With so much to offer in terms of culture, history and taste, it can be hard to decipher which locations to visit when in Italy. Although each city offers it's own unique charm, if indulging in incredible delicacies and (debatably) even better wine rank highly on your Italian to-do list, Tuscany is simply unmissable. During my stay I was stationed in Florence, a city which won me over with it's style, classic European architecture and ambience. The city is slightly less crowded than Rome in the summertime (albeit still a tourist hot-spot) which is always a nice perk during peak season. I stayed at Grand Hotel Cavour which was ideally located for exploring the city. Just a short walk from the main piazzas and countless shopping hot-spots (both high end and niche, local vendors) make this hotel an ideal resting spot for any busy traveller. The hotel's biggest drawcard is its panoramic rooftop terrace offering one of the most sweeping views of the city. It's worth noting that the rooftop is incredibly intimate and its capacity is strictly limited, but If you're on a budget and staying somewhere a little more affordable, keep in mind that the terrace is not reserved exclusively for hotel guests. If you want to watch the sunset over the Duomo, reserve a table (for a small fee) at the hotel's reception to secure your place.
The streets are sites unto themselves. With so many beautiful buildings and attractions (many of which are free) within accessible walking distance, entertaining yourself in Florence is no challenge. The iconic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is just as beautiful viewed up close as it is from afar. Admire the beautiful tile-work up close, and be sure to stop for lunch in the surrounding resturants for both a delicious meal and gorgeous view (and in stark contrast to Rome, the prices don't skyrocket due to a resturants proximity). Visit Loggia Dei Lanzi (an open air gallery) to view stunning sculptures in a bustling atmosphere with ease and convenience, whilst also avoiding those hefty entrance fees that slowly add up throughout your trip. Stroll nearby to Ponte Vecchio and admire not only the bridge's mesmerising archways but also the intricate works of artists and jewellers selling their handicrafts nearby.
No trip to Tuscany is complete without booking a wine tour to visit the sweeping vineyards of the famed Chianti region. Be sure to book well in advance if travelling in peak season as most tours do book out. Deciding on a tour can be difficult but if you're on a tight budget like me try Grape Escape; the tour I decided on after obsessively comparing which trip would allow me to guzzle the most wine for the best price. Enjoy a relaxing day visiting the beautiful countryside and tasting world-class wines from multiple family-operated businesses. Most vineyards have websites or offer global shipping, so if you do find a wine that you love, it needn't be a one day affair. If you do take some fancy Chianti wine home for a later date, please don't make my mistake and leave it in your hand luggage at the airport (there are few things in life that are more heart-wrenching than watching fine wine be thrown in the trash).
Tuscany is the perfect region to explore for a taste of Italy's authentic produce (namely: wine). If you want to experience a stunning Italian metropolis and have already visited the eternal city of Rome, give Florence a chance to charm you and you just might love it as much as I did!
Have you been to Tuscany? I'd love to hear your feedback or questions in the comments below.