14 Top Foods In Tuscany You Need To Know About

Are you planning a trip to Tuscany, or maybe just dreaming about one? Any trip to Italy is defined by the food you eat while there. Food (along with wine) is at the heart of Italian culture. Italian life and history all begins at the dinner table, so to understand this magnificent country you need to understand the cuisine.

fresh cheeses and prosciutto at the local market in San Gimignano, Tuscany
Market Day in San Gimignano, Tuscany

First it is important to understand that food here is entirely regional. It is not like “Italian Food” in America, which is typically made up of heavy pasta dishes drowned in cheese and sugary tomato sauce, and doesn’t vary much no matter where you are.

One thing I have learned from years of private tour guiding is that many travelers expect to find lasagna, fettucine alfredo, baked ziti and foods like that everywhere we go. Fettucine alfredo is American, not Italian. Lasagna, although readily available at tourist restaurants is not a national food, and I have never seen baked ziti anywhere in Italy!

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) has an entire section on foods and wines by region, and tells you what to order, where. The food is vastly different in Florence and Rome for example, and you don’t want to miss out on an incredible local dish because no one told you! My new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome tells you all about what to order in the Eternal City, and goes into much more depth.

If you are heading to Tuscany (ever) you need to know about the cuisine and what you absolutely must try while you are there. Tuscan cuisine is one of my personal favorites. Known as cucina povera, (poor people’s food), Tuscan food is locally sourced (nostrale or ours) tends to be quite simple with few ingredients. It started as a cuisine forced by economy or poverty but has remained that way by choice.

The Top 14 Tuscan Foods You Need To Know

I spend a great deal of time in Tuscany and just love the food there! You see provincial differences as you travel across the region but the following foods tend to be available in most areas and are definitely worth seeking out. Lets start with cheeses:

1. Pecorino

Pecorino cheese from Pienza in Tuscany
Pecorino cheese from Pienza

Every local market will have vendors selling slices of pecorino from giant wheels. It is fantastic on its own or drizzled with a little local honey. I also love the piquant pecorino with peppers or chilis, and the pecorino tartufo flavored with local truffles.

2. Ricotta

One of my friends serves this every time I come for dinner. Don’t confuse Tuscan ricotta with the stuff you buy here at the supermarket – that’s like comparing a beat up ’81 Fiat Panda with a tricked out brand new Ferrari. The 2 ricottas share a name only.

You can find fresh Tuscan ricotta at local markets as well as on the menu in many restaurants. Ideally you want fresh ricotta from the farm. It almost looks like a cake or a jello mold, and you slice it and drizzle fresh local honey over it. Sometimes it is sprinkled with nuts. You will be hooked at first bite – it is unbelievably good!

RELATED POST: TUSCANY BY TRAIN – THE BEST DAY TRIPS FROM FLORENCE

Soups

One of the reasons I just love being in Tuscany in the winter or early spring/late fall is because of their hearty soups. Even in the summer if we get an overcast or rainy day I always find my way to a bowl of Tuscan soup. Both the soups below are very traditional and in my opinion can also be filed under Tuscan comfort foods.

3. Pappa al Pomodoro

pappa al pomodoro soup is a tuscan specialty
Pappa al Pomodoro soup

You can’t get more cucina povera than this soup! Yesterday’s leftover oven baked bread, olive oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes. Sometimes it has more of a mush than soup consistency, but however it comes it is incredible.

4. Ribollita

ribollita soup at eataly
Tuscan Ribollita soup at Eataly

This is another peasant soup that will fill you up and warm your soul. This time yesterday’s leftover oven baked Tuscan bread is mixed with cannellini beans and vegetables.

5. Fagioli con Salsiccia

Tuscan fagioli con salsiccia - a must have tuscan food
Fagioli con Salsiccia

This is a soup made of beans and sausage, normally a local spicy sausage.

6. Breads

Every area within Tuscany has its own breads, and really, you should try as many as you can! Before you panic about gluten and swelling up from eating carbs – don’t worry it’s all good! Unlike here in the U.S. wheat in Italy is uncompromised. They don’t have Monsanto filling the wheat with pesticides and they don’t have GMO’s, so even the most sensitive digestive systems seem to do just fine. Personally, I can’t eat bread in the USA, I swell up, get an upset tummy and feel like hell. In Italy I can eat it every day with no problems.

I love buying breads at local markets to take home to my apartment, but if you’re not doing the vacation rental thing at least make sure you always at least try the bread in restaurants.

7. Panzanella

Before we leave breads behind you need to know about this bread salad. Once again it uses yesterday’s bread, this time soaked in olive oil, mixed with fresh tomatoes and basil and dressed in olive oil with maybe a little vinegar. I’ve had it with olives in there too – I think it varies depending on where you go. Sometimes when lunching at friends’ homes they have served up variations on the traditional panzanella with sliced red onion, cucumber and lettuce. However it is served, it’s fantastic!

panzanella is a tuscan salad made with bread, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil
Panzanella salad
RELATED POST: 10 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO IN LUCCA

Pasta

Each area of Italy has its own types of pasta. The size and shape of any given pasta is based on the type of sauce it is served with. One traditionally Tuscan pasta that you will find on almost every restaurant menu is pappardelle. This is a wide, ribbon type pasta, served with heavier meat sauces.

Tagliatelle is another local pasta seen on menus everywhere. Also found all over neighboring Emilia-Romagna, tagliatelle is a narrower ribbon than pappardelle.

8. Pappardelle con Cinghiale

the king of tuscan pastas, pappardelle con cinghiale. This is a wild boar sauce served with flat ribbon pasta
Pappardelle al Cinghiale

This is the king of pastas in Tuscany! Cinghiale is wild boar, the taxidermied versions of which you see everywhere. Don’t panic – it doesn’t taste gamey, it’s just incredibly hearty. Every restaurant has its own recipe and way of preparing its cinghiale, so you can have it every day (as my son has done) and never have it quite the same way twice. This is really, really good, and if I were to recommend only one traditional Tuscan food for you to try, Cinghiale would be it.

9. Tagliatelle con Tartufo

Tuscany is truffle country, so when truffles are in season you will find this dish everywhere. Again, each restaurant seems to have their own recipe, so you can eat it everywhere you go and it will always be different, but also will always be super good.

tagliatelle al tartufo i a must eat food from Tuscany.
Tagliatelle con Tartufo

About pastas: I’ve seen cinghiale served with either pappardelle or tagliatelle, so it may also be a restaurant’s personal preference.

Italians typically eat multiple courses, way more than I can handle. If I am ordering pasta I normally don’t order anything else. That bowl alone will fill you. Also, if planning on ordering pasta I exercise extreme caution with the antipasti when it comes out – it is so easy to fill up snacking on meats and cheeses and olives!

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10. Bistecca Fiorentina

bistecca fiorentina, tuscany's steak from Chiana Valley
Bistecca Fiorentina

You will see giant steaks in restaurant windows all over Florence and nearby town. These are the famous steaks from the Chiana Valley. Each one is 3 to 4 lbs on its own – they really are enormous! So big in fact that they not only cook them front and back but also on the sides. If you are a meat eater this is a must try food.

11. Cacciuccio

This is a Tuscan fish stew, and you are more likely to find it closer to the coast, especially around Livorno. Traditionally it has 5 different types of seafood, from fish to shellfish, one for each C in the name. Fishermen would clean out their boat at the end of market day, and whatever was left in the bottom would be thrown into Cacciucco. The stew would have broth, garlic, pepper flakes and red wine vinegar and would be served over toasted bread.

cacciuccio seafood stew from Livorno Italy
Cacciuccio from Livorno

To this day it is served the same way, the bread soaking up the broth. If you love seafood, this one is amazing.

12. Tuscan Pizza

Pizza is different everywhere you go in Italy, from the chewy base in Napoli to Rome’s super thin crust to Tuscany’s not-quite-as-thin crust. Always cooked in a wood burning oven, you have to try pizza in Tuscany at least once. This could not be more different to typical American pizza. Not drowned in sugary tomato sauces, and not weighed down by heavy melted cheese, Tuscan pizzas tend to be fresh and light.

pizza in tuscany
Tuscan pizza

Don’t expect American pepperoni – pepperoni in Italian means giant bell peppers. Don’t be surprised to see raw rocket (arugula) scattered across the top of a pizza. It tastes so amazing!

Most of the time you won’t find pizza served at lunchtime. Pizza is prepared in wood burning domed ovens that take hours to heat up to the correct temperature of 485 Celcius/905 Fahrenheit. When thinking about having pizza plan it for no earlier than 8:30 at night, and ideally at a restaurant with an outdoor patio.

My favorite evenings in San Gimignano are spent on the terrace at Il Trovatore around a large table with my Glam Italia Tour ladies or local friends, eating their insanely good pizza, drinking jugs of wine, and talking all night long.

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

Sweet Things

I have 2 favorite sweet foods in Tuscany, one is a day time food and one happens at the end of a long, satisfying Tuscan dinner.

13. Panforte

This is not a strong bread (pan-forte), it is a spicy cake. Its origins date back to 1205 when servants had to take it as gifts to the nuns of Montecelso Abbey in Siena. Overtime it became a Christmas gift to the nuns and a treat aristocrats would enjoy on special occasions. Made from sugar and honey and nuts and dried fruits with pepper and spices (cloves, ginger, cinnamon) panforte is typically cooked in a shallow pan, dusted with powdered sugar, and served in narrow slices with coffee.

Panforte di Siena
Panforte

This is a Sienese specialty, and in my humble opinion it is a crime to go to Siena (or Florence) and not at least try it. Panforte is my favorite thing – I love it with coffee in the morning. Despite the sugar and honey it is a guilt free food because you walk so much over there you burn it off before lunch!

Note: you can actually eat it all day and night. The morning thing is just my favorite. If I allow myself one sweet thing, in a toss-up between having a gelato at some point in the day or a slice of panforte, the panforte will always win.

14. Cantucci

At the end of a long Tuscan dinner you may be served with a couple of cantucci and a short glass of dense dessert wine called vin santo.

Cantucci are small crunchy almond cookies that look like mini biscotti. (The word for cookie in Italian is biscotti, so if you want to get technical, they are biscotti). You dip the cantucci (or cantuccio?) into the vin santo ad then take in your final calorie hit of the day, as if your tummy wasn’t already about to explode.

cantucci and vin santo, the perfect way to end a meal in Tuscany
Cantucci and Vin Santo

I have learned over the years that I cannot eat like an Italian. As in I can’t do all the courses they do. I’m good with just antipasti! Truth be told, on most nights out in Tuscany I don’t have room for cantucci unless I have planned it in advance. If you, like me, feel like you cannot possibly ingest even one more mouthful, then I am sorry my friend because at least once while you are there you’re going to have to take one for the team and at least try cantucci and vin santo

Traveling to Florence? Download my free Secret Florence PDF and find out which are my favorite restaurants, the best secret bars, secret jewelers and other fantastic things to see and do in Florence. Any of the items on this list will take your trip from great to completely fantastic! Download your copy here

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The Best Day Trips From Rome By Train

 

I love Rome.

I could easily run away to Rome and never look back. I have insanely long lists of things to do in Rome that I will need more than one lifetime to ever complete, so when I’m there it’s hard to get me to take off on a day trip unless I am leading one of my tours.

RELATED POST: 10 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Rome

 

But people are always asking me about good day trips to do from Rome, and preferably day trips that you can do by train. If you have read my book Glam Italia! How to travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) then you already know that I am a huge advocate of staying in as few places as possible, and doing lots of day trips instead of constantly packing up and moving. So much vacation time is wasted by packing, checking out, waiting to check in to the new place and then checking in. I would rather just stay in one or two locations. (If you haven’t read my book you can get your copy here.)

Most places in Italy are easily reached by train, which makes getting around incredibly easy. The high speed trains open up so many opportunities to you too. On my tours we often do day trips to Venice from Rome. It takes 3.5 hours each way by fast train, but the time whizzes by as you watch Italy through the huge, panoramic windows. It’s like being inside an episode of a National Geographic TV show!

The trains are very economical too, so you can travel around on any budget and not miss out.

The following is a list of 10 fantastic day trips from Rome by train. If you are new to train travel, or if this will be your first time in Italy, I have a hugely popular post that breaks down everything you need to know about using the trains in Italy. You can let that be your guide and take away any fears you may have about train travel and how to use the trains in a foreign country.

RELATED POST: How To Use The Trains In Italy

The 10 Best Day Trips From Rome By Train

1.Florence

The best day trips from Rome by train. Florence, what to do in Florence, things to do in Florence, Rome to Florence by train

Florence is a super easy day trip from Rome. The high speed AV trains run all day long and it only takes about an hour and 20 minutes to get there.

I recommend getting on the earliest train you can so that you can arrive in Florence before the crowds from the bus tours and the cruise ships descend on the city.  If you can handle getting up early, I recommend trying to arrive in Florence around 8 am. You will have the city to yourself and be able to take fantastic photos in popular places like the Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio ad Ponte Vecchio without a million tourists in the way.

It is amazing to see those places empty, and be able to see all the statues, the old store fronts and the famous views. Have a 10 am cup of coffee and just watch the crowds arrive – you won’t even believe it! And you will be thanking me for making you get up so early….

RELATED POST: 10 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Florence

2. Pompeii and Herculaneum

The best day trips from Rome. Pompeii, Pompeii day trip and 18 things you probably didn't know about Pompeii. How to do a day trip to Pompeii from Rome

Pompeii is just fantastic, and if there is any way that you can add it into your itinerary, I highly recommend it.

Pompeii is a suburb of Naples and has a train stop right outside the main gates. Take the high speed/AV train from Rome to Naples and then the little local Circumsuviana train to the Pompeii Scavi stop.

When you are done with Pompeii jump back on the train and go 3 stops to Ercolano. You have to walk a few blocks from the train but everything is well signed so you won’t get lost.

If doing both, I suggest going to Pompeii first. Learn all about what happened when Vesuvius erupted, learn about Roman roads and the clever way they built their towns – there is so much to see! After visiting Pompeii head to Herculaneum and see just how vertical the homes were, you won’t believe the intense colors of the 2000 year old frescoes, and you will get more of a feel for the community they lived in.

It is amazing how differently the two towns were impacted by the eruption. If not for a change in the wind we wouldn’t have Herculaneum. It would have disappeared over the millennia just as other towns have done.

If traveling between May and October take a big bottle of water with you and refill it as you need with cold Aqueduct water from the fountains in Pompeii. It gets very, very hot there so make sure you have a sunhat and comfortable walking shoes too.

RELATED POST: 18 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pompeii

3. Capri, Ischia or Procida

To get to Capri you just take the fast train to Naples and then a 15 euro taxi to the harbor. The taxi will take you to the ticket booths for the hydrofoils and ferries to Capri, Ischia and Procida.

I go to Capri with all my Glam Italia Tours, and it is fabulous. There is lots to see and do and it makes a great day trip from Rome.

RELATED POST: 8 Fabulous Things To Do In Capri

Another island that I love going to but don’t get to often enough is the tiny island of Procida, which is also off the coast of Naples.

Day trips from Rome, Procida Island. Why you should visit Procida, one of the 10 most colorful places on earth

Procida Island off the coast of Naples

One of the 10 most colorful places on earth Procida  gets a fraction of the tourist traffic that nearby Capri does. It is also much, much less expensive. Read more about Procida here:

RELATED POST: Why You Should Visit Procida

Make sure you allow yourself time to eat some piazza in Naples before you take the train back to Rome.

4.TIVOLI – HADRIAN’S VILLA AND VILLA D’ESTE

This one is actually easier as a bus trip from Rome. I did it with Viator, and although it was good the tour guide drove me mental. He was desperate for us to buy leather at his friend’s shop and eat at his other friend’s restaurant which got incredibly annoying. But other than that he was a really good guide and great information.

The Best Day Trips From Rome. Hadrians Villa in Tivoli

Hadrian’s Villa/Villa Adriana outside Tivoli. This was part of Emperor Hadrian’s love nest.

The day trip took us to Hadrian’s Villa, (Villa Adriana) a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Tivoli. When Hadrian was emperor he didn’t much care for living on the Palatine Hill, so built this giant complex in the second and third decades of the 2nd century. He was thought to have been living there as his main residence from around 128 A.D.

The best day trips from Rome. Why you should visit Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli and 9 other fabulous day trips from Rome by train

The Canopus pool at Hadrian’s Villa out side Tivoli

Villa Adriana is definitely worth visiting. The complex is enormous and absolutely spectacular.

 

Just up the hill from Villa Adriana in the town of Tivoli, Villa d’Este is a 16th century villa built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este. Much of the material used to build d’Este was pilfered from Villa Adriana.

Fountain built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este for the pleasure of his 4 sons. Who knew a man of the cloth would have a family and boobie fountains??

Cardinal Ippolito d’Este commissioned this fountain and its twin for the pleasure of his 4 sons…. Because let’s face it – what is the point of being the richest cardinal if you don’t have a family and some boobie fountains???

In a time when there were no paparazzi to see what was going on, Popes and cardinals and who knows who else were all busy marrying and having mistresses and orgies and generally getting up to no good. Cardinal Ippolito d’Este was very wealthy, with a wife and 4 sons. He took an enormous amount of land from the locals to build his gardens at Tivoli, and at one point had 12 lawsuits against him. He didn’t care and built them anyway.

The most famous element of the gardens are the fountains. D’Este diverted the Aniene river to provide water to one of the most spectacular series of fountains and water exhibits you will ever see.

The incredible fountains at Villa D'Este in Tivoli. Villa d'Este is one of the best day trips from Rome, read on to find out about 9 other day trips from Rome that are accessible by train.

Walkways of fountains at Villa d’ Este in Tivoli

Everything is powered by the water itself, including a huge fountain that plays renaissance music several times per day. Make sure you find out when the fountain is scheduled to play and time your visit to be in front of it when it does – it is quite remarkable! We were there at 2:30, but I don’t know what other times it goes off.

This incredible water powered musical fountain clock plays renaissance music in the gardens of Villa d'Este in Tivoli. This is one of 10 fabulous day trips from Rome

The musical fountain at Villa d’Este in Tivoli

You can get to Tivoli by train but would have to get buses to and from Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este and every which way I looked at it, it seemed better to take the Viator bus trip from Rome. Just don’t eat where the guide tells you to as there are much better and less rip-off places all over Tivoli. And Tivoli is not the place to be buying leather jackets!

5.Orvieto

Orvieto is an easy day trip from Rome by train. Learn more about Orvieto and 9 othe amazing day trips from Rome by train!

Orvieto Cathedral

Just an hour from Rome by train the Umbrian border town of Orvieto is an absolute gem. From the train station you take a funicular up the hill to the medieval town. Orvieto is famous for its cathedral, which is thought to be one of Italy’s most beautiful. The outside may remind you of Siena, and the Luca Signorelli frescoes inside are said to have inspired Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel. This is a fabulous town to wander around, divert down little side streets, eat the wonderful local cuisine, and of course drink Orvieto wine! I just love Orvieto.

But there’s more! You can descend below ground to one of the most unique undergrounds in all of Italy. This is Etruscan country, and the labyrinth of tunnels and rooms below the city of Orvieto were dug by the Etruscans more than 2500 years ago.

Marlena di Blasi’s book The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story is set in Orvieto. She and her husband Fernando live there now after 1000 days in Venice, and another 3 years in Tuscany. I just love her books and recommend reading this one before going to Orvieto. I love recognizing the various streets and shops and eateries she talks about, it adds even more flavor to the experience! I always am on the lookout for her but have never seen her when I have been in town. Not that I even know what I would do if I did see her – is it madly geeky to fan-girl on up to an author and tell them you love their books?

6. Viterbo

Viterbo is a magical medieval town an hour from Rome by train. For 20 years during the 13th century it was the home of the Pope. Considered one of the best preserved medieval towns in all of Italy, Viterbo is a fantastic place to just wander and take in all the history.

With a population of around 60,000 there are some wonderful places to eat and some good shopping. The Pope’s Palace and the Papal Hot Springs are probably the biggest tourist sites, but in my opinion this is a town to visit with no agenda and a good appetite.

7. Civita di Bagnoreggio

This one takes a little longer to reach but is well worth seeing!

Civita di Bagnoregio is a wonderful day trip to take from Rome. Known as the dying city , it is slowly eroding and falling down the mountain. Learn more about Civita as well as 9 other day trips from Rome by train here

Civita di Bagnoreggio, also known as La Citta Che Muore/The Dying Town was founded on a hilltop by the Etruscans 2500+ years ago. Over the millenia the town has slowly been eroding away and falling down the hillside. In 2006 it was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list of the 100 most endangered sites due to the danger it faces from both erosion and also unregulated tourism.

Architecturally it is quite fantastic. Being so remote and isolated much of the architecture spanning back hundreds of years is unaltered. It was the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure, who died back in 1274. Since then his childhood home fell off the cliff as the town eroded.

Civita di Bagnoregio, the dying city, is a fabulous day trip from Rome. Learn all about Civita as well as 9 other of the best day trips from Rome by train in this post

On the bridge to Civita di Bagnoregio

There are no cars in Civita, and in fact the only way into the town is via a walking bridge that bridges a giant chasm and looks like the great wall of China. Civita is like an island in the sky with 365 degree views.

The year round population is only 7 people, and in the summer it swells to 100. Tourists have bought up some of the homes and modernized them a little, but Civita feels like it is a place that time forgot.

It is just fantastic.

Without a car the best way to get to Civita from Rome is to take the train to Orvieto and then from the Orvieto train station take the bus to Civita. If you were to do both in one day I would get an early start, do Civita first, and then swan around Orvieto all afternoon and into the evening.

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8. Tarquinia

Two and a half hours from Rome this is another train and bus combo trip and is perfect for anyone interested in some really ancient history. The burial grounds or nercropolis date back to the Iron Age of the 9th century B.C.

Tarquinii was one of the most important and ancient Etruscan towns, and has a fascinating history.

2500 year old frescoes inside the Tomba degli Scudi in Tarquinia. Tarquinia is a great day trip from Rome. Learn about this and 9 other day trips from Rome in the accompanying post

The necropolis is one of Italy’s most important Etruscan sites. More than 6000 tombs have been excavated here, 140 of which have vivid, incredible frescoes, 20 of which ar eopen to the public.

You also need to visit the Museo Archeologico while there to see some pretty sensational Etruscan artifacts.

 

9. Ostia Antica

From the steep amphitheater to Neptune’s Baths to the Thermopolium, an ancient café with a bar and traces of the old menu frescoed on the wall, a trip to Ostia Antica is almost like visiting a mini Pompeii. The mosaics are sensational, and by themselves alone are worth the trip, but there is just so much here to see!

Ostia Antica is a fantastic day trip from Rome. Learn about Ostia as well as 9 other perfect day trips from Rome, all of which you can do easily by train

Ruins at Ostia Antica

Book ahead to have a guide take you into one of the two Case Decorate (decorated houses) to see the 2000 year old frescoes. The guided tours are on Sundays at 10:30 am, (but check to see if they offer more when you will be in Rome) and you cannot go inside the houses without a guide.

Another point of interest, especially if you a traveling with young boys, is the public toilet at the Terme del Foro. 20 well preserved latrines line a long stone bench where ancient Romans would socialize while going about their business!

Ostia Antica is an easy 25 minute train ride from the Pirimide station. Wear good walking shoes and plan on spending several hours there – there is so much to see!

10.Venice

Venice can be a fabulous day trip from Rome when you take the high speed train. Learn more about it as well as 9 other fantastic day trips from Rome by train

Views from the Grand Canal in Venice

The most unique city on earth is easily accessible from Rome by train, and is well worth the trip. From Roma Termini station it takes around 3 and a half hours. If you can get them buy tickets on the 6:15 Italo train, which will get you into Venice by 10 am. If not, the 8:15 will get you in around noon.

RELATED POST: 15 Things You Absolutely Must Do In Venice

Venice can be a fabulous day trip from Rome when you take the high speed train. Learn more about it as well as 9 other fantastic day trips from Rome by train

The last trains out of Venice leave between 7pm and 8 pm, so you do need to maximize your time on the ground. I have made a downloadable PDF with 10 of my secret things to do in Venice, including my two favorite places to eat and some really fabulous places to walk and be far from the cruise ship crowds. This is information that will never be on the blog and is for people who a serious about seeing more than Rialto Bridge to St Marks Square. Get your Secret Venice PDF Here

Do you have any day trips from Rome that you would like to add to the list? If so please tell me in the comments section below.

xo

Tuscany By Train ~ 10 Fabulous Day Trips From Florence

If you are staying beautiful Florence and want to explore Tuscany but don’t want to rent a car, no problem! You can visit much of Tuscany by train (or bus).

Here are 10 really fabulous places to visit in Tuscany with things to see and do, and approximate travel times by train.

Make sure you scroll to the end of this post – there’s a bonus for you, with my favorite places to eat and drink in Florence, my favorite secret shops and much more!

Florence day Trips

10 Day Trips From Florence By Train

FIESOLE

Fiesole sits on the hilltop overlooking Florence. A mere 20 minute bus ride from the heart of town it is worth the trip just to take in the view, but Fiesole has much more to offer! (The best view is from the climb up to the monastery of San Francesco)

The town has a long history with famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, who lunched his flying machine from the hillside of Fiesole. All summer long the town hosts cultural events (see the Estate Fiesolana calendar)

What To Do In Fiesole

Visit the Etruscan-Roman Archeological site. The Etruscan settlement probably dates back to the 8th century B.C, but its first historical mention was in the 2nd century B.C when it was conquered by the Romans. In the archaeological are you can see Roman baths and the Roman amphitheater, and in the Civic Museum you can see both Etruscan and Roman artifacts. Also look for the Antiquarian Costantini collection of more than 150 pieces of ceramics from Greece and Etruria.

Fiesole Amphitheater
After the museum head down the street behind to see the remains of the massive Etruscan walls.

The Bandini Museum houses Florentine art from the 12th-14th centuries and is well worth visiting.

Bandini Museum Fiesole
The first Sunday of the month there is an antiques market in the main square, Piazza Mino. During the month you will frequently find other markets in the same space.

Fiesole Piazza Mino

image via PaesiOnline

How To Get There

From Santa Maria Novella station take the #7 bus.

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

CERTALDO

Certaldo is a hidden treasure, far from the tourist crush but well worth making the trip for.

From the train station take the 5 minute walk across the heart of town to the base of the hill where the funicular will take you up to Certaldo Alto, a magnificent walled, medieval town.

Certaldo Alto Palazzo Praetorio

The main street of this beautiful and historically significant town is Via Boccaccio, which abruptly ends at the Palazzo Pretorio/Priori Palace. This 12th century palace is a must see, with its frescos dating back to the 13th century and a little museum full of Etruscan treasures (800 BC – 500BC) dug up on the property. Statues, vases and other historic finds in excellent condition are quite spectacular to see!

The palace was taken over by the church by 1420 and was used as a vicarage.

Certaldo Alto

Also of note is the 13th century Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo. The church is little and peaceful, watched over by a fantastic 14th century “Triumphant Christ” crucifix. It is noteable for Memmo di Filippuccio fresco of Virgin and Child between Saint James and Peter, and also for Boccaccio himself.

Certaldo Boccaccio

The writer of the Decameron, Boccaccio (1313-1375) is buried here. A sign marks the exact place he is buried and a bust of the writer holding his masterpiece (15030 sits against the left wall.

Certaldo Alto

Take time to walk this tiny town and take in the spectacular views of Tuscany from the open spaces and the city walls. You can see San Gimignano across the hill.

Certaldo Alto Certaldo Alto

How To get There

From Florence by train it take 50 minutes to reach Certaldo.

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SIENA

Florence’s arch enemy for centuries, Siena lies in the heart of Tuscany and is a beautiful city to visit. Make your way up to the walled city and spend your day strolling within the walls. Make a note of which city gate you arrived through so you can find your way back out!

What To Do In Siena

Start by walking into the heart of Siena, Piazza del Campo.

Piazza Del Campo Siena

This is one of the biggest medieval squares in the world, and is the home to the Palio horse race every July and August. The Campo has been the heart of Sienese life since 1300 and has been the place everyone gathered for parties and celebrations, political rallies and markets.

Piazza del Campo Siena

It’s shell shape is both unique and lovely. The beautiful Fonte Gaia fountain sits at the top of the shell (this one is a copy – the original is in the Museum Santa Maria della Scala), and looks out across the Campo.

Fonte Gaia Siena

The Torre del Mangia sits across the Campo from the Fonte Gaia. If you enjoy a good thigh burn take the 400 steps (!) tot the top for a truly breathtaking view of all of Siena and the surrounding hills.

Torre del Mangia Siena

Built in 1338-1348 it was constructed to the same height as the cathedral, to signify the equal power of church and state. The tower got its name from its original guardian (I have also read the original bellringer) Giovanni di Balduccio who was known as Mangiguadagni or Mr Eats-the-profits, because he ate all his earnings at the local taverns!

Duomo Siena

The Duomo. Siena’s cathedral is truly sensational and deserves a significant portion of your time. Built between 1215 and 1263 both the exterior and interior are made up of alternating stripes of white marble and a greenish black marble. The cathedral is enormous and holds incredible art from the likes of Michelangelo, Donatello and Pinturicchio.

The enormity and verticality of the cathedral draw the eye upward but be sure to look down too – the floors are incredible. Decorated with mosaics designed by 40 leading artists between 1369 and 1547, the 56 inlaid marble panels took 600 years to be completed!

The Piccolomini Library inside the Duomo is spectacular. Built by Pope Pius III to celebrate his uncle, Pope Pius II (creator of the nearby town of Pienza), the library houses Pius II’s collection of manuscripts, which are wonderful to look at, but more significantly the room is exquisitely frescoed by Pinturicchio and his students, including Raphael. With stunning use of perspective the frescoes are divided into 10 scenes depicting the life of Pius II.

Piccolomini Library ceiling, Duomo Siena

Make sure you look up while you are in there. The ceiling is spectacular!

You purchase tickets next door prior to entering the cathedral, and various city passes are available. One item you may want to take note of is the opportunity to go up to the “Gate Of Heaven” and walk with a guide near the frescoed ceiling. This is a really remarkable tour, well worth doing, but as there are only a few tours per day, and they are timed, you may want to buy this ticket online ahead of time and plan your day around it.

Duomo Siena

Duomo, Siena

The Baptistery is another must see and can be included in a multi entry ticket. The Baptistery was built in 1300 and is a separate building behind the cathedral. Catholics, even babies, couldn’t enter a church or cathedral without first being baptized, so it is normal to see a separate building for the baptistery. This one has beautiful artwork but its most special treasure is the bronze and marble baptismal font where for centuries every person in Siena, rich and famous or not, was baptized.

Santa Maria della Scala stands across the piazza from the cathedral (by the ticket office). Built in the 1330’s and at one time used as a hospital for abandoned children,the sick, the poor and the pilgrims it is now home to some tremendous museums, spread over 4 floors.

If you have just one day in Siena spend the rest of your time walking around the city. There is so much to see! Be sure to try a slice of panforte, a Sienese delicacy originally made as a gift for the nuns at Christmas time. It pairs perfectly with a cappuccino.

How To get There

By train from Florence you will need an hour and 45 minutes. The Siena train station is outside the walled city but plenty of city buses can take you back and forth.

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AREZZO

Arezzo is an ancient city, older than Alexandria in Egypt! It was one of the main Etruscan cities and went on to become strategically important to Rome. It was known for its foundaries, its commerce and for the red coralline pots made there and seen throughout the Roman world.

If you can possibly swing it try to do a day trip to Arezzo on the weekend when its world famous antiques market is happening. The market is fantastic, and you can spend hours wandering around looking at the treasures found in the attics of estates and villas that have changed hands.

Arezzo Market

image via Visit Tuscany

What To Do In Arezzo

Go To The Market. The first Sunday of the month hosts a really incredible antiques market in Piazza Grande. With 500+ stalls you can lose yourself for hours looking at cool old treasures.

The Arezzo Cathedral. Go to see Piero della Francesca’s Mary Magdalene fresco and Donatello’s baptismal font relief.

The Basilica of San Francesco doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it houses one of Italy’s most important and most treasured pieces of Renaissance art – Piero della Francesca’s Legend Of The True Cross fresco cycle. Even though Arezzo doesn’t get a huge tourist crush it is still a good idea to book tickets for this online as they are frequently sold out.

The Medici Fortress was built between 1538 and 1560, and from the top of its walls you can get a 360 degree view of Arezzo and the surrounding area.

Roman Amphitheater and Arecheological Museum. The museum which holds 2nd century treasures sits on top of part of the amphitheater. Both are fantastic to see.

Casa Vasari. Giorgio Vasari’s Renaissance home is well worth visiting for both the art – his own frescoes line the walls, and also a handwritten letter from Michelangelo.

Just wander. Have lunch or a coffee in Piazza Grande, take in all the shields and coats of arms on the walls of the surrounding buildings, and enjoy being in this lovely city with so few tourists!

Arezzo

image via Visit Tuscany

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How To Get There

Arezzo is approximately one hour from Florence by train.

POPPI

As you cross the lovely valley of Casentino between Florence and Arezzo you will see a castle rise up out of nowhere – this is the town of Poppi.
Poppi is one of the best preserved walled cities, watched over by the Guidi Castle, which has been lovingly cared for and is still in amazing condition today.

What To Do In Poppi

A trip to Poppi is all about the castle. If it looks familiar that’s because it was the prototype for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Poppi castle was built in the 13th century for the noble Guidi family.

Guidi castle, Poppi

image via Borghitoscana.net

From the interior courtyard a series of intricate staircases wind and weave their way upwards, and your eyes are drawn with them up to a sizeable collection of family crests.

staircase poppi castle

Inside the Chapel of Counts you will discover a truly breathtaking 14th century fresco cycle by Taddeo Gaddi.
The library has an incredible collection, considered to be a literary treasure trove. It was donated to the Municipality of Poppi by the Rilli-Orsini family.

 

As you walk back from the castle under the porticos make your way to the ancient Abbey of Saint Fedele. Built in the 11 th century it houses paintings by Ligozzi, Solosmeo, Morandini, Portelli and Davanzati.

While in Poppi take time to visit the Camaldoli Hermitage. Surrounded by a forest of fir trees this sanctuary was founded in 1012 by Saint Romauld. The church has undergone many transformations over the centuries, and is now baroque. A must see inside the church is the Andrea della Robbia glazed terracotta alterpiece in the Sant’ Antonio Abate chapel.
There are 20 cells here at the sanctuary but the only one open to the public is Saint Romauld’s cell, which faces the church.

Some of Giorgio Vasari’s earliest works can be seen in the Church of Santi Donato e Ilariano, a monastery a few kilometers down the road.

How To Get There

The most direct route takes less than an hour by car, but by train from Florence it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Take the train to Arezzo, then a second train to Poppi.

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CORTONA

If not for Frances Mayes and her wonderful books we may not have even known about Cortona. A tiny little town on top of a hill above Camucia, it is a lovely place to spend a day or part thereof.

Bramasole, Cortona

Bramasole, Cortona

What To Do In Cortona

Wander the Etruscan walls. I never get tired of seeing Etruscan anything, and the fact that walls and portions there of still stand 2500 years later is always amazing!

Cortona

me, walking in Cortona

Museo dell’ Accademia Etrusco is housed in the 13th century Palazzo Casali and holds a substantial collection of local Etruscan and Roman treasures. The Etruscan objects are amazing, especially those gathered from the tombs just outside town in Sodo.

The Fortezza del Girifalco is a 15 minute hike uphill to the highest point in Cortona. The remains of what was a Medici fortress are the perfect viewing point to gaze out over the Valdichiana and Lago Trasimeno.

Caffe Degli Artisti, Cortona

Caffe Degli Artisti, Cortona

Caffe degli Artisti on via Nazionale is a fantastic place to stop for lunch. The owner is hilarious and will seat you elbow to elbow with fascinating people, as though it was all an elaborate dinner party. I never miss lunching there and have met the most fabulous people and made wonderful friends in the process!

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

People-watch in Piazza della Republica, the central piazza and main hub in town. The Town Hall stands at the top of a big staircase, on which you will normally find people sitting and looking out at the town. There are plenty of bench seats around the piazza and you will often see locals hanging out on them and catching up on the gossip, but if you find a space it is a lovely spot to enjoy the beauty of this lovely little town.

The Museo Diocesano is only little but it holds some amazing paintings from the 12th to the 17th centuries, including works by Fra’ Angelico and Luca Signorelli, who was from Cortona.

The church of Madonna del Calcinaio and its dome are one of the famous landmarks of Cortona. Luca Signorelli is buried there and the grounds are wonderful to wander along, with ancient little staircases and wonderful views.

The Saturday morning market is a wonderful chance to join the locals and buy cheeses and prosciutto, local breads and produce.

Cortona, via Nazionale

via Nazionale, Cortona

How To get There

The train from Florence takes an hour and forty minutes. You will need to take the local bus up the hill from the train station, and it will drop you outside Piazza Garibaldi.

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PISA

Of course you will you see the famous leaning tower, but Pisa has much more to offer as well.

What To Do In Pisa

Walk along the Corso Italia and check out the shops, until you arrive at Logge dei Banchi, a loggia that has hosted markets or centuries. Positioned next to the the clock tower it makes one of the most famous views of Pisa along the Arno river. Palazzo Blu is a mere 2 minutes walk from there, and is a great place to catch fabulous art exhibitions.

Image result for pisa palazzo blu

Palazzo Blu, via myitalianitineraries.com

Look for the beautiful little church Chiesa della Spina sitting alongside the Arno.

Take time to stop on any of the bridges and take photos along the Arno.

Piazza vettovaglie by day

Piazza della Vettovaglie is a market during the day and is the heart of Pisa’s nightlife after the sun goes down.

Piazza vettovaglie by night

The National Museum of San Matteo has sculptures, paintings and ceramics in the Pisan style.

While in Pisa make sure to visit the Verdi Theater, a beautiful 19th century 900 seat theater built in the round.

How To Get There

Pisa is approximately 50 minutes by train from Florence.

 

LUCCA

Lucca, the city of 100 churches, sits a half hour inland from the coast on the Serchio River. Known for its Romanesque churches, hidden gardens and olive oil, Lucca is a lovely place for a day trip, or to base your entire trip.

What To Do In Lucca

Perhaps the most famous thing to do here is to rent a bicycle and bike along the top of the city wall. The 4 km bike ride (or walk) gives you unparalleled views of the city, its hidden gardens and the surrounding landscape.

The Romanesque Duomo has several great works of art including Tintoretto’s Last Supper, Ilaria del Carretto’s Tomb and the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix of the Holy Face.

The Basilica di San Frediano’s exquisite mosaic façade, glistens in the sunlight and is definitely worth seeing.

San Michele in Foro was first mentioned in 795 A.D. when it was part of the Roman Forum in Lucca. At some point after 1070 it was rebuilt, but what is most notable is the façade which was added in the 13th century.

San Michele in Foro

image via Agriturismo La Gioconda

The upper part has 4 levels of loggias (remarkable in themselves) atop which stands the 4 meter tall statue of St Michael the Archangel, flanked by 2 angels. Make sure you see the white marble statue of Madonna with baby Jesus in her arms in the south-west corner of the façade. Sculpted by Matteo Civitali it was commissioned to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague.

Piazza Anfiteatro is a lovely oval shaped piazza built around the original elliptical structure of a Roman amphitheater. During the summer events and concerts are held in the piazza, and year round it is a lovely place to have a coffee or a glass of wine.

piazza Antifeatro

Piazza Antifeatro via Italy Magazine

The Guinigi Tower is a Romanesque-Gothic tower in the heart of Lucca. Built in the 1300’s it is the most important tower in Lucca. You can’t miss it with its ancient Holm Oak trees growing out of the roof!

Guiniigi Tower Lucca

image via lovetotravel.nz.co

The roof garden is definitely worth the 4 euros and 200 stairs you must climb to reach it. It is a lovely place to take in the views of the city as well as to hang out in the garden. Interestingly the kitchen of this centuries old former home was on the level below, with the roof serving as a kitchen garden for the cooks.

If you are tires and hungry after the 200 stairs and your day walking and biking around Lucca, make sure you try the famous buccellato, a sweet bread with raisins that is a local specialty!

How To Get There

Lucca is approximately 90 minutes by train from Florence.

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VIAREGGIO

Whether you want to escape the heat or just enjoy a little ocean breeze, a day trip to Viareggio makes for a lovely break. One of Italy’s traditional seaside towns, Viareggio’s beach stretches 20 kms along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

You don’t come here for art, history and culture, you come for a day on the sand. Most of the beach is private beach – you pay to spend the day at one of the many lidos lining the waterfront, but you will have sunchairs, a sun umbrella, restroom facilities and a restaurant/snack bar. The lungomare, or beach promenade is full of eateries and little shops catering to the beach trade.

How To Get There

From Florence by train it will take you 1.5 to 2 hours

BARGA

If you want to escape the crowds and experience something extra special head to the heart of the Serchio Valley in the province of Lucca to Barga. This absolute gem is known for its artistic and historical importance and has also received awards for being one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy.

Image result for barga italy

The village’s ancient traditions date back to the Longobard era in the 6th-8th centuries. The layout of the town with its narrow winding streets and irregular shaped buildings has remained virtually unchanged since then, adding to its charm. Barga became a prize fought over by Pisa and Lucca during the middle ages, and later by Florence too.

What To Do In Barga

Take time to visit the beautifully restored castle, The 11th century Duomo, the Church of San Francesco (1471) and take time to enjoy the view from the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the Arringo, the stretch of lawn between the Praetorian Palace and the cathedral.

On the second Sunday of every month there is a second hand/antiques fair in the town’s historic center, starting at 8am. Barga is also famous for its Jazz Festival and its annual Opera Festival.

How To Get There

From Florence take the train to Pisa (or Lucca) then the Lazzi bus which will take you to Lucca Piazza Verdi then on to Barga, dropping you just outside the medieval gates at the Fosso stop.

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This is information that won’t be on the blog for the world to see, but you can access it with my printable PDF. Simply CLICK HERE and the info is all yours!

 

 

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