10 Travel Tips for Tuscany (1 - 5)
Part 1 of a 2 part series
In our many years of traveling through Tuscany we have learned a few things. We use these lessons when we plan our tours and are happy to share some of them with you!
1. Arrive Smart - If you are not already in Europe we recommend flying into Milan. Often, flights to Milan run more than 10% cheaper than the same flight to Rome and tend to be less crowded. Additionally, MIlan Malpensa is a much smaller and user friendly airport than Rome's Fiumicino and the driving time to most locations in Tuscany is nearly equal. Also, by arriving in Milan, if you drive into Tuscany, you can stop at an AutoGrill rest stop in the Emilia Romagna region and pick up some of the best Prosciutto and Parmigiano that you will ever have.
2. Stay in a Central Location - Some folks prefer to hop around and stay a day or 2 in different locations, we find that exhausting. One never remembers where they are waking up and there is the added daily stress of checking out and checking in, packing and unpacking. We prefer to choose a central location to explore Tuscany. If you are planning on not driving, basing out of Florence will allow you to book day tours to some of the Tuscan hill towns and you can take advantage of the fabulous city of art and culture. If you prefer to drive (see tip #3) we like to stay in Chianti. Chianti has an abundance of English speakers, a well developed travel industry and many sights close together. Traveling south to Siena and beyond is a simple day trip. If you are spending 2 weeks, it is also nice to spend a full week in Chianti and a full week closer to Montalcino or south of Siena, to see the stark differences in the northern and southern Tuscan countryside. Either way, don't jump around too much, it's too tiring.
3. Don't Be Afraid to Drive - Driving in Tuscany is a challenge. It is very rural with tiny twisty roads, BUT, the Italians are very good drivers (if a bit crazy) and if you simply follow the rules, do the local speed limits and be respectful of fellow drivers you will not have any problems. Traveling by car allows you the chance to stop at random spots and take pictures of the amazing scenery or to pop in at a vineyard you happened to be passing. Tuscany itself is the destination, not just the towns you can get to by bus. Even if you stay in Florence and book day tours take a day to drive through Tuscany to visit the more obscure and out of the way locations.
4. Stop and Smell the Roses - It's easy to get caught up in collecting Tuscan Tourist Badges but take time to sit in a cafe in a piazza and enjoy an espresso while watching the world pass. When in Montepulciano last year one of our guests approached us after 20 minutes and said, "What's there to do here?" I answered with, "Wander and get lost, enjoy the 'medieval-ness" of the town and have a glass of wine somewhere." By taking the time to wander aimlessly or sit and watch the locals (and laugh at the tour groups) you enjoy the towns of Tuscany in a slightly more intimate way, you become an insider.
5. Picnic - Having a picnic while on vacation scares some people. Where do I get paper plates and plastic ware? Where do I shop? Having a roadside picnic in Tuscany is so simple; in every town there is a butcher and a baker and they are nearly always in, or near, the main piazza. Grab some sliced meats and cheeses and a loaf of bread along with a bottle of wine (most wine stores will give you a couple of plastic cups or you can buy a couple of cheap glasses.) Stop on the side of the road and enjoy a picnic on the hood of your car breaking off hunks of bread and enjoying the meats and cheeses. If you are slightly less adventurous panino (sandwiches) are easy to come by as well - grab one and have a seat at one of the many scenic overlooks and enjoy!
6. Market Days - Market days in the many Tuscan hill towns are fantastic for getting to understand the culture a bit more. Locals sell everything from vegetables to table linens and there is often a foreigner or two trying to sell knock off handbags. The entire town comes out and you see families, excited kids kicking a soccer ball between the feet of passing customers and Nona's bargaining for everything. Elke and I always plan to have lunch at the market on those days. If there isn't a truck selling some sort of fabulous Tuscan pork product, we can usually find enough to fill our tummies at the fruit and vegetable stands. As an added bonus, if you are staying in a self contained vacation apartment you can stock up on fresh supplies! ***Market Days in Tuscany