The 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Tuscany

The must see UNESCO sites of Tuscany, explore and enjoy!

8 min read

The Historic Centre of Florence 

The symbol of the Renaissance

Us seated above the River Arno that runs through Florence

With Scott having worked as a pilot, we have had the luxury of being able to travel worldwide, visiting many cities, however, no city can compare to the beauty of Florence for us. Only an hour drive away from La Torre, the historic centre of Florence once ruled by the wealthy and influential Medici family during the 15th and 16th century, surged to cultural and economic glory that has lasted until this day and age. The breathtaking artistry that can be seen by the city’s 600-700 year old architecture, the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (the first most important Church in Tuscany), the Pitti Palace and the Church of Santa Croce are just a few of the outstanding masterpieces by Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli and many more talented masters of art. Due to the conservation of this city’s amazing structures and art, it became one of the very first Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982.

Angus' parents admiring the unique buildings in front of a church in Florence

Strolling through the preserved 14th century walls, gates and cobblestone streets really makes us feel as if we are walking back in time. The tranquil atmosphere can be enhanced by fun activities in Florence such as: visiting the Florence Accademia Gallery where Michaelangelo’s fine art work of his statue of David can be embraced, touring the city with a hop-on hop-off tour bus that passes by the city's amazing architecture, a Duomo Dome tour or even a cooking class! There’s honestly so much to experience in Florence, but even being able to have the memory of wandering through this unique historic centre is very special.

Angus with the chef from the cooking class, mmm...fresh pasta!

Inside the Florence Accademia Gallery, the famous statue of David

Angus at the top of the bell tower at the Duomo in Florence, luckily it didn't start ringing!

Pisa, Square of Miracles 

The marvellous monuments of Pisa will leave you in awe

Us exploding with happiness that the leaning tower of Pisa is still standing!

Entering the 11th century city walls of Pisa into the Piazza dei Miracoli to see the incredible monuments needs to be on your bucket list! The four jewels of Pisa’s medieval architecture are: the bell tower (better known as the ‘leaning tower’), the Cathedral, the Camposanto Cemetery and the Baptistery. These monuments were built from the 11th to the 14th century and have been preserved until this day, highlighting Pisa’s authenticity as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and allowing the city to be given this title in 1987. Whilst talking to a tour guide in Pisa, we found out that the first monument to be built was the Cathedral in the Middle ages in the year 1064, later concluded in the 14th century. This Cathedral is the second most significant Church in Tuscany, after the Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence.

A picture we took from the top of the tower, with a view of the Cathedral next door

Admission is free to enter into the Cathedral if you already have a ticket to see the Leaning Tower or any of the other monuments. We find it rare to hear that the bell tower is more famous than the Cathedral as usually a Cathedral would be of greater attention, however, the leaning tower of Pisa is well known for slanting to one side, since it has been around for over 700 years and is still standing (now with the help of 21st century technology)! The public is able to climb the tower, although there are restrictions on the amount of people that can enter due to safety and security reasons, therefore if you’re planning on taking the 294 step climb, it’ll be better to book at least a week in advance. When we visited the stunning Baptistery and Camposanto Cemetery of Pisa we were amazed by the architecture and couldn’t get enough of the peaceful atmosphere. With only an hour drive away from our agriturismo, visiting Pisa would be a perfect way to spend the day, or evening.

Angus' parents were also excited to visit the square of miracles and see the leaning tower

The Historic Centre of Siena

Stunning Siena is an embodiment of a medieval city

The Pizza del Campo, Siena

Only 45 minutes away from La Torre lies the gothic city of Siena. The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Unlike Florence and Pisa, Siena was designed rather differently, from the architecture to the style of Church and even streets as its population pursued to rival with their neighbours, Florence as well as Pisa. For centuries, the city has maintained its gothic appearance built between the 12th and 15th centuries. As a result of this preservation, we are privileged enough to indulge into the wonderful works of artists such as the Lorenzetti brothers, Duccio and Simone Martini.

The city was connected by three roads from three separated hills to conjoin into a ‘Y’ shape and meet at the bottom of the valley which is now known as the Piazza del Campo. The 7km long barricaded wall still remains around Siena as well as protective gates placed strategically against attack, for example the Porta Camollia which is on the road to Florence. Not only can one witness the heart-stopping monuments such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Torre del Mangia, Palazzo Publico, the Duomo, Palazzo Sansedoni as well as other admirable churches and structures; but what Siena is most legendary for is the 800 year old tradition of the  Palio that takes place annually. The event of the year that cannot be missed, bringing glory to Siena and its citizens on the 2nd of July also on the 16th of August every year. The Palio is a horse race battled out by the 17 contradas (residential areas) of Siena where each athlete is given a horse out random and competes for victory, for more information about the Palio and our experience having seen this spectacular competition, have a read of our blog about it: Explore - Palio di Siena (latorre.farm).

The Historic Centre of San Gimignano

‘San Gimignano delle belle Torri’

The Piazza della Cisterna, San Gimignano

San Gimignano is one of our favourite places to visit in Tuscany and if you decide to take a trip there, it will most probably become yours too! From La Torre, San Gimignano can be reached by a 30 minute drive, on horseback or by cycling. The remarkable medieval town is known for its ‘belle torri’, beautiful towers that once held great significance for the town as these ancient skyscrapers represented wealth and power during the medieval era. As this medieval Manhattan has preserved its cobblestoned alleys, 14 of the 72 800 year old towers and churches (that have now been converted into museums), the town was titled a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. San Gimignano used to be a significant point between Siena and Florence where people would stop by for trade or to stay, its tourism increased due the Via Francigena walking route that passes through the town, until this day many traveling the Via Francigena enjoy having a rest and admiring the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany from San Gimignano’s sun-drenched hilltops.

Our friends James and Sophie exploring the romantic medieval alleys of San Gimignano

The medieval Manhattan is famously known for its Vernaccia Wine that has been around for many centuries, wine tastings can be booked at some of the best wineries of Tuscany in San Gimignano where you can spend a relaxing afternoon or evening admiring the romantic views of Tuscany with some of its greatest white wine. Even though this medieval town is best known for its history, structures and wine, there are many exciting things to do such as: visiting the Torture Museum, the Museum of La Torre Grossa which is the tallest standing tower of the medieval town, taking a cooking class, going on a Vespa or Piaggio Tuk Tuk tour or trying some mouthwatering Italian icecream! For more information about San Gimignano’s history and fun activities to explore, have a read of our blog about the medieval town: Explore - San Gimignano (latorre.farm).

The historic centre of Pienza

Renaissance and Gothic styles come together in this ‘perfect utopian city’

The main square of Pienza, still intact from centuries ago

Although Pienza is an hour and 30 minutes away from our agriturismo, the relaxing journey of passing by Val d'Orcia and beauty of Pienza makes it all worth the wait! The town of Pienza has been maintained since 1459 when Pope Pius II took upon the action of transforming and bettering his birthplace. He hired an architect named Bernardo Rossellino who worked with the principles he had learnt from his teacher, Leon Battista Alberti - the author of the very first architectural book/memoir of the Renaissance. With the work of these three genius brains, the Pope was able to construct his idea of the ‘perfect utopian city’.

As we wandered the main square’s herringbone pavement on our first visit to Pienza, we absorbed the gothic and renaissance mix of styles designed on the buildings; we later studied that this unique style was created as Pope Pius II’s architect fulfilled the Renaissance trend while the late Pope was also inspired and influenced by gothic German designs. We saw this unique combination of architecture in the Cathedral of Pienza as the outside was covered with classic Renaissance patterns, whereas inside the Cathedral, the walls and ceilings had a more gothic structure and format. You’d think that by mixing two completely different styles the outcome would be odd, however we were both amazed by this 15th century masterpiece.

Amazing monuments that you can’t miss when touring Pienza are the Ammannati Palace, Borgia Palace, the Piccolomini Palace, Town Hall and the Presbytery which are all uniquely made buildings that will leave you in awe! We were interested to find out that Palazzo Piccolomini was used by Franco Zeffirelli in order to film a couple of scenes of his infamous and ever so romantic movie Romeo and Juliet, depicting the place of the first time the two young lovers met at the house party/ball of the Capulets’.

The Pieve di Corsignano Church still standing from the 7th century!

As Pienza is located on a hilltop in Val d’Orcia, we enjoyed staring into the Tuscan bliss whilst strolling to the Pieve di Corsignano which was originally a 7th century Romanesque church, later rebuilt in the 12th century - Pope Pius II and his nephew Pope Pius III were in fact baptised in this church which we found extraordinary as we had also stepped foot into a Church that has had centuries of history and different people, even Popes within its walls. 

Aside from being well known for the town’s beautiful architecture and buildings, Pienza is also famous for its cheese - Pecorino of Pienza! A cheese made from sheep milk that can be bought or tried in many of the local and authentic shops around Pienza. A fun event occurs every September in Pienza as the town hosts the ‘Fiera del Cacio’, which is a fair of cheese (cacio meaning cheese in their dialect). We would like to attend this year as visitors can try and buy different cheeses as well as other delicious Italian foods, not only that but the locals get involved in a game called ‘Palio del Cacio Fuso’, where a member of each sector of the town join in the middle of the Piazza Pio II square and compete to roll a whole round of pecorino cheese around a wooden spindle - sound easy, but we bet it’s not! Due to the conservation of culture and one of a kind architecture in Pienza, the town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

The historic competition, Palio del Cacio that still continues today

The landscape of Val d’Orcia

The Renaissance styled agricultural area of Val d'Orcia has a panorama that cannot be missed

Stopping by Val d'Orcia to observe its stunning nature

Val d’Orcia is Siena’s main pastoral landscape for agricultural production and rural aesthetics. Planning livelihoods on the hill peaks of Val d’Orcia combined with agricultural land space isn’t an easy task - trust us, we’re going through something like it! Yet, we find it amazing how in the 14th and 15th centuries, throughout the Renaissance era in Italy without the technology of today, this special land of Siena became an extremely well organised and manageable neighbourhood for locals, farmers, farmhouses as well as a delightful place to get away and get in touch with nature, whether you’re a local or a tourist. Val d’Orcia became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 as much of the lands characteristics and format are still of the Renaissance structure. While on our way to Pienza passing by the roads lined with gorgeous cypress trees, we stopped by Val d’Orcia to admire the land’s glowing grain fields, mysterious medieval castles, rows of its vineyards surrounded by flourishing olive groves and we looked from a distance at Val d’Orcia’s historic villages. Staring into this Tuscan beauty really felt like time had slowed down. 

The Abbey Sant'Antimo, a medieval monastery in Montalcino, Val d'Orcia

Aside from the jaw dropping panoramas that Val d’Orcia has to offer, intriguing small towns within the land that are nice to visit are: Castiglione d’Orcia (with its own ancient fortress), Radicofani (where rests a charming castle), the medieval city of Montalcino surrounded by its vineyards of Brunello wine and the Romanesque Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a fine sample of an ancient monastery made in the medieval era. 

We are also planning to relax in the two thermal hot springs of the area, Bagni di San Filipino and Bagno Vignoni where after a long morning or afternoon of sightseeing and exploring, we can take a well deserved break in the tranquility of the Tuscan countryside!

One of the breath-taking hot springs found in Val d'Orcia

The Medici Villas and Gardens

The inspiration to princely residence

A portrait of the Medici family

From being Lords of Florence in 1434 to Grand Dukes of Tuscany in 1569 and continuing their reign until 1737, the influential Medici family not only enhanced the economy, politics, agriculture and military of Tuscany but have left a legacy of their princely residences in the form of 12 villas, introducing a new style of living like royalty within the country landscape. The series of exquisite villas were all granted the title of being UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2013 due to their conservancy of natural beauty and historic significance. These 12 villas express the Renaissance and Baroque periods of architecture perfectly, the first 2 of the 12 villas built took 3 years to complete (from 1458-1461) which are called Trebbio and Cafaggiolo, located in Mugello, designed by Michelozzo - the origin of the Medici family.

The Villa Petraia

Another well established Villa where royals such as Vittorio Emanuele II visited, has been converted into two museums that are 50 minutes away from La Torre and can be found in Poggio a Caiano, one museum is a still-life museum whereas the other displays the historic apartments of the Villa; we have not yet visited any of the Villas but we are definitely planning to take a trip to the museums once all is open to the public again after the lengthy lockdowns due to COVID-19. Other stunning Villas include: La Ferdinanda, Castello Villa Medici, Petraia Villa Medici, Careggi Villa Medici, the Medici Villa at Poggio Imperiale, and Magia di Quarrata. The Villas were all constructed or refurbished throughout the 15th and 16th centuries as well as the extravagant Gardens: Boboli, Medici Gardens in Pratolino, Villa di Cerreto Guidi and the Palazzo di Seravezza, some reaching the level of aesthetics much like London’s Kew Gardens. For a relaxing day out and to explore some of Tuscany’s finest historical buildings, visiting some of the Medici Villas and Gardens would be an excellent stop. 

A luxurious Renaissance styled hall inside one of the Medici Villas

One of the beautiful and tranquil Gardens of the Medici Villas