Tuscany, with its art, its colors and flavors, has fascinated you. That’s why you have to visit Florence surroundings. With its artistic treasures and its architectures, this town bears the marks of History. But just get out of the center and you will find out so much.
You want to visit Tuscany again, but from a different perspective: things to do in Tuscany are a lot. What you want to plan today is a journey to discover the surroundings of Florence and the many places which are embedded as precious gems in the hills of Tuscany.
Follow me, then. I will accompany you to discover this territory, notifying you of the unforgettable villages and the delicacies to enjoy. And if you decide to rent a car with a private driver in Tuscany, everything will be even simpler. Because you can choose your best itinerary in Tuscany, how much time to spend in each stop and you can experience every moment of your trip at your convenience.
Things to do in Tuscany: Chianti Region
Far away from the chaos of the city, you will be lost in the green hills of this area, and cross roads surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, brooms and oaks, characterized by a succession of small villages and farmhouses. The landscape is so rich and varied that every glimpse invites you to stop to admire it.
If your intention is to organize a tour of the local wineries, enjoying the quiet of this land, you will need a car to explore this area, as the buses are infrequent and rarely stop there.
However, a Chianti wine tour will be not complete without tasting a good glass of Chianti. With its ruby color, its characteristic smell and its dry taste, Chianti in 1996 has been awarded DOCG status.
Chianti wine taste: where to go
Chianti wine tasting in the region are generally offered by wine shops and local wine producers. If you want to visit a local company and enjoy its wine tasting, the advice is always to contact the property in advance and to book it. If you plan a day trip from Florence, these are the companies where you can taste a great Chianti.
Fattoria Dianella is located on the hills of Vinci and its owners follow all the stages of the wine making process, from harvesting to aging and bottling. A museum of wine making process has also been set up in the structure, and it is possible to visit all the environments where processing takes place.
Not far from the town of Greve in Chianti, this place will offer you a tour to discover its vineyards and its historic cellars. In addition to wine tasting, the tour can also be completed with a lunch or dinner in the Castle restaurant.
Torre a Cona
A villa located in Rignano sull’Arno. Tastings are served in the ancient barn of the farm and, upon reservation, you can enjoy a full tour, including the cellar visit.
Tuscan villages to visit
If history is your passion and what you want to do is immersing yourself in culture, I recommend you not to miss a tour in the numerous and fascinating medieval Tuscan villages that surround the landscape just outside of Florence.
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, it was a commercial area. But here, many fights between the cities of Florence and Siena took place, too: the towns wanted actually to rule this land. Castles and fortified villages, hidden in the woods and valleys, are silent witnesses to these clashes. And the destination of your excursion around Florence.
These historic buildings emerge from the stone as natural elements of the landscape. Among the things to do in Tuscany, what are the Medieval villages around Florence that you cannot miss? Let’s find out together.
Greve in Chianti
If you love Chianti area and you want to improve your tour from a cultural point of view, a stop at the hamlet of Greve in Chianti will satisfy your wishes. In a strategic position between Florence and Siena, the village was an important commercial center in the Middle Ages.
The village is located in the shadow of the castle of Montefioralle, which dominates it from above. Life, today as then, revolves around its central square, Piazza Matteotti. On Saturday there is a local market, where you can buy local food and wine as well as household goods and flowers.
The square has a characteristic shape of triangle and is enclosed by an elegant portico with some shops beneath. The town is small and on a human scale: its center can easily be visited with a relaxing walk.
San Gimignano is a Unesco World Heritage site. Its origins are shrouded in myth. The city had its greatest development in the Middle Ages, thanks to a flourishing wool trade and money lending. In the 14th century, a terrible plague decimated the population. It marked the end of its prestige with its subjugation to Florence.
A visit to the old town will touch your heart. The Middle Ages here appears frozen in time. Symbol of the city, still enclosed within the walls, are the towers, which once showed the economic power of the families.
The towers are 13 today, even if in the Middle Ages they were 72. The towers were both places to live or to carry out a business activity. The workshops were at the lower floor; the houses were at the upper floors.
Later, other kind of buildings were created in different styles, following the influences of the other villages with whom San Gimignano got in touch. All that contributed to the unique charm, the town has preserved until today.
The central Piazza della Cisterna (Cistern Square) and Piazza Duomo (The Cathedral square) are not to be missed. Noteworthy is the Cathedral, an example of Tuscan Romanesque style, dating back to 1100, which still has traces of the ancient fresco decoration of the most important Tuscan artists.
The Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà dates back to the same period, enlarged and embellished in successive periods and characterized by the bold facade. To see in your excursion around Florence: the Porta delle Fonti, the Santa Fina House (Santa Fina is the patron saint of the city) and the town hall.
With walls and fortified towers, Certaldo will welcome you with its Medieval history. The symbol of the city is Palazzo Pretorio, which houses the old prisons on the lower floor and is currently a museum with interesting exhibits.
Particularly worthy of note is its inner garden, transformed into a Japanese style and adorned with a Japanese tea shop. If you love Italian literature, do not miss the house of the Italian writer Boccaccio, where today is hosted a study center but which still retains materials and objects related to the writer.
The Medieval village is connected to the lower part of the city by a funicular railway and is entirely pedestrian. If you are visiting Certaldo in July, do not miss the opportunity to attend the Mercantia party. Craft traditions, shows and street art blend in a Medieval atmosphere that will capture your senses.
Certosa del Galluzzo
For a suggestive itinerary, just outside Florence, I recommend you to visit the Certosa del Galluzzo (Florence Charterhouse). This place looks like a feudal castle from the outside and not a monastery.
The project of the structure dates back to 1342, when banker Niccolò Acciaioli thought of building a complex that would start Florentine people in the religious study. The works were interrupted and resumed several times until 1400. In its history, the Certosa has undergone renovations, extensions, but also raids.
The Certosa del Galluzzo tour today includes the visit of Palazzo degli Acciaioli, with its small picture gallery and masterpieces by the Italian artists Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia and Donatello. You will also find the frescoes that were detached from the Pontormo Charterhouse Cloister, the San Lorenzo church, in Renaissance style, and the 16th Century Cloister with a well of stone and wrought iron. Here the monks’ cells overlooked.
The suggestion of the place is widened by the fact that resident monks are silenced, and they can only talk for half an hour a week: the rest of their days are devoted to contemplation.
Villas in Tuscany: the Medici villas
The history of Florence and Tuscany is linked to the history of the Medici family. That is one of the lineages that has given shine to these magical places. Between the 15th and the 17th century, the family of Medici commissioned a series of villas, particularly in the surroundings of Florence.
In these architectural jewels, the private life and the family’s economic activities took place. Since 2013, Medici villas in Tuscany are on the Unesco World Heritage list. What are actually the Medici villas around Florence?
Villa Castello and Villa La Petraia
Villa Castello is located in an area just outside Florence and is set on three terraces. It hosts today the Accademia della Crusca, the most important center of research about the study and promotion of Italian language. In 2013 its park was elected as the most beautiful in Italy. Actually the gardens make this place famous all over the world.
Another important villa is Villa La Petraia. Its fame is tied to the pictorial decorations, furnishings and its beautiful location in the landscape. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was the residence of King Vittorio Emanuele II and had numerous modifications. The most famous one is the glass covering in the central courtyard that became at that time a party hall.
Halfway between Villa Castello and Villa La Petraia, you will find Villa Corsini. A building that will capture your gaze thanks to its scenic Baroque facade. You will find inside jewelry from the Archaeological Museum of Florence. The collections host Roman sculptures, Roman copies of Greek originals and also valuable Etruscan sarcophagi decorated with bas-reliefs.
Formerly part of the Archaeological Museum’s deposits, these finds are now visible due to their exposure in the Villa’s environments.
Tuscany restaurants: where to eat outside Florence
After so much culture and so much wandering through the artistic treasures of this land, a rest is necessary. You cannot go home before to taste the typical dishes of this region, mainly meat. First of all, the famous Florentine steak.
I have already told you about places to taste the best Chianti wine. Now I would like to suggest some typical restaurants where you can stop for a meal that will be like a postcard in your heart.
Officina della Bistecca
If your desire is to taste the Florentine steak, I suggest you to stop at Officiana della Bistecca, in Chianti hills. Here meat is the king. Your special chef will be the butcher Dario Cecchini, famous in the world as he cuts the meat declaiming the verses of the poet Dante Alighieri.
La Casa del Prosciutto
A sort of institution for local people, la casa del Prosciutto (the ham house) is a shop and trattoria. But above all it is the place to buy sandwiches stuffed with local cold cuts to eat outdoors as well. Or typical dishes such as meat, tortellini and homemade desserts to be enjoyed in the indoor dining room.
Fattoria di Maiano
Near Fiesole, you will find the Farm of Maiano. Its architectural structure dates back to the fifteenth century and overlooks the Tuscan hills. In its restaurant, you can taste the “coccoli with ham and stracchino”, the cold cuts and the inevitable grilled meat.
Things to do in Tuscany: how to go around
In this article, I tried to enclose tips and suggestions that will enrich your stay in Florence surroundings. As you can see, there is everything: among Medici villas, landscapes, romantic medieval villages, you will be spoiled for choice.
Would you like to enjoy the best of your holiday? Would you like to give yourself the luxury and convenience of organizing your trip? Do you want to stop wherever and whenever you want? Remember that the most convenient solution is to rent a car with private driver. A driver will be at your disposal for the time you want. He will guide you to discover these places rich of charm and history.