While researching my personal list of top things to explore in Tuscany, I realised there are so many things I love about it that only one article is not enough! Here’s what else I recommend…
Poppi Castle: The dark side of Tuscany
Do you like thrillers and legends? Come to Poppi, a lovely medieval borgo in the Casentino valley. The castle of the Conti Guidi family lies on the top of the hill. In the tower, named “the tower of the devils,” there is said to be the ghost of the beautiful and charming Matelda who, after an unwanted arranged marriage (13th century) with an old and absent man of the Conti Guidi family, killed every young man who came to her castle because she needed to keep her escapades a secret. When people found out, she was locked in the tower, where she died of starvation. Was she just a cruel murderer or another woman victim of the social schemes? Food for thought while tasting the bittersweet flavour of the delicious local walnut-based liquor, nocino, that is said to be the liquor of the witches. And if you have the chance to speak with local people they will probably tell you to be careful: Matelda’s ghost, even more beautiful and fascinating than she was, is still there, alone, waiting for young lovers to visit her…
Viareggio: It’s carnival time!
It all started in 1873, when some people decided to put on masks to protest against the high taxes they were forced to pay. Now this is one of the most famous carnival celebrations in Italy and Europe. The parade is very impressive, with all those paper-pulp masks! And when you are there, you should not waste the opportunity to eat the delicious cenci (‘rags’), crisp fried pastry typical of the carnival period: really mouth-watering! You know… the proof of the cenci is in the eating!
Tuscan Archipelago National Park: A paradise for wild-landscape and sea-lovers
When Venus emerged out of the Tyrrhenian sea her pearl necklace broke, seven pearls fell in the sea and became islands. Mythology has surely some truth: those islands are beautiful to visit. Isola d’elba, the biggest one, has also been governed by Napoleon. Just as marvellous are Capraia, Giannutri and Isola del Giglio, where you should absolutely try the fresh veggie dish gurguglione. You need special authorizations or particular guided tours to visit the other three islands: Gorgona has been an agricultural penal colony since 1869; Pianosa was a maximum-security prison until 1998 and it is a marine-protected area now, mobile phones don’t work and the hours you are allowed to stay in the isle are a full immersion in nature and marvellous sea; the Montecristo isle, a natural reserve, is famous for being the setting of the Dumas’ famous novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. Tuscan Archipelago National Park: it is really worth exploring!
Ferragosto: sagre and gavettoni
Inherited from the Romans, Ferragosto (from latin fariae Augusti) is an Italian holiday, 15th August, in which basically Italians enjoy large communal meals, celebrate in the streets or go to the beach: it is the celebration of leisure time. For the whole month there are a lot of sagre, festivals dedicated to a specific local food. And there are sagre for all kinds of food, from cheese to potatos, from ravioli to hares, from onions to frogs. The atmosphere is cheerful and joyful, and it is a good occasion to taste bruschette, ribollita and lots of Tuscan typical dishes! (If you want to learn how to cook these dishes yourself, then you should probably think about a cooking holiday, it will be worth it). Anyway there is something you need to know about Ferragosto: gavettoni! Ferragosto is basically the day of water fights, in which everybody can ambush you! It is always very hot so it shouldn’t be a problem to find yourself suddenly soaking wet… but since the point is to take people by surprise wherever you are in Tuscany is better to look sharp: don’t trust the innocent look of a child or the apparent calm of a grown-up man… and be ready to fight back!
Tuscany from on high: Yes, this is the number one of my personal top 10
Unless you get light headed easily, I have no doubt you will agree with me. You could be visiting the lovely San Gimignano and its medieval towers or Lucca and its campaniles or visiting Florence (all destinations of Flavours painting holidays): whenever you have the chance, you should go to the top of towers, campaniles, hills, whatever… turn around and appreciate the Tuscan landscapes from on high, breathe in the beauty you see all around you.
Once Tuscany is in your heart, it will stay there forever! Culture, food, traditions, sea, cheerful festivals to appreciate company but also beautiful isolated and inspiring landscapes when you need some time on your own, mountains, architecture, wines, stories, beauty, sun… it has absolutely everything. And it’s also the reason why I first told you before that the whole of Tuscany is kiss worthy. I hope my top 10 helped inspire you to return there again and again… and I need to remind you of the promise you made for me after part one: if you go there, please don’t forget to give Tuscany a big kiss for me!
Giulia works for Flavours Holidays – a specialist tour operator offering cooking, painting and Pilates holidays in Italy. If you want to experience the authentic Tuscany and have great fun learning a new skill click here. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.