Tuscany's Winter Secrets
Get away this yuletide season, or beat the post-holiday slump with a trip to one of Europe’s most enchanted zones. Tuscany is not just for fall wine harvests and summer sunsets, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy a magical vacation in the winter wonderland of one of Italy’s most popular regions.
Cities and Towns
But first thing’s first. Where exactly is Tuscany anyway? If your points of reference end at Florence’s Duomo and “Under the Tuscan Sun”, there’s more to know! Besides the Renaissance splendor of Florence, Siena is a popular city (and also a province in its own right), with a strong medieval presence and a fabulous Gothic cathedral. Nestled in the sun-soaked landscape between Florence and Siena is the countryside of Chianti, the place to be for wine tastings and a lovely drive through its world-famous vineyards. Also in the hills around this area are the characteristic towns of San Gimignano (the city of medieval towers), Volterra (the ancient Etruscan walled town) and Monteriggioni (a pretty town organized inside its circular walls).
Going west from Florence, you have the iconic Square of Miracles in Pisa, as well as the attractive and walkable center of Lucca. But also don’t pass by the pretty city centers of Prato and Pistoia, the sophisticated Terrazza Mascagni promenade in the port city of Livorno, or miss out on the thermal waters in the town of Montecatini Terme. To the east of Siena, you will find the lovely, artistic cities of Cortona and Arezzo.
The less-visited southern region of Tuscany includes coastal Maremma, with a wild and rugged reputation, as well as charming hill towns waiting to be explored. The Val d’Orcia, on the UNESCO World Heritage list, blends striking natural scenery with art, gastronomy and vino. Particular products include cacio pecorino from Pienza, Val d'Orcia honey, extra-virgin olive oil from Castiglione d'Orcia, the salames of Cinta Senese, as well as mushrooms and truffles, and of course, the world-renowned Brunello di Montalcino wines. Montalcino and Montepulciano provide gorgeous medieval scenes, and you can discover the Etruscan heritage in the town of Chiusi.
Piazza del Campo, Siena. Credit: Flickr/Phillip Capper
Tuscany in Winter
If you’re traveling with family or loved ones in tow, this is a great opportunity to rent out a classic Tuscan villa and indulge in cozy cold-weather activities that give you quality time and good memories together. Reading or playing games by the fireplace, enjoying some pampering at a spa, walks or drives through the beautiful countryside and small hamlets, learning how to cook a typical Tuscan meal together, wine tastings at an on-site or nearby vineyard, the list goes on.
Cozy Fireplace Room in Chianti. Credit: Tuscan Villas
We also recommend you rent a car (or you could also use one of our private chauffeurs) to go around and get wonderfully lost among the many charming towns and villages. The best part is that, during winter, you can really witness the genuine rhythms of village life, thanks to a more authentic ambiance without the high-season crowds. Of course in some smaller villages there may also not be many locals living there during the winter months, but this becomes part of your adventure to experience a truly different and magical side of Tuscany. There is always a new shop or restaurant to discover, and the ones that are open are sure to be frequented by local characters.
Driving around Tuscany. Credit: Flickr/Alex Proimos
Now, what’s the most prevalent thing in Tuscany, besides old-world charm? That would have to be the wine. The region is famous for many vintages (mostly reds, but also white wines), including Chianti and Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Pomino and many more. There may be no more satisfying way to drink a glass of liquid red than sitting by a fireplace, warm and cozy, while winter does her magic outside. February travelers can catch the Benvenuto Brunello event, where the newest brunello vintage is released, as well as the Brunello Crossing, an event that combines the breathtaking Montalcino countryside with running, wine and food.
Brunello di Montalcino, Italy. Flickr/Megan Cole
Speaking of special winter events, “Carnevale” rolls out each year from the end of January to February. Throughout Tuscany, there are many local carnivals, parades and fairs. The biggest in the region is in Viareggio – a colorful, vibrant and wild celebration that transforms the seaside town. There are costumes with the traditional mask, crazy floats, parades, special carnival menus and live performances. In December, of course, you can find many Christmas markets and holiday events scattered throughout the towns and little hamlets. Florence has a few, including the German-style decorated stalls laden with imported products that take over Piazza Santa Croce. Montepulciano has a Christmas Village with local sellers.
Christmas in Florence. Credit: Flickr/Any.colour.you.like
Now let’s get to the obvious perk of choosing to visit Tuscany in the winter – less tourists and sparse crowds! Visit the Uffizi Gallery or the Duomo in Florence with no lines, and climb Pisa’s leaning tower hassle-free. Everywhere you go, you should have a more intimate experience, and it can also be easier to capture perfect shots with less people blocking those splendid views. Do keep in mind that some attractions may have closings during the winter months, especially on Mondays.
There is generally a financial benefit to low-season travel. From flight tickets to hotel bookings, there can be some great deals to attract customers during the winter months (but that still doesn’t mean you can wait until December to book). Oh, and for shoppers, keep an eye out for those great winter sales at many Tuscan retailers starting in January!
Back to exploring the Tuscan countryside: when you need to thaw out, visit one of the region’s thermal baths to get warm and maybe also enjoy a bit of luxury. Tuscany offers many wild hot springs, thermal baths and luxury wellness centers. In Bagni San Filippo, you can indulge in a bit of (free) natural wellness while basking in the therapeutic scenery of Val d’Orcia. Or try the Saturnia thermal baths, called "Cascate di Mulino", in Maremma (also free!).
Bagni San Filippo. Flickr/Udo Schröter
If you want something outdoors, but more active, you can find skiing and other fun snow activities in Abetone (about one-and-a-half hours outside Florence) or Monte Amiata (farther south in the Val d’Orcia area). Not the grand peaks of the alps, but competent and equipped for all levels, and a comfortable choice for ski novices too.
Abetone, Val di Luce - Montagna Pistoiese. Credit: Flickr/Regione Toscana/Leonardo Calugi
If you’re really lucky, you could even see the beautiful sight of fresh falling snow swirling down on the region’s glorious architectural landmarks that speak of its ancient Roman, medieval and Renaissance past. A blanket of snow covering these already romantic cities would be a truly unique highlight to any Tuscan getaway.
Snow on Siena. Credit: Flickr/Antonio Cinotti
So let’s be honest – there’s really no bad time to visit gorgeous Tuscany! We do hope that after reading these ideas, you won’t be reluctant to visit in one of the coldest, but also most rewarding times of the year. Don’t miss out on an enchanting Tuscan winter experience that you just might find to be refreshing for your mind, body and soul.
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