Some inspiration for places to go to discover unexpected cultural, artistic and historical treasures, to find out more about the towns, ideal routes for walking and good alternatives to the classic tourist routes which lead to the great cities of art.
In Val d’Elsa, within the walls of San Gimignano, tourists walk around constantly looking upwards, captivated by the 15 reddish towers which compete with each other to touch the sky: from the tower of the Antico Palazzo del Podestà to the extreme heights of the Torre Grossa of the Palazzo Nuovo, from the twin towers of the Ardinghelli, to the nimble Ghibelline towers of the Salvucci.
Breathe in the medieval atmosphere in Suvereto. In the centre, you will find artisan workshops, booths and monuments that have remained unchanged for centuries (palazzo Comunale, the cloister of the Convent of San Francesco, the Church of the Crocifisso, the Parish Church of San Giusto, the Aldobrandesca fortress).
Pontremoli, mentioned by Archbishop Sigeric during his pilgrimage along the via Francigena, has an interesting medieval historic centre, defended by the Piagnaro castle, home to the Stele Statue Museum.
In the land of the Renaissance, home to many great artists, Vinci pays homage to Leonardo, guiding tourists through an itinerary which leads to the Leonardo Museum at the Castle of the Guidi Counts – where the inventor’s original machines and models are conserved – and to his family home, just 3 kilometres from the town.
The list of walking tours continues through the porticoes and architectural jewels of Poppi. The Castle of the Guidi Counts can be found in the walled city, a prototype of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, where Leonardo da Vinci frescoed the famous battle of Anghiari, which took place in 1440.
Anghiari, the fortified town in the upper Tiber Valley, has kept its 12th-13th-century walls, on which sits the apse of the Church of Sant’Agostino and the bastion of the vicar. Walking through the ancient grounds of the historic centre, along the steep ruga, among simple medieval houses and elegant Renaissance palaces, you are inevitably drawn to the antique shops, where you can witness the delicate and patient work of restorers.
In Volterra there is an almost unique tradition of working with alabaster: passing through the historic centre tourists will find artisan studios, plenty of tower houses and palaces, enhanced by the cathedral, baptistery and piazza dei Priori, one of the most charming medieval areas in Italy.
Tuscan villages have also been sources of inspiration for famous poets: near the house where Giovanni Pascoli lived, in Castelvecchio Pascoli, the town of Barga has a maze of irregular paths which unfold among houses and noble Renaissance palaces, climbing over the top of the hill, dominated by the imposing structure of the Romanesque cathedral, with views over the rooftops of the old town and the green Serchio Valley, to the peak of the Apuan mountains.
In Valdinievole, from Montecatini Terme, built almost entirely in the Italian Liberty style in the 19th century, you ascend to the historic Montecatini Alto on a funicular rail from 1850 which has kept its original carriages and wooden interior.
One of the greatest popes in history, the proud Gregory VII, was born in Sovana (in Sorano). Set between two gorges, the majestic ruins of the Aldobarndesca fortress are preserved there, along with the Palazzo Pretorio, the Capitano loggia, the Romanesque Church of Santa Maria and the thousand-year old cathedral.
You can’t miss the neighbouring Pitigliano, with houses lying on the edge of an overhanging tuff rock.
Also on Etruscan land, on a hill in the Val d’Era, the Medici castle of Lari stands tall, a sought-after strategic commercial point for merchants’ caravans coming from Volterra on their way to the north, towards the lower Valdarno. The houses in Lari seem to be seeking protection and security, leaning against the walls of the fortress that hosts a variety of events, from theatrical performances to concerts.
Now that you know more about them: the thousand-year old towns that are scattered around the Tuscan countryside are an extraordinary source of identity, tradition and quality, and can be the perfect departure points to explore the provinces of the region, through cultural and artistic trails, museums, ancient parish churches, forts and stately and rural homes… all on foot.