Florence: The Cultural Capital of Tuscany

By Al

Florence: the birth place of Gucci, the home of Michelangelo’s David and the first city in Europe to have paved streets (in 1339!). Florence is one of the most stunning cities I have visited. The historic city centre is a Unesco World Heritage site, featuring an impressive collection of art galleries, designer shops and the iconic Duomo (cathedral).

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The Uffizi Gallery

I will hold my hands up and admit that I am not a very cultural individual; I’d much rather listen to Drum & Bass over Classical music. Football match > Opera. Cinema > Theatre. When my girlfriend decided to drag me to the Uffizi Gallery, a prominent art museum with priceless Renaissance works,  I was reluctant. Upon exiting the Uffizi I wouldn’t have said I was a cultural convert. However, you cannot help but admire the historical and sociological magnitude of the works contained therein, and its impact on shaping modern day society.

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Piazzale Michelangelo

If you are tight on time in Florence, I would prioritise visiting Piazzale Michelangelo, a square with a panoramic view of the city and its surrounding countryside. The views are truly breath-taking. In the foreground is the Arno river. To your left is Ponte Vecchio (discussed below). In front of you is the city centre, with the iconic Duomo capturing the eye. To your right are the Apennine mountains. Whilst I don’t advocate using such labels, this is definitely the number 1 ‘Instagram’ photo-spot in the city.

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Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)

Ponte Vecchio is a wonderfully charming and unique bridge lined with a number of trendy shops. You feel like you are back in Renaissance Italy, a world away from the concrete, brick and glass structures I am used to in the UK.

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Summary

Even if you are not particularly cultural, or interested in history, there’s still plenty of reasons to visit Florence. The city’s architecture, and landscape is captivating, and truly iconic. Spend a day here exploring, punctuated by nice pizza, ice cream and coffee, and you will not be disappointed.

BB Al Rating: 4.5/5*

 

 

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Torre del Lago: My Second Home

By Al

You probably have not heard of the small Tuscan beach town of Torre del Lago Puccini. Settled between Lake Massciuccoli and the Mediterranean, I would call Torre del Lago my second home. Every summer since I was 3 months old, I have spent time here, staying with my grandparents in their summer house, enjoying home cooking and being a little bit spoilt. Though this is technically cheating, it certainly is budget friendly!

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From June – September each year, Torre del Lago comes alive with tourists. August, and particularly during the public holiday of Ferragosto*,  sees the town’s numbers swell, as Florentines, Pisans  and other city-dwellers flood the town. Whilst nearby Viareggio offers more in terms of night-life and entertainment, Torre del Lago is very popular with the LGBT community, with the highly regarded beachfront nightclub ‘Mamma Mia’ packed to the rim throughout August.

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As a child I would have told you that Torre del Lago was quite boring, with limited activities for children available. However, as a young adult, it offers a fantastic break from work. My recommended itinerary would be as follows.

10.30: After a lie in, cycle languidly to the beach. If you’re staying in the centre of town, this is just a 10 minute cycle ride away. Beware Italian drivers, they are notorious for good reason.

10:45: Arrive at the seafront. If you’re on a strict budget, then you can head to one of the free beaches. Otherwise head to one of the privately owned beaches where you can hire a sun lounger for the day. Either way you get golden sands, and views of the Mediterranean stretching beyond the horizon.

13:00: After a dip in the pleasantly warm sea, and gently cooking in the sun (please do wear suncream – you will burn) head to the restaurants lining the beachfront. For a traditional lunch, I highly recommend Fritto Misto**  with a bottle of Peroni lager.

14:00: Head back to the beach with a full belly, and smile on your face. You won’t find many Italians being active during the hottest part of the day, so follow their lead and find some shade to read a good book or for a pisolino (nap).

17:00: With the sea lapping around your ankles, the beach will stretch far in the distance to your left and right. Pick a direction, and go for a nice stroll and another dip in the sea. On your return treat yourself to a strong Italian coffee.

20:00: Having left the beach at a leisurely pace, head to La Rotonda, the town’s best place for pizza (in my opinion!). Head to the restaurant’s rooftop to enjoy your dinner whilst watching the sun set into the Mediterranean.

22:00: My favourite way to end the day is always with an ice-cream and drink. You will find lots of ice cream parlours, offering a multitude of flavours. Be brave and treat yourself to 5 scoops of 5 different flavours, for a truly mouth-watering experience. That diet can wait until the end of your holiday.

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Summary

Torre del Lago is not as glamorous or well known as its neighbour Viareggio. However, if you want reliably warm weather, golden beaches, and good food then you can’t go wrong.

If you are the kind of person who cannot stand the idea of lying on a beach for 7 days, then Torre del Lago is also an ideal base for visiting a number of Tuscany’s gems. Lucca, Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre, amongst many other areas are easily accessible by a surprisingly reliable train network.

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Whilst unfortunately my grandmother cannot provide you all with free accommodation, don’t let this stop you visiting Torre del Lago and the surrounding Tuscan localities, as it is a truly beautiful part of the world.

4.5/5 Budget Budgie Al rating

*Ferragosto – an Italian public holiday celebrated on 15 August, coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. By metonymy, it is also the summer vacation period around mid-August, which may be a long weekend (ponte di ferragosto) or most of August.

**Fritto Misto – fish, squid and prawns deep-fried in a crisp batter.