Those who have been to Florence, definitely must have heard of the poetic countrysides of Tuscany (Toscana in Italian), Italy. Cycling around Chianti, enjoying premium wine, or visit the vast countrysides of Siena. But actually, the most beautiful countrysides in Italy are located quite deep below, they are Val d’Orcia and San Quirico d’Orcia which are always covered with a endless green color of meadows, vineyards and beautiful farms on highlands and in valleys. So, what to do and how to plan a perfect budget trip to the dreamland and paradise of Tuscany for the first-time? Let’s check out our Tuscany travel blog (Tuscany blog) with the fullest Tuscany travel guide (Tuscany guide, Tuscany tourist guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!
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I never intended to go to Tuscany when knowing this is just the central Italian countryside, until I accidentally came to Florence and got lost in the scenes of villages, medieval towns, vineyards, olives groves with wineries, lush green vegetation. Tuscany instantly captivated me so that the first days of summer were surprisingly beautiful.
Tuscany travel blog: Overview of Tuscany
I have known Tuscany since I was a landscape photographer. That’s when I got to see the amazing photos of Val D’Orcia and San Quirico D’Orcia. If the natural beauty of Switzerland with mountains and rivers, then in Tuscany, it is majestic, poetic countryside, immense grasslands. The natural picture here is green in one color, gentle, tranquil and liberal, enough to inspire any lover or dreamer when coming here.
Tuscany is a large region in the middle of the “boot-shaped country”. Florence is located in this region and also is its capital but only a very small part, if you come to Florence without visiting the surrounding areas, it is a pity. Tuscany stretches from the border with La Spezia, including Florence, Pisa, Siena… You can go to Florence and buy a day tour to Chianti, or take a train or car to the more remote lands of Val D’Orcia and San Quirico D’Orcia, about 150-200km from Florence.
Tuscany blog: When to visit?
There are two beautiful times to consider for a roadtrip in Tuscany, which is from late April to mid-May, and autumn in Europe. In spring, flowers bloom everywhere in Tuscany, which is perfect for visiting the farms or large gardens. If you go in the fall and want to see the vast green prairies, you should go in early August, because at this time, local people will start cutting the grass and harvesting grapes. Then the hills will appear with a dry yellow color and not smooth.
- If you want to see sunflower fields, you must go after June and before September. From early September onwards farmers have already harvested seeds to make oil.
- The most beautiful time with green fields is around June and July. From August onwards, it has started to dry. From September onwards, the scenery have turned to yellow but romantic. However, July and August are the hottest months in Italy. You must bring sunglasses, hat and sunscreen. In the summer, even though it’s really hot, it will get colder in the evening. Especially if you go higher areas.
- In addition to summer, traveling to Tuscany from March to May is also okay, very green. However, it is still cold and there are no flowers at all.
Tuscany travel blog: Where to go, what to do?
To start exploring Tuscany, Florence is a must-visit destination. The capital of Tuscany in central Italy, Florence owns everything to be voted by many prestigious travel magazines as the most wonderful city in Europe. The whole city is a giant architectural style with pastel colors of walls and terracotta roof tiles of houses, each street corner seems to be a museum with untold stories. Florence deserves many fine words. If you’ve been here, you can’t help but visit the Florence Cathedral Duomo(Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), the legendary Ponte di Vecchio, the Galleria dell’Accademia, and the Piazzale Michelangelo square.
From Florence, you can travel by train to many ancient cities and towns in Tuscany, or just 30 minutes by car, you can visit a nearest olive grove and vineyard. If your time is tight to make an itinerary, as Tuscany’s most developed tourist city, Florence offers you everything with countless day tours to pick and explore all of Tuscany.
Siena used to be a large city in the Middle Ages, so the architecture of Siena is still keep intact. In the middle of the city is the town hall with the horse racing square, every year the small districts in the city will bring their horses here to race to win glory for themself. If you go to Siena on Saint Catherine’s Day on April 29 every year, or the horse racing day, the districts of the city will hang their own flags. I was lucky enough to come to Siena on the occasion of St. Catherine’s day, so I saw countless flags hanging along streets, alleys, feeling like I was watching Game of Thrones.
Things to do in Siena include tasting the region’s famous Chianti wine, visiting Piazza di Campo square, Siena’s church which made entirely of marble and don’t forget to go inside the church to explore the Piccolomini library which is built by Pope Pius II. The architecture inside is overwhelming and for me this is the most beautiful church I’ve been visited in Europe.
A medieval town with 14 towering stone towers. In medieval times, San Gimignano was likened to today’s Manhattan in terms of prosperity. San Gimignano is quite small so you can explore in an afternoon. But don’t forget to climb a tower for a panoramic view of Tuscany to the horizon.
To explore Siena & San Gimignano, you can book a tour in Florence, or book a tour through KLOOK, I found that when buying from KLOOK the price is cheaper, so just book it and the service is very good.
Located in Umbria, Assisi is a beautiful hill town. When hearing about a place that has existed since the Middle Ages, surely many tourists will think of a town forgotten by time, not very developed with narrow winding streets, narrow alleys, houses with stone walls and old painted wooden doors. However, unlike the imagination above, Assisi is one of the largest Christian centers in the world with beautiful churches. In which Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi (Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi) is the most famous cathedral in Assisi.
This ancient city is also known as a student city because there are many universities and colleges with many different disciplines. The most prominent is the University of Perugia, built in 1308, the University for Foreigners of Perugia and many other colleges such as the Academy of Fine Arts Pietro Vannucci.
Perugia is also famous as a cultural and artistic center of Italy with many festivals taking place all year round such as EuroChocolate festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, International Journalism Festival, …
When you come to Trasimeno, you can rent a house on a farm and experience the feeling of waking up in the sunrise of the Italian countryside. Make yourself a cup of hot coffee and make a delicious and light breakfast while enjoying the poetic beauty of Lake Trasimeno.
After that, you’ll have a full day of exploring and boating on the lake. If you go in a large group, you can also organize a picnic with dishes made from fresh ingredients at the farm.
Although Montepulciano is a small town, the scenery here is extremely poetic and beautiful with brilliant sunflower fields. In addition, wine is also a famous specialty here. If you have stopped by Montepulciano, then come and enjoy wine at the bars here.
Like the Italian style itself, Lucca has a beauty that blends the modern and the antiquity of the time with fashion boutiques interspersed between immaculate ancient structures.
Lucca is also home to many famous composers such as Giacomo Puccini (with famous works of La Bohème and Madama Butterfly), Nicalao Dorati, Francesco Geminiani, Gioseffo Guami. With such a history, it is not surprising that the annual Lucca Summer festival is one of the most popular musical events in Tuscany.
In addition, Lucca is also the host city for the Lucca Comics & Games Festival, the biggest festival for comics, movies and games in Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans to attend each year.
Pisa is a port city in the lower reaches of the Arno River. In Renaissance Period, Pisa was the second richest city after Florence. Today Pisa is a small city but has a unique artistic style and owns a unique architectural symbol in the world: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. From Florence, you take the 50-minutes train to get to Pisa. Then follow the flow of people to the Leaning tower of Pisa to visit.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa itself is so famous but it is only part of Pisa’s Central square. Visitors come here mainly just to take hundreds of pictures from the simple to the weird with the Leaning Tower. Personally, I like architecture, so I wandered around to see this small, sparsely populated city to understand more about the most important port city in Tuscany.
Not all of Tuscany’s hills and vineyards have the stunning coastline below. But Punta Ala is a great stop on the coastal area known as La Maremma.
Island of Elba
Elba Island (Isola d’Elba) is a romantic tourist island, located off the coast of Tirreno Sea, in the famous Tuscany country. Looking at Elba from above, you will have the feeling that the island looks like a small goldfish swimming in the sea.
Portoferraio – the main port town and also the capital of Elba – looks cute and gentle with its small houses painted in soothing pastel colors. The streets here are narrow, on both sides of the roads there are many colorful flower pots swaying in the wind, only the slopes are more pleasant than other central Italian cities such as Perugia, Siena, Assisi or Spoleto.
Enjoy Tuscan wine and olives
The Tuscan countryside can be seen from car, but to get a real taste of it, visit a winery and sample its fine wines. I stopped by Tenuta Torciano Winery and not only enjoyed more than 7 types of red to white wines but also used delicious vinegar and olive oil. These farms are not open to a single tourist, so you can book a tour in Florence to visit during the day, definitely a true Italian experience. There are two famous and savory Tuscan wines you should try called Sangiovese and Super Tuscan.
To experience this, you can buy a day tour in Florence, or book online through KLOOK to explore both San Gimignano and Siena.
Buonconvento is a small town, just about 2-2.5 hours drive from Florence, this town is extremely peaceful, few people but has a lot of interesting things. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from Silvia’s farm (where I stayed) to the town center. Everything here is as peaceful as countrysides around it.
Another interesting thing not to be missed in this beautiful little town of Buonconvento is the delicious Gelato ice cream that we discovered located right next to Da Mario restaurant. Not only has delicious ice cream, but the salesman is also very cute, giving customers a lot of ice cream, the best Gelato I have ever tasted in Europe, the price is also cheaper than in other regions.
More things to do in Tuscany
In addition to visiting the Tuscany lush green prairies, there are many other places here that you cannot miss. It could be touring the small towns of the region, or going to the vineyards to enjoy fine wines.
Another route that you should refer to when traveling from Siena to Buonconvento is going through Asciano (please see on the map). On this road, the scenery on both sides is also extremely beautiful. The day I went, the grass here was almost cut, so the color could not be as beautiful as in the southern region. Alternatively, on the way from Buonconvento to Asciano, you can visit the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore monastery. This is a monastery located on a high mountain with a beautiful view.
Another very beautiful place that you might consider visiting is La Foce garden located in Val D’Orcia. Entering this garden, you will feel like walking in a large royal garden of a palace, like a mix of Versailles palace and Tuileries Garden. In La Foce, the owner also has villas for rent, but the price will be quite high and require a minimum stay of 2 nights for each booking.
In general, with a travel time of only 2-3 days, it is difficult to fully enjoy the vast Tuscany region. If given the opportunity and conditions, I would love to stay longer than about 1 week. This place is extremely suitable for those who come with family, a fresh air and spacious space for everyone to experience together. Simply rent a large enough SUV, free to explore each road, small villages but hidden full of interesting things in this Tuscany region.
Tuscany travel blog: What and where to eat?
Enjoying pasta, pizza and wine as well as Tuscan cuisine is a fascinating experience you can’t miss! Like Italian cuisine in general, Tuscan cuisine is based on the use of the freshest and simplest ingredients of season including a variety of beans, cheeses, vegetables and fruits. And here are some suggestions for you:
- Crostini Toscani: The word crostini literally means bread, similar to a baguette, served with chopped chicken liver sauce.
- Panzanella (Tuscan-Style Tomato and Bread Salad) is a cold bread salad with the main ingredients including unsalted bread, tomatoes, red onion, basil, olive oil, vinegar, and salt.
- Lardo di Colonnata: This dish is actually pork lard produced in the town of Colonnata.
- Ribollita: Ribollita soup is one of the most popular winter dishes in Tuscany containing different types of cabbage, beans, onions, and carrots.
- Castagnaccio: It is a traditional Tuscan chestnut cake made with chestnut flour, very popular in the Apennine mountain region of Tuscany.
Tuscany blog: Suggested 2-day Tuscany roadtrip and how to get from Florence
As mentioned above, you can take the train to the countryside in Tuscany, but it will be quite inconvenient and take a long time. The most convenient is to rent a car in Florence and then self-drive to the south, through Siena and visit its beautiful countrysides. Rentingg a private car to drive can both be proactive in the schedule while you can go and admire the scenery on the roadside, stop whenever you like.
Details of my 2 day Tuscany itinerary:
Day 1: Took the car from Florence and drove down to Buonconvento, where I booked an overnight stay at a local farm. The itinerary will have to go through Siena so you can choose to go straight on the highway to Buonconvento because my main purpose is to visit Val D’Orcia. If you have time, you may not choose the highway but follow the SR222 road to visit more Panzano or Chianti. Dinner in town and overnight in Buonconvento.
Day 2: Early morning drive to visit two regions Val D’Orcia and San Quirico D’Orcia, which have the most beautiful scenery in Tuscany (in my opinion). Then come back, resting and exploring the farm Podere Salicotto that I chose as a place to stay. On the drive back to Florence I took the route from Buonconvento through Asciano and back to Siena to access the highway to return to Florence.
The route from Florence to Buonconvento has many stops to admire the beautiful scenery on both sides of the road. If your time is tight, you should choose the highway to go for faster, the traveling time for a 150km distance is only about 2.5 hours, the highway is very beautiful and the speed is stable.
After picking up my car from Locauto rental company I started driving out from the center of Florence. The street was not too crowded and easy to go, so you can rest assured, just go according to the law. Follow Google Maps and get out of the city to access the highway. From here running straight to Siena and continue to Buonconvento. One thing to note is that if you want to be fast, you should only take the highway, and you need to pay attention to the road because it is easy to go wrong on roads in town, make the speed will be slow a lot because these roads have many traffic lights, many cars make you cannot go as fast as on the highway.
Tuscany blog: Where to stay in Tuscany?
However, coming to Tuscany, you must stay at a beautiful farm in this region.
Along the romantic swath of Tuscany are vast countrysides known for its rolling hills, cypress trees, charming old towns, stone castles and along with numerous private farms. Each farm with hectare area with quite similar architecture. Houses are built of red bricks or can be called separate villas. It took me a whole week to choose for myself the best place to stay, which is Podere Salicotto’s farm.
The capital of Tuscany is Florence, so it has the largest number of rooms of all types and vary prices as well as making it easy for you to travel to many cities, towns nearby, choose the right day tours to explore beautiful Tuscany. Plus, if you want to try the local experience, it’s also easier to rent an Airbnb in Florence when you’re sharing a house with a local.
But if you like the feeling of waking up in the countryside, Siena is the better choice because the city is small and located among the vast fields of Tuscany.
Tuscany travel guide: Getting to Tuscany
You should go to Florence first because it offers many choices of hotel rooms and also convenient to travel to its surrounding areas. Florence’s services are also easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Buses can be booked at GoEuro.com and train tickets can be purchased at booths at the central station, choose Treinitali or Italo train.
Take a day tour from Florence
I recommend taking a tour to Siena because the cost is quite cheap but there are many interesting experiences for only 44 euros. In addition, you can book a tour to Cinque Terre to explore the equally wonderful Liguria region.
Tuscany blog: What to buy as a gift in Tuscany?
Florence is very famous for its leather goods, you just go to the ancient bridge, there are many leather goods shop with hundreds of years old to buy. In addition, Chianti red wine is also a popular choice.
Souvenirs such as statue of David or the leaning tower of Pisa are also things that tourists often buy as gifts.
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Florence you can refer to
- Duomo Monumental Complex Direct Access Ticket in Florence with Guided Visit
- Florence Duomo, Baptistery, and Museum Tour
- Small Guided Tour with Fast Track Entry to Duomo and the Secret Terraces
- Florence Duomo Skip-the-Line Tour with Balcony & Dome Access
- Uffizi Gallery Guided Tour with Fast Track Entry
- Accademia Gallery Skip-the-Line Ticket in Florence
- Val d’Orcia Tour from Florence
- Pisa Half Day Tour from Florence
- Florence Bike Tour with Food Tasting Experience
- Florence City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Tour (Open Top) and Leonardo da Vinci Museum Skip-the-Line Ticket
- Tuscany Day Tour with Lunch and Wine Tasting from Florence
- Rome to Florence Day Tour
- Chianti Afternoon Tour from Florence
- Excursion to Pisa through the Tuscan Countryside from Florence
- Florence Dome Tour with Skip-the-Line Ticket + Free Souvenir Old Polaroid Photo
- Florence Accademia Gallery Skip-the-Line Ticket with Tour