Ten of the best: Places to visit in Tuscany

With its rolling countryside, golden light, historic cities and fabulous food, Tuscany represents all that is wonderful about an Italian holiday. And it's not just the Camerons who holiday there: Tuscany is one of the top hotspots for Brits searching for their dream holiday - and here are just ten reasons why. Click on the image below to see our picture gallery.

Top ten Tuscan treasures
See Gallery
Ten of the best: Places to visit in Tuscany

If you've heard of Siena, no doubt you know about its main square, Piazza del Campo, which is a unique, historical attraction in the city. It's known as one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe and was designed with a curve so rainwater could be collected. The famed horse race Il Palio takes place here and is held on the edges of the piazza twice a year in July and August. If you're not lucky enough to see the event, Piazza de Campo is a treat any time of the year, from when it's covered in snow in winter to when musicians from all over the world take to the square to perform in concerts throughout the year.

If you want to experience the Tuscany you've seen in postcards, take a trip to Crete Senesi where you'll find cypress trees, rolling hills and village churches. You won't find big cathedrals and piazzas here as it's all about the nature and the relaxing atmosphere of farmed land. Explore the area by bike to really enjoy the hilltops, ancient farmland and small medieval villages close up.

A visit to the historic centre of Florence is on most tourists' lists but head south to the other side of the River Arno and you'll find the less-discovered quarter of Oltrarno. Here you'll find some gems in one of Florence's quieter areas, like the Santo Spirito (pictured), which is a spectacular example of Renaissance architecture, the Pitti Palace and the gorgeous Boboli Gardens with their spectacular collection of sculptures. The real beauty is the Piazzale Michelangelo where you can go to see a panoramic view of Florence - a must!

Tuscany has a group of seven islands off its shore for you to indulge in beach life, natural surroundings and the variety of landscapes they offer. Elba, Giglio, Capraia, Giannutri, Montecristo, Gorgona and Pianosa are the seven islands, which are each different and protected by the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. Elba (pictured) and Giglio are the most popular with tourists offering sandy beaches and idyllic island life.

Marvel at the medieval towers of this intriguing city that stands 325m above sea level and can be seen from miles away. San Gimignano has managed to conserve its towers, which other cities lost due to wars and natural disasters. You'll find plenty of churches, squares and artwork throughout the city. While losing yourself in its many streets and alleyways, stop at Gelataria di Piazza in Piazza della Cisterna where you can sample some unusual and delicious ice cream flavours.

Rocky spires and pinnacles called the 'Balze' make up the whole of the Valdarno region between Florence and Arezzo. The strange erosive phenomenon was formed by sediments deposited by a lake and is around 100 metres high. The fascinating Balze aren't as well-known as they should be, considering they were an inspiration to Leonardo da Vinci and featured in the background of his Mona Lisa painting. Above the cliffs you can enjoy enchanting views of farms, villages, vineyards and olive groves.

It's a tourist's haven but seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a must, even if it's just for an hour before you escape the hoards. It's one of those awe-inspiring sites that you'll never forget and even though you won't find yourself alone with the tower, its neighbouring Duomo (cathedral) and the Bapistry of St. John, the sheer beauty of them will leave you in awe. If you're not afraid of heights you can climb the Leaning Tower and you can see inside the cathedral and baptistery.

The town of Vinci is surrounded by hills but is best known for being the birthplace of celebrated artist Leonardo da Vinci. Here you can see the church where he was baptised and visit a museum and library dedicated to him. Vinci is often overlooked compared to other parts of Tuscany but is worth a visit and perfect for exploring by foot. There are tiny streets and alleyways, which are great for getting lost and a few kilometres away from the main town is Anchiano, where Leonardo was born. Here you can visit his native home and the hills where he played throughout his childhood - all of which are still intact.

If you love wine then you must visit Chianti - one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Its landscape offers green hills and large fields of vineyards and olive groves. Among these you'll find small villages where the houses are made of stone - perfect for a rustic stay. Chianti was once the backdrop for centuries of battles between Siena and Florence, so there's plenty of history but it's now an oasis of calm so you wouldn't know it from just looking at the beautiful landscape.

With a mixture of sandy and rocky Blue Flag beaches, pretty hilltop villages and undiscovered wilderness, Maremma is one of Tuscany's most beautiful destinations. Visit the picturesque villages of Pitigliano, Roccastrada and Montemassi in northern Maremma, explore nature's treasures at the Diaccia Botrona Nature Reserve and taste the simple and authentic delicacies of the region. Grosseto is an interesting city, which is also worth a visit to see the architecture of its buildings and churches.

Read Full Story