Under the Tuscan sun

Tuscany is one of the most beautiful regions in Italy. It is famous for its rich cultural and historical heritage, as well as its economic importance. This amazing Italian region has always been a strong attraction for tourists from all over the world. The combination of picturesque nature and interesting historical sights makes the region one of the most visited in all of Italy. It is no coincidence that Tuscany is often referred to as “Heaven on Earth”. It truly is a paradise – a photographer’s paradise, a foodie’s paradise, an art lover’s paradise, a history buff’s paradise. Villages and farms, castles and villas with high walls are nestled between vineyards and olive groves. The cities are perched on the hills, and their towers are still reminders of the past.

Tuscany is the perfect Italian road trip. After traveling across much of the country, including journeys through Rome, Puglia, the Dolomites in the North, the Amalfi Coast, Lake Como and more, it was time to focus on Tuscany. Unlike other parts of Italy where you can get around by public transport, you really need a car to explore Tuscany. If you’re just planning to visit the main cities like Florence and Siena, then the bus system will suffice. If you want to explore the smaller and lesser-known towns and really immerse yourself in their atmosphere, you definitely need a car.

Driving in Tuscany is both simple and beautiful. The landscape is known for its rolling hills that contrast with wheat fields, cypress trees and lush green vineyards. It’s a sight you won’t tire of while driving. Driving is quite easy and the roads are perfect. The distances between places may seem short, but be sure to allow more time to enjoy the scenery.

So, one Friday evening we got into the car and drove from Sofia to Tuscany. On Saturday we were able to explore Venice and on Sunday we headed to our main destination. We headed to Florence, the capital of Tuscany. We had no intention, however, of seeing Florence itself, which, though really lovely, we have been to quite a few times. There was one other place, on a hill on the outskirts of the city, that had caught our attention – the Villa Petraia, the Medici family’s country retreat. Today, it still manages to fascinate visitors with its magnificent Italianate garden surrounding the villa and the richly decorated interior, which still contains much of the original furniture.

After various transfers of ownership, the ancient castle that already existed on the site was acquired by the Medici family on their return to Florence in 1530. Gifted by Cosimo I to his son Cardinal Ferdinando in 1568, it was enlarged and converted into villa of the last Medici, who became Grand Duke of Tuscany after the death of his brother Francesco I (1587). There are two magnificent cycles of frescoes: one by Cosimo Dadi, depicting the deeds of Godfrois de Bouillon during the siege of Jerusalem, and one by Volterrano, with episodes of the magnificence of the Medici, considered one of the finest examples of Florentine painting from the beginning of the 17th century.

The gardens are amazing, divided into three levels, and from the highest terrace you can enjoy a unique view of Florence and Brunelleschi’s dome.

Our next stop was Arezzo. Arezzo has amazed us with the number of famous artists, architects and cultures that have passed through and left their mark. The birthplace of Giorgio Vasari is definitely a city that has a lot to boast about. Having traveled around much of Tuscany and seen all the ‘must see’ it proved to be a really relaxing change of pace. We found ourselves in a city that doesn’t attack you with long lines, groups of tourists and fixed menus, but rather gently invites you to walk the streets and admire what many would call a true open-air museum. Without buying a single ticket, you can walk the streets of this city and feel yourself slipping into another time…slowly and easily, step by step.

The historic center is not just a place visited on special occasions or celebrated for its monuments and architectural significance. The shops, restaurants, artisans and antique dealers were (and still are) there to serve the townspeople and visitors. After spending some time in one of the establishments or peeking into one of the many shops and listening to the lyrical sound of the Italian language without foreign interruptions… it is obvious that there are significantly fewer tourists here than in other places in the district.

There is a lively atmosphere of restaurants, cafes and outdoor bars during the warmer months located along the picturesque streets, inviting locals and visitors to sit down, relax and just soak up the atmosphere of the quiet cobbled streets, the ancient towers, buildings and small shops that entice you to look around for the next great antique find. Piazza Grande is an ideal place to relax. This square was recently brought to life for Italians in Roberto Benigni’s World War II story “Life is Wonderful”.

After exploring Arezzo, it was time to head to the place where we had planned to spend the night – Montepulciano. Montepulciano rises on a hill that separates Val D’Orcia and Val di Chiana. This beautiful Renaissance hill town, which still clings to its medieval plan, is embedded in a postcard landscape: wherever you turn, you are confronted with the iconic image of the Tuscan countryside – undulating hills and golden fields dotted with cypress trees.

Thanks to its superb vineyards, the Montepulciano area is considered one of the best wine regions in the world, making it undoubtedly one of the most visited and loved tourist destinations in Tuscany. Montepulciano is known worldwide for its Vino Nobile: one of Tuscany’s most prized wines worldwide, this red wine is made from grapes grown in the vineyards that surround the town. Make sure that you visit at least one of the nearby wineries. Many are so interesting as works of architecture in their own way that they attract both  aesthetes and wine lovers.

The best way to explore the historic center of Montepulciano is to walk through it. We entered through the Porta al Prato, at the bottom of the city, and headed up until we reached the top and Piazza Grande, which hosts many cultural events of international importance. We passed many beautiful buildings, artisan workshops and churches with beautiful facades that are even more amazing and interesting from the inside.

We were also impressed by the magnificent tower and Gothic facade of the Palazzo Comunale. Opposite it, the town hall, stands the cathedral, which dates from the sixteenth century.

The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast with a beautiful view, we walked along the city walls and visited the Madonna di San Biagio temple, the work of the Renaissance artist Antonio da Sangallo. It is considered an architectural triumph, so much so that Michelangelo drew on it when he sketched the first blueprints for what would become St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Our destination for the next day was the city of Pienza. Pienza is a small town located in Val D’Orcia, in the southern part of Tuscany. It is only 15 kilometers from Montepulciano, 20 kilometers from Montalcino and about 50 kilometers from Siena.

The name comes from Pope Pius II, who was born here, and means the city of Pius. Enea Silvio Piccolomini, elected Pope Pius II in 1458, wanted to transform his birthplace, the unknown village of Corsignano, into the ideal Renaissance city. For this reason, he hired Bernardo Rossellino, the architect who had previously worked with Leon Battista Alberti (known for creating the facade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence), to build Pienza in accordance with humanist concepts of urban planning. The construction of Pienza began around 1459 on top of the ancient village and took about four years, creating a harmonious city of the fifteenth century. The untimely death of Pope Pius II put an end to the urban planning of the new city, which remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.

Piazza Pio II is the center of Pienza, as all the main monuments of the city are located in this square. The tower of the cathedral rises above all other buildings (the Pope wanted this as a sign of faith). The second most important building in the square is the Palazzo Piccolomini, Rossellino’s masterpiece. Palazzo Borgia is another gem found in this square. Many other beautiful buildings add the finishing touches to a fascinating urban fabric.

In 1996, UNESCO decided to make the center of Pienza a World Heritage Site considering that the site is of exceptional value as it represents the first application of the Renaissance humanist concept of urban design and as such occupies a key position in the development of the concept for the planned “ideal city” that was to play an important role in subsequent urban development in Italy and beyond. In 2004, the entire Val D’Orcia was included in the UNESCO list.

Every first Sunday of September, Pienza celebrates one of its main products – pecorino cheese. In fact, Pienza is considered the “capital” of pecorino cheese, due to its high quality, which is due to the fact that the cheese is produced from particularly tasty and aromatic milk thanks to sheep pastures in the Val D’Orcia.

Pienza is a romantic city because of its streets with “beautiful” names such as Via dell’Amore (Street of Love) and Via del Bacio (Street of Kisses). If you are in a romantic mood, you should definitely visit this place!

The cathedral was built on the remains of the Romanesque church of St. The Virgin (still visible in the crypt). The facade is typical of the Renaissance and is divided into three parts by arched columns. On the left wing is an octagonal belfry reminiscent of those Pope Pius II saw in Germany. The works of art in the cathedral include five altarpieces from the Sienese school. There is also a baptistery next to the apse of the church.

This part of Tuscany is magical and harmonious, it has inspired poets, writers and artists. This is the realm of cypress trees, country roads and mountain scenery. Don’t miss this piece of paradise.


We stayed in hotel La Corte Segreta, located in Montepulciano.

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You can see more pictures from our trip below: