Arthur’s one)…  this site draws hundreds of visitors each year despite being in the middle of nowhere. The cathedral was built in the Middle Ages by Cistercian monks. Today it’s completely empty with a pavement of grass and, wait for it, no roof. The roof fell down in the 18th century along with the bell tower. The cathedral is rendered all the more unique and impressive thanks to its roofless state.

Movie buffs won’t be able to resist a day trip to Volterra. The city on the outskirts of Pisa is an hour and a half from the resort and featured in the Twilight saga New Moon. The locals don’t stare anymore as gleeful teens pull their best vampire pose in the main piazza, which, while not faithfully reproduced in the film (filmgoers will be surprised to find the piazza doesn’t actually have a fountain as the movie suggested), is still pretty spectacular. Volterra also has some amazing underground cellars and wine bars where you can relax and enjoy a sip or two before heading home.

 

And then of course, there’s Florence. An article about Tuscany wouldn’t be complete without its shining star. Florence is a city that we could contentedly explore over a lifetime. But if you only have one day in Florence, head straight for the Uffizi gallery. You can avoid the lines by buying your tickets online. After a morning spent reliving the splendor of the Medici collection. Head over the Mercato Centrale for some fresh produce and lunch prepared by some of the best local chefs and producers in the region. In the afternoon, stroll down Ponte Vecchio. While for a breathtaking view most tourists don’t know about, get out of the city and up to Piazza Michelangelo to admire the city at sunset.

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