Florence or Firenze has been one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations for a long time. The Uffizi Gallery featuring works of Botticelli, Giotto’s bell tower and the famous cathedral and Michelangelo’s David ( the original as well as a number of copies) have made Florence a drawcard for culture buffs. Add to this Florence’s reputation as a world fashion leader (especially leather) and the chance to grab a bargain at the stalls lining Ponte Vecchio and beyond and you can see why tourists flock to Florence.
Since I have been lucky enough to have visited Florence several times in past decades I decided to skip Florence this time and explore some of Tuscany’s other towns nearby.
Situated twenty kilometres from Florence or a half hour train ride, Prato can be a less hectic base from which to visit Florence as well as being a fabulous town to visit. Prato is the centre of the textile industry and it is filled with smart fashion shops, a range of modern and traditional restaurants and some excellent museums and art works without the hassle of crowds and queues.The Duomo or main cathedral features frescoes by the artist Lippi as well as a fascinating museum in a series of vaults under the cathedral with some important monuments and artwork including a marble pulpit by Donatello. The thirteenth century castle is one of the best preserved in Tuscany and looks spectacular lit up at night. The town is buzzing with university students and informal bars and nightlife. And the shopping is easy because there are no crowds.
Pistoia is fifty kilometres from Florence and less than an hour by train. Situated between the Appenines and the Tuscan Hills it is a town now famous for its farming techniques and development of nursery plants. The main square with a wonderful bell tower next to the cathedral looks wonderful at night. Many buildings, monuments and statues are well preserved including a hospital first built in the thirteenth century and featuring a sixteenth century mosaic frieze. Pistoia is definitely off the tourist track and worth a visit.
Lucca is ninety kilometres from Florence or a one and a half hour train journey. In recent years it has become quite popular with tourists so you will see a number of tour groups here as you explore the churches and narrow streets and squares of this lovely Renaissance town where Puccini was born. It is a beautiful bike friendly town with a sturdy medieval wall still intact that you can walk or cycle on. Frescoes in churches are a feast for the eyes in Tuscany and there are more than a hundred churches in Lucca. So this is yet another lovely Tuscan town to visit with unusual architecture and authentic Tuscan food.