It’s a travesty to equate Tuscany with `Chiantishire’, a parody of an English country-house party transposed to Italy. It is also misleading to reduce the region to Renaissance art, Florentine architecture and the Chianti vineyards. The Tuscan landscape is as beautiful as the art. This soothing scenery, dotted with hill-towns, inspired the Renaissance masters. The art and architecture of medieval Siena and Renaissance Florence may be unmissable, but spare time for compelling but less-well known cities, such as Lucca. Also lap up the Unesco-protected Val d’Orcia countryside south of Siena, mountainous Garfagnana, and the wild coastal area of the Maremma.
The Tuscan lifestyle is arguably the greatest lure, with villa-living or farm stays the ideal way of appreciating the countryside. The Tuscans seem to have found a perfect balance between country and city living. As well as pampering in olive oil treatments and wallowing in hot springs, you can enjoy pasta feasts, and gorgeous rolling countryside. That’s in addition to visiting the cities of art, from Siena to Lucca, Pisa and Arezzo, as well as the Etruscan sites around Volterra and Chiusi.
For those not fascinated by frescoes, the delights of Florence can quickly fade, and the desire to escape the cauldron-like atmosphere of the city in summer can prove overwhelming, as it did in the case of the English writer Laurie Lee: “I’d had my fill of Florence, lovely but indigestible city. My eyes were choked with pictures and frescoes… I began to long for the cool uplands, the country air, the dateless wild olive and the uncatalogued cuckoo.”
Lee escaped to the Chianti, walking south along the Chiantigiana, the Chianti Way (the N222 road), which takes you to Siena via pretty towns in the Chianti Classico wine-growing region. If you are driving, the journey takes around an hour from Florence, unless you succumb to the scores of wine estates offering tastings and wine sales (vendita diretta). Florence’s Greve in Chianti might be quintessential Chiantishire but the Sienese Chianti is quieter, yet just as charming. A meander between wine estates acts as an introduction to the region’s famous red wines.