One of the most beautiful things about Tuscany is getting lost in the region’s small roads and discovering new hidden gems. Don’t know where to start? We asked Nardia, a local journalist and adventurer based in Florence, to narrow down her picks for Tuscan towns worth travelling to that are slightly hidden and lesser known but that should be added to everyone’s itinerary.
Known for its hilltop, stone towers San Gimignano is an iconic sight. In the 14th century 72 torre (towers) filled the sky, their height was a symbol of wealth, power and prestige. Today only 13 remain. Known as the Medieval Manhattan, on approach the town’s silhouette is reminiscent of the New York skyline, once within its 13th century walls it’s a time capsule dedicated to the Middle Ages. Climb the tallest remaining tower, Torre Grossa, at 54 meters, its peak reached by climbing 218 steps. And make time to grab a cone, or cup, at award-winning gelateria, Dondoli, for saffron infused Crema di Santa Fina or a zesty Champelo (grapefruit with sparkling Vernaccia wine).
Lesser travelled as its harder to reach, it’s worth the drive to this picturesque town 500 meters above the sea. Made famous in recent times by the Twilight trilogy, its main piazza is shadowed by the imposing Palazzo dei Priori while neighbouring Volterra Cathedral is filled with history dating back to 1120. Also famed for its alabaster, a soft marble like material used to create ornate statues; Volterra has been occupied since Etruscan times with ancient Roman ruins, including 3rd century baths, also on show.
This tiny town between San Gimignano and Siena is frozen in time and ideal for picture taking within its quaint lanes surrounded by fully intact 13th century walls. Once a garrison town, its lack of public transport means it’s retained much of its original charm. Artisan stores line via Maggio with the best seats to people watch on piazza Roma, ideally with a glass of local Chianti wine in hand basking in the Tuscan sun. Should you be seeking a stay over, the town has one hotel within its walls with twelve boutique rooms open during the warmer months.
Known as the pecorino capital of Tuscany, a delicious sheep’s milk cheese, Pienza is a picturesque hilltop town ideal for the food, and architect, lover. Lined with exquisite 15th century buildings, two standouts include its Renaissance Cathedral and Piccolomini Palace, once the summer residence of Pope Pius. A UNESCO World Heritage Site within Val d’Orcia, if travelling in early September be sure to visit for its annual cheese festival, Fiera del Cacio.