|Situated in north-central Italy on the Tyrrhenian, Tuscany is arguably the most famous region of all Italy. Many know of Naples, for example, but few have ever heard of its surrounding province of Campania. Tuscany, on the other hand, has established a reputation for its lovely countryside, ancient cities and pleasant living that make it attractive to tourists, expats and retirees alike. People write novels and set movies in Tuscany, and for very good reason.
The attractions of Tuscany reach back to antique times, as was amply demonstrated by the ancient civilization of the Etruscans. These people were the first large scale and organized native civilization of Italy, and once upon a time were the colonial overlords of the Romans. That eventually changed and the tables were turned, but the Etruscans gave much to the Romans and many of the things we think of as being distinctly Roman--such as the origins of the legion--were actually Etruscan. Tuscany is not one of the best places to take in the grandeur of the ancient world, but it still has some remains of its Etruscan and Roman past at places like Vetulonia, Volterra and Fiesole.
The core tourist attraction of Tuscany is undoubtedly its greatest city, Florence. The city was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and thus in a sense much of Western Civilization as we think of it today. It is the city of Galileo, Machiavelli, de Medici and Michelangelo. The greatest single legacy of this period is the Uffizi gallery and museum, home of the Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, as well as works by Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci, Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. Other famous artworks reside elsewhere in the city, such as Michelangelo's sculpture of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia. On top of these attractions are the glories of the city's medieval and Renaissance architecture, such as the Duomo and the Vecchio Bridge.
Elsewhere in Tuscany is another famous tourist attraction, Pisa. The city is famous for its leaning tower, of course, but it is easily worth a lengthy stop of its own. Pisa was once a major city in Italy before being eclipsed by neighbouring Florence at the dawn of the Renaissance. It continues to enjoy many of the lovely architectural adornments of its late medieval prominence. The city is also Italy's major college town, with almost 1/3 of its inhabitants being students at the local university. That gives it a youthful, lively feel that offers quite a contrast to its ancient physical appearance.
Tuscany is not often thought of as a beach destination, but it does enjoy a long Tyrrhenian coastline, most of it sitting in a single province called Livorno. The mainland isn't much, but it does grant access to the Tuscan Islands. These islands include Elbe, famous for Napoleon's 1815 escape. The island was meant to be an attractive retirement home for Napoleon, and with its excellent country hiking and full dozen of lovely Mediterranean beaches it is easily one of the most overlooked beach destinations in Italy.
Of course, the best way to see Tuscany is by bicycle. The low rolling hills of the countryside make for one, long country bike ride. A cross-country tour will take in marvellous old castles and cathedrals, small towns and big cities, and plenty of vineyards, pastures, grain fields, olive groves and old villas. The best time for such a bike-based tour of Tuscany is in the spring and autumn. The summer sun is pleasant only when you don't have to spend all day out pedalling a bicycle in it!
Another feature of Tuscany is its wine. The sangiovese reds of Tuscany, including the famed Chianti, are the arguably most famous wines of Italy. With its lovely countryside and fine wines, the region is one of the two best places in the entire country for making a wine tour.
A close adjunct to Tuscan wine is Tuscan cuisine. Tuscan food is well known for its rustic, farmhouse qualities. Long a productive agricultural region, Tuscany has its own regional flavours, including Pecorino cheese and its tasty ham. There are plenty of traditional, simple dishes that are based firmly on bread, olive oil and beans. At the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, this is the best region of Italy to go for steak or wild game. This combination of farming and cooking offers its own special forms of tourism. Cooking classes, some lasting as long as a week, are popular among visitors to Tuscany. Equally attractive is rural tourism, which covers everything from old and remote villas converted into bed and breakfasts to working farms that trade room and board for part-time labour.
With its combination of great art, lovely countryside and excellent food, Tuscany is one of those places in which one could spend an entire lengthy holiday and be content. Indeed, its charms are so powerful that many people fall in love with the place and either never leave or go home and dream of setting their retirement there. It is the kind of marvellous place that no one visits without wanting to eventually go back.