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Tuscany See And Do

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Arezzo
Arezzo
Italy
www.apt.arezzo.it

Arezzo was the birthplace of Guido d'Arezzo, inventor of the musical scale, and medieval poet Petrarch, but these days it's most closely associated with out-of-town artist Piero della Francesca, whose magnificent, recently restored fresco cycle, The Legend of the True Cross, in the Basilica di San Francesco is one of the cornerstones of Italian Renaissance art. A reservation is obligatory, since only 30 people can enter the chapel every 20 minutes (www.mostrapierodellafrancesca.it; 39-0575-184-0000). You can also see Piero della Francesca's fresco of Mary Magdalene in the Gothic Duomo, while the church of San Domenico, just west of here, has an extraordinary crucifix by a young Cimabue (c.1260). The Romanesque Pieve di Santa Maria, with Pietro Lorenzetti's Madonna and Child with Saints, is a startling piece of architecture that backs onto the irregularly sloping Piazza Grande at the top of the town. This is where Arezzo's most important annual event, the Giostra del Saracino, a medieval jousting tournament, takes place in June and September; it's also the central hub of the sprawling Fiera Antiquaria antiques market on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.

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Around Siena
Siena Province
Italy
www.terresiena.it

Some of Tuscany's most essential landscapes, cultural attractions, and wines are concentrated in the province of Siena. The town itself has plenty to offer, but it's worth spending at least a day exploring the surrounding countryside. North of the city, in the Chianti Classico wine zone, thickly wooded hills alternate with perfectly manicured vineyards. To the northwest, the Val d'Elsa embraces tiny Monteriggioni, a perfectly preserved walled city, and medieval San Gimignano, with its surreal skyline of towers and wealth of early Renaissance art. To the southwest, in the wild, remote Val di Merse, you'll find the mystical, roofless 13th-century Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, whose majestic interior is now paved with grass. Europe's only real "sword in a stone" is on display in the nearby chapel, miraculously plunged into the rock, so the story goes, by former warrior San Galgano when he renounced the secular life. Immediately to the southeast of the city, the landscape of the Crete Senesi, bare clay hills furrowed with gullies and ravines, is most dramatic around the 14th-century Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Asciano. In the abbey's cloister, don't miss the cycle of Renaissance frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict by Luca Signorelli and Il Sodoma. Nearby, San Giovanni d'Asso is the home of Italy's only Truffle Museum (39-0577-803-268; www.museodeltartufo.it; open weekends only) and hosts the Festival of the White Truffle for two weeks in November. Head farther south down the SS2 Cassia road to find one of the most beautiful and iconic Tuscan landscapes of all: the Val d'Orcia, with its wide-open vistas and snaking lines of cypress trees. It's bordered to the north by the hill towns of Montepulciano and Pienza, while lofty Montalcino—perched high above the vineyards that turn out one of Tuscany's most famous red wines, Brunello di Montalcino—lies just to the west.

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Chianti
Chianti
Italy

Southern Chianti: www.terresiena.com
Northern Chianti: www.firenzeturismo.it

The real Chianti is a surprisingly wild part of Tuscany, its small vineyards separated by densely wooded hills that are home to wild boar and porcupines. Wine towns such as Radda, Castellina, and Greve are prosperous and slightly anonymous; the real attraction around here lies in postcard-perfect smaller villages like Montefiorale or Volpaia, in wine-estate castles such as Brolio and Meleto, or in the area's two glorious medieval abbeys, Badia a Passignano and Badia a Coltibuono. The SS 222 Chiantigiana road winds through the area: If you have time to spare, it is a more scenic alternative to the fast Florence–Siena Superstrada. There are any number of opportunities to sample wine in the area; see Wine Touring for more details. On the second weekend of September, Greve hosts the Rassegna del Chianti Classico, the area's biggest wine fair.

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City of Siena
Siena
Italy
www.terresiena.it

This gloriously preserved historic city is among Italy's most perfect examples of organic medieval urban planning. The centerpiece of Siena is café-lined Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped "sitting room" of the city where the Palio, a fiercely contested bareback horse race, is held every year on July 2 and August 16. On the south side of the square, elegant Palazzo Pubblico has been the seat of the city's government since the 13th century. The view from the top of the Torre del Mangia is spectacular, and the elegant Palazzo also houses the Museo Civico, which contains frescoed masterpieces such as Simone Martini's Maestà and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Effects of Good and Bad Government. Don't miss the Renaissance Libreria Piccolomini inside Siena's stripy Gothic cathedral (Piazza del Duomo), with lively frescoes by Pinturicchio and a graceful ancient Roman sculpture of the Three Graces. Also in Piazza del Duomo, there's a new museum complex, Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala (santamaria.comune.siena.it), that was a hospital until a few decades ago. A fascinating 15th-century fresco cycle on the life of the pilgrim hospital (Siena was on the Via Francigena, the vitally important pilgrimage road to Rome) and the new archaeological museum can be visited; the sprawling complex also hosts regular exhibitions. Traffic within the centro storico is highly regulated; nonresidents can drive in only to drop off bags at hotels (ring your hotel for guidance) and must then park in one of the (pricey) car parks outside the walls. Try one or more of the four Trekking Urbano routes (one specifically geared for children)—the "Vicoli e Giardini" (lanes and gardens) itinerary is a particularly good introduction to Siena's unique mix of country and city. Leaflets can be picked up from local tourist offices or downloaded from the town's website (www.comune.siena.it). In summer, the city hosts the international Siena Jazz festival (www.sienajazz.it) and the classical Estate Musicale Chigiana (www.chigiana.it) in magnificent historical palaces, courtyards, and churches.

Cortona
Cortona
Italy
www.apt.arezzo.it

Dominating the fertile Valdichiana from a rocky spur, this handsome medieval walled town used to be a fairly recherché stop on the Tuscan tourist map, but Frances Mayes' bestsellers Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany changed all that (Mayes' country house is nearby, and Cortona features prominently in both books). Cortona is now one of the most densely touristed small towns in Tuscany, but away from peak times, it absorbs the influx well—and it's easy enough to get away from the madding crowd by heading to the quiet and picturesque upper town. Be sure to check out the clock tower on the Palazzo Comunale and the view of Val di Chiana that opens off Piazza del Duomo. In the piazza, the Museo Diocesano (1 Piazza del Duomo; 39-0575-62-830) features Beato Angelico's inspiring Annunciation, while the state-of-the-art MAEC museum gives an overview of Cortona's rich history from prehistory through Etruscan and Roman times to the present day, and displays the collections of the Accademia Etrusca—the world's oldest archaeological academy, founded in 1727 (9 Piazza Signorelli; 39-0575-630-415; www.cortonamaec.org). Perhaps the most beautiful walks and drives around Cortona, though, are beyond the town itself. As it's set on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, venturing afield will give you a taste of both. Madonna del Calcinaio, a Renaissance church with pure, serene lines, rises at the foot of town on the road to Camucia. Follow the country road out of Cortona from the Porta Colonia for two miles to reach the mystical Convent of Le Celle, founded by St. Francis between 1211 and 1221—it's still home to Franciscan monks, who silently welcome visitors to the saint's cell dug into the rock.

Forte dei Marmi & Carrara

Forte Dei Marmi: www.welcometuscany.it
Carrara: www.aptmassacarrara.it

With its vast white-sand beaches and dramatic Apuan Alps backdrop, the chic seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi is the pearl of Versilia—also known as the Tuscan Riviera—and a popular summer roost for the rich and famous from Florence and northern Italy, who colonize those 1950s and 1960s villas that stand just back from the sea. All stabilimenti (private sections of beach with admission fees) are equipped with perfect rows of umbrellas, chaise lounges, cafés, and restaurants—no wild dunes here. The promenade is a fine place for an evening passeggiata (walk): When the waves are up, you can even watch surfers in wet suits braving the Mediterranean surf. Just a few miles from Forte dei Marmi, Pietrasanta is a fascinating excursion for anyone interested in sculpture. Artists from all over the world have their work cast in bronze in Pietrasanta's foundries or carved in marble at the town's many studios. You'll hear artisans chiseling away at life-size copies of Michelangelo's David or Pietà for export to Japanese museums. Twelve miles to the north, take a drive through the mountains behind Carrara, where seeming snowcaps are actually marble deposits. Michelangelo's preferred lode of pure white marble was from here. Follow the signs for cave (quarries), and stop off in the village of Colonnata to sample the area's most famous foodstuff, lardo di Colonnata—made from pork fat that has been left to season in marble vats, or conche, for at least six months with sea salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, and other spices. The final product has the translucent, veined creaminess of statuario, the most precious variety of Carrara marble. You can get an overview of the history and geology of the quarries in Carrara's staid but thorough Museo del Marmo (Viale XX Settembre; 39-0585-845-746), then sign up for one of the morning Carrarabus guided tours organized by the Confturist guides association during summer (39-0585-865-563), which include visits to a quarry and a sculpture studio, a tour of Carrara's splendid centro storico, and a tasting of lardo di Colonnata.

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Lucca
Lucca
Italy
www.luccaturismo.it

Cultured, laid-back Lucca makes a great day trip from Pisa or Florence—but it's also a good place to stay over if you want to enter into the town's unhurried rhythm and explore some of its excellent bars and restaurants. When you reach the walls, drive around them to the Cittadella or Lorenzini parking lots just inside. At the tourist information point in Piazzale Verdi, you can rent audio guides to the city; they also have a few bicycles that you can hire to tour the perfectly flat historic center (most Lucchesi get around by bike). Visit San Frediano, with its 12th-century mosaic facade, fine Jacopo della Quercia altarpiece, and action-packed early-16th-century frescoes, and the lopsided Duomo, which houses the Volto Santo, a cedarwood effigy of Christ supposedly carved by a certain Nicodemus, who was present at the Crucifixion (it's more likely to be a 13th-century copy). Don't miss shop- and bar-lined Piazza Anfiteatro, which retains the oval shape of the ancient amphitheater it was built over, or the oak-topped belvedere of the Torre Guinigi. And as sunset approaches, join local joggers and cyclists on the tree-lined city ramparts, with dual views in over the rooftops and out across the surrounding countryside.

Maremma
Italy
www.lamaremma.info

Stylish, top-dollar resorts like Punta Ala alternate along the coast with family-oriented gelato-and-pedalò beach villages. But inland, and in the patches of coastline that are protected as nature reserves, there is a sense of wide-open spaces and remote natural beauty that is rare in densely populated Italy. To the north, the wine estates of Bolgheri make some of Tuscany's most prized reds, such as the stellar Sassicaia. Piombino, south of here, is the port for ferries to the rocky island of Elba, where Napoleon Bonaparte was sent in exile in 1814. Farther south still, the beaches at Castiglione della Pescaia get consistently high marks from Italy's Lega Ambiente (Environmental League), making it one of the most popular coastal destinations. Twenty minutes away, Vetulonia, on the site of an ancient Etruscan city, hosts a worthwhile archaeological museum; it also organizes visits to Etruscan tombs (1 Piazza Vetluna; 39-0564-948-058). About a half-hour drive south toward Monte Argentario, the Parco Naturale della Maremma (www.parks.it/parco.maremma), also known as Parco dell' Uccellina, is a vast 24,000-acre natural paradise with pristine beaches, pine forests on the estuary, and virgin woodland in the hills, all providing incredible bird-watching and hikes with magnificent views. Access is from the Alberese visitor's center (Via del Bersagliere 79; 39-0564-407-098), which also organizes guided walking and riding tours. Cars are not allowed in the park, but a jitney takes visitors to the head of the trails at Pratese, while another runs down to the long, unspoiled beach at Marina di Alberese. In mid-August, the present-day butteri gather here for the annual cattle rodeo.

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Montalcino
Montalcino
Italy
www.terresiena.it

Montalcino is famous for Brunello, probably Italy's most famous red wine—and also one of the most expensive. Combine history and enology with a visit to the formidable Rocca, a 14th-century fortress with a wine bar offering tastes of various local vintages (Piazzale Fortezza; 39-0577-849-211; www.enotecalafortezza.it). Five miles south on a lovely country road, the Abbey of Sant'Antimo (39-0577-835-659; www.antimo.it), a Romanesque masterpiece with an interior partially decorated in translucent alabaster, has beautiful light. It also enjoys magnificent acoustics, as you will hear if you catch the traditional Gregorian chant sung seven times daily by the community of French monks that recently recolonized this formerly abandoned monastery. Between Montalcino and Sant'Antimo, the collection of rural artifacts, photos, and documents at the Museo della Comunità di Montalcino e del Brunello on the Fattoria dei Barbi estate is well worth a look.

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Monte Argentario
Monte Argentario
Italy
www.lamaremma.info

Once an island, rocky Monte Argentario is now connected to the mainland via two long, sandy spits: the Tombolo della Giannella to the north and the southern Tombolo della Feniglia, a nature reserve where roe deer graze under the umbrella pines. Halfway along a third, central spit is the walled town of Orbetello, a former Spanish colony that still has a relaxed Andalusian vibe; the surrounding lagoon is famous for its eels…and mosquitoes. On Argentario itself, sun, sea, and water sports are the main draws in Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano, the peninsula's two main towns. At the Cala Galera Marina (www.marinacalagalera.com) in Porto Ercole, you can charter a private yacht or sailing boat with or without crew, or take dive courses at the Mahaba Diving Center (39-0564-831-187;www.mahabadiving.it). Ferries (including car ferries) leave Porto Santo Stefano six times daily in high season for the beautiful island of Giglio, and once a day at 10 a.m on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday (passengers only), returning at 4 p.m., for the smaller, wilder island of Giannutri (39-0564-812-920; www.maregiglio.it). Both places are wonderful for hiking and diving.

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Pisa
Pisa
Italy
www.pisa.turismo.toscana.it

Today most people associate the town with the Leaning Tower, but Pisa is a proud provincial capital with a lot more to offer. From the 11th to the 13th centuries, this was one of the most important sea powers in the Mediterranean (the coast was a lot closer in those days), vying with Genoa and Venice for control of the key trade routes. Open to cultural influences from Spain, North Africa, and the Levant and economically buoyant, the city developed its own unique architectural and sculptural idiom, Pisan Romanic. The complex of religious buildings known as the Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, is the most glorious expression of this style, with its delicate tracery of small arches and pinnacles. The Leaning Tower (torre.duomo.pisa.it) is just one of the remarkable edifices in this holy architecture park, which also takes in the duomo with its polychrome marble facade, the Baptistery with its magnificent Nicola Pisano pulpit, and the beautiful Camposanto (cemetery), its frescoed galleries much damaged by World War II bombing. Entrance to the tower is via accompanied (not guided) tours, which need to be booked ahead, either online at www.opapisa.it or at the ticket office on the north side of the Campo; except at the busiest times of year, you can generally be sure of getting a slot within 90 minutes of turning up—and waiting time can be put to good use exploring the other buildings in the Campo. Every year on the eve of St. Ranieri's feast day on June 16, the Luminaria illuminates the city with candlelight, including the duomo and every level of the Leaning Tower. In the late 1990s, remains of a port and 20 2,000-year-old ships were unearthed 500 yards from Campo dei Miracoli; a planned Museum of Maritime Archaeology will display them by 2009.

Pistoia
Pistoia
Italy
www.pistoia.turismo.toscana.it

Slow-paced Pistoia is relatively tourist-free, but a stroll through its beautifully preserved pedestrian historical center is a must. The impressive duomo (Piazza del Duomo), with a three-tiered loggia and a portico supported by elegant columns, contains a real prize in the chapel of San Jacopo, where the precious silver altar-frontal was crafted by Tuscany's greatest silversmiths from 1287 up until about 1450. The two figures on the left side are by Brunelleschi, later to become the great architect of the cupola on Florence's duomo. Make sure you pass by the Ospedale del Ceppo (Piazza Ospedale), still a functioning hospital after 600 years, to see the wonderful exterior Della Robbia ceramic frieze. On the border between the provinces of Lucca and Pistoia, just outside the village of Collodi, the Parco di Pinocchio (3 Via San Gennaro; 39-0572-429-342; www.pinocchio.it) is a theme park devoted to the world's most famous wooden puppet (author Carlo Lorenzini took "Collodi" as his pen name because his mother worked here). The park features bronze sculptures of the characters and scenes from the book put together by contemporary artists. It's a fine place for a picnic, but don't go expecting a little Disneyland: There are no rides, just plenty of Pinocchio-inspired art, a maze, and lots of space to run around. See Tuscan Gardens for some of the other historic gardens near Pistoia.

Tuscan Gardens in Tuscany

With its ancient cypresses, formal vegetable garden around a multilevel fish pond, and exquisite teatro di verzura (outdoor theater, its backdrop formed by neatly trimmed greenery), Villa di Geggiano's gardens sit splendidly against the picture-perfect landscape south of Siena (1 Via Geggiano, Pianella, near Castelnuovo Berardenga; 39-0577-356-879; www.grandigiardini.it). After you've admired landscape architect Pietro Porcinai's modern tribute to the wooden wonderpuppet in the Parco di Pinocchio, don't miss Collodi's other, lesser-known attraction, the early Baroque gardens at Villa Garzoni. On the lower level are magnificent formal parterres, and a monumental staircase leads up to an artful wilderness of holm oaks (1 Piazza della Vittoria, Collodi; 39-0572-429-590; www.grandegiardini.it). Also near Pistoia, the Fattoria di Celle is a 19th-century romantic garden, complete with purpose-built outcrops and "cliffs." Works from the Gori collection are scattered around the 20-hectare park, representing many of the big names of contemporary sculpture, landscape art, and site-specific installations (7 Via Montalese, Santomato di Pistoia; 39-0573-479-907). Just south of Monetpulciano is La Foce, an English take on the Italian garden designed in the early 20th century by Cecil Pinsent. From the lemon garden with its tall box hedges, the view extends over a formal cypress-edged space across spectacular, spectral Val d'Orcia to southern Tuscany's highest mountain, Monte Amiata (61 Strada della Vittoria, Chianciano Terme; 39-0578-691-01; www.lafoce.com; open to public on Wednesday afternoons).

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Val d'Orcia
Val d'Orcia
Italy
www.terresiena.it

The open,gently rolling hills of Val d'Orcia, recently named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, are among the most beautiful landscapes in Italy. Take the back roads or, even better, arrange for a guide with the Parco Val d'Orcia for excursions on foot or horseback (Office: 33 Via Dante Alighieri, San Quirico d'Orcia; 39-0577-898-303; www.parcodellavaldorcia.com). To the east, the town of San Quirico d'Orcia, with its Romanesque Collegiata church and the formal Italian gardens of the Horti Leonini (now a publicpark), should not be missed. Three miles to the south, the magical main square of Bagno Vignoni is a medieval thermalpool much appreciated by Lorenzo the Magnificent but no longer open to the public. The Hotel Posta Marcucci (39-0577-887-112; www.hotelpostamarcucci.it) does offer daily entrance to its open-air thermal pool to nonguests, except on Thursdays (nonguests are charged $16; www.piscinavaldisole.it). A fortified village ambitiously restructured by Pope Pius II, Pienza is a showcase of grand architecture—the Palazzo Piccolomini, the duomo,and the Palazzo Comunale are all magnificent—and equally grand natural landscapes. Just a couple of miles away is the beautifully preserved medieval hamlet of Montichiello, where the entire population participates in writing, directing,producing, and performing Teatro Povero ("poor theater," or theater of the people) every summer in an outdoor square. Montepulciano, to the east, is another famous wine town, its spiral corso leading steeply up to the town's beautiful Piazza Grande, its architecture a mix of Gothic and Renaissance (the Palazzo Comunale is an example of the transition from one style to the other). On the way out of town, make sure you stop at Sangallo's Chiesa di Madonna di San Biagio, less than a mile outside the city walls and one of the most harmonious architectural creations of the high Renaissance.

Volterra
Volterra
Italy
www.pisa.turismo.toscana.it

This was once the northernmost of the Etruscan League of 12 cities, but today its appearance is largely medieval. There are a few historical remnants, however—like the Etruscan Arch, with three dark heads carved above it, and the Ancient Roman Theater just outside the Porta Fiorentina, one of the best preserved theaters of the period in all of Italy. Art historians travel here just to see Rosso Fiorentino's painting of the Deposition on wood in the Pinacoteca in via Sarti 1. The Etruscan Museo Guarnacci (15 Via Don Minzoni; 39-0588-86-347) has a fabulous collection of rare alabaster burial urns and the celebrated Evening Shadow statuette. Alabaster is still quarried in the surrounding area today, fashioned into artifacts that make good souvenirs (see Shopping).

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Wine Touring in Tuscany

Most of the larger wineries in the three most famous zones—Chianti Classico, Montalcino, and Montepulciano—now offer the chance to taste and purchase either directly from the estate or via an outlet in the nearest town. Some have moved into catering too, expanding their tasting rooms into small taverns, restaurants, or wine bars, but few offer vineyard visits or anything more interactive. One of the exceptions is the Fattoria dei Barbi (www.fattoriadeibarbi.net), one of the oldest Brunello di Montalcino estates, and one of the first anywhere in Italy to open its doors to visitors (www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it). As well as free tastings in the winery, the estate organizes guided tastings for groups of between eight and 30 people, which can be booked ahead via the website; it also has a rustic restaurant, the Taverna dei Barbi, and several self-catering apartments. The estate plays host to the Museo della Comunità di Montalcino e del Brunello, with a fascinating collection of artifacts, including children's games and winemaking tools, illustrating the history of the local community and the area's long wine-growing traditions (www.museodelbrunello.it). Montalcino is also the destination and focus of the new Treno del Vino, a "slow tourism" scheme promoted by local winemaker Roberto Cipresso, who is behind the ongoing transformation of Montalcino's abandoned train station into a multitasking wine space that will house a "Virtual Museum of Wine," a research center, a wine cellar, and a shop offering tastings and purchase of wine and edible Tuscan delicacies. The station is reached from Siena on a vintage train—see the website for times and prices (www.winestation.it). Services begin in the summer of 2007 on an experimental basis; by 2008, the train will have its own restored "tasting car," where the wine will keep flowing durng the journey. Another initiative launched in 2007 by the Terre di Siena tourist board, Degsustazioni ad Arte, pairs memorable wines with memorable works of art in various locations around the province: See www.terresiena.it for details.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.