GUIDE TO TUSCANY

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Italy is composed of 20 regions, Tuscany, on the west coast is one of them and is limited by the Tyrrhenian sea with its beautiful Archipelago. Land borders, starting from the north and going clockwise are Liguria (Cinque Terre is not in Toscana), Emilia Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Lazio.

Tuscany is an idyll of olive groves, vineyards, hill-towns and frescoed churches and was chosen as the base for MPW because, in reality, there is no 'typical' Tuscan scenery. A variety of different landscapes which change drastically as much from north to south as east to west. It has been said that no other province has had more impact on Italian and European culture than Tuscany.

Mountainous and wooded in the north where the Apennines run through the provinces of Florence, Pistoia and Lucca. As we move south the mountains make way for hills, the woods thin out and by the time you get to southern Tuscany you have the rolling landscape of fields and cypress trees that many think of as the 'typical' Tuscan scene.

FLORENCE

The Province of Florence situated in northeast Tuscany covers areas with different geographical and environmental characteristics, including Mugello, Montagna Fiorentina, Valdarno and a part of Chianti. At the Province's centre, in a basin crossed by the Arno River, stands the magnificent City of Florence, one of Europe's most beautiful cities, brimming with historical relics and artistic masterpieces by the greatest masters of Humanism and the Renaissance. Creative geniuses who undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the world's architecture and art: Giotto and Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Vasari, Michelozzo and Leon Battista Alberti, just mentioning a few.

The Regions capital city, Florence is primarily about the Renaissance, a splendid city of art that is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for the wealth and beauty of its monuments. The city's enchanting historic centre arouses unlimited interest with its countless masterpieces, the architecture and colourful marble of the churches remind one of Florence's splendorous past.

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In the very heart of the city, the religious and historical centre is the Piazza del Duomo, site of an incredible complex of extreme value: The Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, rich in works of art and completed by Brunelleschi's majestic dome. Battistero di San Giovanni (St. Johns Baptistry), a resplendent example of Florentine Romanesque architecture, sits in front of the Duomo, facing Giotto's Bell Tower, a masterpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. The splendid Loggia del Bigallo completes the Piazza's grandeur.

Close behind the Duomo is the magnificent Museo dell 'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, exhibiting a precious collection of artwork that was originally inside the Cathedral, Baptistry and Bell Tower.

Alongside the Piazza runs the majestic Uffizi Gallery, home to one of the most important and famous museums in the world; inside are artworks by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and many other great artists, thereby outlining a journey through priceless artistic masterpieces.

Ponte Vecchio the captivating 14-century arched bridge, populated with historic goldsmiths, leads to the Oltrarno Quarter, where other important public and religious masterpieces lie. Starting with the small Church of Santa Felicita that possesses, a number of Pontormo frescoes and especially noteworthy is Piazza Santo Spirito, where the 16th-Century Palazzo Guadagni and the majestic Santo Spirito Basilica stands. The latter is perfectly covered in Renaissance decoration and houses the Cenacolo di Santo Spirito, the old convent refectory abundantly decorated with frescoes.

A little further ahead the beautiful Piazza Pitti is dominated by Palazzo Pitti, an imposing and opulent palace that was home to the Medici, the Habsburg-Lorraine family and to Vittorio Emanuele II for the brief period during which Florence was the Italian capital. Pitti Palace's park is home to the Giardini di Boboli which extend along the same-named hill. Grandiose gardens in a unique Italian style that perfectly marry natural elements to the architecture, statues and fountains embraced within.

The city's charm also extends to its territories, beginning with the natural amphitheatre created by the hills and mountains surrounding Florence, where unique places like the small towns of Fiesole and Certosa del Galluzzo standout, and travelling south will take you into the hills of Chianti.

TUSCAN WINE

Chianti is Italy's premier wine region that spans a number of provinces including Arezzo, Florence and Siena. Here you can drive along the "Chiantigiana" or SS 222, a road that takes you around the entire Chianti area, stopping to soak up the scenery and sample the wine.

World-famous wine produced from this area is derived from specific zones: Chianti Classico, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. Chianti classic is between the valleys of the Greve, Pesa and Elsa rivers and the Chianti hills. The 70,000 hectares of the Chianti Classico region include the districts of Barberino Val d'Elsa, Castellina in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Colle Val d'Elsa, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti, Impruneta, Monteriggioni, Radda in Chianti, San Gimignano and Tavernelle Val di Pesa.

AREZZO

Arezzo is an hour south of Florence and was once an important Etruscan city. Today it boasts some exceptional Piero della Francesca frescoes and a world-class monthly antique market. East of Arezzo, near the Umbrian border, is Piero's home town of Sansepolcro, a modest industrial city with an old core devoted to preserving Piero's great works. South of Arezzo stretches the Chiana Valley, where cattle for Florence's famous steaks are raised, and the thriving art city of Cortona, which contains some of Tuscany's finest small museums.

SIENA

Immediately captivating yet endlessly mysterious, the noble medieval city of Siena cradles within its ancient walls a majestic Gothic ensemble that is easily enjoyed without venturing into a single museum. Arrayed on three ridges, the city presents a succession of fascinating urban vistas, surrounded by exquisite countryside on all sides.

The city's physical and spiritual heart, arguably Italy's loveliest square, is the sloped, scallop-shaped Piazza Il Campo, the setting, of the hair-raising bi-annual Palio bareback horse race. Siena's Duomo and Palazzo Pubblico are some of the purest expressions of Italian Gothic architecture, and the finest collection of the city's paintings are found in the Museo Civico and Pinacoteca Nazionale. Duccio's Maestà, an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308, is on show in the outstanding Museo dell' Opera, while splendid frescoes adorn the walls of Santa Maria della Scala.

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The hill towns north-west of Siena are medieval tangles of roads perched atop small mountains, San Gimignano, with its spectacular array of frescoes and stunning hilltop skyline of towers evokes the appearance of medieval Tuscany more than any other sight and is perhaps the most visited village in Italy. The province of Siena stretches south to Umbria in a landscape of soft green hills, lone farmhouses, cypress and well-cultivated fields.

THE TUSCAN LANDCAPE

To the south of Siena, you travel through landscapes filled with medieval hill towns. Montalcino and Montepulciano craft some of Italy's finest red wines, and Pienza, mighty producer of pecorino sheep's cheese, sits like a balcony surveying the Val d'Orcia and is the only perfectly designed town centre of the Renaissance.

There are more spa waters at Chianciano Terme and you'll enjoy the ancient Etruscan centre of Chiusi, with its tombs, cathedral and archaeological museum. You will also discover remote monasteries like Monte Oliveto Maggiore and San Galgano, or the Sulphur spa of Bagno Vignoni neatly located between San Quirico and Roca d'Orcia.

These well-known inland hills of southern Tuscany exhibit the region at its best, an infinite succession of olive trees and vineyards, encompassing the depopulated Crete sensei before climbing into the hills around Monte Amiata.  Italy's second-highest volcano which dominates the landscape of Southern Tuscany. The lower slopes are covered with Beech and Chestnut trees, and the higher slopes are covered with older forests that are extraordinarily coloured in the autumn. The flora and fauna of these forests are unusually diverse, with a vast number of endemic species.

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The memorable but little-visited town of Massa Marittima, Southwest of Siena towards the sea, presides over marshy coastal plains.  Magnificent monastic architecture is found in the tranquil settings of San Galgano and, further east, Monte Oliveto Maggiore, also home to some marvellous frescoes.

For a real Tuscan hill-town escape Volterra provides a dramatic location, built on a high plateau enclosed by volcanic hills. Or Pitigliano, rising seamlessly from a tufa ridge as if carved from it, also known as Little Jerusalem, nurtures the amazing story and scant remains of what was once Tuscany's strongest Jewish community.  Just some of the many photo-filled locations where tourism has yet to change the local character.

The Tuscan shoreline borders with the Tyrrhenian sea and is at its best along Maremma, referring to the coastal strip and inland hills of Tuscany's southernmost province Grosetto, running north into the province of Livorno. Grosseto is the provincial capital and remains a testament to the Medici family who built the hexagonal walls and created a fortress back in the 16th century.

Monti dell' Uccellina, rising suddenly from the coastal plain is unspoilt and protected within the Parco Regionale della Maremma. A national park whose vast acreage stretches from the sea inland and incorporates a wide spectrum of Mediterranean flora and fauna. This breathtaking piece of countryside combines cliffs, coastal marsh, forest-covered hills, pristine beaches and the most beautiful stands of umbrella pines in the country. The wooded peninsula of Monte Argentario and the old iron-mining island of Elba, once Napoleon's reign in exile are other notable locations.

The Apuan Alps, also found along the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea, kick off a series of mountain chains that ride across the northern edge of the provinces, separating Tuscany from Emilia-Romagna in the north. Protected within the preceding foothills, lie the little-visited areas of the Garfagnana and Lunigiana, empty paradises of mountains were several worthy towns and photography opportunity await.

The medieval textile centre of Prato is one of Italy's fastest-growing cities sits in the valley below these mountains and is one of the friendliest towns in Tuscany. Its historic core is filled with Renaissance art treasures overlooked by many who don't realise a city just 10 miles from Florence can be so diverse and rewarding.

Neighbouring Pistoia an old Roman town, firmly stamped with the art stylings of the Romanesque Middle Ages. Further along in the Valdinievole (Valley of Mists), you'll find relaxation at Montecatini Terme, Italy's most famous spa, and Monsummano Terme, where a Dantean underworld of natural "steam room" caverns hides beneath an upscale hotel.

We truly believe that every area of Tuscany has something beautiful and unique to offer.

MAP OF TUSCANY

Map of Italy with detailed Plan of Tuscany with province boundaries denoted by different colours
Spring view from Poggio Covili Val D'orcia in the Tuscany region of Italy
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Spring view of Rocca D'orcia and Castiglione D'orcia in the region of Tuscany, Italy.
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