Samuel Johnson has said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” This is more or less how I feel about Italy.
My 30th birthday was spent on a hike through Cinque Terre, with splendid views of the Italian Riviera, to work up the nerve to tell my friends and family I’ll be moving to London. My mother and sister then came to visit me, shortly after my move, and we proceeded to Florence and ate our way through the city. The Brit led me to Rome for an emergency holiday, just last year, when stress took its toll on me. More recently, we celebrated our wedding surrounded by our close friends & family and the lush green Luccan landscape – then escaped to Venice for our mini-moon.
I’ve learned a thing or two during my travels around Florence, Pisa and Lucca in particular. For those who want to maximize their short stay in these Tuscan towns, here are my top 5 tips:
1. Rent a car and drive up the hills for a different pace from the tourist-riddled cities. There will be a few hair-raising, tight turns on the narrow roads uphill but that’s not what you’ll likely remember when you look back at the experience. Instead you’ll recall the best meal you had in the most charming little Tuscan restaurant by the hillside.
2. Book tickets to the major attractions ahead of time. Lines to museums such as the Uffizi and Galleria dell Accademia are endlessly long. It is worth paying the extra 4 euro surcharge to save an hour of wait time.
3. Look up, look down, look all around. In smaller cities such as Lucca, it’s a wanderer’s dream. Roam around with a map tucked in your pocket and take a stroll, preferably with a gelato in hand. You’ll ultimately come across a tower or a duomo that will allow access up several flights of stairs and provide a different perspective of the city.
4. Join a group tour or hire a private tour guide. I do think tour operators are a bit of a hit or miss but with some research you can increase your chances of an informative and pleasant experience. We went on a 3 hour Florence food tour that introduced us to local specialties we probably wouldn’t have encountered on our own. You can also bypass a third party operator and arrange your own visit. I particularly enjoyed the time when we took to the hills for a vineyard tour & olive oil tasting held by the people who run the estate.
5. Don’t discount Pisa. There apparently is more to see than just the Leaning Tower. The Piazza dei Miracoli is the main tourist hot spot where in addition to the Leaning Tower there are beautiful architectural structures that are worthy of a visit. A picnic in the grassy square is also a nice way to people watch the afternoon away.We have yet to make our way to the southern regions of Tuscany but it shouldn’t be too long before we embark on that adventure. If you have any recommendations or tips on maximizing a stay in Tuscany, please do share!