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Visiting Tuscany
Tuscany has long been one of the favourite destinations in Italy for the knowledgeable tourist. Widely seen as a very beautiful part of the Italian countryside (though this view may be affected by imbibing the region's famous wines), Tuscany is also the birthplace of the Italian branch of the Renaissance, and Fra Angelico, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Alighieri, among others, were born within the region.

This heritage sits side by side with the more cosmopolitan parts of Florence and Pisa, as well as with the rustic simplicity of the Tuscan countryside, dotted with small villages and peaceful vineyards. There are 10 provinces in Tuscany, and each one is worth a visit; so deciding what aspects of Tuscany you would like to visit is a must.

One of the most important cities in Tuscany, if not in the whole of Italy, is Florence. An influential capital since the middle ages, Florence is still surrounded by mementoes of the Renaissance, which was nurtured into its full glory in this state. Tourists tend to travel there to imbibe the beautiful, well, everything. Florence is a gem and an unforgettable experience.

Pisa is also an unforgettable experience. Never mind, for the moment, the Leaning Tower of Pisa; this city is fascinating for other reasons as well. Only recently, a series of magnificently preserved wooden boats were discovered in the marshes, dating from between 200 BC to 500 AD. The boats and their contents may not be removed from the marsh in our lifetimes, and a carefully planned visit may mean that you can actually go to the dig itself. This is definitely something that the history-hungry tourist will be dying to see, one of the archaeological miracles of our age.

If you want something a little more off the beaten track, but still awe-inspiring, try Lucca. The north of the city is overshadowed by the Apuan Alps, and you can simply enjoy the marvels that the still-medieval landscape and the fantastic landscapes. Most of Lucca has remained unaffected by the tourist trade, so you can eat eels in sauce at the Giulio without having to wait in a queue to be served.

For one of the most astonishing sights in the whole of Italy, visit the Maremma, Tuscany's Wild West. Drive by the open wheat fields of this area, and you'll come across Cowboys in fedoras doing what cowboys do (herding cattle, we mean). The best way to learn about the Italian cowboys is to stay in the area, at one of the fantastic hotels. Maremma is also the place where the Saturnia spa is to be found. One of the earliest Italian cities, Saturnia boasts warm sulphur springs that makes it as famous a spa town as the English Bath.

The important thing to remember about Tuscany is that it is not just a haven of culture and history; it also has some of the best nature parks in the Italian states, as well as one of the few bird sanctuaries in this country of fanatical bird-hunters. Once you get tired of all the sumptuous art, fantastic walks, history and health spas, then you can take a look at some of the beauty not created by man.

Since Tuscany is all about the culture of Italy, and reminders of its past, you may want to consider planning your trip around some of the festivals and events that are held there. Florence even has a Cricket Festival, and the insects are released after the festival, as this brings good luck.

An Italian experience would not be the same without visiting a few good restaurants, and Tuscany has a lot of eating places, both modern and traditional. Some places, such as the "Cibreino", do not even serve pasta, but concentrate upon the local cuisine instead. For the best meal for a little price, the Trattoria Pallottino in Florence is one of the best; mountains of pasta, and huge servings of whatever you choose. It is very popular, however, so you would need to plan ahead.

Accommodation in Tuscany should not be an issue, as the countryside has adapted to the many tourists that visit the region. From luxury hotels and resorts to self-catering farmhouses and cottages, you should not be short of options; in fact, Tuscan farmhouses offer an alternative for the traveller who is bored with resorts and arranged trips. There are plenty of places that have been adapted to suit a short-term stay, and any visitor to Tuscany should seriously consider this option. Though, on the other hand, a number of Tuscan castles have been turned into luxury hotels, so if you are coming to the area for the history, you may be attracted by the opportunity to stay in an authentic piece of the Italian past. Either way, Tuscany is a popular resort, and you need to make your plans early.
About the Author
Orson Johnson writes for Holiday Velvet, a website providing listings for bed and breakfasts, villas, hotels and apartments in Rome.
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