The lush, green rolling hills, fascinating historic cities and towns, and of course, the food and wine of Italy, all combine to make travel to Tuscany a tempting and rewarding experience. The following is a brief introduction into just a few of the best locations to visit when you go on a vacation in Italy and take the time to travel to Tuscany.
Located in the southern Tuscan province of Arezzo, Cortona lies at around 600 meters (1,968 feet) above sea level, offering amazing views over Lake Trasimeno and the surrounding valley.
The Etruscans were the original Tuscans and Cortona is one of many traditional Etruscan walled towns, and while the town is small, there is plenty to visit and do in the area when you travel to Tuscany.
Anyone who has read the book Under the Tuscan Sun – or seen the resulting movie – will recognize many of the landmarks of the town. Frances Mayes, the author of the book, was recently interviewed by The Florentine and described the experience of living in Cortona, where she bought and renovated an abandoned villa, returning it to its former glory.
Mayes still spends at least five months of the year in Cortona, enjoying the olive harvest, the excellent local red wine and culinary delights, along with the beautiful scenery.
Mayes explained that the local people in Cortona are “exceptionally friendly to visitors,” adding that hundreds of people have told her how at home they feel in the Etruscan town. She says they are lucky to have so many places in the town to wine and dine and generally enjoy the local vibe.
Besides the culinary delights, of course, there are many archaeological sites and historical buildings to visit in Cortona, including the Piazza della Repubblica, the Diocesan Museum, and the fascinating Archaeological Park at the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona.
Other sites of interest include the Santa Margherita Sanctuary (pictured above) and the Girifalco Fortress (pictured below).
The next stop on our Tuscan tour is Pitigliano, located in the west of Grosseto province, on the border with the Lazio region. The buildings of the town hang on a promontory, nestled in lush green valleys and surrounded by the Lente and Meleta rivers.
The houses in Pitigliano are built almost as a continuation of the sheer cliffs, meaning that the town never really needed a city wall to protect its residents.
As reported in a travel blog by Oliver’s Travels, this fascinating and ancient town is also known as “Little Jerusalem” due to the famous Jewish ghetto located in Pitigliano. This was formed by the large, and still active, Jewish population that settled in the area back in the 15th century. Of interest are the Jewish Cemetery, a cellar carved into the rock where Kosher wine is produced, and the unleavened bread oven. The Synagogue in the town is open to the public to this day.
Other attractions worth visiting on a trip to Pitigliano include the 13th Orsini Palace, as well as the tombs along the city wall and surrounding area dating back to Prehistoric times. There is plenty of evidence of the Etruscans in the area too, including the necropolis in Poggio Buco, the largest Etruscan center on the Fiora. Or you can just explore the winding and narrow streets of the town, with little cafes and shops along the way.
The wine and olive oil produced in the area are exceptional and make travel to Tuscany more than worthwhile.
Last, but by no means least, we visit a small town with a literary history. Families with children who choose to travel to Tuscany have one destination that must not be missed. The little village of Collodi is famous as the birthplace of the well known book, The Adventures of Pinocchio.
According to the website of the National Foundation of Carlo Collodi, Carlo Lorenzini – who used the pen name “Collodi” and wrote the famous story – spent most of his childhood in the town and the Pinocchio Park was created in his honor. These days, some families travel to Tuscany just to see the birthplace of their favorite marionette.
Of course, it is also possible to buy Pinocchio puppets and toys in the shops in Collodi to take home and this is probably a good place to remind children of the dangers of telling a lie!
When not visiting Pinocchio, the Collodi Castello in the ancient quarter of the town is worth a visit, along with the baroque style Garzoni Garden.
There are many more fascinating destinations to choose from in beautiful Tuscany, but don’t just take our word for it. Visit various other areas and learn a little about the Etruscan history with Rick Steves in the video included below. He also explores all the various and delicious culinary treats on offer in Tuscany.