Tuscany is indeed the very essence of Italy, with its backdrop of medieval hilltowns, rows of slender cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves, and artfully sited villas and farmhouses.

The national language evolved from Tuscan dialect, thanks to Tuscan writers like Dante, who wrote the Divine Comedy in the vernacular of his birthplace, Florence.

Florence was the most active center of the Renaissance, which flourished, at least in part, through the patronage of the Medici dynasty. Every eminent artistic figure from Giotto onwards – Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo is represented in Tuscany, in an unrivaled gathering of churches, galleries, museums.

Tuscany is filled with treasures of architecture, paintings, and sculptures that are renowned worldwide.

Siena is one of the great medieval cities of Europe, almost perfectly preserved, and with superb works of art in its religious and secular buildings. Its beautiful Campo – the central, scallop-shaped market square – is the scene of Tuscany's most unmissable festival, the Palio, which sees bareback horse riders racing around the narrow cobblestone streets.

It’s the brightest display of pageantry this side of Rome.

Other major cities, Pisa and Lucca, have their splendors, too – Pisa its Leaning Tower, Lucca a string of Romanesque churches. To the west and south of Siena are dozens of small hilltowns that, for many, epitomize the region – tourism has yet to undermine their vibrant local characters.

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