Tuscany holiday guide

Written by Donald Strachan, Italy specialist and Travel Writer for The Guardian.

Rural features

The Tuscan landscape forms the backdrop to many a Renaissance painting. Rolling hills are crested with cypress-studded ridges; rhythmic vine terraces and olive groves sweep away to the horizon. At Orbetello and along the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli, birdwatchers enjoy one of Europe's most important migratory stop-offs—and the beaches of the Monte Argentario and Viareggio, respectively, are on the doorstep.

Things to do

Art and architecture; food and drink; roaming the stone streets and staircases of a Medieval hilltop town—these are the mainstays of any Tuscany itinerary. But there is more to the region. Shop for designer threads along Florence's Via de' Tornabuoni or at The Mall, in the Valdarno. In the Apennine foothills, hike the wilderness of the Garfagnana or the monastic trails of the Casentino. And the scenery is just as good from two wheels—cycling is the best way to explore the back-roads of the Chianti or the eroded clay Crete Senesi, south-east of Siena.

Eating and drinking

Seasonality and simplicity are the hallmarks of Tuscan cooking—the best chefs let the ingredients speak for themselves. And why not, when beef from the Chianina breed of cattle makes a succulent bistecca alla fiorentina, and when simple dishes like panzanella (a salad of bread, tomato, Tuscan olive oil, and basil) or a wild-boar ragù hardly need any fanfare.

Tuscany is also one of the world's great red wine regions. Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti all produced within quality-controlled growing zones.

From the Medieval period through to the Renaissance, Tuscany led the way in European art and architecture. In Florence, Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise and Brunelleschi's ochre cathedral dome face each other across Piazza del Duomo. Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci were all Tuscans, and left works across the region, especially in Florence.

Pisa's glory days came a little earlier, during the Romanesque period, yet the city is most famous for a campanile (bell tower) that went wrong: the Leaning Tower. Siena's style is Gothic, in the architecture of the shell-shaped Campo (main square) and on the frescoed walls of its Palazzo Pubblico.

Airports in Tuscany

Pisa (PSA - Galileo Galilei) is Tuscany´s international airport, located about 40 minutes´drive west of Florence.

Florence (FRL - Peretola), north-west of the city, is a smaller airport receiving domestic and European flights.

If your villa is in southern or eastern Tuscany, one of Rome´s two airports may be a more practical option: Fiumicino (FCO) is the larger, for international flights; Ciampino (CIA) has a fewer facilities and caters to the discounters and smaller European airlines. Both are just off Rome´s ring road, the GRA, and convenient to all the motorways.

The little airport at Perugia (PEG - Sant´Egidio), in Umbria, is convenient for eastern Tuscany and receives domestic italian flights and discout airlines from UK.

Museums

Museo di San Marco, Florence. We left San Marco out on our tour of Florence so as not to walk you off your feet, but this Dominican convent-turned- museum is worth a special visit. As interesting for the insight it gives into the monks' lives (including Savonarola) as it is for the wonderful paintings and frescoes by Fra Angelico.

Il Giardino dei Tarocchi, Capalbio. Call it an open-air museum or an art installation, the Tarot Garden' is fun, colourful and utterly unique. French artist Niki de Saint-Phalle took 17 years to build this collection of towering Tarot figures that you can walk through, on. A minuscule museum in a village that is almost a museum in itself. Lucignano is comprised of four streets laid in concentric ovals. The museum houses one superb treasure, the Golden Tree (shown at right), a 2.6m/8.5-foot reliquary from 1350 . Its 12 branches are hung with coral, rock crystals and miniatures; a golden crucifix and pelican are perched on top.