Tuscany

Tuscany: Why go

Tuscany is picture-book Italy: rolling green hills bissected by cypress-lined lanes and capped with stunning medieval hill towns; ancient castles - many of them converted to hotels or holiday apartments - and marbled monasteries; world-beating wines and superbly hearty cooking (think beef steaks, bean stews, pasta and panforte); churches and abbeys galore, boasting delicate Renaissance frescoes and hulking mosaic-sheened domes.

At its heart is Florence, regional capital and world-famous epicentre of art and architecture; we've listed it separately as there's so much to say.

Moving south you come to Siena, a more intimate but equally appealing hub, surrounded by the vine-clad hills of Chianti and the castellated hilltowns of San Gimignano and Monteriggioni. Further southeast are the crete senesi ("clays of Siena") and the Val d'Orcia, lunar landscapes of undulating hills and vineyards, dotted with hilltop towns (Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza) and atmospheric monasteries.

Head east, across the A1 autostrada, to the open-skied Val di Chiana, where you can explore the delightful towns of Cortona and Arezzo, or try your hand at watersports on Lake Trasimeno across the border in Umbria.

All these areas have their fair share of tourism, so if you want to escape the crowds head west to the Maremma, where you'll find tiny villages atop tufa outcrops (Pitigliano, Sovana), steaming thermal pools and a few pretty beaches in amongst the agricultural coastal plain. From here you can catch a ferry to the islands of Elba and Giglio, or drive south to the half-island of Monte Argentario and onwards to Rome.

Finally don't overlook the walled town of Lucca in the north, which not only has bags of charm and lots of musical festivals, but is also gateway to the spectacular Apuan Alps, and the best base for visiting Pisa (of leaning tower fame). Nearby are the (very developed) sandy beaches around Viareggio.

18:57 | GMT + 1 Hours