When you picture Tuscany, the first things that come to mind are rolling hills of olives groves, vines heavy with Sangiovese grapes and cypress tree lined villas overlooking medieval hill towns. When we arrived for our 2 week visit we were not disappointed. The views were like postcards and the landscape stretched for miles. We were so excited to get out of the city and have all these small towns to discover!
The best way to explore the Tuscany region is by car. We arrived in Florence by overnight train, picked up our rental car and were on our way. Some tips about rental cars in Europe:
- They come in manual transmission only. I don’t drive standard so it was a big adjustment for Thang to maneuver in the crazy Florentine traffic. Luckily I think we only stalled twice and we were good to go. Ha!
- Cars are reeeeeealllly small. It’s hard to judge the size of the cars when you book online. We arrived on a Saturday and the rental companies were a zoo. We got stuck with a Panda Fiat and we could barely fit our luggage let alone ourselves. Me and the girls squished in the back while we jammed our luggage into the non existent trunk and front passenger seat.
- Lanes are reeeeeealllly narrow. As you make your way towards the smaller towns the autostrada will begin weaving it’s way through villages that sometimes only have a one lane. If we were to get a larger vehicle I have no idea how we would have fit.
- Pay attention to ZTL Zones. Many historical centres in Europe have Limited Traffic Zones, or Zona Traffico Limitato in Italian. They are meant reduce congestion and pollution and there are significant fines for driving into one of these zones unauthorized. It’s great when you don’t have to worry about traffic when you’re on foot but can take a bit of strategy to find the closest parking lot to begin your sightseeing.
Where We Went
We were centrally located at Belmonte Vacanze, which is located in Iano. You can read about our stay here. In every direction we were about an hour away from most of the towns and cities we wanted to visit.
Most of our days ended in our town of Iano where we ate dinner often at a lovely restaurant. They specialize in traditional Tuscan dishes like steaks, truffles and rabbit! The food was so delicious we came back often after days of sightseeing.
We started our exploring in Pisa so that the kids could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Avery was upset she couldn’t climb up because you had to be 8 and over. Instead we did our mandatory tourist shot, had lunch and headed back home.
Next we visited the seaside town of Cecina. We had a nice lunch at the beach, the girls played in the sea and we ate lots of gelato on this very lovely day. We were entering the off-season so crowds were light and some of the businesses were closed. We enjoyed having stretches of beach to ourselves for the girls to wade in and water was warm.
When we went out for the day we were hit with a severe rain storm and the roads were beginning to flood. We decided to wait out the rain at the Livorno Aquarium so the kids could burn off some steam. The aquarium is touted as the largest in Tuscany and unfortunately we were disappointed by the offering for the price we paid. The displays were small and there was not much to see besides their large turtles in the main tank. We still made the best of a rainy day and the girls still had fun.
We visited Florence on two different days. The first time we parked our car in Empoli and trained into Florence. We first visited the Galleria dell’Accademia to admire Michelangelo’s David. I didn’t realize how big the original statue was! We paid the extra 4 Euros per adult to skip the line and we were inside within 5 minutes. Don’t fall for all the “guides” outside offering tours and skipping the line at over 60 Euros per person!On our second visit we drove into town and parked instead. It was much more convenient and allowed us to stay later in the city. We met some of our friends from home who were also vacationing in Europe and had a lovely lunch catching up and sharing travel stories!Next we took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus to Piazza Michelangelo to get a panoramic view of the city. We got some magnificent views until we were hit with a thunder and HAIL storm! We all got completely soaked waiting for the bus to come back to pick us up.
By the time we reached the bottom of the hill the rain had stopped and we walked along the Ponte Vecchio to see the gold shops and street performers. We had dinner in the Piazza della Repubblica and the kids had fun riding the carousel at night.
Our first visit was marred by rain. We quickly drove around the fortress walls of the old town and continued on our way. We returned again when the weather was better and we were able to get some great drone footage. Take a look!
- San Gimignano
San Gimignano was by far my most favourite town in Tuscany. We had a delicious lunch al fresco with views of the valley below, ate the best Gelato in the World and wandered the streets of old town. It was the perfect end to our Tuscan leg of our journey!