- 1 Tuscany Hidden Gems
- 2 Tuscany Hidden Gems Near Florence
- 3 Tuscany Hidden Gems Near Pisa
- 4 Tuscany Hidden Gems Near Siena
- 5 Tuscany Hidden Gems – The South And Coast
Tuscany Hidden Gems
Tuscany is home to many of the famous sights in Italy, from leaning towers to sublime landscapes, or marble churches to the marvels of the Renaissance. You don’t have to venture far from these to discover many lesser-known Tuscan treasures, and our guide to the best Tuscany hidden gems unveils some of these wonders to you.
We’ve travelled at length around off the beaten track Tuscany, and been astounded by the rich diversity of landscapes in Tuscany, from the awe-inspiring Apennines and Apuan Alps in the north to the glorious beaches of the Maremma and the island of Elba on the Tyrrhenian coast.
Exploring parts of hidden Tuscany also reveals the back stories of some of the greatest Italian artists, including Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio. We also discover places around off the beaten path Tuscany linked with the likes of St Francis of Assisi and Giacomo Puccini, and some of the best food in Italy in the port city of Livorno. Enjoy the virtual tour, and feel free to suggest other hidden gems of Tuscany as well.
Tuscany Hidden Gems Near Florence
San Miniato al Monte, Florence
The first of our hidden gems in Tuscany is just a short walk away from one of the busiest Florence tourist spots, the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint over the city. The church of San Miniato al Monte is one of the most beautiful churches in Florence, yet relatively few of the crowds of the Piazzale venture there. San Miniato al Monte is one of the oldest churches in the city, its black-and-white marble façade from the 11th and 12th centuries influencing the likes of Santa Croce in the city below.
San Miniato al Monte is just as impressive inside, with more patterned marble adorning the walls and some superb frescoes and a magnificent apse mosaic. Also be sure to spend a few minutes looking around the cemetery, which includes the graves of Italian film directors Franco Zeffirelli and Mario Cecchi Gori. Look out for a beautiful statue of a mother with her children at her feet – stand close to it and you get the amazing backdrop of the city behind. It’s an essential stop if you’re planning on photographing Florence.
La Verna Monastery
The Sanctuary of La Verna is a mountain-top monastery in the eastern corner of Tuscany, 30 km north of Arezzo. This is one of the best-kept Tuscany secrets, one we only found out from a chance conversation we had with someone while visiting a vineyard one morning. The Monastery is the site of one of the miracles of St Francis of Assisi, where he is said to have received the stigmata (the same wounds as Jesus Christ at his crucifixion) in 1224.
The site had been given to Francis in 1213 to set up a monastery, and he would periodically retreat there. Almost everything you see now was built after his death – this includes a basilica and a chapel on the site of the stigmata miracle. It’s a remarkably quiet place, somewhere better for quiet contemplation than among the crowds of Assisi, 117 km to the south-east in Umbria.
Getting there: It’s 2 km from the small town of Chiusi della Verna, reachable by car on the SP208.
The Mugello region is one of the least-explored areas in Tuscany. It’s situated to the north and east of Florence, a long way off the beaten track. The landscape is hilly and mountainous, with steep valleys with olive groves and vineyards producing Rufina and Pomino Chianti wines.
We ended up in the area as we were staying with a friend who had booked a gorgeous medieval country house thinking it was typical Tuscany with rolling hills and cypress trees. It wasn’t, but was just as captivating, and we were the only tourists for miles around. We stayed near the town of Londa which is surrounded by vineyards like the one pictured.
The Mugello is best known for the racetrack of the same name in the far north of the region, around 40 km (25 miles) north of Florence. It has been the venue for Moto GP races for many years, and has hosted two Formula 1 Tuscan Grand Prix during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vicchio and the Casa di Giotto
Vicchio is a small historic town in the Mugello, easily reached from Florence on the Borgo San Lorenzo branch line. It’s one of the best places in Tuscany to delve into art history, and we sought it out as it is the birthplace of proto-Renaissance genius Giotto di Bondone, who painted the extraordinary fresco cycle in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua and designed the graceful Campanile of the Duomo in Florence. His portraiture was revolutionary, depicting subjects in a natural way rather than the rigid pose common in Byzantine art, and he greatly influenced many subsequent artists.
Giotto’s statue graces the town square, which is named after him, outside the Church of St John the Baptist (San Giovanni Batista). The house where he was born is around two miles (3 km) from the town centre, on the Localita Vespignano road. Several buses stop at Le Balze, on the road to Borgo San Lorenzo – it’s around a kilometre from there, a gentle uphill climb. There is a small exhibition on Giotto, and most of the Casa di Giotto seems to be devoted to more contemporary art.
And this secret Tuscany town has even more to reveal. It was also the birthplace of Fra Angelico, also known as Beato Angelico, a Dominican friar and one of the most prominent early Renaissance religious artists. Seek out some of the best of his work at San Marco in Florence, but there’s also a small museum, the Museo di Arte Sacra Beato Angelico, dedicated to him in Vicchio. The town was also one of the residences of famous 16th century goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, and there is a museum in his former house on Corso del Popolo, just off Piazza Giotto.
Vinci is one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany, best known as the birthplace of Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci. Surprisingly it remains off the beaten path for Tuscany, partly because there are no direct buses from Florence – you need to catch a train to Empoli, and a bus from there. Alternatively it’s possible to join a small tour of Leonardo da Vinci’s homeland from Florence, which is very convenient as one of the main Vinci sights is awkward to reach, a few miles from the town itself.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in Anchiano, a village 3 km from Vinci, in a farmhouse that is now the Casa Natale di Leonardo da Vinci, which displays reproductions of many of his drawings. The Museo Leonardino, in the Castello (Castle) in Vinci, brings his creations to life, with display models. The rest town of Vinci is lovely, with the fine 13th century Chiesa di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross) the most prominent building.
Tuscany Hidden Gems Near Pisa
Lucca is one of the best cities in Tuscany, yet it’s always registered less on the radar than neighbouring Pisa, Florence and Siena. It’s a wonderfully quirky city with one of the loveliest squares in Europe , Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, built in the oval shape of the Roman amphitheatre, a fine Romanesque cathedral and one of the most atmospheric town centres in Italy. Within its fortified Baroque city walls, you’ll also encounter the birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini, a medieval tower with a tree growing out of the top (the Torre Guinigi), and two outstanding Romanesque churches in San Michele in Foro and San Frediano. It’s one of the best places to stay in Tuscany, somewhere you could easily spend a few days, and it’s ideal for day trips to Pisa and the nearby Tuscan coast.
The port city of Livorno (known to many a sailor as Leghorn) suffered enormous damage in World War II, and is now best-known as the cruise port for day trips to Pisa or Florence. The port area is well worth a look, and one of the best things to do in Livorno is to join the evening passeggiata, or stroll, along the seafront Terrazza Mascagni. We included Livorno in our Italy food tour itinerary for its amazing fish stew, cacciucco (pronounced ‘catch-oo-ko’), which is made from whatever seafood happens to be in season, with a broth that usually includes onion, garlic and tomato paste. It’s one of the best Italian dishes we’ve ever tried, and one of the best Mediterranean fish dishes we’ve found.
Collodi is one of the best villages in Tuscany, tucked away in the hills between Lucca and the spa town of Montecatini Terme. It would be well worth the visit without its famous literary connection, its medieval houses seemingly cascading down the mountainside with a Castello at the top and the splendid Villa Garzoni and Gardens at the foot of the Val di Nievole.
Collodi was home to writer Carlo Lorenzini, who took the village’s name as his nom de plume. Carlo Collodi’s famous creation, Pinocchio, the much-loved wooden puppet whose nose grows whenever he tells lies. Collodi is now home to Pinocchio Park, one of the best places in Tuscany for kids, where you can follow in Pinocchio’s footsteps into the mouth of a whale.
Garfagnana Region and Apuan Alps
The mountainous Garfagnana north of Lucca may well be the best place in Tuscany to get right away from it all. The area centres around the verdant Serchio valley, with the Apennines to the east and Apuan Alps to the west.
The Garfagnana is a great area for hiking, and there are a few small towns where you can base yourself, including Barga, Castelnuovo Garfagnana and the walled village of Castiglione di Garfagnana. The first Garfagnana landmark you reach after leaving Lucca is the medieval stone Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) with a central arch reaching high above the river. This is just beyond the village of Borgo a Mazzano. Barga is one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany, in a stunning setting below towering peaks Like the Mugello, it’s very different to the traditional Tuscany landscape of rolling hills, vineyards and cypress trees, which you’ll find in the countryside around Siena.
Carrara Marble Quarries
Carrara isn’t one of the most famous Tuscany places, but you’ll almost certainly have encountered something hewn from its mountains. Carrara marble is one of the most prized building and artistic materials in the word, and you can visit the stunning Carrara marble quarries on a 4WD or jeep tour.
The landscape above Carrara is extraordinary, soaring mountain peaks scoured away to reveal the brilliant white marble beneath. You’ll have seen it used in some of the most famous landmarks in Italy, including the Pantheon in Rome and the magnificent Duomo in Siena. Michelangelo’s David is also carved from a block of Carrara marble.
Tuscany Hidden Gems Near Siena
The Tuscan village of Monteriggioni is enclosed by one of the finest castles of Tuscany, a complete circuit of walls built by the Sienese in the early 13th century as a frontline fortress against their Florentine enemies to the north. It’s very close to Siena but has remained one of the hidden gems of Tuscany, getting a fraction of the visitors that nearby San Gimignano does.
It doesn’t take long to see everything in Monteriggioni – there is a small square (Piazza Roma), a simple Romanesque church, a medieval weaponry museum and a few charming streets to explore. Also take a walk outside the walls, as this is where you’ll find the best photo opportunities. It’s an easy 20-minute bus ride from Siena.
Tuscany Hidden Gems – The South And Coast
Pitigliano is one of the best towns in Tuscany to visit, a striking sight with its medieval houses perched on – and seemingly merging into – the volcanic tufa rock on which it is built. It’s in the heart of ancient Tuscany, Etruscan country in the far south of the region close to the border with Lazio province.
The town also fought in wars against Siena to the north, eventually ceding sovereignty to the Sienese in 1455. The town was under the rule of the powerful Orsini dynasty for over a century, and their fortress-palace, one of the most formidable castles in Tuscany, now houses a Museum of Sacred Art. Pitigliano was also a major Jewish centre, with residents treated more favourably than elsewhere in Italy and Europe. A synagogue still survives, though the community itself has dwindled to a few residents.
Porto Ercole, Monte Argentario
Monte Argentario is a mountainous promontory close to the southernmost tip of the Tuscany coast, and it’s well worth the trip down to the area, especially to see gorgeous Porto Ercole, one of the loveliest hidden Tuscany gems on the coast. It’s a fishing port dating from medieval times, with a picturesque harbour and three castles. The centro storico is delightful, a warren of alleyways climbing the hill from the harbour. It’s also close to the Orbetello lagoon and Porto Santo Stefano, the departure point for the beautiful island of Giglio. If you’re heading this way, you’ll need to look at car rentals in Tuscany, as public transport is very limited.
The island of Elba is best-known to the Anglophone world for Napoleon Bonaparte’s confinement (there are many worse places!) before his last stand at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It’s better known to Italians (and to a lesser extent Germans) as one of the loveliest islands in Europe, with some of the best beaches in Tuscany around its stunning shores.
The island can be reached by a short ferry journey from mainland Piombino to the ‘capital’ of Elba, Portoferraio. There are around 70 beaches on Elba in all, the most picturesque of which is Sansone beach (Spiaggia di Sansone) on the north coast of the island, a white pebble beach with brilliant white cliffs and crystal-clear water. This is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, and there’s another fine beach around the corner next to the Enfola headland. It’s also very close to Spiaggia del Viticcio, a few hundred metres around the coastline to the south.