If you’re in search of the road less-travelled, there are some unusual travel destinations in Tuscany that will take your breath away. Places that boast the other-worldly landscapes, mysterious legends, and some of the world’s most lovely views.
Tuscany is certainly well-known for its picture-perfect countryside. But it’s also a land of diverse landscapes that offer the visitor plenty of surprises. Here we take you on a journey from the mountains to a lagoon surrounded by the sea. We explore Etruscan necropolises and one of Italy’s most extensive deep cave systems.
1. The Marble quarries in the Apuan Alps – An unusual travel destination in Tuscany
We’re in the north of Tuscany, where the Apuan Alps with their glistening tops seem to all the world like perennial snow. Well, you’d be surprised to hear that it’s not snow at all, but marble. Shining brightly under the Tuscan sun, artists have been using this marble it for centuries to create extraordinary statues and monuments. Michelangelo himself used to come here to find the marble to carve his creations, and the statue of David is made from the very same stuff.
For some this rugged mountainous landscape is very far from the typical image of idyllic Tuscany. But for the curious, you can in fact visit one of the marble quarries that organise tours inside the belly of the mountains and learn about this fascinating world. You could choose the tiny town of Colonnata as your base, which is an ancient settlement attached to the mountain slopes. You’ll find a few shops selling marble souvenirs and the not-to-be-missed lardo sandwich. Above you the quarries are forever working, excavating the Apuan Alps for more of its precious cargo.
WHERE: Northern Tuscany, nearest bigger town ⇒ CARRARA
WHEN TO GO: Spring to early autumn
2. The Orbetello Lagoon – A beautiful world of water
Travelling from the north to the southernmost part of Tuscany, we arrive at a unique landscape of a small mountain surrounded by the sea. This the Monte Argentario, a green mount that used to be an island which today is joined to the mainland by thin stretches of land that form two lagoons. Right between the lagoons there’s a lovely town, bathed in golden light and surrounded by the sea, Orbetello.
Orbetello is a delightful place, relaxing and lively, with plenty of boutique shops, open-air bars and restaurants. People flock here during the summer holidays but for the rest of the year it’s a tranquil place, where the sunsets are splendid, and the views romantic. Part of the lagoon is a WWF site (here’s the official site).
WHEN: all year round, very busy in August. Perfect in spring and late summer – in the winter it’s a good spot for birdwatching.
⇒ Check our Road trip in the Maremma, including the Mount Argentario.
3. The Sword in the Stone. The legend of Saint Galgano
Did you know that Tuscany has its very own ‘sword in the stone’? No, King Arthur didn’t venture here, but the legend certainly recalls the Arthurian myths. Galgano, a wealthy knight born in Chiusdino was devoting his life to battles, living a life of violence and earthly pleasures. One day as he was riding home, he had a divine revelation and thrust his sword into a rock to renounce his warlike ways.
Today the sword is still in that spot, where a chapel dedicated to Saint Galgano was built, the Montesiepi Chapel. You can see it here (protected now by plexiglas) and wonder at how these ancient tales still fascinate us.
WHEN TO GO: all year round
4. Explore the Etruscan necropolises in the Maremma
Travelling even further back in time, we reach the Etruscan era. Tuscany was once inhabited by this people that founded powerful wealthy city states all over central Italy. What they left behind was not much, no buildings of monuments. But they did leave necropolises, massive cities of the dead where they buried various objects to make the journey to the underworld more comfortable.
If you travel to Maremma in southern Tuscany you can explore the Etruscan necropolis in the area around Sovana and Pitigliano, the so-called fascinating ‘tufa towns’. If you’re a fan of ancient history you’ll enjoy the Archeological Park of Sovana – an area so filled with history and atmosphere that it can’t fail to impress you.
WHERE: southern Tuscany, Maremma
WHEN TO GO: all year round
⇒ See all the reasons why you’ll fall in love with the Maremma!
5. The Cave of the Wind – Get inside a mountain
The “Grotta del Vento”, or Cave of the Wind, quite an atmospheric name for this cave located in the Garfagnana, northern Tuscany. If you like caves and a bit of adventure, head north of Lucca, along the winding and very narrow roads of the Apuan Alps. The driving might be exciting (or nail-biting depending on the state of your nerves) but the scenery is fabulous. Once you get to the Wind Cave the adventure really begins. This 4500 meter long cave is one of the most interesting cave systems in Europe.
There are tours that lead you to explore the mysterious underground world, admire the stalactites and learn about the exploration work that is still underway. Caters for different levels, starting from Tour 1 for everyone, to a 3 hour tour for the more expert. You’ll need warm clothes as the temperature is 10 degrees inside. Wear comfortable shoes (more info on the official site.
WHERE: Garfagnana, northern Tuscany. Nearest city ⇒ Lucca
WHEN: the cave is open all year long, just consider that in the depth of winter it might snow in this area.
While exploring this area in Tuscany, don’t miss to visit Barga, the most scenic town in the Garfagnana!