Italy: Tuscany in 5 days written by Jesper Munk Hansen
Five days is not enough at all
We did not even reach Siena, which was otherwise high on the list. But we then reached past Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Val d'Orcia, while living in Prato north of Florence.
After experiencing most of Northern Italy - and not having been in Tuscany for 18 years - it was time to visit the region that some call Italy's most beautiful. Again. Many would say that Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it can also be amazing in many ways. Especially the view from Piazzale Michelangelo outside the center is worth traveling for.
As I said, five days in Tuscany is not enough at all. Especially not for me, who loves everything about Italy - maybe just apart from corruption and 'Calciopoli'. And when it only takes two hours to fly from Denmark to Italy, you can always return quickly.
We flew to Bologna, which is north of Tuscany in the Emilia-Romagna region an hour's drive from Prato, where we had booked a hotel. So it was very easy and I am gradually getting used to driving in Italy, so a car is always rented.
I have driven several times in Italy without any problems. Both in Turin, Milan, Padua, Bergamo, Monza, Como, Trieste and now also in the Tuscany area. Prato itself, located 20 km north of Florence, is not the great experience; an industrial city and a typically smaller city just outside a larger city. We were there pretty much just to spend the night.
Florence, the pride of Tuscany
We quickly found out that it was easy to take the train from Prato to Florence and that it was just as fast as driving. 30 minutes later we were in the center of Italy's eighth largest city.
Florence is over 2000 years old and the name means "flourishing" in Latin. During the Renaissance, the city largely lived up to the name and was then perceived as a very central city also in addition to the geographical location. Many great artists have lived in Florence and enjoyed their daily walk in the city; Dante, Michelangelo and Da Vinci just to name a few.
From the train station in Florence, it does not take much more than five minutes before you are completely inside where it all happens. Major Catholic Churches, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signorina, Piazzale Michelangelo and the Duomo di Firenze. The names say it all that Florence is a typical Italian city. Maybe even a stereotypical Italian city, because when you think of Italy, you think of what Florence has to offer.
We took on one Free walking tour, as we often do when we travel. This way, you get a lot more information about what you see compared to if you have to walk around yourself and look for exciting places.
Many may say that they only show the best of the city when they show around, but that's fine with me. I also want to see the best the city has to offer. You can go exploring on your own afterwards, so it almost always ends with one Free walking tour as the start of a visit to a new major city.
After a tour of Florence for a few hours in 25 degree heat, I had decided that I wanted to head up to Piazzale Michelangelo. So we were told which way we should go to get up there, and surprisingly, it only took 20 minutes from town. I had been expecting a lot longer because I thought it was a smaller mountain outside the city.
Piazzale Michelangelo is actually just a square, located in the district of Oltrarno on the south side of the river Arno, which runs through Florence. The square is located on a high hill with a fantastic view over the whole of Florence. A real tourist attraction. Everyone should have a picture of the city from here - with or without themselves in the picture. We wanted the same thing and it was because of the view that we went up there.
Just before you start going uphill to get up to Piazzale Michelangelo, it may be advisable to take a break at a small ice-cream shop to taste real Italian ice cream. You have not tasted real ice cream until you have tasted gelato.
The atmosphere at Piazzale Michelangelo is cozy and there are small stalls serving food and drink. Of course you can also buy souvenirs. In general, all the people were happy and sat and enjoyed the afternoon sun in the Italian heat.
Down in the city again we walked over the Ponte Vecchio, whose name means The Old Bridge. We walked around the city a bit on our own and let ourselves be inspired and see what we would discover. A day in Florence goes by very fast when there is so much to see.
Pisa and Lucca
Pisa and Lucca are just 15 km apart and an hour's drive from Florence. Half a day in both cities is enough, so you can easily reach both cities on the same day.
Lucca is a cozy city, surrounded by Europe's second longest city wall of over 4 km. The city is only a fifth the size of Florence, so it is a completely different experience to walk around there. We walked around on our own and spent four hours in this small town.
Pisa has the Leaning Tower and what else? Not so much more, actually. One should not have too high expectations for Pisa as a city, because there is not much. It is always an experience to see the Leaning Tower and an even greater experience to see the many tourists trying to get the perfect picture where it looks as if they are pushing to the tower or keeping it upright.
I became so interested in it that I took pictures of people who got pictures taken. It looks completely crazy when taking a picture from a different angle. I contented myself with taking a plain picture, leaving the creative pictures and angles to everyone else in the square.
It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that Pisa does not have much other than the Leaning Tower. For I have only been to Pisa twice, so there is probably something I have not seen. Therefore, it may well be that one day I will go to Pisa again, but my immediate impression is that you can reach it all in half a day.
Val d'Orcia, San Quirico d'Orcia and Castiglione d'Orcia
There are many pictures from southern Tuscany in the area around Val d'Orcia. You can try to do a Google search for “Val d'Orcia” and see what images appear. It is not always possible to see whether it is a painting or a photograph.
A two-hour drive south of Florence is some of Italy's - and perhaps even Europe's most beautiful landscape. Winding and hilly roads as far as the eye can see surrounded by tall, green trees, fields and vineyards. You have to go to Tuscany at least once in your life and once you have been there you can not help but come back.
We drove by car in Val d'Orcia, but we might as well have gone because we stopped so many times along the way to enjoy the view and the countryside. We were not the only ones to do so. The area was filled with people who had had the same thought as us.
It is only recommended to experience this place around Val d'Orcia, San Quirico d'Orcia and Castiglione d'Orcia.
Bagni San Filippo
Even further south in Tuscany you will find Bagni San Filippo in Fosso Bianco. It is a so-called spa - or a spa area, as we would call it in Danish. It is an outdoor area filled with hot baths, fountains, white hillsides with tourists and locals lying and relaxing in the warm water. It is not crowded with people, so you can easily be there.
It is far away from everything else and you hardly think you can reach further before the road stops, but suddenly you stand there and can just enjoy the silence while the water trickles. A stark contrast to the rest of Tuscany with major cities such as Florence, Siena and Livorno.
One can spend many hours in Bagni San Filippo doing nothing. Just let time go by or let time stand still. I recommend you go here if you are near Tuscany.
When you no longer bother to lie in the water and do nothing, you can walk up to the nearby town just a few minutes walk away.
Here you can get a little something to eat at the city's only restaurant - at least we did not discover others. You are most likely also one of the only people in the street scene besides a few locals hanging laundry up on the balcony - or the restaurant owner sitting on a stool waiting for customers. In addition, a dog or a couple of cats may be running around.
The rest is down in the hot baths. A very quiet town. All in all, there are many different things to do in Tuscany, whether you are for relaxation or a city break.
You have to experience Tuscany at least once in your life - so just watch to get going.