Tuscany: attractions - Incontri in Terra di Siena

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Tuscany: attractions - Incontri in Terra di Siena
7/26/12
Tuscany: attractions - Telegraph
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Tuscany: attractions
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The best attractions in Italy, including the top 10 districts to visit as well as a seasonal guide, chosen by our
resident expert Lee Marshall.
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8 August 2012
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Map data ©2012 Google, Tele Atlas
Top towns and districts
Lee Marshall
Destination expert
Travel writer Lee
Marshall moved to
Italy in 1984. The
Eternal City is his
first love and he
returns there as often
as possible.
Siena (1)
Some would say that Siena is more of a must­visit than Florence. Though it may not
have quite the over­abundance of artistic riches of its historic rival, this proud
Medieval city­state is unique in the way its layout enacts a kind of symbolic theatre
of the Tuscan civitas, with a series of tight and winding lanes converging on the
shell­shaped open space of Piazza del Campo. Long the centre of civic life,
dominated by the Sienese Gothic Palazzo Pubblico with its frescoed halls and the
lofty Torre del Mangia tower, the Campo is the stage for the bi­annual drama of Il
Palio (2 July and 16 August), when horses and riders representing ten of the town’s
seventeen contradas compete in a breakneck bareback race. See
www.terresiena.it for information on everything from museum opening times to
wine tours.
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Piazza del Campo is the stage for the bi­annual drama of Il Palio, when horses and riders
compete in a breakneck bareback race
© CuboImages srl / Alamy
Read our expert guide to Florence
Pisa (2)
Don’t let the fame of the Leaning Tower distract you from the beauty of the rest of
the Campo dei Miracoli, a planned precinct of sacred architecture that’s unique in
Italy. Built in the homegrown style known as Pisan Gothic, the Duomo, Baptistery
and Camposanto (cemetery) make light with marble, deriving delicacy and grace
from solidity and weight. The Leaning Tower calls the bluff of this illusion: just too
heavy for the weak subsoil, it began to tilt after only three of its eight storeys were
finished. Stabilised in a delicate surgical engineering operation between 1990 and
2001, the tower has retained just enough of its lean to keep the souvenir sellers
and local hoteliers happy. Visiting times (tower) 8.30am­8pm April­September (see
www.opapisa.it for other months and Campo dei Miracoli monuments), full
admission €15. Don’t let Tuscany's Leaning Tower distract you from the beauty of the rest of the Campo dei
Miracoli
© imagebroker / Alamy
Lucca & around (3)
Lovely, laid­back, cultured Lucca (www.luccaturismo.it) is a great place to unwind
for a few days. The town’s sturdy defensive walls give the place a fierce military air
on the outside, but inside, all is graceful piazzas, Pisan Romanesque churches and
al fresco restaurants. Perhaps the one essential sight is Piazza Anfiteatro, a former
Roman amphitheatre which is today a cute civic oval lined with shops and bars. But
you should also make time for at least a couple of the town’s churches: standouts
are the Duomo di San Martino, its atrium decorated with exquisite Lombard bas­
reliefs, and twelfth­century artistic treasurehouse San Frediano. North of Lucca, the
green Garfagnana Valley (www.ingarfagnana.com) is a trekker’s paradise, while
the immediate surrounding of the city are dotted with aristocratic Renaissance
villas and gardens, the most spectacular of which is Villa Reale at Marlia (garden
open 1 March to 30 November 10am­1pm and 2­6pm, closed Mon, full admission
€7, www.parcovillareale.it).
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Make time for Lucca's standout churches including the twelfth­century treasurehouse San
Frediano
© Andrea Matone / Alamy
Arezzo & the Piero della Francesca trail (4)
Once you get past the gauntlet of light industry and nondescript suburbs, the main
town of eastern Tuscany turns on all its centro storico charm. It has some fine
restaurants and wine bars, and what is arguably the single most essential artistic
draw in the whole of Tuscany – Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross
fresco cycle in the church of San Francesco (open Mon­Fri 9am­6.30pm, Sat 9am­
5.30pm, Sun 1­5.30pm, full price entrance €6). The Piero trail can be continued by
making the 50­mile round trip to the artist’s birthplace of Sansepolcro, east of
Arezzo, where the centrally located Museo Civico has no less than four of the
maestro’s works, stopping off on the way there or back in the nearby village of
Monterchi, which houses the delightful, moving Madonna del Parto – a fresco of the
pregnant Virgin Mary, a rare subject in Western art. The provincial tourist board has
a useful flyer with information on the route, opening times and entrance fees, which
can be downloaded at http://turismo.provincia.arezzo.it (click on Publications and
scroll down to ‘Piero della Francesca in the Land of Arezzo’).
Chianti (5) & San Gimignano (6)
The Chianti Classico area between Florence and Siena is a perennial summer
favourite, as much for its amiable cypress, olive, oak­wood and vineyard­strewn
landscape and its shamelessly picturesque castles and villages as for the fine red
wine it produces. The main towns – Greve, Radda, Castellina – can be a little
anonymous. Here it’s more the tiny walled villages like Volpaia that stand out,
together with fortified Medieval abbeys like Badia a Passignano or castle estates
like Ama and Brolio, where wine tasting opportunities abound. East of Chianti,
beyond the Pesa and the Elsa valleys, San Gimignano, the city of the belle torri
(beautiful towers), rises imperiously above the vineyards of its own wine­growing
area – one of the few Tuscan denominazioni to focus on white grapes. It’s famous
as Italy’s ‘Medieval Manhattan’, and the town’s 13th­ and 14th­century glory days
have bequeathed us remarkable monuments like the frescoed Collegiata, or
Sant’Agostino. But it’s very much on the tourist map of Tuscany – so come well out
of season to see San Gimignano at its best. For northern Chianti tourist information,
see www.firenzetursimo.it, for the south of the area www.terresiena.com, and for
San Gimignano www.sangimignano.com.
Tuscany's Chianti area between Florence and Siena is a summer favourite for its amiable
cypress, olive, oak­wood and vineyard­strewn landscape
© Blaine Harrington III / Alamy
The Val d’Orcia (7) & Montalcino (8)
Home to some of the region’s most perfect landscapes, the Val d’Orcia stretches
languidly across an unspoiled and still under­visited swathe of southern Tuscany.
Only the towns on the northern edge of the valley have much in the way of tourism:
lofty, handsome wine town Montepulciano (www.prolocomontepulciano.it) and its
cutesy near neighbor Pienza (www.prolocopienza.it), a rural village which had its
five­year moment of political and architectural fame in the mid 15th­century, then
went back to sleep again. South of here, the pretty hamlet of Monticchiello has a
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couple of worthwhile trattorias, while La Foce (http://lafoce.com), around five miles
south, is a private estate that harbours one of Tuscany’s most seductive formal
gardens – open for visits on Wednesdays and Saturdays. One of Tuscany’s highest
towns, Montalcino (www.prolocomontalcino.it), to the north­west, is at the centre of
the prestigious Brunello wine region. It’s an austere town with a regional enoteca
(wine shop and tasting centre, www.enotecalafortezza.com) in the castle and some
decent restaurants, but the real draw is the ravishing 12th­century abbey of
Sant’Antimo (www.antimo.it, open daily 6am to 9pm), 7 miles south, in a timeless
rural landscape.
Tuscany's lofty, handsome wine town Montepulciano
Seasonal guide
Over the last few years, Lucca’s Summer Festival (www.summer­festival.com)
has risen to become one of Tuscany’s major open­air popular music events.
Around ten concerts each year are staged in July in the atmospheric surroundings
of Piazza Napoleone; Elton John, Liza Minelli and James Blunt were among the
2011 headliners. One of the highlights of the summer season for Tuscan classical music fans is
the Incontri in Terra di Siena (www.itslafoce.org) series of chamber concerts
organised in the grounds of historic estate La Foce, which attract performers of the
calibre of Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Tallis Scholars. The 2012 season opens on
20 July with a recital by tenor Ian Bostridge , and runs until 29 July. Panning out between the end of July and the first week of August, Cortona’s
Tuscan Sun Festival (www.tuscansunfestival.com) mixes culture and la dolce
vita with wine tastings, opera recitals, yoga workouts led by Trudie Styler and
theatrical events (the 2011 event featured Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack among
others). Other high­quality classical music seasons worth watching out for are Siena’s
November to April ‘Micat in Vertice’ and summer ‘Estate Chigiana’
chamber music seasons (for both, see www.chigiana.it) and the Puccini
Festival (www.puccinifestival.it), which takes place in Torre del Lago, the lakeside
village where the composer lived and worked; in 2012, three Puccini operas
(Tosca, La Bohème, Madame Butterfly) and Verdi’s La Traviata will unroll from 20
July to 25 August. Finally, curious shoppers and browsers should not miss Arezzo’s Antique Fair
(www.arezzofieraantiquaria.org): on the first Sunday of each month and the
Saturday that precedes it, the streets and piazzas of the old town are lined with
hundreds of stalls.
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