Of all the seductive regions in Italy, Tuscany has arguably the most alluring ingredients: mountainous countryside carpeted with vineyards, olive groves and cypress trees, charming medieval hill towns where time appears to have stood still, and vibrant cities infused with both ancient and contemporary flavours. Collette's 8-day Spotlight on Tuscany adventure offers a tantalising look into this deliciously photogenic region. You'll only have to unpack once, as you enjoy a selection of unforgettable trips, wine-tasting sessions and Tuscan feasts from your base in Montecatini Terme, a gorgeous spa resort where Giacomo Puccini composed many of his celebrated works. Here are the best bits.
Whether you're gazing at Michelangelo's monumental statue of David, or casting your eyes over the giant, zebra-striped Duomo (cathedral), Florence has an enchanting quality. Get to know the city - nicknamed the 'Cradle of the Italian Renaissance' - on a guided walk of the centro storico (historic centre) with a Florentine guide, then go exploring by yourself. You might fancy scaling the hilltop Piazzale Michelangelo for a dreamy panoramic viewpoint of the city, peruse fine art at the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery or take in the offbeat murals of the bohemian Oltrarno neighbourhood. When you're peckish, order a popular local dish - such as Bistecca alla Fiorentina (steak) - in a stylish family-run restaurant, or pop to Mercato Centrale, a buzzing, recently-restored 19th century market and food court where stalls and counters bulge with aromatic produce and snacks.
Often overshadowed by Tuscany's larger cities, Lucca makes an immediate impression. It's framed by 4km of walls, some of the best-preserved Renaissance-era walls in Italy. Attracting joggers, strollers, skaters and cyclists, these chunky, elevated walkways yield lovely views of the hills that edge Lucca and wind past a string of picturesque streets. Delve down to ground level and get lost in Lucca's web of atmospheric cobbled alleys and amble along pretty piazzas, fringed by mosaic-adorned churches, pavement cafes and trattorias that serve local fare such as tortelli lucchese (bright yellow pasta stuffed with meat and coated with ragu sauce) and zuppa di farro alla lucchese (wheat and bean soup). Visit Lucca in July and August and you'll hear music from the Puccini Opera Festival - a celebration of one of the city's most famous sons. Tosca and Madame Butterfly are among the operas performed.
It's one of Europe's most snapped sights, and no matter how many times you've seen it in a magazine, online or on TV, it's still surreal to witness it in the 'flesh'. Dating back to 1173, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the freestanding bell tower of the city's cathedral. Made of marble and limestone, it tilts at an angle because it was built on soft ground that couldn't fully support its weight and though it's been stabilised in recent years to prevent it slumping further, many tourists can't resist posing for the camera to pretend they're holding the tower up. The tower and the cathedral share Piazza dei Miracoli, a partly-paved, partly-grassy space nicknamed the Piazza of Miracles, with the Baptistry, a majestic ecclesiastical building that's the largest of its type in Italy, and renowned across the country for its incredible acoustics.
One of the most thrilling scenes in Quantum of Solace - the 2008 James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig - was filmed during Il Palio, the fast and furious horse race that takes place in Siena twice a year (on July 2 and August 16). With a local guide for company, you'll discover how deeply this dramatic race permeates the city's heritage, generating centuries-old rivalries between the competing contradas (neighbourhoods). Stroll across the race's picturesque epicentre, Piazza del Campo, and roam the city's winding medieval lanes, which are lined with palaces, churches and eateries, including delis whose doorways flaunt the heads of wild boar (which roam rural Tuscany), and traditional bakeries like Panificio Il Magnifico, whose cavallucci (almond and walnut biscuits, tinged with honey) are much loved by the people of Siena.
Discovering some of the tricks of Tuscan cuisine at a cooking class, and sampling the ruby reds of the terraced Chianti wineries, are among the food and drink standouts of this tour. But for some folk, the tastiest bit is the gelato in San Gimignano. This postcard-perfect hill town has been labelled the 'Manhattan of the Middle Ages' thanks to its Gothic skyscrapers and one of the best ways of savouring its beauty is by wandering around with gelato in hand. There are several quality purveyors, but Gelateria Dondoli is hard to beat. Situated on the town's main plaza, it's run by a former gelato world champion and offers classic and inventive offerings, like mango and cream with saffron and pine nuts. For souvenir seekers, San Gimignano's gift stores and artisan boutiques are crammed with everything under the Tuscan sun, from woodcrafts and embroidery to leather bags and bottles of Vernaccia (white wine made in the local vineyards).
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