Where Do You Want to Go?

Discover some smaller towns in Tuscany. Not only Florence, Siena, Pisa... Tuscany and its smaller towns and villages, have a lot more to offer.

By Elaina Borer
Tue, Apr 07

247 views


Most tourists heading for Tuscany visit Florence, Siena, or Pisa. But Tuscany has lots more to offer than just the big names: smaller, less well-known towns can show you a different side of Tuscan life while expressing their own individual characters.  

Lucca, a lovely cathedral city on the plains of the Arno valley, is still surrounded by its high defensive walls. The city is a treasure trove of Romanesque art; the cathedral contains the Volto Santo, an ancient crucifix that drew pilgrims from all over Italy, while San Frediano has a massive carved font showing the story of Moses. Winding streets of old houses in pale orange and pink end in towering white marble church facades, and the massive brick Tower of the Guinigi family dominates the east of the city.

Barga is a short bus ride away from Lucca, but you couldn’t imagine a more different town.  Located in the foothills of the Apuan Alps, its streets are steep and narrow as they run upwards to the gleaming white church. Barga’s traditional foods come from the mountains nearby, featuring delicious seasonal specialties like chestnuts, wild boar, and forest mushrooms.  Even with a shining sun, the city stays cooler compared to the cities of the plain below. 


Another city with rough edges is Volterra, which feels like Tuscany’s Wild West thanks to a dramatic rocky-ridge location overlooking the untamed, arid landscape below.  Etruscans operated mines here, and with a planned visit to the nearby Guarnacci Etruscan Museum, you can see firsthand prime examples of their metalwork, as well as a large collection of funerary urns, with vivid portraits of the deceased. In keeping with Volterra’s outlaw-like feel, its fine Renaissance fortress became a state prison, with a pleasant surprise for visitors. The prison also hosts a highly-rated restaurant where the cooks and waiters are all prisoners. Bookings must be made well in advance and there are strict security checks during your stay. 

Another charming hilltop town in Tuscany shares Etruscan roots with Volterra.  With Etruscan tombs surrounding the city, Chiusi is also famous for their underground tunnel system, known as The Labyrinth, which were actually excavated by the Etruscans for drainage purposes.  

Monteriggioni, close to Siena, is perhaps the most shining example of a traditional walled Tuscan hilltop town, with its majestic walls and towers dominating the valley below. Inside the town, it’s little more than a village, with attractive gardens and elegant Renaissance houses. 


If its towers you want, visit San Gimignano. The city’s Medieval noble families feuded perpetually, and each family built its own fortress; fourteen of the towers still survive. The town’s main church has Renaissance frescoes, and there’s a good gallery of Renaissance paintings. Wine lovers will want to track down the local Vernaccia wine. A crisp, dry white wine perfectly expressing the Tuscan countryside with its subtle aromatic herbs infusing the landscapes.  


Further south, in an area little known by tourists, Pitigliano and Sovana are two ancient towns linked by an Etruscan chariot route which can still be followed across the plateau. Pitigliano, built with creamy local stones above the valley of the Fiora, is known as Tuscany's Jerusalem, since it was a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in the Papal States.  While the Jewish population is much diminished today, the synagogue is open to visitors looking to connect with this ancient past. Many houses in Pitigliano have wine cellars that were dug by the Etruscans, while Sovana has well preserved Etruscan tombs.  

An unusually complete Renaissance town is Pienza, named after its founder, Pope Pius II. It is a logically-planned town, focused on its main square with gorgeous cathedral. Also certainly worth visiting is the pope’s family palace, the town hall, and the bishop’s palace, each one occupying one side of the square. The architecture’s style is pure and delicate, and the whole town seems to be a perfect miniature of the ideal Renaissance town. 

Cortona shows a different side of the Renaissance with paintings by Fra Angelico, and two elegant Renaissance churches. The town is classically Medieval with its steep, narrow streets and tall houses perched on a steep hillside.  Medieval customs thrive here, with an annual archery contest held each June, and stunningly evocative historic processions in Medieval costume in May.
Florence may be a honey pot for culture vultures, but Tuscany's smaller towns can offer just as many interesting cultural experiences, in a more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere.

 


all.sign in to leave a review

tagAlt.Isa Mazzocchi Collage Cover

Isa Mazzocchi Inspires a New General Store in Italy

See how Isa Mazzocchi earned her Michelin-award Female Chef of 2021. Homespun and refined approach makes Piacenza-area La Palta Restaurant one to visit.

18/06/2021 | 21 views
By Andrea Grignaffini
tagAlt.Valtellina wines countryside Alps Cover

Nebbiolo Alpine Wines - Mountain-based Beauty in a Bottle

Northern Italian region Valtellina produces lovely cheese, and memorable wines. Learn all about what makes Valtellina Nebbiolo Alpine wines so tasty and such a treat.

16/06/2021 | 46 views
By Francesca Ciancio
tagAlt.Italian breads specialty pizza Cover 20211406

Italy's Breadbasket: Focacce, Pizza, Piadine… A Bounty of Bread

Discover a whole world of Italian baked goods and breads. North to South, bread specialties are part of an amazing Italian culinary world waiting to be tasted.

14/06/2021 | 71 views
By Lele Gobbi
tagAlt.Cheese Festival Bra Cover

Italy’s Cheese: Not Just Food but a Festival of Flavors

Cheese as a cultural awakening and part of our basic culinary culture. Piedmont’s Cheese Festival brings tasting and learning to new heights.

11/06/2021 | 84 views
By Lele Gobbi
tagAlt.Claudio Cerati Upstream Cover

Italian Smoked Salmon Making Waves For Smoked Fish Lovers

While salmon isn’t native to Italy, one artisan’s smoked salmon is charting new territory for smoked fish lovers. Check out the Made-in-Italy smoked salmon approach.

09/06/2021 | 53 views
By Andrea Grignaffini
tagAlt.Montepulciano Terre Tasting Cover

The wine-driven Tuscan Renaissance in the lands of Siena

Tasting new releases in the Montepulciano wine area. Both Nobile and Riserva Montepulciano wines raise the bar for the 2018 vintage of fine Tuscan wines.

07/06/2021 | 56 views
By Filippo Bartolotta
tagAlt.Jessica Rosval cooking Cover

Canadian Chef Guiding Prestigious Bottura Casa Maria Luigia

In a male-dominated ambiance, Jessica Rosval is showing that birthplace is just a notion. Breaking cliches wide open, a female chef is putting her mouth where her passions are.

04/06/2021 | 106 views
By Andrea Grignaffini
tagAlt.Enjoying Vermouth cocktails Cover

Vermouth, symbol of Italy's Fortified Wines

Learning the fundamentals of aromatic Italian vermouth. A speciality Italian liquor explained - now you can understand the Italian passion for Vermouth.

02/06/2021 | 128 views
By Lele Gobbi
tagAlt.Taste the Alps Ciopponi Cheese Cover

Valtellina: Northern Italian Nature on Your Table

Taste and hike your way through Lombardy’s Valtellina Alpine area. Cheese, dairy, and agricultural specialties make Valtellina a place to visit today.

31/05/2021 | 95 views
By Francesca Ciancio
tagAlt.Lake Garda Cooking Cover

The Multi-Faceted Cuisine of Lake Garda

Learn all about the speciality items that make Lake Garda’s cuisine so famous. A delicious exploration of Lake Garda’s immense culinary history and heritage.

28/05/2021 | 103 views
By Lele Gobbi