Living in Tuscany
Tuscany is perhaps the most well known region of Italy and one of the first ports of call when it comes to choosing to buy a property in the country. A region that many buyers choose as the perfect location in which to reunite families dispersed around the world. It offers beauty, accessibility and entertainment. It’s not purely a golf, beach, shopping or cultural destination; it’s all of them and more.
Divided into ten provinces the region has its own unique diversities, attractions and landscapes and with offices in Florence, Radda in Chianti, Lucca, Maremma, Elba and the Vald’Orcia we are perfectly placed to cover all your needs when searching for the perfect Tuscan property.
Tuscany in a nutshell
Made up primarily of the two provinces of Florence and Siena this area is best known as Chianti, whose rolling hills and elegant lifestyle have come to epitomise what most foreign buyers view as Tuscany.
Chianti represents many buyers ideal first time location to embrace international property ownership. World renowned for its wine and widely photographed rolling hills and cypress lined avenues, it is the jewel in Tuscany's crown.
Small medieval hamlets and market towns abound and for many looking for a property purchase in Tuscany, Chianti remains the archetypal country location. Most sought after areas for property are around Radda, Greve, Panzano, Castellina and Siena. The area stretches as far as Impruneta and Pozzolatico to the North, Montespertoli, San Gimignano and Castellina to the West with Figline and Arezzo to the East and Buonconvento, Montalcino and Siena to the South.
Average temperatures range from 4 to 18 degrees during the winter months rising to between 23 and 38 degrees in the summer months of July and August, though the summer season runs from May to September. Normally there is low rainfall between May and August with higher levels of rainfall between October and April.
The region falls into two parts with Florentine Chianti and Sienese Chianti raging many wars with each other over the centuries. Now thankfully more peaceful, the area is dotted with many picturesque medieval villages all bearing the Chianti name; Radda in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti to name a few.
Historically, Chianti and its surroundings are well known for its large farmsteads with main villas and surrounding farmhouses that housed the farm workers. Much of these were abandoned in the late ‘60s as farm workers headed to the town to look for work. This led to the many ruins that the first international buyers began to restore. There are fewer well positioned ruins now available, but if you are looking for a restoration project in Tuscany, they can still be found.
Chianti is famous for its wine producers, rolling vineyards, wooded hills, olive groves and cypress trees, along with many hilltop medieval towns and villages. There are several recently renovated luxury hotels offering Spa treatments, and gated condominium properties of villas and apartments to rent. Agriturismi abound, providing hospitality for painting and cooking courses as well as walking and riding. Many summer festivals and traditional pageants (for example the famous twice-yearly il Palio horse race in Siena) and village ‘festas’ can be found; or sit back and relax as the sun sets over Chianti and enjoy one of the famous wines from the Chianti hills, including the well-known Chianti Classico, and a wide range of super Tuscansi (Montalcino Brunello). Chianti is well known for its ‘cinghiale’ or wild boar produce and hearty traditional peasant foods.
Types of property
Properties available for sale in Chianti consist mainly of farmhouses, wine estates, some villas, portions of larger farm buildings and castles. Many farmhouses renovated in the late seventies and nineties are now being or have been newly modernized. The residential market is predominantly international, and whilst there is still a demand for property in the rural locations, there is also growing interest in property in the towns and villages, with recently renovated borgos that offer apartments or villas accompanied by the attraction of a managed property, becoming increasingly more popular.
The region of Chianti has become much better connected in recent years with the airports of Florence and Pisa, both less than one hour away, providing good international connections and offering excellent car hire, train and bus services. The area is bordered on both sides by motorways with the Florence/Siena superstrada to the west and the A1 Florence/Rome motorway to the east. There is also the Chiantigiana road that crosses Chianti and a relatively new superstrada from Perugia in Umbria, that runs through Siena towards the Maremma coast.
An increasingly attractive alternative to other parts of Tuscany for those seeking property in Italy. Northern Tuscany covers the area of Tuscany between the Versilian coast and Florence, including Lucca and the Garfagnana.
The scenery is different in each area, the Versilian coastline is famous for its golden sandy beaches and the well known resorts of Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio, the Garfagnana for its majestic mountainous terrain and the area around Lucca for its gentle hills, olive groves and vineyards. The area of Vinci and Montecarlo are also famous for their vineyards, olive groves and softer undulating countryside. Lucca is the capital city of the province of Lucca and is the only town in Italy still surrounded by ancient walls that date back to the 16th century. The walls, built as military fortifications, now offer a wonderful pedestrian promenade, and offer a chance to enjoy the slow pace of life or walk off a typical Italian meal in one of the many restaurants. The city overflows with exquisite “palazzi”, fascinating churches and towers. From these towers and the city walls one can enjoy fabulous 365° views, not only of the tapestry of terracotta roofs but also the mountains and countryside in the distance. The hills surrounding the city house many important Lucca villas built by the Lucchesi noblemen, and founded on a rich merchant heritage of trade and silk.
The Serchio river runs down from the mountainous Garfagnana area to eventually reach the golden, sandy Versilian coastline. Part of the Versilian coastline known as Torre del Lago has a famous lake where every year the renowned “Puccini Festival” opera is performed. The well known river Arno can be seen running through Pisa as it makes it’s way down to Florence and beyond. In the Garfagnana area you will find gorges and caves at every turn, a real nature lovers' paradise, and just a short drive from the Garfagnana lie the ski slopes of Abetone.
Average temperature ranges from 4 to 18 degrees during the winter months and from between 23 to 38 degrees in the summer months. Normally low rainfall in the months of May, June, July and beginning of August, highest rainfall in the months of October and November. The average summer season runs from April until October.
Lucca is famous for its beautiful Amphitheatre and its renowned Lucca villas, the Botanical gardens, the Guinigi tower, the cathedral of San Martino, the national museum of Villa Guinigi and of course, Puccini’s house. Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca in 1856 and his house is now a museum housing portraits, scores, sketches and other memorabilia related to Puccini’s life and career. His operas are performed every year on the Torre del Lago lake in the Versilia. The poet Pascoli lived in Barga during the summer months and the poet Carducci was born near Lucca. Poets Shelley and Byron passed many summers in Bagni di Lucca which is just a short trip towards the Garfagnana, in the hills to the North of Lucca.
Art, history, and cuisine are the first things that come to mind when thinking of the Tuscan culture. The Versilian coastline, Lucca, the Garfagnana, Montecatini Terme, Pescia, and Vinci are all steeped in history and full of churches, museums, restaurants and “trattorias”, as well as hosting weekly markets, antique fairs and events. The area hosts a huge variety of annual festivals, with the Viareggio Carnival on the Versilian coast, the “Luminaria” candlelight festivities held on the banks of the river Arno at Pisa, Puccini’s opera festival on the lake at Torre del Lago, the Lucca Summer music festival, the Jazz and chocolate festivals at Barga, and the wine festival at Montecarlo to name but a few.
Pisa, Lucca and Montecarlo are all famous for their DOC wines. The Garfagnana and Lucca area have their own gastronomic specialties, in the Garfagnana the cereal “Farro” known in English as “Spelt” is grown and used in a wide variety of dishes, such as the “Zuppa di Farro”. Chestnut flour also plays a large part in the traditional cuisine and is used to make “Necci” or crêpes, usually filled with ricotta cheese and cured ham; as well as biscuits and pasta.
Types of property
All types of property are available in this area of Tuscany ranging from apartments in the centre of Lucca and other towns, rustic farmhouses, villas, and estates with wine and oil production. Different types of architecture pervade the area throughout including traditional Tuscan stone buildings with beams and terracotta tiles, Liberty, otherwise known as Nouveaux and villas dating back to the 15th and 18th century. You will find some contemporary houses and apartments for sale.
Lucca itself is only approximately 25 minutes from Pisa International Airport, which has excellent connections with many other parts of the world Road and rail links are also excellent. The motorway at Lucca has a direct link between the Versilian coast and Florence and the train service covers from Florence to the coast with all the various stops in between. Trains are very frequent, sometimes up to 3 or 4 per hour. The service up to the Garfagnana from Lucca is also good, with frequent trains first thing in the morning and then in the afternoon.
Southern Tuscany also competes for buyers’ affections. The Val d’Orcia, whose entire valley is declared a UNESCO World Cultural Landscape, mesmerises many house-hunters with the ever-changing colours of its landscapes and its hilltop medieval towns such as Pienza and Montepulciano.
The countryside ranges from gentle hillside dotted with olive groves and vineyards, to mountain slopes of majestic chestnut woods, ancient Etruscan sites rich in history, art and magic, a wealth and variety of thermal waters and uncontaminated nature reserves - from the rugged Crete Senesi south of Siena to the magical Val d’Orcia, the more manicured countryside laced with the famous vineyards of Montalcino and Montepulciano, the lush countryside around Cetona then extending southwards to San Casciano dei Bagni renowned for its thermal waters and magnificent countryside Bordering the World Heritage site, Val d’Orcia, the area includes Monte Amiata, which at 1732 metres is the second highest volcano in Italy.
Since there is a great variety in the geography of the area and differences in elevation, the climate varies accordingly. The lower elevated areas have a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers that reach around 30 degrees and milder shorter winters with temperatures ranging between 5 and 15 degrees. The higher areas around Monte Amiata have longer colder winters and frequent snowfalls – there are ski lifts and excellent slopes for skiing and snowboarding. The summers are shorter and cooler with temperatures around 25 degrees which often provide a refreshing alternative to the stifling summer heat of the lower lying areas.
Springtime extends from mid April to the end of May when the weather may be variable but the countryside is exploding into colour with a profusion of wildflowers; poppies, broom, cyclamen, and even orchids. During the summer months stretching into mid September normal temperatures are around 30-32° though this can rise for short bursts to 38°. September and October are also wonderful months to visit; relaxing with a glass of wine and watching the unique honey coloured glow transforming to peach as the sun sets behind Monte Amiata is an unbeatable experience. Temperatures usually remain quite mild up to Christmas with crisp sunny days; January and February tend to be the coldest with a marked change in temperature from the daytime, when it can be around 12°, to nighttime when there may easily be frost. Depending on the area and height above sea level these are the most likely months for a couple of snowfalls.
Italy has over 70% of the artistic heritage of all Europe and Tuscany has around 80% of the artistic heritage of Italy. This region boasts many villages and sites of Estruscan origin detailing a rich and ancient history.
Mount Amiata, an ancient volcano that has been extinct for thousands of years but whose activity is still felt in the abundant thermal waters that flow at temperatures of 38°. The Etruscans, some of the earliest inhabitants of the territory, considered the mountain sacred and "Mons Tuniatus" (the ancient name of Mount Amiata) seems to refer to Tinia, an ancient Etruscan god similar to the Greek Zeus. The Community of David Lazzaretti, a visionary Christian, was founded at the foot of the mountain at the end of the 1800s. Today the spiritual calling of this place can still be seen in the presence of a Tibetan Buddhist community with one of the largest centres in Italy.
The area has a strong tradition of food and fine wines, both are a vital part of the way of life here: Montalcino produces the world famous Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. Montepulciano has the equally renowned Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano. In all these areas, many Vineyards offer wine tasting and special visits to their cantinas. Pienza, the medieval jewel built by the Piccolomini Pope Pius II is also famous for the production of Pecorino cheese mostly produced in the Val d’Orcia by Sardinians who moved to the area after the war. Throughout the area there are festivals dedicated to wine, olive oil and food. From Pici, the famous local handmade pasta originated in Celle sul Rigo to truffles, chestnuts and honey all have their own special festival.
Throughout the year, there are an abundance of local festivals related to rural life and agricultural produce such as the chestnut festivals in October, the olive festivals in December, and the fire festivals at Christmas.
Some areas on the slopes of Mount Amiata are still a favourite destination for astronomers from all over Europe for the very low light pollution that allows unobstructed observation of the stars and planets.
Siena has its world famous Palio but so does Arezzo and notably Sarteano in the Giostra del Saracino, one of the oldest and most genuine of the pageants. It is a must see, held on 15 August every year and preceded by weeks of connected festivities, from medieval banquets and candlelit processions in magnificent costumes all building up to the main event where each Contrada (Parish) first parades through the town in all their medieval finery, before competing in a flag throwing ceremony and then the rider for each Contrada competes to joust a tiny ring from the ‘Saracen’s’ shoulder.
The area has also been famous since ancient times for its vast amounts of cinnabar, extracted from an Arcidosso quarry, from which the red pigments used in painting and the famous "sienna" or "yellow earth” were obtained. Renaissance painters, such as Vasari, used to get their pigments in this area.
Types of property
Whilst most properties comprise of classical Tuscan stone buildings and farmhouses, almost every house is unique in some way, either for its location - chosen for easy access, breathtaking panorama or internal style. Prices start from around €150,000 for an unrestored property, or an apartment or town house up to prestigious listed buildings, wine estates castles or entire hamlets. Most in demand are fully restored rural farmhouses of around four bedrooms, possibly with a guest cottage and swimming pool, and offering countryside views in wonderful locations.
The area lies equidistant to Florence and Rome, with excellent access to both via the A1 Autostrada, along with good train links with a main line station at Chiusi amongst others. The international airports of Rome, Pisa and Florence are all within around 2-3 hours’ drive and the airport at Perugia, which has recently been expanded, is within around 1 hour drive from many locations in the area.
The western part of Tuscany extends approximately from Volterra and San Gimignano in the north down to the Lazio borders in the south and the Chianti borders to the east. The so-called ‘Tuscan Riviera’ runs from South of Livorno to the Lazio border including the Mount of Argentario. This coastline has been fashionable with the Italians since the sixties, whereas the main influx of foreign buyers has really started in the last ten years. Much of this area is made up of the Maremma region, which borders the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas.
This whole area appeals to those who want solitude and countryside – perfect for those who like to soak up the views from the saddle of their horse or bike. But there is far more to it than that, including beautiful beaches such as Castiglione della Pescaia near Grosseto, golf and yacht clubs in Punta Ala, and spa towns such as Saturnia, Petriolo and Bagni San Filippo; and if it is a sense of remoteness that appeals, there is also Elba island, off the Maremma coast and a short flight away from Pisa. This haven for sailing, seafood, nature and privacy is perfect for those who want a discreet island home.
Olive groves, vineyards and agricultural produce, such as wheat and corn, are in abundance. On the coast some areas have flat sandy beaches while others are rugged and rocky, with coves and bays, as found on the Argentario and Castiligione. The landscape changes subtly as you progress towards the south, with the Maremma region offering some of the most exotic examples of indigenous flora and fauna. The area is particularly noted for its wildlife and along with the Argentario peninsula, is a protected national park, with unspoilt stretches of coastline and a large undeveloped interior. The air is filled with fragrance, and cool sea breezes permeate many of the inland areas.
The climate in this part of Tuscany in the summer months runs from an average range of 20-24 degrees and is hottest in July and August with temperatures in the late 30s.
The whole area of this part of Tuscany is steeped in history. Virtually every town and village has medieval or Etruscan origins. There are many famous historical sites and hilltop towns, such as San Gimignano, Volterra, Certaldo, and Massa Marittima. The coastline was historically less populated, due to the lack of useable farmland. As a result property for sale in this part of Tuscany now tend to be more modern, starting from the 1960s up to newly built contemporary apartments and villas in the fashionable coastal resorts.
Western Tuscany is famous for its rich cultural heritage. Art, architecture and literature prevail in abundance, and all are intricately interwoven into every corner. This offers the discerning visitor unparalleled opportunities to discover the riches of some of these less famous regions of Tuscany. Many famous authors and artists have originated in this area. Volterra has a unique collection of Etruscan artifacts, and has some of the finest museums and medieval architecture in Italy. Many of the hilltop towns play host to open air concerts, operas and theatrical productions during the summer months.
There is an upswing in the production of wine in this region, with the Bolgheri wine in particular gaining recognition as one of Tuscany’s finest. The famous Vernaccia wines of San Gimignano, and many other excellent small producers known only to the local inhabitants, make this area one of the most interesting for wine lovers. Food, as in all parts of Italy, plays an important role. Cinghale (wild boar), a wide selection of Salami, bruschetta, focaccia, olive oil, honey, and many varieties of locally produced fruit and vegetables abound. Good local markets, with fresh fish, preserves and meats, and small individual specialist shops provide and abundance of exceptional quality produce. Foodies seeking to buy in this area will not be disappointed!
Types of property
Property for sale in western Tuscany caters for all types of buyer, including villas, farmhouses, apartments and townhouses. Restorations tend to be predominantly rustic in style, with brick and stone construction and some rendered buildings, though more modern properties can be found in the coastal regions.
Owning property in this part of Tuscany has the advantage of good access links, with the airports at Pisa, Florence and Rome within a two hour drive. Generally clear and uncongested “A” roads, with a good north to south dual carriageway called the Aurelia, make driving in this region of Tuscany a joy. There are good rail links, from Pisa to the north and across to Florence and Poggibonsi, and also from Pisa due south along the coast line towards Piombino and the Argentario and on down to Rome.
Read more about property in Italy in our Italian View publication.