Tuscany is more than just the home to Florence and the rolling countryside. It also has some of the most beautiful and interesting towns in Italy. These are the top five Tuscan towns that you should consider whether you want to take a day trip from Florence or simply make your base in Italy off the beaten track. You can also check out our Top Ten Tuscan Towns, Round II.
Lucca is a beautiful town located about an hour west of Florence. Lucca’s architecture, which includes medieval streets and a ring made of Renaissance-era fortification walls, is among the best in Tuscany. You might think Florence’s Duomo complex, but wait until you see Lucca’s Duomo and its Church of San Michele, both of which look like they were made of icing. The Piazza Anfiteatro is a collection of medieval buildings that surround an old Roman amphitheatre. Some of its remains are still visible. This is also where Giacomo Puccini was conceived.
Pienza is a beautiful hilly area known for its hiking and located in the Val d’Orcia. It has been designated a World Heritage Site (UNESCO). It is also where Zeffirelli shot Rome and Juliet. Pienza’s story is somewhat odd. Pope Pius II was born there and, in 1458, he rebuilt the entire town as a perfect Renaissance town. Vain? Yes. This is also why Pienza has such a beautiful architecture and harmonious layout. It is home to only 2,500 people today, which gives it a very special, if somewhat forgotten, air.
Pitigliano is one such town that makes you wonder “What the hell were they thinking?” The village, which is built into the tufa rock cliffs high up in the sky looks almost like it hovers above you as you approach. The town is small and peaceful, but it boasts stunning views. It’s known as “Little Jerusalem” because of its connections to the Jewish community. Jews moved here from Rome in 13th century. By 1860, one third of the town was Jewish. Unfortunately, many Jewish residents fled to safer places during World War II. Today, however, there are very few Jews living in the area. The Jewish Museum, the Jewish Museum, and the Jewish Quarter are all reminders of this once-thriving culture.
It is hard not to fall for Siena. It’s no surprise that this medieval city has so many things to offer that people choose it over Florence (which is an hour away). It’s fitting in a way. From the 13th century to the 15th century, Florence was Siena’s main rival. This explains the 320-foot tower that is medieval and topped the Palazzo Pubblico. It’s only 12 feet taller than Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio tower. The 13-century Il Campo main piazza is the heart of Siena. It is unlike any other Italian public space. It is also the site of the Palio horse races, which are celebrated worldwide twice each year. The Palazzo Pubblico with its stunning frescoes and the Duomo, which is one of Italy’s most impressive churches, are worth a visit. You can also visit the family home of St. Catherine and see her head at the Church of San Domenico. You can read our blog about what to do in Siena if you are planning a trip.
Volterra has been on the tourist map thanks to Twilight. It is still a small, quiet town that teenagers from America bring along with them. It also boasts beautiful views from its hilltop perch and medieval streets. Volterra’s origins date back to the 8th century B.C. Etruscan settlement. Large parts of the defensive wall that they built in 4th century B.C. They are still standing as well as the 3rd Century B.C. Gate into the city! The ancient side of Volterra is not overlooked. There are also remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater, bathhouse, and the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci. These sites boast many Etruscan finds.