There are many reasons to marry: love, devotion, the dress! But let’s face it, after many hectic months of planning your big day, the honeymoon will seem as good a reason as any! But with endless choice, where does one go?
Well if your fantasy is of cobbled streets, piazzas, and elegant pavement cafe’s with an abundance of culture and history, then look no further than Tuscany.
That along with its unique exquisite scenery of olive groves, vineyards and stunning sunsets, makes this one of Italy’s prettiest and most romantic regions.
When one thinks of Tuscany, the image often conjured is that of the usual suspects, Florence (or Frenze) and Sienna. The romantic opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, is famously supposed to have said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” and you may be tempted to make the same trade for these cities alone. However, despite each of the cities strikingly beautiful architecture and cultural significance, dating back to the Middle Ages with the Renaissance in particular — Tuscany has an abundance of hidden gems that are far from being the poor relation, each boasting its own cultural interest and beauty but without the hoards of tourists and hefty price tag.
A perfect location
We stayed in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, a strategically placed town perfect for travelers of bygone eras stopping off on their sojourns from Florence to Sienna, hence its name which is derived from the name ‘Tavern’ where many a Pope, artist and Pilgrim has rested his weary head.
Today Tavernelle remains just that - a little local town in the perfect location for all the major areas of interest, (Florence 28 Km - Siena 41 Km - Arezzo 91 Km.) It may lack the architectural distinction of its bigger, more famous counterparts, (although it does have an almost perfectly preserved church dating back to the 5th Century,) but it comes with a more realistic price tag. It is also accessible to main areas via public transport.
Where to stay
Our accommodation was the beautiful La Capannina di Matteo a farmhouse/barn conversion made up of six houses, and a short walk from Tavenelle’s center, which boasts an array of shops and amenities from pharmacies, doctors and banks, to clothes shops and a variety of eateries. It is also home to a large supermarket and a bustling market.
The farmhouse complex is a typical example of Chianti rural architecture, but its recent renovation allows you to experience rustic Tuscany with all the creature comforts of five star luxury.
Each beautifully designed house, (which varies from accommodating between two and six people,) enjoys its own private garden and patio/BBQ area.
A shared pool is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens within the gated complex.
The surrounding areas are a mecca of vineyards and olive groves with regular tours and sampling of the finest Tuscan wines and oils.
The usual suspects
Of course one cannot visit Tuscany without exploring its most famous cities. Florence is an enchanting city where, from a cultural point of view, you could easily exhaust yourself for a week straight of visiting museums, churches and cathedrals. From the world-famous Uffizi and Accademia to the lesser known Horne Museum, almost every building houses something to be discovered. Or simply soak up the romantic atmosphere of this bewitching city with its cobbled streets and breathtaking views from the famous ‘Ponte Vecchio’ bridge.
Chancing upon a symphony orchestra in the Piazza della Signoria was a truly enchanting highlight of our visit, but not uncommon in this magical city.
Sienna, also famed for its museums, medieval cityscape and art, holds a different atmosphere altogether. Still breathtaking in its architecture, its dramatic Gothic artistic glories may lack the romance of Florence’s renaissance era, but what it lacks in romance, it makes up for in sensational buildings and art. Being the first European city to limit motor traffic in its historic center in the 1960’s, Sienna is a joy to stroll around on foot - although be prepared for a few thousand other tourist feet to be strolling with you!
Expect to chance upon magnificent buildings like the Palazzo Comunale - which features as the back drop to the famous Palio horse race - and the Catherdral in Piazza del Duomo which dates back to 1196 and is said to be one of Italy’s finest Golthic structures.
Lucca, may be less known than Florence and Sienna, yet it manages to encapsulate the charm of both cities within its high walls. Yes, it has the arts, (Puccini was born here,) and dating back to the 17th Century with numerous churches and medieval towers, it certainly has the history. But its as though the broad high walls surrounding the city have created an oasis which allows it to be less busy, less touristy, calmer somehow, yet still so typically Italian.
The lack of cars within the walls, means that everyone is either traveling on foot or bike through the pretty, narrow winding streets, or upon the cities walls which are crowned by 4km of parkland. Riding through the elegant streets of Lucca, stopping off to people watch at one of its many pavement cafe’s, is like stepped back in time to a far more elegant era.
For those occasions when you really want to avoid the maddening crowds, a mere two kilometers outside Tavernelle is the tiny Medieval town of Barberino Val d' Elsa. This small, but perfectly formed town simply pulsates with history and legend, but its the views that make this place so special. Sitting with a glass of wine overlooking the vast rolling hills of the Tuscan landscape is simply idyllic. If you didn’t visit another town, having experienced the views from Barbarino, you will have experienced the essence of Tuscany.
Another hidden gem is the beautiful Medieval town of San Gimigano. Located about halfway between Florence and Sienna, this beautiful walled town is a scaled down version of Florence. Like many towns and cities in Tuscany, July and August in San Gimigano is a hotspot for festivals and music concerts, from classical and operatic to rock events. The main square is impossibly beautiful as are the many cobbled streets home to exquisite little shops, pavement cafe’s and restaurants, including an ice cream shop in the main square voted the best in the world in 2012!! And finally for you beach lovers.
You may not typically associate this part of Italy with its memorable coastline, but there is a little gem of a place that is certainly no secret to Italy’s well heeled. Forte dei Marmi is much like a mini St Tropez, making this swanky seafront town the most exclusive beach resort in northern Tuscany.
Long stretches of golden sandy beaches, chic restaurants and more designer shops than you can shake your credit card at, have enticed many a famous face to this beautiful area. On top of that, you will not be trading the coast for the countryside in terms of beauty, as the mountainous backdrop is every bit as breathtaking as the coastline.
Photographs taken by Richard Chaplin