When booking a holiday to Tuscany you can quickly get overwhelmed by all the choices of things to see and do. Guide books will point you to the must-see places such as Florence’s Duomo and Siena’s main square, and museums such as the Uffizi, where you can literally spend hours, if not days, seeing masterpiece after masterpiece. But unless you’re lucky enough to be holidaying in Tuscany for more than a couple of weeks, it’s difficult to know where to focus your time, energy and money.
So what should you do?
Think gelato – because no trip to Italy is complete without at least a few visits to local gelataries- and take the same approach to your sightseeing decision-making as you would to making a choice for which gelato flavor to choose.
1. What is your mood for the day? Do you feel like a heavier and richer flavor like chocolate or panna cotta (which literally translates to cooked cream) Or do you prefer a fresh, fruity gelato made from ripe succulent strawberries and refreshing lemons? The sightseeing equivalent would be a visit to the Bargello Museum in Florence where you can be exposed to intellectually challenging works of art by Michelangelo, Cellini and Bernini, among others. But if it’s something a little lighter, say just a great view you’re after, a quick climb up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or a trip to Piazzale Michelangelo on the south bank of the Arno River, high above Florence might be a better option to pursue.
2. How many gelato flavors can you fit into your cup or cone? Or how much energy do you have to fit four or five cultural or historic visits into one day? Would it make more sense to stick to one or two? When you focus on two flavors of gelato you’ll likely get more out of them than if you choose more. You’ll be able to savour each mouthful and appreciate the simple and natural ingredients of a good artisanal product (be wary of gelato displayed in high mounds and in colors that don’t look natural which usually indicate artificial colors and emulsifiers!) If you eat more than one flavor at a time, chances are everything will mix together and you won’t remember much about the individual flavors. The same goes for trying to cram in too many tourist sites into one day. Choose one or two and take your time to really get to know and enjoy them rather than throwing too much into the mix. Your feet will thank you as well!
3. Stick to choosing gelato made with local and seasonal ingredients such as cherries in June and hazelnuts in late summer and fall. So why go shopping at the Gap in Italy when local boutiques can offer more interesting styles that you won’t necessarily find at home and often at great prices? Tuscany is full of great leather and knitwear shops where you can purchase exquisite gloves in every color imaginable and beautiful cashmere and merino wool sweaters (made in Italy) and accessories. Discounted designer goods are available at places like The Mall outside of Florence and the Space Outlet (for Prada) in Montevarchi.
4. Do you want to go where everyone else goes, like Vivoli, the oldest gelateria in Florence? Or do you want to find a special place off the beaten path? Check out Gelateria Veneta (family run since 1927) in Lucca and while there, take a food tour in this often over-looked Tuscan town which was the birthplace of Puccini and is surrounded by magnificent and still intact Renaissance walls.
With so much to see and do in Tuscany and so much great gelato, you almost always can’t go wrong.
So, buon appetito! Divertiti! Enjoy!