Tuscany

The most beautiful region of the Belpaese (Beautiful country) lies on Italy’s west coast, next to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It has two faces, big cities on the one hand and stunning rural areas on the other. Tuscany is however united in its internationally renowned sensorial pleasures, ranging from renaissance art to history, food and of course wine! The area is easy to explore: enjoy the medieval splendours of Florence, Siena, Pisa and wander the undulating Chianti countryside. Tuscany boasts ten provinces Arezzo, Florence, Grosseto, Livorno, Lucca, Massa-Carrara, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena. It is also famous for the eco green area of Casentino and the wine growing region of Chianti both close to Poggio Piglia.
 
A cathedral can be found in every Tuscan city and each duomo harbours its own priceless masterpieces. The Chiusi Cathedral is the oldest in all of Tuscany and dates from the 6th Century. The Archaelogical Museum displays many Etruscan artifacts and Greek pottery and the Labyrinth that runs under the city of Chiusi are of Etruscan origin and possibly used for water supply and drainage.
 
It is perfectly acceptable to visit Tuscany for its wine alone! Between Florence and Siena lie the most famous Italian wine producers including the Orcia DOC, Montalcino and Montepulciano producers. 
Tuscany boasts over 30 wines with a prestigious Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) certificate, some of which have also obtained the Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) certificate. Famous wines are most notably the sangiovese reds such as Chianti (although some very cheap but drinkable Chiantis must be distinguished from the Chianti Classico and other top Chiantis), Brunello di Montalcino (excellent with a Florentine steak) The Orcia DOC  in the heart of the Val D'Orcia, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Cheaper options of the last wines are the Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano. Whilst mostly red wine carries the DOCG label the white Vernaccia of San Gimignano is a white DOCG wine. Today it is also possible to find some of the best Tuscan wines labeled with the modern Indicazione geografica tipica designation, often the sign of a more "international" wine. The evolution of this area has resulted over the last 4 decades in a Super Tuscan wine traditionally produced in Bolgheri, Maremma and many other parts of Tuscany.
Gubbio

With a history that dates bck to the Bronze Age Gubbio is famous for the Eugubine (or Iguvine) Tables found here – bronze tablets constituting the largest surviving Umbrian text. Gubbio has a violent history with many wars including the Crusades fought by its inhabitants. The town is decidedy medieval with Gothic architecture and dark stone. Visit the Roman Theatre and the Roman Mausoleum, the Palazzo dei Consoli (harbouring the famous Eugubine Tables) and the 12th Century Duomo with its striking rose window. Every year on May 15 the famous Corsa dei Ceri takes place when three teams race through cheering supporters whilst carrying 280 kg’s worth of statue each! Gubbio is also home to Renaissance pottery and is the setting for the fable of St Francis and the Wolf.

Perugia

The Perugian griffin looks out from the capital of Umbria across the province of Perugia. Home to artists such as Perugino and Pinturicchio and the famous architect Alessi the settlement first appears in recorded history around 310 BC. Through the ages many popes have come to Perugia to escape the tumult of Rome and the city has also survived many earthquakes. Perugia is famous for its chocolate (notably Baci) and hosts a chocolate festival every October. There are many religious buildings of interest including the Cathedral of S Lorenzo, the Basilica of San Domenic and the templar church of San Bevignate. The Fontana Maggiore and the university botanical gardens also deserve mention.

San Gimignano

The tiny walled medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano is famous for its architecture, specifically for its 14 preserved towers that can be seen from afar and its excellent white wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Take in the panoramic view from the Palazzo del Popolo tower and view Italian Renaissance art in the Sant’Agostino. The video game Assassin’s Creed II explores 15th century San Gimignano.

Cortona

Cortona is one of the principal artistic and cultural towns of the Val di Chiana second only to Arezzo. Founded by the Etruscans and important since Roman times, the city’s early history is the subject of much debate. The forger Annio of Viterbo claims that Noah landed here 108 days after the flood and his descendant Crano built the city of Cortona. Regardless of its origin the city retains much of its medieval architecture with steep, narrow streets and views across all of Valdichiana. It has many treasures to offer modern travellers. Among the many sites to be visited, those absolutely not to be missed include Cortona Cathedral, with its medieval Romanesque facade and the Etruscan Academy Museum, founded in 1727 from the library and collections of Onofrio Baldelli it is home to numerous important Etruscan bronzes and the lmpadario or Etruscan hanging lamp. The town also boasts two panels by Fra Angelico in the Diocesan Museum.

Pienza

Considered as the original touchstone of Renaissanc urbanism conceivedby Rossellino and Alberti, Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stands upon the green hills of the Val d'Orcia. The trapezoidal Palazzo Piccolomini is reminiscent of Alberti’s Palazzo Rucellai in Florence and the Duomo dominates the piazza with a façade that is one of the earliest Renaissance examples. Palazzo Borgia was built to house bishops travelling to Pienza to attend to the pope – today it houses the Diocesan Museum and the Museo della Cattedrale with many local textile works and religious artifacts on display. The frazione of Monticchiello is a series of grottoes carved from the rock by hermit monks. The monastery scenes of the English Patient was filmed in Pienza.

Siena

Five hundred years ago the city of Siena was first saved from destruction through its Florentine conquest. Preserved through the ages by virtue of its geography, it was simply too remote to be influenced by the great machinations of the Renaissance that transformed other Italian towns. This particular historic fate makes the Siena you visit today probably one of the best preserved examples of Middle Age life on our planet. A splendid university town it certainly has a lot to offer.

Pisa

The leaning bell tower of the Pisa duomo famously leans towards the southwest. It was started in 1173 and the artistic architectural structure took 177 years to complete. It is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli which is a UNESCO World Heritage site that contains the city’s most famous sights including the Duomo di Pisa which contains artwork by Giambologna and Della Robbia. The Battistero has fabulous acoustics and brave visitors can sing next to the wall to create a cascade of echoes. The University Botanical Gardens and Giardino Scotto are also well worth a visit and take the time to admire the giant Tuttomondo mural painted by Keith Haring, between the train station and Corso Italia.

Montepulciano

Perched on a narrow limestone ridge of land, 605m above sea level, Montepulciano is the highest of Tuscany's hill towns. This Medieval and Renaissance town offers some of the best wine in Italy today (including the celebrated Nobile di Montepulciano) and is also famous for its pork, cheese, pici pasta, lentils and honey. Dating back to the 4th century BC the town has certainly earned its place in history. Do visit the Palazzo Comunale and the travertine Palazzo Tarugi. The Santa Maria Assunta features a huge Assumption of the Virgin triptych by Bartolo. Movie buffs will recognize the town as the Volturic seat of power in the poplar New Moon (Twilight saga).

Florence

The legendary glory of the entire Tuscany lies at your feet from Florence. The Florentine Florin was one of the most successful currencies of all time and this traditional economic centre of Renaissance Italy remains essentially a busy business centre. The six ball crest of the Medici family can still be found hidden like a clue around the city and Giotto’s Campanile, Brunelleschi’s dome, the Basilica di Santa Croce and the Uffizi, Pitti and Accademia galleries perfectly showcases the finest talent Florence had to offer. Blessed with an early run of economic boom Florence remains a powerhouse with Gucci and Ferragamo on display. Not only is it the famous home of Italian shopping brands, but cafes, restaurants, theatres, open air and mini-markets together with the leather market and picturesque handcraft shops abound. Do not miss the Accademia Gallery, where the famous David by Michelangiolo is preserved or the Uffizi Gallery. The city is filled with classic gourmet restaurants and hot designer eateries. Remember to have a famous Florentine Chianti and dare to partake in a Super Tuscan cult wine with the legendary Florentine steak too! The crest of the Medici family can still be found hidden like a clue around the city and Giotto’s Campanile, Brunelleschi’s dome, the Basilica di Santa Croce and the Uffizi, Pitti and Accademia galleries perfectly showcases the finest talent Florence had to offer. The secrets of Florence includes one of the oldest pharmacies in the world the Santa Maria Novella Laboratory – stop here and buy essences and perfumes based on formulas devised for Catherine de ‘Medici around 1500.