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Capturing the hearts of many throughout the ages, Tuscany remains as timeless and as captivating as ever. The wealth of history, art, culture and beauty it has to offer is astonishing, an open invitation to visit time and time again.
To many minds, Tuscany encapsulates all that is Italy: beautiful landscapes of green hillsides dotted with olive groves and vineyards, framed by lines of tall cypress trees; stunning medieval hilltop villages unchanged for centuries, and Renaissance towns such as Siena, Florence and San Gimignano. Many of these towns need no introduction: Florence, Pisa and Siena have been attracting travellers for centuries and their charms are legendary. Their atmosphere and architecture are best appreciated by exploration on foot.
There is also a myriad of lesser known towns and villages which reveal equivalent splendours, tucked away in winding alleyways or sunny piazzas.
Discover north-west Tuscany, where the mountainous scenery of the Garfagnana meets the glamorous seaside resorts of Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi.Renaissance Lucca, with its encircling walls, acts as the gateway to this region. South of Florence, stray from the Chianti trail and visit Volterra, an imposing fortified Etruscan town, and Arezzo, whose splendid piazza is host to a renowned antiques market.
The towns of Castiglion Fiorentino and Cortona are smaller, but no less enchanting. Further south, the tree-clad hills of Chianti become the slopes of the Crete Senesi: rolling hills stretching towards bare ridges, topped with a single line of cypress trees or a Romanesque chapel - a view often depicted on postcards. Stumble across living masterpieces of the Renaissance in the form of picturesque towns such as Pienza, Montepulciano, Montalcino and San Quirico d'Orcia.
In Tuscany, known for its hearty, simple food, try crostini (small pieces of toast with liver,olive or tomato paste) to start, followed by 'pici' (thick pasta from Siena), and then a 'bistecca alla Fiorentina' (a huge T-bone steak grilled with a little olive oil and herbs). End the meal with some pecorino cheese from Pienza, drizzled with a little honey, or cantucci (small almond biscuits) served with vin santo, a dessert wine.
Tuscan wines are notably famous and it is worth stopping off at one of themany vineyards to sample the product! From Chianti Classico to Montepulciano di Abruzzo to Brunello, the choice of red wines is staggering in this region and with plenty of vineyards offering the chance to sample the product, you will no doubt come across some little-known gems.
From village events to celebrate the 'vendemmia' (grape harvest) to renowned music festivals, there is something to entertain everyone. Famous events include the Palio in Siena,Umbria Jazz Festival (Perugia), the Cortona Tuscan Sun Festival and 'La Notte Bianca', a September night in Rome when nothing closes and the streets are full of music.
The historic hilltop towns are perfect settings for medieval pageants that evoke times gone by.Less well known festivals include a water version of the Palio on Lake Trasimeno, where boats take the place of the horses and the 'Gioco del Ponte' of Pisa.
Whatever the event, you will be sure that music, fireworks, food and wine all play an important part.
Spring is a wonderful time to explore: wildflowers carpet the meadows, the air is fresh and the temperatures perfect for days out sightseeing. Summer is hot and dry, with temperatures often exceeding 30°C. This warm weather often extends into September, prolonging the summer. Towards the end of the month and into October, the air becomes crisper, heralding the onset of autumn in all its glory.