Tuscany - Fabulous Hill Towns of Tuscany, Italy
Tuscany: The heart of Italy
Being the largest region in central Italy, Tuscany is the Heart of Italy in more ways than one. With a history that goes back to ancient Etruscan times, the list of cultural giants who have lived in Tuscany reads like a "Who'sWho" of not only Italy, but of the world. Combine the richness of culture with the beauty of the landscape and its world famous wines, and it's no wonder the region is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. If Tuscany is the heart of Italy, then the hill towns of Tuscany are Italy's heart and soul combined.
Village of Monteriggioni
An example of such a hill town of Tuscany is the tiny village of Monteriggioni.
Just under 10 miles (14km) from Siena, this fortified hill village boasts a population of fewer than 100.
The Sienese built Monteriggioni in 1203AD to protect them against the frequent invasions by their Florentine rivals. A hundred years later and the fighting hadn't stopped, so they built the picturesque walls that surround the city to this day.
Dante Alighieri was a resident of this town. In 1302, a year before they started constructing the walls, Dante had to flee his beloved Monteriggioni because the Florentine bullies were demanding a huge fine from him for not being a fan of the Pope.
Ten miles further up the road, on the way to San Gimignano, is the wonderful hill town of Volterra. Some jaded travelers say that the best way to see San Gimignano is from the road just outside of Volterra, which is located on a steep hill. While most of Tuscany's 10 million yearly visitors go to San Gimignano, only a fraction of them visit Volterra. Their loss is your gain, because between the city's many Etruscan ruins and other historical sites, it is about as quintessentially Tuscan as a town can get. It is difficult to single out just one "must see" sight in Volterra, but a top contender would probably be the Piazza dei Priori. The largest structure in this plaza is the Palazzo dei Priori, which also happens to be the oldest town hall in Tuscany. While you're visiting the Palazzo, check out Zaccaria Zacchi's exquisite nativity scene and the fresco of the arrival of the Magi that Benozzo Gozzoli painted in 1479.
If you feel overwhelmed by the beauty and culture of Tuscany and need a nice relaxing break, then visit Montecatini Terme. "Terme" roughly translates into "thermal hot springs," so its name gives you an idea of what you will find there. It is about 30 miles (49km) west of Siena. Centrally located, with Florence, Siena, Lucca and Pisa not too far away, many savvy tourists choose to make Montecatini Terme their base when visiting Tuscany. Aside from three thermal bathing establishments, there are also numerous shops and restaurants in the town, along with a number of modestly priced hotels. It is also located on the railway line, so public transportation to many of Tuscany's major sights is easily available.
Trying to do the hill towns of Tuscany justice in a few short words is impossible. Hopefully, though, this brief overview of a few lesser known towns and villages in Tuscany has given you some ideas for your trip to Italy. While the larger centers like Florence and Siena are "must see" Tuscany sights, the small hill towns of Tuscany are "must experience" places, that allow you to immerse yourself fully in this amazing region.
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