Tuscany and Umbria are densely populated with things to see, perhaps more so than any other region in Europe. It could take months to experience all of its art, architecture, food, and wine. Lovers of Renaissance art could spend a month in Florence and still discover new gems to admire. Wine buffs could sip and sniff their way through months in Chianti and Montalcino. Romantics could dream away that time in Lucca alone. Most of us don't have that kind of time, so we've designed the 1-week and 2-week itineraries for first-time visitors to discover the best of Tuscany and Umbria. Then there is a tour for families, and one for food-and-wine enthusiasts as well.
A car will be indispensable in every case, because public transport only connects the main towns efficiently. And the soul of Central Italy is found in its countryside, through its sunflower fields and sloping vineyards, spotted with storied castles.
It is not a large place -- you could drive from the top of Tuscany to the bottom on the highway in about 3 hours -- but the roads of the hinterland are windy, narrow, and slow. Don't be daunted by the idea of spending much of your time in the car. Getting there, in this case, is half the fun.
The following itineraries all start in Florence -- the lion's share of travelers arrive there via train, plane, or from airports in Milan or Rome. You might, however, also consider flying into Pisa, a destination for many low-cost airlines, and begin your itinerary there.
Timing is everything. Avoid peak season if at all possible. So many foreigners, especially Americans and northern Europeans, descend on Florence in July that they are literally corralled through the streets. Spring and early fall are the ideal times to visit. Enotourists (wine lovers) will get the most out of a vineyard visit just before harvest, when the grapes are still on the vine.