For a more authentic Tuscan experience, go to Siena in winter. With far fewer tourists, you can see the sights without the crowds and although it's quite cold, the days are usually clear and crisp. Typical Tuscan food is more suitable for winter too - ribollita (vegetable and bread soup, far more delicious than it sounds), pici (local pasta, rather like fat spaghetti) and bistecca alla fiorentina will keep you full and warm for hours. The atmosphere before Christmas is magical - the streets are festooned with garlands made from fir trees and oranges while on New Year's Eve, the Piazza del Campo, filled with revellers of all ages, plays host to a free concert with stars from the Italian music scene.
Piazza del Campo, Siena
Google map: bit.ly/iP31vP
Ok, so a trattoria just off the Florence-Siena motorway may not sound like the most picturesque spot for lunch, but don't be deterred. Bar dell'Orso offers up a classic take on the best of Sienese cooking. Take a seat on the terrace with a view of the perfectly preserved medieval walls of Monteriggioni, and feast on an antipasti plate of cured Tuscan hams, followed by homemade pici - a long, square-edged, thick pasta - covered in a tomato and garlic or pecorino and black pepper sauce. Walk off lunch by taking a long leisurely stroll to the nearby Romanesque church of Abbadia a Isola (for directions have a copy of James Lasdun's excellent 'Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria' to hand).
The vast majority of the Tuscany region in July gives itself over to free music festivals in either street or theatre and usually from early evening into the early hours. I can recommend Siena as the best location with Feste della Musicale (13 to 17 July) and Siena music week (9 to 16 July ) being the most popular with fantastic ranges of music from Jazz, lyrical, alternative, soul, pop, electronic and visual art to operatic, classical and all things Italian (this is Puccini and Mascagni territory.) A popular thing at most outdoor venues is free mineral water.
Although hotels (albergos) can be expensive look for small family run trattorias - many do bed/breakfast at reasonable rates. The stunning city piazza (square) is a wonder to behold lots of other attractions including lots of Renaissance history, quieter nearby rural locations, the wine regions of San Gimignano and Poggibonsi and above all friendly welcoming people, great food and weather. You can find lots to do all week and everyday is a new adventure. Do not miss it - I wont.
This amazing sculpture garden in a wonderful Tuscan landscape has such a range of sculptures, some are funny, some are deeply moving, and all are interesting. There is also an interesting small restaurant, with really nice food including a set menu of the day. They loan out big white umbrellas on rainy days, which added to the enjoyment. Oh and there are domestic pigs by the car park which we also enjoyed ...
A day trip to fantastic Siena and an excellent lunch at this osteria. It made our day.
Great Italian food, great Italian wine and great atmosphere.
Arrive early or book as this is a popular restaurant.
We had to wait a half hour for a table, but it was definitely worth it.
Via del Porrione 33, Siena, Italy
Google map: tinyurl.com/y8dhz2j
This is a peninsula far from for the mainland just two kilometers through a handmade pathway in the middle of an estuary. The almost-island is an inhabited mountain named Monte Argentario. Porto Santo Stefano is one of the two small typical fishing villages in the area. You can enjoy looking at the sea from the central square at Porto Santo Stefano, placed in the middle of the bay and also the center of town. The streets here are steep. All the houses windows on the hill look at the sea.
You can enjoy a great pizza and especially all the fresh seafood just some minutes after the fishing people carry it from the boats.
You can have a bathe in the sea, sunbathing, having a mineral water bath - the nearest is Orbetello, hiking on the mountain, walk round the town, go on a leisure boat trip ... or just plan a trip to Siena or Firenze, only an hour and a half from here.
It is like paradise, you'll enjoy the historic places like the Spanish fortaleza (castles), the seaside walk, the mountain views, the excellent wines and food, the calm and tranquility, and the sea bathing and of course, the proximity to Firenze and Rome.
You should take some of the numerous, almost every two hours, trains from Rome, in direction to Milan or Lucca. You should stop down at Orbetello Station and there rent a car or a taxi. In some minutes, just about 10 kilometers far you will be in an almost unknown italian paradise.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yczbbqt
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