Top Experiences in Central Italy
The View from Florence’s Piazzale Michelangelo
One of the best ways to introduce yourself to Florence is by walking up to this square on the hill south of the Arno. From here you can take in the whole city, and much of the surrounding countryside, in one spectacular vista. To extend the experience, linger at one of the outdoor cafés, and for the finest view of all, time your visit to correspond with sunset.
Strolling the Ramparts of Lucca
Lucca, 80 km (50 miles) west of Florence, isn’t situated on a hilltop in the way commonly associated with Tuscan towns, and it doesn’t have quite the abundance of art treasures that you find in Siena or Pisa (to say nothing of Florence). Yet for many visitors, Lucca is a favorite Tuscan destination, and the source of its appeal has everything to do with its ramparts. These hulking barricades, built around the city between 1544 and 1645, were a source of security; now they are an elevated, oval park, complete with walkways, picnic areas, grass, and trees. The citizens of Lucca spend much of their spare time here, strolling, biking, and lounging.
Wine Tasting in Chianti
The gorgeous hills of the Chianti region, between Florence and Siena, produce exceptional wines, and they never taste better than when sampled on their home turf. Many Chianti vineyards are visitor-friendly, but the logistics of a visit are different from what you may have experienced in other wine regions. If you just drop in, you’re likely to get a tasting, but for a tour you usually need to make an appointment several days ahead of time. The upside is that your tour may end up being a half day of full immersion—including extended conversation with the winemakers and even a meal.
Hiking in the Footsteps of St. Francis
Umbria, which bills itself as “Italy’s Green Heart,” is fantastic hiking country. Among the many options are two with a Franciscan twist: from the town of Cannara, 16 km (10 miles) south of Assisi, an easy half-hour walk leads to the fields of Pian d’Arca, where St. Francis delivered his sermon to the birds. For slightly more demanding walks, you can follow the saint’s path from Assisi to the Ermeo delle Carceri (Hermitage of Prisons), where Francis and his followers went to “imprison” themselves in prayer, and from here continue along the trails that crisscross Monte Subasio.
Sampling Umbrian Truffles
The tartufo (truffle) is a peculiar delicacy—a gnarly clump of fungus that grows wild in the forest a few inches underground, is hunted down by specially trained truffle-sniffing dogs (or pigs), and fetches a small fortune. The payoff is a powerful, aromatic flavor that makes food lovers swoon. Umbria is one of Italy’s richest black truffle–hunting grounds, and in many of the region’s restaurants you’ll encounter truffle-infused dishes or be offered a shaving of truffle over your pasta. Indulge yourself at least once—it’s an experience you won’t forget.
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