Travelers have been descending upon Italy’s most popular region for centuries—and little wonder why. Even for Italians from other parts of the peninsula, Tuscany is the epitome of everything that’s good about their country: Beguiling landscapes carpeted with cypresses and vineyards, delicious food and wine, evocative medieval churches and castles, and some of the greatest art and architecture of the Renaissance—the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in Arezzo, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s “Allegories” in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico. Even a short visit inundates a traveler with an embarrassment of riches.
Soaking up culture is certainly part of the allure, and the pleasures of the palate are just as noted. Even a simple meal can seem like a work of art in places as bountiful as the Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia. Somehow it only makes sense that full-bodied red wines should come from towns as appealing as Montepulciano and Montalcino, and character-filled whites from proud little San Gimignano. Then there’s all that iconic scenery, in landscapes like the rolling fields and pointy cypresses in the Crete Sienese or the vineyards of Chianti. Art, scenery, food, wine—you may come to agree that all the good things in life come together in Tuscany.
The narrow medieval lanes and stony piazzas of Lucca; the morning mists in the valley below Assisi; the sublime art and architecture of Gothic Siena—these are near the top of the list of the pleasures that lie in wait for you in this stretch of Italy, but so are so many other sights and experiences. Just for starters, consider also:
Piazzas -- Piazza del Campo, the scallop-shaped setting for Siena’s famous Palio race, is the heart of the city and an icon of medieval town planning. Simple and serene, Todi’s Piazza del Popolo is Umbria’s most majestic square, with 13th-century palazzi complemented by a 12th-century Duomo.
Churches -- Western art was born at the glorious Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi, the Gothic Upper Church of which houses Giotto’s 28-part fresco, “The Life of St. Francis.” Garish or glorious, there’s nothing on the planet quite like Orvieto’s Duomo, and don’t miss some gruesome interpretations of the Last Judgment inside.
Paintings -- Siena’s Museo Civico is a showcase for Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s civic “Allegories.” Umbria’s top gallery, the Galleria Nazionale in Perugia houses Perugino’s moving “Adoration” and Piero della Francesca’s “Annunciation,” painted in precise perspective.
Architecture -- No building in the world is more instantly recognizable than Pisa’s 12th-century Leaning Tower. Spoleto’s awe-inspiring Ponte delle Torri, 90m (295 ft.) above the Tessino gorge, is impressive enough—even more intriguing is how the Romans managed to build the aqueduct that preceded it.