A Tuscan Treasure Trove… and A Trip To Remember

A Tuscan Treasure Trove… and A Trip To Remember

21/07/2016 Off By Deborah Welsh

Since I was old enough to have a passport, I’ve travelled to many parts of the world in search of adventure. I have loved every holiday I’ve ever been on but sometimes I’m glad to get back after my two-week escape from reality. Italy is the one and only place that always makes me feel sad about heading home. Over the years, I’ve been seduced by all that Italy has to offer; I’ve sipped champagne overlooking the Bay of Naples, I’ve got lost in Venice and I’ve swam in the crystal clear lakes of the north. There’s a kind of magic in the air of this hypnotic country that is like no other and I’d challenge the sleepiest of hearts not to awaken with renewed vigour in this land of romance and culture. Maybe it’s the sunshine, maybe it’s the language… it might even be the wine! Who knows, all I can tell you is that every time I set foot in this country, something wonderful happens and I let the sensation take over. I just can’t fight it. Italy is my go-to place for the finer things in life. By finer, I don’t just mean luxury, although I did experience it but I’ll come back to that. For me the finer things in life are music, art, time to appreciate my surroundings and time to just be. I love to admire views that could be the backdrop to a film; I love chatting to the locals, taking pictures of historical buildings, eating food that has been lovingly prepared and drinking wine in the country that the grape was grown. These are a few of my favourite things, but that’s another movie (and country!) altogether.

I’ve just been to Tuscany. This was a new part of Italy for me to explore, and boy, did it live up to my expectations. The only downside was that I knew there was never going to be enough time to see every inch of this delightful region. I was right.  However, I want to share my adventure with you and show you how to make the most of your time here but still manage a few lazy days under the Tuscan sun.

Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort
Ciocco Resort Tuscany

After quick and easy flights to Pisa, we based ourselves in a stunning hilltop retreat about 10 minutes drive uphill from the quaint little town of Barga.

If like me, you are looking for all the charm and authenticity of the Tuscan countryside yet need slick, luxury accommodation, this resort will tick all of your boxes. I’m pretty hard to please and as a regular travel writer, I’ve become accustomed to high-end lodgings! I stayed at the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco resort, which is owned by international hotel group, Marriott. Don’t be put off; this is no typical chain style accommodation. This is a heady mix of absolute luxury and typical Italian hospitality. This idyllic retreat is nestled on 1,500 acres of lush countryside in Tuscany’s Serchio Valley and your view from either the poolside or your room is so perfect and still, you might think you’ve landed in a painting!

View From Ciocco Resort Hotel Room
View From Ciocco Resort Hotel Room

Arguably, it’s better to have a hire car for this area but if, like me, you don’t enjoy driving abroad it’s still pretty easy to navigate your way around Tuscany without one. The local train service is excellent and there is a really great local taxi company who is more or less at your beck and call all day.

Lucca City Centre, Tuscany

Lucca City Centre Tuscany

The nearest train station, Barga Gallicano will take you to Lucca (about 40 minutes away), which is the central hub of this region and from here you can take trains to pretty much everywhere else. Although, don’t be too hasty to skip Lucca itself. This city is an absolute must see.

Puccini Museum, Lucca
Puccini Museum Lucca Italy

If, like me you have a passion for music and the arts, Lucca will rock your world. In high season there are nightly concerts in the main square and the Lucca Festival attracts some well-known artists in the summer months. However, the highlight for me was a visit to the home of Giacomo Puccini, composer of opera classics such as La Boheme and Madame Butterfly. Even if opera isn’t your thing, it’s still fascinating. There are also some production costumes on display as well as some of his working manuscripts.

So far, so highbrow, but if you simply want some retail therapy, Lucca has some fabulous shops to spend your hard earned cash in. There’s also a superb choice of pretty bars and tempting restaurants to refuel after all that!

Leaning Tower Of Pisa
Leaning Tower Of Pisa

It would be easy to put the day tripping to one side after seeing Lucca but if you fancy venturing further afield, then Pisa and it’s dazzling Leaning Tower is not far away. From Lucca, catch a train to Pisa Centrale and head for the famous landmark that sits in the majestic setting of Piazza dei Miracoli. You will see hundreds of visitors taking the obligatory photo holding up the tower and even though it’s really cheesy and touristy, it has to be done.

The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles)

The Piazza dei Miracoli

The Square took form in 1064 with the creation of the stunning centerpiece of the entire complex: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. This stunning church is a real oasis of calm amidst the busy square and was truly one of the holiest and atmospheric churches I’ve ever visited. UNESCO proclaimed The Piazza dei Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles, a World Heritage Site 25 years ago.

Montecatini Terme, Tuscany, Italy
Montecatini Terme – Tuscany

One other stop we made on our trip was to the beautiful spa town of Montecatini Terme.  This pretty hamlet is situated in the Valdinievole area, 50 kilometres northwest of Florence and just 40 minutes by car from the Tyrrhenian coast.

Montecatini Terme Healing Waters
Montecatini Terme Healing Waters

Montecatini is famous for its thermal waters, which are said to have healing properties. The actual grounds and architecture are simply beautiful and not to be missed. The coastal town of Viareggio is also just half an hour from Pisa if beach life is the order of the day.

Florence, Italy

Florence – Italy

For some serious culture, the famous art city of Florence is a three hour round trip from Barga Gallicano (via Lucca) and may be a little long for a day trip but why not spend a few days here at the start of your trip or use it as a base instead of Barga. From Florence you can visit much of Tuscany… if you can bear to leave the treasures of this glorious ancient city.

Sunset Over Barga, Tuscany, Italy

Sunset Over Barga – Tuscany

We spent a few days sight-seeing but in all honesty, the setting proved just too much of a temptation and the rest of our time was spent gazing over the countryside and the lush green rolling hills. Tuscany was the perfect ‘best of both worlds’ holiday and I’m simply aching to go back. By the time I was in the taxi for the airport I was already looking at routes and flights for next year! Bella Italia had got me again and I had fallen hook, line and sinker for her charms. She never fails to capture my heart and I suspect it will take some time to settle back into everyday life after this Tuscan adventure. How I will miss waking to the peel of church bells and opening my patio door to the bright sunlight that brought in each new day.