The most beautiful Villages of Tuscany - part1

Tuscany has a handful of big cities of art which are very popular with tourists (Florence, Siena, Pisa, ...), but there are also many less-known, wonderful, precious villages and towns with a typical Tuscan charm. One village is famous for its cheese or wine production, while in the other one you can find particular churches, squares and monuments. Others are beautiful because of their simplicity or their authenticity. Therefore we would like to focus on these less-known towns and villages. This is the first part.

In 2001 the Club of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy (I Borghi più Belli d'Italia) was founded through the incentive of the Tourism Council of the National Association of Italian Municipalities. The project arose from the need to promote the great heritage of history, art, culture, environment and traditions found in small Italian towns which are, for the most part, cut off from the main flow of visitors and tourists. Admission to the Club requires the meeting of a number of prerequisites, which are both structural, such as the architectonic harmony of the urban fabric and the quality of the public and private building heritage, as well as general, regarding the quality of life in the village in terms of activities and services for the people. It is also necessary to be committed to continuously improving these prerequisites. In these beautiful villages you will find the atmosphere, the fragrances and flavors which make typical local customs, products and traditions a way of life which is worth "savoring" with all five senses.

In all of Italy there are 271 member villages in the club of Most Beautiful Villages, of which 20 are located in Tuscany:
  • Barga, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and Coreglia Antelminelli(3) in the province of  LUCCA,
  • Scarperia (1) in the province of FLORENCE,
  • Montescudaio (1) in the province of PISA,
  • Anghiari, Castelfranco Piandiscò, Loro Ciuffenna, Raggiolo and Poppi(5) in AREZZO,
  • Suvereto (1) in the province of LIVORNO,
  • Buonconvento, Cetona, and San Casciano dei Bagni (3) in SIENA,
  • Giglio Castello, Montemerano, Pitigliano, Santa Fiora, Porto Ercole and Sovana (6) in GROSSETO.
Arezzo is one of the bigger cities in the region of Tuscany. The city is the capital of the homonymous province. Arezzo is a somewhat lesser known tourist stop in Tuscany. And yet five of the 20 most beautiful villages of Tuscany are located here.

ANGHIARI dominates the valley of the Tiber with its castles and imposing medieval walls. Thanks to its strategical position this border region of Tuscany is famous for numerous historic battles such as the battle between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Duchy of Milan, which was commemorated in a magnificent but lost fresco by Leonardo da Vinci in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The annual traditional crafts fair attracts many tourists and craft lovers to Anghiari. In the town you can still feel the magic of the former medieval atmosphere, enjoy the spectacular panorama and the richness of the environment with the many churches and castles, the wooded landscapes and intact nature. But Anghiari is also a bustling town, with a rich cultural life, with theatre, folk traditions, love for literature and with a rich gastronomic tradition, real and full of flavor, such as the character of its inhabitants.

Castelfranco di Sopra
Castelfranco di Sopra
Within the city walls of CASTELFRANCO DI SOPRA you will find a wonderful mix of medieval and Renaissance styles. From the tower, Arnolfo Tower, you can enjoy a beautiful view of unusual rock formations or cliffs, called Le Balze. Leonardo da Vinci was very impressed by these mythical rock formations and he used them as a background in several paintings. The most famous painting with the Balze in the background is his masterpiece La Giocanda, better known as Mona Lisa. Don’t forget to visit the Abbey of San Salvatore.

The beautiful old bridge over the river Ciuffenna is very characteristic of the picturesque village of LORO CIUFFENNA. The stone houses built on the banks of the river Ciuffenna, the small alleys and the old bridge, are witnesses of the middle ages, which have left their marks on the village. The bridge leads to the entrance gate with the Clock, from where you enter the most fascinating area of the village, which is built along just one single road, which crosses the village from east to west. The road leads to the second entrance gate on the road that leads to Arezzo. Many of the local dishes in Loro Ciuffenna are based on chestnuts. In November there is a local Festival or Sagra dedicated to the chestnuts. Another local speciality is a type of yellow-coloured beans, called fagiolo zolfino

RAGGIOLO, a small medieval mountain village with narrow streets and ancient city walls, is one of the most recently added to the list of the most beautiful villages. Raggiolo is a bit isolated and is surrounded by the beautiful forests of the Casentino region. It is situated at an altitude of 600m and 10 km from the regional road SR70 that crosses the Casentino region from Arezzo to the Consuma pass. The village is best known for its chestnuts. There is an Ecological Chestnut Museum, which is open from June to September. There is a chestnut festival, Festa della Castagnatura at the end of October.

POPPI is situated on a 400m hilltop that overlooks one of Tuscany’s most stunning valleys, the Casentino Valley. Poppi still has the looks of a medieval town. You can admire the castle, Castello dei Conti Guidi, one of the most beautiful castles of Italy. The 13th century building is known to be the prototype for the Town Hall of Florence Palazzo Vecchio. In August there is the annual folk festival in Poppi "Gusto dei Guidi". Here you can try the best Tuscan wines and delicious dishes from the Casentino region. During this event you can visit the many wineries and historic buildings.

Near Florence, the regional capital of Tuscany and one of the most famous and most beautiful cities in Italy, you can find SCARPERIA, a gorgeous little town in the Mugello area. Scarperia is famous for its production of knives. Here, unlike other places where knives were produced, the craft does not belong only to the past. It still represents a source of income for many craftsmen. The Museum of Cutting Tools documents the history of this widespread artisanal activity in Scarperia. On the first Sunday of each month there is a collector's market where antiques, second hand and collector's pieces, stamps and coins are exchanged.
Every last Sunday in May, Scarperia dresses itself in flowers for the traditional event Infiorata. This event requires lots of preparation and brings together all the inhabitants of the town. The streets of the hamlet are decorated with flower petals to form colorful patterns. The petals are arranged inside models made the night before by residents of the hamlet to a theme which changes every year. Other recurrent events in Scarperia are the Renaissance Day, the first Sunday of September, Diotto, the re-evocation of the founding of Scarperia by the Florentine republic on the 8th (die-octo) of September. Besides being one of Italy's most beautiful villages, Scarperia also boasts to have Italy's world famous racetrack Mugello Circuit, which hosts the Italian MotoGP.

Splendid Holiday Farm with pool in Tuscany in Castelfranco di Sopra

The wild boar driven hunt in Tuscany

Tuscany is the region with the largest wild boar population in Europe. The species are currently estimated at 200.000 and the Italian government wants to reduce that number to 50.000. Each autumn and winter, across the woods and hills of Tuscany, wild boar driven hunting season is open for about 3 months, but still it’s not enough to keep the wild boar population under control. 

The sows are fiercely productive and can whelp 4 to 13 piglets, up to 2 times a year. That is the main reason why the population increases at a breakneck speed. Wild boars cause insane amounts of damage to vineyards, gardens and trees, and road accidents are tripled in the last few years. 
The importance of the wild boars in Tuscany can be found in the culinary traditions, culture and history. The wild boar driven hunt in Tuscany is one of the oldest and most traditional hunts in the whole of Italy. 

In Tuscany hunting is a „sport“ for both middle-aged men as well as for little punks. The hunting season starts on November 1st and lasts until January 31st. A local hunting team consists of at least 18 and not more than 50 members. Usually the hunters meet at the local bar on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Their hunting positions are determined by a draw. 
Not all hunters effectively shoot the animals. Most of them are beaters, who release their dogs to chase the animals. Once some animals are spotted they are driven towards hunters who are posted in strategic positions, ready to take their shot. 

The Italian wild boar is a combination of the region's native Sus Scrofa and the wild boar introduced from Eastern Europe. Boars are omnivores, they eat almost anything from nuts to worms to small game. In addition, they can smell food from far away, and they can sense predators from long distances. Both boar genders have vicious upper and lower tusks that they sharpen on rocks and trees, and if injured they can easily gore a dog and rip open the groin of a hunter. When boars are injured, they will always run downhill to conserve energy and search for water. 

The hunter who has shot a wild boar gets the head of the animal as a trophy. He will also get the liver, with which the local delicacy „Fegatelli“ is prepared, pieces of liver wrapped in fat. The rest of the meat will be distributed among the entire team. In almost every town in rural Tuscany people conserve some wild boar meat in the freezer. The meat is very tasty if it's well prepared. 

A very popular wild boar dish is „Cinghiale alla Cacciatora“, Wild boar Hunter style, a stew with red wine. This is the recipe : Ingredients : 
2 carrots - 1 onion – 2 sticks of celery - garlic - 1 litre of red wine
150 ml meat stock – rosemary and bay leaves - vinegar 
1 kg of wild boar (in small pieces) 
Preparation method : 
Marinate the wild boar overnight in 1/2 litre of red wine and a glass of vinegar. Drain the wild boar and throw away the marinade. 
Cinghiale alla Cacciatora
For the stew, poor about three tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and then add the onion to sauté until it becomes translucent. Then add your carrots, celery and bay leaves for about 5-8 minutes. Add the wild boar to the pot and brown it on all sides, before adding the red wine and the meat stock. Simmer over medium heat for about 2 hours. In Tuscany people eat unsalted bread with this dish, but it is also delicious with polenta or fresh pasta.

The beaches of Elba Island

The Island of Elba has 147 kilometres of coastline and about 132 beaches of various types and sizes, long beaches of golden sands or tiny stones, equally beautiful beaches of black sand, white pebbles or cliff bases of smooth granite rocks.

Acquarilli Beach
Spectacular panorama and crystal clear water make these beaches similar to ones in the Caribbean. The depth of most of the waters increases rather rapidly, with the exception of la Biodola, Marina di Campo, Lacona and Procchio where the water remains shallow for up to 30-40 metres. Most of the island’s beaches are classifiable as "free". On the main beaches however, bathers will find privately run establishments that offer changing rooms, sun lounges and beach umbrellas on a rental basis. Furthermore, many of these establishments rent a range of equipment for various water sports. 

Gucci and the Boboli Gardens in Florence

Boboli Gardens in Florence
Boboli Gardens in Florence
The Tuscan fashion house Gucci confirmed in a press conference in the Town Hall of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, that they will donate 2 million Euro to the city of Florence, more specifically to the famous botanical Boboli Gardens. The gardens have been listed UNESCO World Heritage in 2013 and the site is very popular with tourists who visit Florence.

Trevi Fountain in Rome
Trevi Fountain in Rome
Fashion houses investing in Italian art is not new. Many Italian fashion houses already invested in the preservation of art in their country, such as Fendi in Rome with the Trevi Fountain and Bulgari with Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Brunello Cucinelli donated money for the reconstruction of the earthquake-stricken city of Norcia in Umbria. Many Italian fashion houses feel connected to their country and contribute to the costs of conservation and restoration of architectural sites and monuments in Italy.

Gucci Museum in Florence
Gucci Museum in Florence
Maison Gucci already invested in the city of Florence with the opening of the Gucci Museum on the square Piazza della Signoria. The museum is open from 10 am to 8 pm and on Fridays from 10 am to 11 pm. 50% of each admission ticket benefits to help Florence conserve and restore the city’s art treasures.

The mayor of Florence is very proud that Gucci is coming back to its Florentine roots for this important investment. According to the mayor, it is an honour for Florence that a Florentine fashion house, which has been for nearly 100 years a successful ambassador of creativity and “Made in Italy” quality in the world, chose its home town for this important cultural project.

Pitti Palace in Florence
Pitti Palace in Florence
During the press conference Gucci announced that on May 29th 2018 a fashion show will be held in Florence at the Palatina Gallery in Palazzo Pitti. Pitti Palace was formerly the residence of the Medici family. The Boboli Gardens are part of the palace that now houses several important collections of paintings and sculpture, works of art, porcelain and a costume gallery. It will be the first time that the location will stage a fashion show.

Apartment in Florence

Thermal baths in Tuscany

Tuscany has many popular and beautiful natural hot springs which are definitely worth a visit. Access to many of these hot springs are free so you can go and enjoy them all year round. Tuscany also has the biggest number of private spa resorts of all Italy. These resorts are known for their thermal treatments which are aimed to treat vascular, rheumatic, respiratory, and urinary diseases.

The province of Siena (SI) has by far the biggest choice of natural thermal baths.

Bagno Vignoni
Bagno Vignoni
Bagno Vignoni (SI), approximately 50 km south of Siena, has one of the oldest and most famous thermal baths of Tuscany. Along the famous road called Via Francigenathe prime route followed by pilgrims on their way to Rome, the first Christian pilgrims sought solace and comfort by dipping their feet in the warm water streams. Piazza delle Sorgenti in the centre of the village consists of a large rectangular pool which holds the original spring water. The warm water comes from a deep underground volcanic spring. The curative properties of the waters at Bagno Vignoni were first discovered by the Etruscans. 

Bagni San Filippo
Bagni San Filippo
Another thermal location worth visiting is Bagni San Filippo (SI) with two different types of thermal waters, the Fosso Bianco rocks with sulfurous water and the White Whale waterfall with calcium water. The waterfall is called the White Whale because it looks like the mouth of a whale. The water of these springs are very hot (25-52°C), so you can go bathing even in fall and winter. The access is free.

Between Chianti and Val di Chiana, there’s Rapolano Terme (SI), a town which is well known for its two spa resorts: San Giovanni and Antica Querciolaia. These resorts offer innovative and modern wellness treatments, as well as the latest technologies for specific diseases. 

In Chianciano Terme and Montepulciano (SI) several spa resorts employ natural thermal water with a peculiar chemico-physical composition which makes it suited to prevent and care diseases which affect various organs and apparatuses.

San Casciano dei Bagni
Bagno Grande in San Casciano dei Bagni
Near the border between Tuscany and Umbria, San Casciano dei Bagni (SI) is third in Europe for its water flow (42 thermal springs gushing out at an average temperature of 40°C). The public baths are easily reachable by foot from the main square of San Casciano, by a path which crosses a peaceful wood. You will be captured by the enchanting Bagno Grande where everbody can enjoy the therapeutical properties of the springs. You can sink into the pools, even in winter, thanks to its warm temperatures of about 39°C.

Fonteverde, San Casciano dei Bagni, Tuscany
The private spa resort Fonteverde has a stunning view of the valley of Val d’Orcia, a landscape which is listed as Unesco Natural World Heritage site.

Public thermal baths in Saturnia
Saturnia and Petriolo (GR), in the provinces Grosseto south of Siena, are natural springs with origins from the volcanic Mount Amiata. The warm pools of Saturnia were well-known by the Etruscans and Romans. The mineral properties of the hot water are known to heal or calm down persistent coughs and skin ailments. The scenery of the public baths of Saturnia is considered as the most beautiful among all thermal baths of Tuscany. The spring waters of Petriolo are the hottest of whole Italy. The steaming water is about 43°C and smells of sulfur. Both locations have public thermal baths which are freely accessible and a private spa resort

Petriolo thermal baths

Calidario in Venturina
Along the Etruscan coast, there’s Calidario Etruscan Thermal Baths in Venturina (LI), another thermal location. Calidario is a small lake with hot spring water at 36°C. It is accessed through heated changing rooms which lead directly to the lake. Geographically perfectly positioned  at 5 km from the sea. The water contains sulfur, calcium, magnesium and bicarbonate and is very beneficial in treating respiratory ailments.

In Gambassi Terme (FI) near Florence there is a commercial spa resort which has been recently renovated and which is particularly indicated for treatments of digestive diseases.

Terme di Casciana
Casciana Terme (PI) in the province of Pisa is one of Tuscany's most busy spa towns. The discovery of the therapeutical value of the spring water of Casciana Terme is narrrated in a romantic legend of Countess Matilda of Tuscany (Matilde di Canossa) from the end of the 11th century. The hot water of Casciana is nicknamed Acqua Mathelda and comes from the source at a constant and natural temperature of 35.7°CThe spa resort offers pools, steam baths and various thermal treatments.

Montecatini Terme
Situated a stone’s throw from Lucca, Montecatini Terme and Monsummano Terme (PT) in the province of Pistoia are two historic and renowned thermal locations. Montecatini Terme is one of the most famous places in Italy known for its hotels with spa and wellness centres. The hotels offer interesting package deals and many specific therapies. 
Grotta Giusti
Grotta Giusti
In Monsummano Terme, Grotta Giusti formed thousands of years ago in the calm of an age-old park. The third largest cave in Europe is so enchanting that the composer Giuseppe Verdi defined it “the eighth wonder of the world”. However, its beauty is not the only reason for guests to dedicate part of their time to it. 
Nowadays Monsummano Terme's Grotta Giusti is a luxury establishment connected to natural hot springs, caves and an underground thermal lake. Its three caverns form a real and proper natural Turkish bath: the temperature ranges from 24°C in the Paradiso cavern, passing through Purgatorio to reach 34°C in the Inferno cavern. The warm damp vapours, rich in mineral salts, favour a process of purification and detoxication. They allow to regain psychological and physical balance and give an immediate sensation of well-being.

Massa Marittima

Lying on a panoramic hill, the historical town centre of Massa Marittima, enclosed within a well-preserved city wall, represents one of the most important urban and architectural complexes in Tuscany.

Massa Marittima Cathedral
Massa Marittima, Cathedral
The town is located in southern Tuscany, in the province of Grosseto, in the area called Maremma. Narrow streets climb up and down the hill, leading to a magical place where a harmony of lines welcomes today’s visitor, leaving him to breathlessly admire shapes and colours that have no limits in time. They are reunited in one atmosphere, the piazza, all of the buildings necessary for the public life of a city of Communal times (XIII century): the cathedral, Palazzo della Podestà, the Town Hall, the market place, and a little further on the Mint and the public Fountain.

Culinary specialties from Tuscany

Tuscany is a region rich in authentic, local dishes and ingredients and in addition to the most famous there are hundreds of lesser-known specialities that are no less important. From the Apuan Alps to the seaside, from the Casentino to the Val d'Orcia, Tuscany boasts numerous 'taste' itineraries that unite good food with centuries-old art and culture. The natural landscape in Tuscany is also a great way to explore the more authentic aspects of the region's culinary culture, like its food, wine and locally sourced ingredients.