DREAMING OF TUSCANY

1. Florence

Known as the “Birthplace of the Renaissance” and the capital city of Italy’s Tuscany Region, Florence is home to an abundance of Renaissance art and architecture. The beautiful Basilica di Santa Croce is the final resting place for Renaissance painter Michaelangelo and scientist Galileo Galilei. A visit to Florence would not be complete without seeing Michaelangelo’s “David” Statue in the Accademia Gallery.  TIP:  A Skip the Line ticket is a must if you would like to see “David.” Another insider tip — Jewelry lovers will want to budget for a trip to the Gold Market!

2. Lucca / Pisa

Inside Lucca’s intact Renaissance-era city walls, one could get lost for a day, in a good way.  Lucca is a charming city with great shopping and good food — and no shortage of churches at 100! We were fortunate to experience part of a Mass at the Duomo of San Martino, whose Gothic style and angelic music painted a memory not soon to be forgotten.  A sign reading, “Homemade Pasta” drew us in for a lovely lunch in a quaint square. People were noticeably linguring, not rushing through their meals.  After a bit more afternoon exploring, we hopped the train to Pisa to see if the tower is still leaning — and guess what — it is!   TIP: Music lovers visiting Lucca can enjoy a concert every evening of the year celebrating their famous son — Giacomo Puccini.

3. Siena

This Medieval UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its cuisine, art, and the famous Palio horse race. Siena will steal your heart from the moment you arrive. A visit to this Tuscan hill town finds locals and tourists lounging in its Piazza del Campo, site of the Palio, which runs two times every summer. James Bond movie enthusiasts can see Siena and the race in Quantum of Solace. TIP:  Purchasing the OPASI Pass allows you to visit the many treasures of the Piazza del Duomo — the Cathedral, the Crypt, and the Piccolomini Library.

4. San Gimignano

San Gimignano’s 14 “beautiful towers” create a stunning skyline for this walled Medieval hill town in the Province of Siena. Some of the most stunning views of the Tuscan countryside are visible from the terraced restuarants that line the city walls. More than a couple of hours are needed to fully enjoy this Tuscany gem. During our visit, there was a jazz music festival in progress, and we walked up on a small jazz band playing, “When the Saints Go Marching In” — definitely a surprise with a taste of home! TIP: For lunch with a spectacular view, try Enoteca DiVinorum — The pecorino pear salad was delicious!

5. Chianti

One of the most beautiful areas in the Tuscany region, Chianti’s landscape offers gentle, rolling hills covered with fields of vineyards and olive groves, dotted with small stone villages of homes in stone throughout the countryside. Chianti was made famous by the red wine of the same name. The wine was originally associated with a squat bottle enclosed by a straw basket, though now produced in standard shaped wine bottles. The Chianti Classico is the heart of the Chianti region, and only the wines produced in the Classico bare the DOCG’s black cockerel logo. The Chianti Classico is a ruby-red, Sangiovese-based wine with a hint of earthy spice and aromas of violets and cherries. TIP:  A wine tasting in this region is a must, and most wineries will ship products back to your home.