Image credit: Gareth Williams
Gleaming capital of one of Italy’s finest regions though it may be, the ancient and exquisite city of Florence doesn’t quite divulge all the treasures the Etruscan empire has to offer. But get that motor running and you’ll soon discover Tuscany’s true treats.
Stadio Artemio Franchi
Even for non-football fans, the home of AFC Fiorentina makes a great port of call on your way out of the city. More residential surroundings mean there’s plenty of places to explore, including out of the way piazzas brimming with quaint café’s, indie shops and far-less-busy bars. Add to that the public gardens, educational campuses and a skate park and you’ve got perfect opportunities to people watch and get a taste of genuinely local life.
It’s well worth trying to catch a match here, as the atmosphere easily rivals that of some of the larger, more famous European stadiums on a good day, but if you really can’t face 90 minutes of the beautiful game, keep an eye out for upcoming concerts and special events. You might even bump into a little green man or two, given that the ground has been known to have mass UFO sightings in the past.
Founded around the 9th Century BC, this tiny yet tremendous commune will test the mettle of even the most accomplished driver. The steep, narrow streets wind their way up, down and around compact, terracotta-coloured villas and between old-world stone walls, some of which fight to be seen beneath vibrant overhanging greenery.
Roman artefacts and archaeological habitats abound here, and a walk among the ruins of baths, theatres and cathedrals will plant your mind firmly in the past. You may even feel something of the mystical about the place, given texts which refer to an exclusive school of augurs that was founded here.
From the upper slopes of Fiesole, you’ll be granted panoramic views across Florence – its Duomo di Firenze nestled neatly at the centre – that can’t be rivalled. It’s a sight well worth tackling the tight corners for.
Modern on the surface, but ancient at heart, this picturesque town marks the marvellous midway point between Florence and Siena. Even the roads running into and throughout the centre conceal Roman foundations beneath.
Many of the town’s best attractions focus on the historical – the medieval castle, the Church of Santa Maria, the humble stone houses – but its truly delicious centre can be found in its culinary leanings. Surrounded on all sides by satisfyingly over-stuffed vineyards, you’ll find this settlement brimming with all the mouthwatering Tuscan fare you can fit in your tummy. Rustic market produce is obviously a must, but for real extravagance, book a table at Dario Cecchini’s – a traditional macelleria belonging to the region’s most celebrated specialist butcher.
In order to experience Livorno properly, you’ll need to look below its surface. Though on approach you may be turned off by its more industrial side, delve a little deeper and you’ll be well rewarded with a vibey, vivacious metropolis that perfectly balances portside style with modern city living.
Within the older quarters, Venetian style canals meander their way around warehouses and wonderfully antiquated buildings, flowing beneath bridges and streets brimming with food, clothing and frippery markets that run most weekday mornings. You’ll be hard pressed to resist a feast at one of the numerous seafood joints too, and given Livorno’s littoral location, you’ll be unlucky to find a bad one.
The moral of this story: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
1 hour 10 minutes
Forte dei Marmi
This gorgeous seaside stop-off may have a huge reputation as a playground for the rich, but thanks to locals standing their ground, it still retains elements of its authentic character. The fortino to which it owes its name has had a few face lifts in its time – post office, marketplace, satirical museum – but it serves as a good reminder of the town’s roots, when Michelangelo built a road here in order to get his precious marble from one point to another.
Having earned its swanky status from high society types flocking to its shores to holiday or make homes here (including among them Aldous Huxley, Henry Moore, Marquis Marconi and Giorgio Armani) the Midas touch is evident, with high end shops, fine dining and fancy bars throughout. But its promenade and perfect beaches, lined with chocolate box beach huts and delicious ice cream parlours, gives this getaway spot an almost retro-edge that keeps it from being too stylish for its own good.
1 hour 20 minutes