The size and diversity of Tuscany makes it a rich region to explore. Being home to the Tower of Pisa and the Uffizi gallery in Florence, culture-seekers are understandably attracted to the Tuscan landscape. But sometimes it’s nice to get off the beaten track, in search of the nuances and hidden gems that are lesser-known.
To help you to discover these Tuscan secrets, we have asked those who live in the region for the locations that the guides miss.
The town of Pienza is a historic town dating back over 600 years. Rebuilt by Pope Pius II around 1460 as the ideal Renaissance town, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The town boasts picturesque streets steeped in history. Pienza is located in the Tuscan province of Siena towards the south east of the region.
John B Thomas Jr is a traveller and writer for travelearnshare.com. Choosing his recommendation he recalls his time in Pienza:
“From Pienza there is beautiful panoramic scenery from the high wall behind the church. We have have eaten at the little restaurant in the square Ristorante Pizzeria La Mensa Del Conte Di Rosignoli Lucia Rita.
There are some shops where you can buy local fare. The town saw some action during WWII and the church in the town square has the bullet holes to prove it.
It’s close to one of the main sites featured in the movie The English Patient where we roamed around the good part of an afternoon. Not even touristy for its great location! Watch the movie before you go so you can see where you’ve been!”
Il Giardino di Tarocchi (The Tarot Garden)
Sitting in the Maremma area in southern Tuscany and close to the border with Lazio, the Tarot garden is truly a work of art on a grand scale on a tree green hillside. Built by artist Niki de Saint Phalle from the late seventies until her passing away in 2002, the esoteric sculpture park typical of her style takes influence from tarot cards.
Alexandra Korey from Art Trav, a Florence resident who also works at the city’s English-language news magazine, The Florentine, told us a little about her chosen gem:
“My all-time favourite place in Tuscany is of course a “museum” of sorts – an open air one – and in my favourite area, Maremma: Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden. I first went there on June 3, 2000: I remember because it was my first date with my later-husband (I wrote about that here). It’s a huge and crazy sculpture park…made by this international artist who was inspired by Gaudi. She made gigantic mosaic-covered buildings based on tarot figures that you can walk on top of and inside of.”
You can find out more about Il Giardino di Tarocchi here.
Lucca is a town that, like Pienza, is known for its Renaissance building and in-tact city walls which still encompass the centre of the town. Located towards the north of Tuscany, the town is perhaps a second thought to visitors instead choosing its larger neighbours of Pisa and Florence.
The town has an abundance of historical landmarks mixed with a lively atmosphere, including annual events such as the Lucca Film Festival and the Lucca Summer Festival taking place. The town could be the perfect place to offer an alternative to the major attractions while not straying too far.
Mark Aseltine is a proprietor at Uncorked Adventures and visited Lucca on a trip to Tuscany, here’s why he recommends stopping by:
“My wife and I had an absolutely amazing experience in a small Tuscan town called Lucca. We stayed a few nights because I had a college roommate who had an aunt and uncle there and came away utterly blown away.
First, the majority of the town is still contained within the medieval walls and it’s quaint in a way that many towns simply aren’t any longer, there’s a ton of church towers publicly open with views to appreciate the sights, even though they made us wonder about safety given they were lighted by candles and hundreds of years old, wooden structures… but it was a fun experience.
We happened to be there for an event called Volto Santo I believe, a procession of the patron saint of the town. It’s centred around a carving of Jesus reportedly done by Nicodemus. They turned off the lights throughout town and lit everything with candles for the procession.
It was a memorable event for us and one we’d love to have the opportunity to experience again.”
Montemassi is a fortified village located to the north of the city of Grosseto in Maremma. At the highest point in the village is a ruined medieval castle which once belonged to the Salimbeni family. From the town – and particularly from the castle – are spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding valleys.
Yann Gerardi told us about his experience visiting the area:
“My hidden gem is Montemassi or one of the neighbouring villages. Firstly, all these very typical villages are stunningly beautiful, perched on rocky hills. Then, from there you can admire the entire Grosseto plateau up to the sea, which is one the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen (especially at dusk).”
Hot springs in Bagno Vignoni
The natural hot springs of Bagno Vignoni have been in use for hundreds of years. At the centre of the town is the old thermal bath which became an important resting stop for travellers and pilgrims. While the old bath is no longer in use, make the short walk to the Parco dei Mulini to try the natural thermal springs. Located to the south west of the town of Pienza and a short 30 minute drive away it gives the opportunity to soak yourself after a day of Renaissance culture!
Gillian McGuire writes the blog Gillians Lists. Born in the USA and now living in Rome via numerous locations across the world, Gillian tells us about her recommended spot in Tuscany:
“The tiny town of Bagno Vignoni in the heart-stoppingly pretty Val D’orcia area of Tuscany has been a popular spot for visits since Etruscan times. The steamy (49 degrees celsius) mineral rich water is the reason.
I like to get there early, soak for a few hours in the springs. (Piscine Val de Sole has changing facilities and sunbeams for lounging) and then head to the town’s piazza for a long late lunch. If it is sunny, sit beside the water at Il Loggiata. Or, if it is a grey chilly day (perfect for the hot springs by the way) head to the cosy Osteria del Leone.”
Do you have any Tuscan gems to share? Tell us @TuscanyNow