It’s one of Europe’s most well known, and visited, cities. Every year it draws over 10 million people to its narrow streets and rickety bridges. This means it’s often extremely busy, which is pretty off putting sometimes. Let us answer the question of “where can I go near Florence that’s great but quieter?!”.
Just an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Florence lies San Gimignano. It’s not strictly a hidden gem, as it’s already a popular place for tourists, but when compared to Florence it’s a world away. A classic, medieval Italian city, San Gimignano has some stunning architecture including 14 towers. Built by competitive Tuscan families in the 11th to 13th century, there was once around 72 of them – some were as high as 50 metres and intended to showcase a family’s wealth. Today you’ll find busy streets crammed with local art and handicrafts.
Many moons ago, Fiesole was the bigger and more important town than Florence. However its increasingly noisy neighbour won the battle and Fiesole became a quiet suburb of Florence instead. You can actually walk there from Florence, it’s that close. It’s most famous today for its views over Florence. Situated in a slightly elevated position, you’re afforded a fabulous view over the sprawling red roofs of the city and the hills beyond.
Florence was once ruled by the Medici family, and the Medici Villas are a collection of their former homes across Tuscany. Not all over them are open to the public, but a handful are and they’re really worth visiting. Perhaps the pick of the bunch is the Rennaissance Villa at Poggo a Caiano. Around a half hour drive away, it has lovely gardens and is situated within a pretty little village. Information on this and the other villas can be found at any tourist information office in Florence – why not spend the day touring them?
Again, perhaps not entirely a hidden treasure, but less famous than Florence and very much worth a visit. It’s well known for its Palio contests, where ten horses and riders ride bareback through the Campo. These ten racers represent ten of the 17 city wards. It’s held twice each summer and if you’re in the area at the time, it’s well worth stopping to see. Siena is full of museums, street cafes, churches and cathedrals, making it an architect’s dream. The views from the top of the hill over the surrounding Tuscan countryside are stunning too.
This is one of the wealthiest towns in Tuscany. But the reason for this is perhaps unexpected – goldsmithery! There are some gold shops in the town, where they manufacture their own jewellery. They make an unusual souvenir; great if you want to take home an authentic piece of Tuscany as a keepsake. Elsewhere in the town there are lots of museums, monuments and churches, allowing you step back through the history of the region. The historic centre of the town was sadly destroyed in World War Two, but the beautiful suburbs remain untouched.
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