Tuscany Time: Choosing The Cities You’d Like To See

Visiting a country as old as Italy can often present some challenges when you are hard pressed for time and need to pick a few places at the cost of missing out on the rest. While most of these destinations have a rich history filled with interesting stories, the time which they have had to grow has made them explode into sprawling masses of human activity. In the Italian region of Tuscany, for example, there are more than ten cities and large towns that call it their home, making it hard for travellers to decide what they’d like to see. To give you a bit of a helping hand, this post will be exploring Tuscany, giving you an idea of what you should see when you arrive.


Florence (Courtesy: Jonathan Körner)
Florence (Courtesy: Jonathan Körner)

Start your exploration with the capital city of the Tuscany region – Florence. First finding its foothold during the Medieval times, this area has always been an important one, with people travelling from all over the world to trade, enjoy the sights, and even show off their passion for fashion. In more recent times, a huge amount of work has gone into preserving and restoring the ancient monuments which make this city much sought after. Florence is a great place to go if you’d like to get a good mix of the old and the new.


Basilica of San Domenico in Siena (Courtesy: Pexels)
Basilica of San Domenico in Siena (Courtesy: Pexels)

Boasting one of the highest traveller footfalls throughout the whole of Italy, Siena is another great place to vacation when you’re trying to soak up Tuscany. Like Florence, Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has this status as a result of the ancient buildings which have been standing here for hundreds of years. A horse race known as Palio is held in this city twice a year, giving you the chance to watch some real local rivalries unfurl.


A vineyard estate in Chianti (Courtesy: Rowan Heuvel)
A vineyard estate in Chianti (Courtesy: Rowan Heuvel)

If you like wine, you’ve probably heard of Chianti before. Home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world, this region has a very strong legacy in making wines. There are few places in Italy which can better the quality of Chianti wines. You can visit this area with most Tuscany tour companies, making it nice and easy to get the chance to try some wine tasting. However, you will have to be careful if you plan to drive after your visit.


White Cathedral with the Leaning Tower of Pisa at a distance (Courtesy: Pexels)
White Cathedral with the Leaning Tower of Pisa at a distance (Courtesy: Pexels)

Last but not the least, consider Pisa. Famous for the leaning tower which is a crowd magnet, this city has spent much of its history as a maritime capital. Like many cities with this sort of past, you will find loads of ancient affluence on display, with many of the oldest buildings remaining largely intact. It’s almost a shame that the tower gets so much attention as there are plenty of other unique and interesting buildings in Pisa for you to explore. With all of this in mind, you should be ready to start exploring Tuscany!

Have you been to Tuscany?

Got any recommendations for my readers?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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Italy Beyond The Usual: Calling All Women Who Love To Travel Solo

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites and the country also ranks quite high on my list. It has been more than 7 years since I last visited Italy. However, my naive old self had only done all the touristy things (read – What Not to do in Venice). Before heading out to that country again, I wanted to be sure to steer clear of tourist traps. So, I asked my travel pals to share some of their recommendations on offbeat places for solo female travellers. Here are 5 Italian destinations that are surely beyond the usual suspects:


Bologna (Courtesy: Kate Storm)

Bologna (Courtesy: Kate Storm)

Recommendation by Kate Storm – Our Escape Clause

“Hoping to explore Italy’s beautiful architecture and cuisine without the overly romantic environment of places like Venice and Tuscany? Look no further than Bologna. As the capital of the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna offers a fantastic mix of offbeat experiences, delicious food, and beautiful streets to wander… all with an easy-to-use travel infrastructure and a much less romance-focused atmosphere than nearby Tuscany and Verona. While you’re in Bologna, consider joining a food tour to indulge in some of the best food in Italy (Emilia Romagna is the original home of delicacies like mortadella, tagliatelle al ragu, and more), climb the Asinelli Tower for epic views over the city, and take yourself on an informal scavenger hunt to find the hidden canals of Bologna.”


Modena (Courtesy: Ayngelina Brogan)

Modena (Courtesy: Ayngelina Brogan)

Recommendation by Ayngelina Brogan – Bacon Is Magic

“Although most travellers tend to stick to Rome and Florence, I love to recommend smaller towns in Italy for solo female travellers. Modena is just a short 30-minute train ride from Bologna and so many people miss it. Most famous for its balsamic vinegar, it’s also home to great prosciutto and many Parmigiano Reggiano cheese producers. As a town, it’s perfect for women travelling alone as the downtown core is walkable, yet there is a hop on hop off bus to reach all the factories and producers on the outskirts. There is no tourist section of the city, so you don’t need to worry about being targeted by pickpockets as you’ll see locals everywhere and it’s well lit at night. Modena really is a food lover’s dream and you can do it on your own.”


Favignana (Courtesy: Leanne Scott)

Favignana (Courtesy: Leanne Scott)

Recommendation by Leanne Scott – The Globetrotter GP

“Favignana is a tiny island just off the coast of Sicily. Often compared to the Caribbean, this should be a must-see on any Sicily itinerary. For me, it was a tranquil haven. I spent a wonderful, peaceful day cycling solo from one stunning beach to the next. I have truly never seen an ocean so bright blue and crystal clear. I felt completely safe on this island as a solo female traveller. On mainland Sicily, I occasionally worried about being pickpocketed but on Favignana, life was so laid back, this didn’t even cross my mind. An easy day trip from Trapani on the west coast, it takes just 30 minutes to reach Favignana. Tickets can be purchased on the same day from booths opposite the ferry company. With only a handful of tourists and barely any traffic on the roads, the only way to get around this tiny island is by bike.”


Ortigia (Courtesy: David Angel)

Ortigia (Courtesy: David Angel)

Recommendation by David Angel – Delve Into Europe

“Ortigia is an island which was the historic centre of Syracuse, on the south-east coast of Sicily. For a time in the 5th century BC, Syracuse – originally a Greek colony – was the most powerful city in the known world. It’s fair to say it has retreated to the backwaters since then. Ortigia is just a few minutes’ ride from the main bus station in Syracuse, but it’s only served by a tiny electric bus that carries eight people every twenty minutes. The island itself is absolutely stunning, a maze of crumbling romantic 17th and 18th-century houses, with many of the streets pedestrianised, so there’s very little traffic.

We loved the walk along the island’s seafront, passing a medieval castle, a street of restaurants, several churches and a couple of tiny beaches. The backstreets are also beautiful, many lined with lovely little trattorie. We chose Ortigia because we were travelling with our two-year-old son who loves to run and explore, and this is a safe place to do so. But it would work just as well if you’re travelling solo. Ortigia’s highlight is the Piazza del Duomo, a large ‘square’ centred around the stunning Baroque cathedral. We went there every night for gelato and coffee around dusk, just as the lights came on. It’s one of the most beautiful squares in Italy – at a fraction of the price you’d pay in Venice or Rome.”

Porto Venere

Porto Venere (Courtesy: Christina Román)

Porto Venere (Courtesy: Christina Román)

Recommendation by Christina Román – Explore Now or Never

“Everybody loves the Cinque Terre, but just 15 minutes south is UNESCO World Heritage site Portovenere without the crowds! A soul-satisfying European destination for solo women. Begin by exploring the ruins of the Church of St. Peter, a 13th-century Catholic church high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Then wander the shops. (Great deals on linen clothing and tablecloths in sun-drenched colours.) While we were enjoying a lovely al fresco lunch dockside, a white Rolls Royce with newlyweds came zooming past, heavy on the horn. As everyone stood and applauded, we were reminded why we love locals-only destinations best. In the evening, you’ll have the Cinque Terre mostly to yourself. Here are more tips on how to see it and where to eat.”

Been to other offbeat places in Italy?

Got some solo travel tips for my readers?

Let us know through your comments below. 🙂

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What Not to do in Venice

Nothing ever seems straightforward in Venice, least of all its romances.

Roger Ebert probably intended these words for tourists like me who walk starry-eyed into this ‘City of Canals’, expecting to float about without the bustle of crowds clouding their view. All that I knew about Venice came from an old English chapter I had read in school, and a couple of movies that panned across pristine blue waters with a gondola gliding under ornate bridges.

Venice floats on tourism

Venice floats on tourism

While Venezia may not be everything you’ve seen on TV, it is worth a visit! This article does not aim to tell you what you can see and do here. Instead, to make sure you don’t fall into tourist traps or return unimpressed by this Gothic beauty, it tells you WHAT NOT TO DO IN VENICE:-

1.  Don’t let the gondoliers take you for a ride

Riding on a gondola will no doubt be numero uno on your list of things to do in Venice. But if you’re not careful, you might just end up spending 5 times the normal charge! I was in Venice a few years back, and every highly accented Italian gondolier quoted anywhere between 200 and 500 Euros for a ride that would last only a few minutes. A reasonable rate does not cross 150 Euros. If you’re a tourist on a budget, take the group rides on large gondolas and avoid the solo or couple rides.

Gondola rides are better enjoyed with music

Gondola rides are better enjoyed with music

Once you get in, make sure you sing along with the gondolier (yes, they all sing for you! ;-) ) and wave at all the jealous tourists who take your picture!

 2. Venetian masks are not diamonds. Don’t buy those for your girlfriend!

 In Venice, if anything sells more than a gondola-ride, it is the famous Venetian mask! The masks are all exquisite and you won’t mind paying a premium for bringing one back home. But remember that these are fragile. If you don’t know HOW you will pack and carry them across a thousand miles, do not spend your Euros on them. I know quite a few people who’ve returned with broken masks and dented wallets.

Even if you manage to transport a mask safely, think of WHAT you will do with it. It is unlikely you’ll have a masquerade party anytime soon. And if you do, you surely won’t risk losing your precious eye-mask in the dark! Most Venetian masks that make their way across the world, end up in glass-shelves or are forgotten in dusty attics.

 3. Don’t reach Venice at nightfall!

Maybe there isn't enough land for everyone here

Maybe there isn’t enough land for everyone here

Unless you’re a local with your own vaporetto, don’t play ‘risk-taking traveler’ and enter this city at night. Here’s why:

 The water-taxi or vaporetti service stops at 7PM and there’s no other public transport in this ‘City of Water’ to take you anywhere. This is one place where you can’t just flag a cab/catch a bus or hitchhike. If you arrive at night, you might just have to sleep at Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. And with so many people crowding up the train-station, I don’t think you’ll find much space to stretch your feet. Venice also gets very dark in the evening and doesn’t have too many street-lights (wherever you find streets, that is).

4. Don’t eat by the famous canals

A date by the canal or in a secret alleyway? You decide!

A date by the canal or in a secret alleyway? You decide!

…unless you’re rich to begin with. The al fresco restaurants and cafes that dot the streets by the canals offer beautiful views of the deep green water (yes, green. All this water is unfortunately dirty), but they charge a bomb for largely ordinary food. If you must eat well, walk further inland and satiate your hunger at small restaurants there.

Also, Venice is no place for pizzas. The classic margherita here is just chewy bread with lots of tomato sauce slathered on top. You must, however, not forget to try some gelato. I’ve tasted the world’s best gelato in Venice!

5. Don’t dress like a backpacker

So, my travel-junkiness was limited to the waist -pouch. But I've dressed much worse, trust me!

So, my travel-junkiness was limited to the waist -pouch. But I’ve dressed much worse, trust me!

The ‘City of Bridges’ receives a lot of rainfall (of course, you must know that, what with all the water flowing about :-P ). But this is no excuse to forget you’re in the world’s most fashion-conscious country! Venice is no place to wear ugly windcheaters and romp about in clunky sneakers. This is where you must show off your exotic derby hats and flowy sundresses.

6. Don’t pose on the Rialto Bridge

...but I couldn't resist posing myself! :-P

…but I couldn’t resist posing myself! 😛

When I asked her for directions to the Rialto Bridge, the Venetian mask-seller looked at me aghast. “You don’t know Rialto! It is the world’s most famous bridge!” she exclaimed in broken English. (Does that put London Bridge on the 2nd position? :-P )

I knew Rialto when I saw it. It was choc a bloc with tourists jostling for space. I wondered what this bridge had that its poor country-cousins didn’t. I got clicked on the Rialto but I’d suggest you give it a miss and look for smaller bridges that are less crowded and therefore, much better for photographs.

* * *

Venice will never cease to delight visitors, even with all its quirks

Venice will never cease to delight visitors, even with all its quirks

I hope the list doesn’t scare you away from Venice. It is a city like no other. It is the land of water! It needs to be explored slowly and mostly on foot as you walk in small alleyways and discover Renaissance facades interspersed with Baroque palazzos. The fragile interconnected structure of the 118 islands has necessitated a ban on new construction, but this does not deter the constant flow of people into this perpetually flooded city. Venice can be discovered only when you lose the crowd and lose yourself in old buildings that still stand tall.

This article was first published on Videsi Traveller. For more pictures and stories, follow my Facebook page – Oindrila Goes Footloose.