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The Italian Job: how to get the best out of Tuscany in a weekend.

DAY 1

09:00  The very embodiment of rustic-chic, this region on Italy’s west coast is a desirable destination for those in search of a little Euro-refinement; think rolling vineyards, fine wines, and exquisite Renaissance art. The Tuscan capital of Florence is a logical starting point for your explorations, and the Florence Youth Hostel (hostelbookers.com) makes a well-located and friendly base – though be warned, this isn’t a party hostel. It does, however, offer a massive breakfast that will see you through a day of pavement pounding. From about £11pppn for a shared dorm.

10:00  Start with the city’s most famous sight: the Ponte Vecchio (Via de Guicciardino Piazza della Signoria). Straddling the River Arno that flows through Tuscany, a row of brightly coloured, boxy shops have been haphazardly built along the edge of this medieval bridge, and some of them are rather riskily jutting out over the water.

10:30  From here, you can enjoy a walking tour of Florence’s finest sights. First, check out the Piazza della Repubblica, where a long line of tourists will be queuing to rub the nose of the bronze boar by Fontana del Porcellino. The schnozz has acquired a shine due to its years of molestation, and it’s good luck if you then place a coin in the boar’s mouth.


11:00  The Piazza della Signoria is a tourist-packed public square host to a number of impressive sculptures: spot Perseus holding up Medusa’s severed head, and the 16th-century Fountain of Neptune.

12:00  Now it’s time to bring out the big guns and hit up Galleria degli Uffizi (Piazza degli Uffizi 6; admission about £5).  Florence is widely regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance – some call it the Athens of the Middle Ages – and this massive museum houses more than 50 rooms displaying some of the greatest masterpieces of the 12th-17th centuries. It’s heaving with people and quite frankly knackering, so pre-book, try to be selective, and head up to the rooftop café for coffee when you start to flag.

15:00  Get some fresh air and walk over to Trattoria Coco Lezzone (Via Parioncino 26r Santa Maria Novella). This tiny eatery does a tasty Tuscan soup made with bread, cannellini beans and vegetables – more than enough to set you up until dinner.

16:00  Your final stop is Galleria dell’Accademia (Via Ricasoli 60; admission about £5). Though the collection here includes works by the likes of Botticelli, there’s just one piece that everyone’s here to see – Michelangelo’s David.

18:00  Start the evening at Libreria Café la Cite (Borgo San Frediano 20r). The café-cum-bookstore is all subdued espressos and intellectual types leafing through tomes by day, but there’s live music and cocktails on Friday and Saturday nights. You can grab a bite here, too.

22:00  Depending on your tastes, you can then wobble onwards to either Central Park (Via Fosso Macinante 2) – with two outdoor dancefloors, VIP lounge and artificial waterfall – or Joshua Tree (Via della Scala 41 Santa Maria Novella), a rowdy tavern with not a roped-off area in sight.

DAY 2

08:00  Get an early start in order to maximise your time in another of Tuscany’s tourist strongholds, Pisa, which
is just over an hour from Florence by train. Tickets cost about £4 one-way (italiarail.com).

10:30  You may as well start with the big draw. Construction on the Leaning Tower (Centro Piazza dei Miracoli; admission about £12) began in 1173, and a combination of poor foundations and weak soil saw it begin to tilt as building on the second floor progressed in 1178. Pre-booking tickets is a couple of quid more expensive, but will allow you to skip an hours-long queue (opapisa.it/boxoffice/index).

12:00  Pre-lunch activities could include a trip to the Duomo (Centro Piazza dei Miracoli), or cathedral, with its striking elliptical dome, and the cemetery (Centro, 56126 Piazza dei Miracoli), a beautiful spot enclosed by cloistered walls.

13:00  Try Babette Food and Art Café (Lungarno Mediceo 15) for a snack. Surrounded by local art and exposed-brick walls, you’ll feel suitably hip.

14:00  After lunch, relax on a river cruise along the Arno (ilnavicello.it), or traipse up 200 steps to the Torre Guelfa (Piazza Tersanaia Centro), giving great views over Pisa. Then it’s time to catch the train back to Florence.

20:00  End a busy 48 hours with dinner at L’Osteria di Giovanni (Via del Moro 22). Eat the typical Tuscan way, starting with antipasto, moving onto pasta, and then a meaty main course. End with cantucci biscuits dipped in dessert wine; the lot shouldn’t cost more than £40. If you’ve more time to spend in Tuscany, we recommend heading to Lucca and then exploring the Apuane Alps. But if a weekend is all you have, consider this an Italian job well done.


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Weekender: Tuscany in 48 hours
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