Destination Guide: Tuscany, Italy

Notable cities: Florence, Pisa, Siena

Summary

Tuscany is a region in Italy that is about the size of the state of New Jersey, so don’t rush and enjoy all aspects of Tuscan life as you step back in time and travel through the ages. The past is an undeniable and important part of what Tuscany has to offer, as it is the birthplace of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and let’s not forget: ice cream. The iconic Vespa scooters and great wines are more recent examples of what Tuscany has to offer the world.

Global Discovery Vacations offers members several accommodations that will become your home away from home while you get to know the Italian countryside.

Florence

The façade of the cathedral with its amazing details

The façade of the cathedral with its amazing details.

Must-See Attraction

Piazza del Duomo 
No visit to Florence is complete without visiting the Piazza del Duomo. This captivating landmark consists of the cathedral, the baptistery, Giotto’s clock tower and the dome itself. One can easily lose track of time admiring all the details of the façade and approaching the dome from one of the alleyways on the North side will surely add to the dramatic effect of this Gothic masterpiece.

Once you’re ready to go inside, make sure you’re well rested for exploring the Duomo or the Campanile, as both require climbing well over 400 steps. The staircases can get very narrow, so take your time. The rewarding panorama makes you forget all about the effort, but if you are still in doubt which one to climb, just think about whether you would like to see the dome or the bell tower from up above.

The dome from a higher vantage point

The dome from a higher vantage point.

Also try…

  • Galleria dell’Accademia: Michelangelo’s statue of David
  • Uffizi Gallery: An art lover’s paradise
  • Ponte Vecchio: The old bridge over the river Arno is lined with shops jewelry and souvenir shops.
  • Porcellino: The popular boar statue guarantees a return to Florence and offers some luck to go with it.
  • Pitti Palace: When the weather is nice, head out to Boboli Gardens for a leisurely stroll.

Pisa

Must-See Attraction

Leaning Tower
Most of Pisa’s sights are in the same area, which makes getting around fairly easy. Feel free to stick around and linger long enough to uncover a less touristy side of this historic city. Pisa’s iconic landmark is of course The Leaning Tower. Back in 1185 no one would have imagined that the architectural flaw of building a tall structure on watery sand would make this bell tower stand out.

You can climb to the top of the tower under supervision and after ascending the 294 stairs, you will have a great view of this former sea-trading superpower.

Pisa Tower

Member Katie P. volunteered to keep the tower from falling over.

Also try…

Campo dei Miracoli
If you made it to the Leaning Tower, you have crossed the Field of Miracles. This beautiful lawn houses the Duomo, the baptistery, the cemetery and of course the bell tower.

Siena

Must-See Attraction

Piazza del Campo
Siena can be seen as the laidback counterpart to Florence. It has the wonderful sights (and therefore plenty of visitors), but the city allows more of a peek into real Tuscan life. An interesting mix of tourists and locals can be found on one of Italy’s favorite squares, Piazza del Campo. The square links up the 17 districts of Siena and it is the location of both the Civic Museum and City Tower. Unwind at one of the bars and don’t forget to get a bird’s eye view from the Torre del Mangia for some ultimate people-watching.

Piazza del Campo is popular with locals and visitors alike

Piazza del Campo is popular with locals and visitors alike.

Also try….

Medici Fortress: This fortress was built by the Spanish allies to prevent Siena from becoming independent again. It has been in public use for almost 80 years and it’s a good spot for a walk or jog away from the busier areas. At the same time the city walls provide a new perspective on the various landmarks. Wine enthusiasts will enjoy the Enoteca Italiana, which can be found in what used to be storage space for ammunition and weapons. This nicely designed wine cellar carries more than 1000 wines and is an excellent venue to enjoy regional products and learn about them in the process.

Festivals and Events

Il Palio
People from Siena are extremely proud of their neighborhood and nothing represents the love for one’s own contrada better than Il Palio.

The entry to the Onda (Wave) district is marked by the dolphin flag

The entry to the Onda (Wave) district is marked by the dolphin flag.

When this bareback horse race is held twice a year in summer, it fills the main square to maximum capacity. The square is transformed into a proper race track with ten jockeys and their horses, each representing one of Siena’s districts. The competing districts, 10 out of 17, are made up of the seven that did not compete previously plus three contrade that are chosen randomly.

Don’t blink during the race, because the three laps are over before you know it. The thrill of this event would be hard to describe, but think “Hunger Games” meets Nascar racing, but with horses.

In the weeks leading up to the race there is plenty of bragging and betting going on and you can be sure that the winning district will mock the others for as long as possible.

Travel Tips/Trivia

  • Campo dei Miracoli is said to represent the four main stages of Pisan life, namely christening (Baptistery), marriage (Duomo), honorary ceremonies (Tower) and death (Cemetery). Local students avoid walking around the Baptistery in fear of not getting their degree.
  • Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Galleria is not to be photographed and you will be “kindly” reminded of this by one of the guards. Instead, snap a picture of David’s replica, which can be found outside of Palazzo Vecchio, where the “real” David once stood.
  • Florence is the location of the “original” Porcellino. Tourists flock to this fountain statue to put a coin in its mouth and rub its snout, since this is supposed to bring luck and a guaranteed return to Florence. Recently Porcellino was given a new nose by the local bronze foundry, because this polished part of the statue started to show some big holes. The version of the boar that gets all the attention is actually a copy, as the original can be found in one of the museums in the city. Copies of this statue can be found in all corners of the world, including on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. Don’t expect any sports-related luck from Porcellino Or just be sure to give it an extra coin.
  • The world’s oldest surviving bank can be found in Siena. The Monte dei Paschi di Siena has been in business since 1472.

Suggested Resorts

Member Feedback

  • “We really enjoyed our stay. We were here for two weeks and would never been able to do that without Global. The reservation process was worry free thanks to Shawna and the people here at La Ferreira were wonderful. Thank you.”
    David C. (Residence La Ferriera)
  • Member Katie P. posed with the Leaning Tower of Pisa while staying at the Villa Il Poggiolo in this Member Monday
  • Wedding anniversaries don’t get more romantic than in Italy. Just ask member Scottie M., who stayed at the Fattoria Giucciardini near Siena.

Ray originally hails from The Hague, Netherlands and one day showed up at Global Discovery Vacations’ doorstep. When he is not traveling or writing, you might find him engaged in playing ping pong, swimming or planting tulips.