and Travel Information about Tuscany
is one of the largest regions of Italy and has been, for
centuries a favourite destination for foreign travellers.
The attraction of its beauty, history, food and wine is
still there to be enjoyed. Visitors will find that if they
are prepared to behave as reasonable guests, Italians are
the most wonderful hosts. This guide will try to tell you
something about Tuscany to help you enjoy your visit.
is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (also known as
universal time) and moves a further hour ahead on the
last Sunday of March returning to normal the last Sunday
of October. In effect this means that in Vancouver you
should add 9 hours to what you see on your watch, in New
York add 6 and in Hong Kong or Perth take away 7.
seasons in Tuscany are quite pronounced, winter starts
in mid November with cold winds and rain, as it proceeds
there will normally be snow on the higher hills and temperatures
going below freezing except on the coast. Nevertheless
this can be one of the nicest times to visit as most of
the tourist attractions are almost empty and the bright
clear days are wonderful.
arrives in mid March and though the days can be warm and
sunny it is best to bring something warm to wear, as the
evenings can still be very cool. As the days lengthen
and the temperature rises, late May and June tend to be
August and the beginning of September can be very hot
indeed (35°C / 96°F). In this period most people
who can will sleep after lunch and then stay up later
in the relative cool of the evening. Though air conditioning
is becoming more common it is certainly not the rule in
cars, hotels or restaurants. August is also the period
that most Italians go on holiday making things more crowded
and expensive, it is best avoided if possible.
will have some wet days but on the whole is a comfortable
time with good weather going well into November. However
as the year progresses it is best to have something warm
regions of Italy have dialects so different from Italian
that people from other areas find them completely incomprehensible;
Tuscany does not, Florence being the place of origin of
the Italian language. The Tuscan accent is strong and
some words do change across the region, so do not be dismayed
if, having studied Italian you finds the chatter in a
bar completely beyond you. When speaking to foreigners
people normally speak slowly and correctly.
was for many years the second language in Italian schools
so that it is not unusual to find educated people with
a good grasp of it, though the younger generation have
been taught English with varying degrees of success.
have a go at speaking beginners Italian, no one will be
offended if you get things wrong. But if you have no knowledge
of the language at all, you will probably find some one
to help you out. Hotels and restaurants tend to have some
one who speaks some English. You will also notice quite
a few signs, badly translated into English but with a
bit of imagination you will understand them.
along with many other countries in Europe now uses the
Euro, the sign for which is €. For smaller amounts
it is divided into one hundred cents or "centesimi".
For example, fourteen Euro and twenty-five cents is written.
Italians deal a great deal in the cash needed for its
large black or grey economy, credit cards such as Visa,
MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted but
it is always best to ask or check on the door of the establishment
where you want to buy something or to eat. It is also
a good idea to tell your credit card company of your travel
plans before leaving home as they may be worried by large
payments going out to a foreign land, thinking that your
card may have been stolen or copied, then you can find
yourself in an embarrassing situation when it comes to
paying. It might also be worth getting a temporary raise
of your limit at the same time to cover emergencies.
checks are best changed in banks but remember that they
open only on Monday to Friday 08.30 to 13.30 and 14.35
to 15.35. Often the best way to get cash is using a card
in one of the banks automatic teller machines that are
open 24 hours and where you can get small amounts at a
time. Hotels and railway stations will also change money
but give a poorer rate of exchange. You will also come
across kiosks with CHANGE written above them, these are
private companies and tend to give very bad rates, they
are best avoided.
over the world, places that have many visitors also attract
their share of sharks, one of their tricks, in less reputable
establishments is to give you change for a smaller note
than you actually gave them (for instance if you give
them €100 and they may give you change for €50)
so try to familiarise yourself with the Euro you receive
and always check the value of the note you are handing
over, even saying its value as you do so. This advice
is good for London, Paris or New York.
pickpockets are endemic in Rome, Venice and Naples, Tuscany
is less bothered by them and violent crime is rare. Never
the less it is best not to carry large amounts of cash
around and take a photocopy of your passport and drivers
licence in case one or other gets lost.
power is supplied at AC 230 volts and 60 Hertz - you can
find converters for most plugs at airports and electrical
supply shops but be careful because though they may allow
you to plug in your appliance they do not normally alter
the voltage so that hair dryers or travelling irons, from
the USA for instance, can burn out or even catch fire
if not wired for 230 volts.
is a very safe place to visit though some might find the
driving of its inhabitants a little scary at first. Walking
at night in the town or the countryside is considered
to be free of risk but some roads on the outskirts of,
or between cities, are the equivalent of the red light
district, so best avoided.
in towns is supposed to be all right to drink but it is
best not to trust the plumbing and stick to the bottled
variety. Some hotels have a purifying system but don't
assume so. If you decide to drink only bottled water remember
that ice is made with tap water.
Italian emergency health care in Tuscany at least, is
relatively efficient. Citizens of whatever country are
entitled to it following an accident. Casualty rooms are
present at most hospitals and usually mercifully uncrowded.
EU citizens should bring their E 111 forms with them to
entitle them to care and for any non-emergency help.
minor ailments the local Farmacia or Pharmacy will
have well qualified staff who can help to diagnose and
prescribe for you. However, it is best to bring a good
supply of any medicines that you habitually use as there
is no guarantee that they will be found here. Insect repellent
and sun cream are necessary and easily available.
evidence of the past is ever present in Tuscany so that
a little understanding of its history can greatly help
one to enjoy it today. This is an attempt to put the 2,500
years from the Etruscans to the renaissance into very
few words so please forgive any omissions or errors.
Etruscans ruled over the centre of the Italian peninsular
from around 500 BC until the last century BC and gave
their name to Tuscany. At times their rule extended from
what is now Naples to above the present Bologna. Little
is known of their origin and their language is still largely
undeciphered Their customs and art differed from those
of their neighbours and were particularly rich. The Ancient
Greeks were horrified to find that women were not only
allowed to sit and eat with men but also to discuss philosophy
of what is known of them comes from their elaborate tombs
that yielded beautiful pottery, jewellery and burial urns.
These can be seen at Chiusi, Tarquinia and Cortona amongst
other places. Unfortunately the Etruscans backed the wrong
side in one of the power struggles of Rome, the growing
power from the south and were almost exterminated by the
victor Sulla. It was not until his death and the arrival
of Cicero that they were allowed to live in peace and
were slowly absorbed by the Roman Empire.
as the land of the Etruscans was now called, became the
seventh region of Italy to the Romans who colonised, taking
over the ruins of older settlements and building on top
of them. Some of the ancient walls of towns and buildings
still show the Etruscan stone below the ones placed in
Roman times and finally the medieval and renaissance ones
on top. The Romans also built Pisa as a port and Julius
Caesar founded Florence at the best fording place of the
500 AD the empire fell to Goths, Byzantines and Lombards
so most of the cities of Tuscany were taken over and looted.
Slowly the invaders left or settled, converting to Christianity.
1000 the Italian peninsular was caught up in a power struggle
between the Pope and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
(which was neither) and the Tuscan cities themselves split
between Guelf who supported the pope and Ghibeline who
supported the Emperor, also it was being carved up between
the major European powers such as Spain and France.
In the midst of this, many of the towns and cities in
Tuscany achieved de facto independence building defensive
walls around themselves and experimenting with various
sorts of self-government from the almost democratic to
the outright dictatorial. One of the most important towns
was Florence, which by 1500 was dominating or invading
its neighbours due to its enormous wealth born of banking,
papal politics and wool, the heavy industry of the middle
ages. Soon almost all of Tuscany fell under the power
of Florence, and Florence, once ruled by a council was
now ruled by the Medici, a family of merchants turned
bankers then politicians.
their stewardship Florence, rich and at peace became a
meeting place for those who had brains and those who had
power, for those who were the greatest artists of their
time and those who could afford their work and most of
all a clearing house for ideas both new and rediscovered
from Roman and Greek antiquity, hence the name Renaissance
or Rebirth, out of which came not just the revolutionary
architecture and art that we can still see today but also
many of the ideas that have shaped the western world.
Wine and Eating out
cuisine has been exported to the corners of the world
so most people are somewhat familiar with it, yet each
region has its own peculiarities and specialities. Tuscan
food is for the most part simple and based on what is
locally and seasonably available.
Italian menu is divided into four parts, first is the
appetiser called the antipasti. These are small
dishes of things like assorted cured meats or little rounds
of bread with various sauces on them called crostinni.
The next part, the Primi Piatti deals with the
pasta selection and will also include thick soups containing
beans, barley or toasted bread and rice dishes. The next
is the Secondi, the various meat or fish dishes,
a subsection of this is the contorni which lists
the various salads and vegetables than can be served as
a side dish. The fourth and final part is for Dolci,
that is sweets or deserts but may also contain a cheese
who goes for the full four courses twice a day will certainly
end up doubting the health giving qualities of a Mediterranean
diet. Most people will leave out one or two courses most
of the time but do tell the waiter what order you want
things to come in and who is eating what, otherwise half
of your party could be left watching as the other half
eat the appetiser who will in turn watch while the pasta
course is eaten, when it finally arrives. Pizzas are normally
served only in the evenings.
a place to eat is not too difficult, as it is still quite
hard to get a bad meal anywhere but here are some tips:
Any menu with an enormous selection is unlikely to be
able to have everything fresh.
to the back streets and away from the main squares in
places like Siena or Florence as there the price to
quality ratio tends to be poor.
If the menu posted at the door is not translated it
is a good sign, translated into English as well, it
could still be all right but if it is translated into
more languages then it is probably best avoided.
can be of help but are often out dated and tend to encourage
the presence of lots of tourists and less locals, that
can influence the quality.
is not normally expected in family run establishments,
although of course gratefully accepted when proffered.
Some menus will show that a service charge will be added
to the bill and others might say service not included,
but even in this case you should only tip if you feel
very happy with the service. Italian waiters are paid
a reasonable wage and do not have to rely on gratuities.
are not allowed in restaurants, although if you are eating
outside no one will mind. Children on the other hand are
welcome just about everywhere, in all but the snootiest
places they are allowed to get up, run around, laugh and
play. Children in Italy are treated like little gods,
dressed in the best clothes, spoilt rotten by their grandparents
and remarkably well behaved.
is home to some of the best wines in Italy and the world,
its top ranks include Brunello di Motalcino, Vino Nobile
DI Montepulciano and Chianti. Recently some of the better
wineries have been making Super Tuscans, often
aged in French oak barrels which are smaller than those
traditionally used. While it is great fun to taste these
high end wines it is usually possible to get a good quality
house wine which will not be to heavy on the pocket and
will allow a certain amount of afternoon activity.
places to eat
Lunch or dinner in a restaurant is a time consuming if
pleasant experience so don't go into one if you are in
a hurry. Bars tend to stock selections of sandwiches that
can be eaten on the spot or taken away, the nearest thing
to fast food that Tuscany has. Remember that in a bar
you will be charged extra to eat or drink, sitting at
a table rather than standing at the bar. In the town squares
the difference can be quite a lot. In small family run
bars you normally pay after you have eaten or drunk something,
in the larger ones, in railway stations or on the autostrada
you pay the cashier and then go to the bartender for your
snack. Also most delicatessens, Alimentari, will
make you up sandwiches from a bewildering selection of
cheeses and cold cuts.
are quite cheep and reliable when not on strike, however
most Tuscan towns are on hill tops and the trains don't
pass close to the centre. An exception is Florence which
is best visited by train as it can be hard to park. If
you do go by train remember to stamp your ticket before
getting on. You do this by sliding it into one of the
small yellow boxes you will see around the station, if
it is a return you will need to stamp it again before
coming back. If you don't do this your ticket is technically
invalid, though foreigners are rarely fined.
like trains are cheap though it does take a while to get
used to the timetables. You buy your ticket first in a
bar, newspaper stand or shop, anywhere that displays the
logo of the bus company. Again you must stamp it as soon
as you get on. The bus staff do impose fines on anyone
not doing so.
car is probably the best way to see Tuscany. They can
be rented at around €40 to €60 a day. It is
probably a good idea to book before arrival and shop around
for price. Avis at Chiusi station costs less than Avis
at Rome airport for instance. Air conditioning is recommended
from May to September. Many, especially large cars run
planning your journey give yourself plenty of time, distances
may be short but the windy country roads mean that travelling
times are long. Don't worry if you are stopped at a police
roadblock, it doesn't mean that you have done anything
wrong, probably just a routine check. By law you must
carry your licence when driving plus your passport if
the licence does not include a photo. Don't forget this
as it can get you into big trouble if you do. Seat belts
must be worn and talking on a mobile phone when driving
is against the law, even though most Italians appear to
towns have ZTL (limited traffic zone) in which non-residents
are forbidden to drive, it is marked by a red circle with
white inside, it may have a time limit allowing morning
access. Parking spaces surrounded by blue paint mean you
have to pay and display a ticket in that area, white lines
mean that parking is free (except in Florence) though
there might be a time limit requiring you to state when
you arrived on a disc, you will find one in hire cars,
if you don't have one you can always write the time on
a piece of paper and leave it on the dash board. The law
now states that dipped headlights must be on at all times
when not in a built up area.
you do hire a car be sure to take photos of all for sides
when you get it, and then when you give it back. This
is especially important when dropping a vehicle at the
airport and taking the keys to the desk inside. When you
are back home and the credit card deductions arrive it
is too late to argue!
do not cruise around looking for custom but wait at Taxi
ranks in town squares or railway stations, you will also
find their telephone numbers in bars. Do not be tempted
by people standing outside airports or rail stations asking
if you want a taxi as they are undoubtedly unlicensed
and are likely to give you a very bad deal.
that lie away from tourist areas generally open Monday
to Saturday from around 9.00 till 13.00 and 16.00 until
20.00. Food shops are closed on Wednesday afternoon and
most other ones on Monday morning. Open-air markets provide
a great spectacle and are also good places to shop, each
town has one once a week, in the morning, though the days
differ from town to town. They don't have much romance
about them but the Co-op supermarkets probably give the
best value for money with regard to food and are places
to find inexpensive gifts to take home, especially in
the cooking utensil area. All shops and market stalls
should give you a receipt for your purchase, make sure
you are given one, you are required by law to keep it
until leaving the area of the shop or stall otherwise
you could be fined by the "Guardia DI Finanza"
or Tax Police.
chart - sizes
It is almost impossible for foreigners to dress with the
same flair that the Italians have, that does not mean
that we cannot try. It is best to bring along some smart
but casual clothes just in case you get invited to a feast
or function of some kind. It can be embarrassing to find
yourself in a tee shirt and trainers when everyone else
is in Gucci and Valentino. That does not mean men should
wear a formal dark suit, as they would probably be mistaken
churches will not allow people to enter in shorts or sleeveless
Since most Italians above the age of five have a mobile
phone, public ones are in short supply, however many bars
have one. The international code for Italy is 39 and to
dial abroad you must dial 00 before the code of the country
you wish to phone.
Ancient Romans were famous for their control and use of
water from aqueducts to hydraulics; some say though, that
things haven't improved much since then. Signori means
for men Signore for women. You will sometimes find a lady
just outside a WC with a little plate with change in it,
you are expected to leave a small tip for her to clean
the place. If you try some of the public toilets without
this arrangement you will appreciate that it is a small
price to pay.
are categorised on a one to five star system depending
on their amenities, with most being three or four star,
there are many on line booking agencies and many towns
and provinces have their own links to local establishments.
However these are often outdated and the websites often
reflect more the ability of the web master than the quality
of the place they are selling. If you are staying for
a few days or weeks, self-catering apartments and villas
are available at quite reasonable prices especially if
the cost is divided over a group. Often these properties
must be rented from Saturday to Saturday.
to go, thing to see
various printed guides give a complete overview of the
various land marks and their historical contexts however
there are many town and village fairs and festivals happening
throughout the year that can be great fun to take part
in. There are four main forms.
Sagra is based around a certain type of food,
anything from Steaks to Snails. It consists of large
numbers of people, at long tables, eating the food to
be celebrated with the proceeds normally going to a
local sports club.
town competition, this takes place between various areas
or Contrade of the town and can be, for instance,
a race - Palio, joust - Giostra or archery
contest - Archidado which are accompanied by
a great deal of pageantry and show, but remember they
can be very crowded and try to be on your best behaviour,
as the locals treat it all very seriously.
festivals usually pay tribute to the town's patron saint
with a procession and fair, you might as well take part,
as all the shops will be closed.
Festa dell' Unita is supposedly in support of the
newspaper of the post-communist PDS political party.
In reality it has very little to do with politics and
is just an occasion for everyone to meet, eat and dance
to traditional music. There are often lucky dip stands
or games of skill for small prizes. It is as good a
way as any to see the local populace at play.
find out about these and other things such as Music Festivals
or Exhibitions you should look at the posters stuck up
around the town walls or ask some one at your hotel or
villa to look in the local section of La Nazione,
Tuscany's newspaper where these things are listed.
are of course printed guides to almost every aspect of
Italian life and history but to take on holiday Cadogan
provides a very British, thorough guide in friendly style,
Rough Guides is from a more international perspective
and is slightly lighter to carry and to read.
Guide is designed for anyone new to Tuscany. It was written
by Jonathan Arthur, a British freelance guide, who has lived
in Tuscany for most of his adult life. He currently has
a house with his wife and 18 year old daughter in a small
hamlet near Cortona. If you wish to bring any links or information
to his attention, he can be contacted at email@example.com