If you have access to a car during your stay, my immediate recommendation is to head south towards Chianti and happily lose yourself in the wonderful Tuscan hills between Florence, Siena, Volterra, Cortona, Cetona, Val d’Orcia, and as far as Grosseto and Maremma. The landscape subtly changes shape and shade as you navigate through the green and golden countryside. Wherever you stop you will be sure to be invigorated by an expanse of open fields and vineyards, the turning heads of sunflowers or the smell of a new fresh air!
Within one hour’s drive of Florence you can also easily reach the popular beach resorts and lidos of Viareggio (although for the coast we suggest you drive further south to the beaches of Maremma), the region of Abetone and the mountains of Val di Luce (with top level ski resorts).
If you don’t have access to a car while in Florence, it’s worth knowing that (thanks to the high speed train network in Italy) you can reach the main Italian cities very comfortably in very good time from the main station of Santa Maria Novella. The following timings departing from Florence are just an example: Bologna 37min, Rome 1h30min, Milan 1h45min, Naples 3hrs, Verona 1h35min, Venice 2h03min, Turin 2h45min, Pisa 1h20min…
I can well understand the temptation to jump on the first Ryanair flight out of Pisa to London, Barcelona, Paris or Berlin for a mere €50 (plus charges!!) but when it comes to adventure and discovery, Italian cities are very healthy contenders with an incredible amount to offer in terms of architecture, history, culture, gastronomy, art and nightlife…
Given the relatively recent unification of Italy in 1861 (which next year celebrates its 150th anniversary) every city of the so-called “Bel Paese” has retained a strong specific identity which still lies evident in the details and folds of everyday life…
Moreover, it is very important to remember (and this also applies for Italian citizens!) that Italy as a country has the greatest number of World Heritage Sites listed and selected by UNESCO (an impressive 44 out of a total of 890 worldwide)! The US for example has 20 listed, there are 28 in the UK, 41 in Spain, 33 in France, 33 in Germany and 38 in the whole of China including the Great Wall! This means that in a radius of 4-5 hrs from Florence you have 44 routes of discovery, of cities, monuments, valleys, mountains, islands and villages universally recognized as having outstanding cultural, natural, historic, or aesthetic value, which is almost an entire year of enlightening weekends away!
Let’s not forget that Tuscany alone has 6 sites protected by UNESCO; the historic center of Florence – under our very feet (since 1982), Piazza del Duomo in Pisa (since 1987), San Gimignano (since 1990), historic center of Siena (since 1995), historic center of Pienza (since 1996), the Val d’Orcia (since 2004).
These are all sites that – if you have the chance to stay in Florence, whether it be for work, study or a holiday – you simply can’t miss (if only as a pretext to travel through the magical landscape of Tuscan hillside)!
In the next article we’ll introduce you to one of these “UNESCO sites Under the Italian Sun” with all the useful information and directions you’ll need to set off in exploration and to enjoy an unforgettable, original and inspiring weekend in Italy. Naturally we’ll start our journey through UNESCO sites right here…under the very Tuscan sun!
Have a great trip!
More info about the Unesco World Heritage List:
(Article by Marco de la Pierre featuring Joëlle Edwards)