A Trip to Pisa - 5 days in the Northern Tuscany

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My 5 Day Trip to the Northern Tuscany

Conventional and Unconventional Tips!

Places to see in the Northern Tuscany

The Italian Tuscany is a food-lover’s dream, a landscape fanatic’s heaven, and a romantic’s wedding destination. Tuscany is for everybody. Why? It offers something for every type of traveler. It does not matter if you are a city-tripper, a lounger, a beach-babe or a culture lover. Maybe you even chose Italy because you are obsessed with its food (guilty here). Here you might actually encounter something called undisturbed and perfect happiness. But, of course, only if you do it right, if you know where to go and what to do (and what is really alright skipping). In May 2017 my boyfriend and I took a 5 day trip to the Tuscany and even though it was only 5 days, I think it was one of my most relaxing, most beautiful and enchanting vacations that I have taken. 

Are you flying into Pisa for a trip to the Tuscany? Here is what we did, where we stayed and tips what to stay away from.

Where to stay around Pisa

Although we flew to Pisa, we decided to stay close to Lucca, because we wanted a more quiet destination to come home to every night. Since we rented a car, which I highly recommend if you want to experience the „real“ Italy, getting around was no problem. 

  Il Vilano  B&B in Vorno

Il Vilano B&B in Vorno

 View from  Vorno  Hills

View from Vorno Hills

We stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast that we found on booking.com. So far it has been one of the best accommodations that I was lucky to experience. Since we arrived outside of the holiday season they upgraded us from a small room to a whole apartment with our own garden and patio, where we would have self-made Antipasti and Pasta for dinner every night. The BnB was administrated by a lovely Italian couple, who loved their job. And you could notice that. Their breakfast was self-made, they always had a smile on their face and a travel tip on their lips. I highly recommend staying at the Il Vilano and petting their English Bulldog and the man of the house named `Bandito`.

Renting a car in Italy

If you want to experience the northern part of the Tuscany, there is really no way around renting a car, in my opinion. However, Italian traffic can get really crazy. Streets get narrower by the minute you drive through the small villages and towns. If you do not feel secure driving, definitely opt for a full coverage travel insurance, or refrain from driving yourself. Rental cars in Italy are not too expensive, but usually, it is not possible to choose a manual or an automatic. Be prepared to drive a manual up and down the serpentines in the Cinque Terre (not fun!). Especially cheap rental car providers often build in traps for you to pay after you have given them the car. Insist on someone checking it, before you give back the keys, take pictures of the full tank and of scratches before you leave. If you have booked a full coverage insurance in advance, don’t let them convince you to sign an additional insurance. You don’t need it!

Day 1: Lucca and Surroundings

 Aqueduct of Nottolini near Lucca

Aqueduct of Nottolini near Lucca

 Driving along the edge of the Ocean

Driving along the edge of the Ocean

Staying around Lucca is a great decision. You get the Tuscan quietness in between mountains, you are not far from the highways, and is in between a lot of great spots to see. So instead of staying in the town of Lucca, where parking is usually done outside of the city’s wall, that medievally ranks into the sky wherever you try to enter it, why not stay in an authentic village off the beaten path?

Lucca: Renaissance city walls and 101 churches

With its 90.000 inhabitants, Lucca is definitely not the biggest city in the Tuscany, but very much worth a visit for a female solo traveler, a couple, or even a family. Lucca is famous for its 16th-century renaissance walls that I just mentioned and its history as a city often under attack is visible wherever you go. When entering the town center you might have to pass through narrow tunnels that inhabit latticed dungeons to both sides. A little creepy if you ask me, but very interesting. 

Another wonderful piece of architecture in the city of 101 churches is the St. Michael’s Church. Located in front a big square you will be amazed by its light and gracious appearance. In addition, do not miss the Duomo di San Martino that is almost 900 years old!!

Unfortunately, it started to rain as soon as we wanted to visit the Torre Guinigi. Trees rank on top of the tower high in the sky, which serves for a unique experience. Supposedly there is no lift, so be prepared for a little workout. 

My experience of Lucca was very individual, as we simply roamed the streets, got pizza around the corner and sat at the steps of churches. Sometimes this is the best way to discover and explore a city. 

Day 2: Cinque Terre

About 1, 5 hours car ride (depending on your skills when it comes to riding a car through narrow serpentines) the famous „fabulous five“ are located. The Cinque Terre is worth visiting for at least a week alone, but if you only have a day, you can still plan 2 of the 5 villages and enjoy the colorful villages incorporated into the cliffs right by the ocean. Be aware that in between villages vehicle traffic is restricted, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a protected waterway, so you mostly have to park outside of the villages and hike the rest of the way. You could also hike all of the 5 villages in one day if you are brave enough.

Vernazza: 

Vernazza Beach

Honestly, I probably have not seen a more beautiful village in my life. To get the best view of the town, hike up to the spot shown in the map which is where I took these pictures. Vernazza even has a small strip of beach where you could go for a swim. 

I recommend researching every Cinque Terre village in advance and picking your favorite. Go early in the morning to avoid the tourist crowds. However, whatever you do, be in line to this restaurant in Manarola at 10:45 sharp!

Manarola: 

 Nessun Dorma Meat Platter 

Nessun Dorma Meat Platter 

My hot tip for Manarola is to have lunch at the Nessun Dorma! Here you can admire the colorful houses and the turquoise water while having an Aperol Spritz and an Antipasti platter. The place is not cheap but the portion sizes are big, so you only have to order one platter! There is always a line up at the Nessun Dorma Restaurant. If you want a prime spot, I recommend being there at 10:45 as it opens up at 11:00. 

 

Day 3: A less conventional day in Florence: No Museums

I will be honest here (and will probably receive some hate for it: I am not a huge fan of Florence. Maybe I simply need the right guide, more admiration for art and architecture. But I could not shake off the negativity of mass tourism in this city. For it ruined the sparkle of Florence. In my opinion, it is too crowded, too touristy, there are too many traps, and it is way to expensive. This was my second time of being there and this time, instead of getting into the long lines of the museums, we did a few different things to get away from the crowds. Plan at least 20 Euros for Parking, which is very expensive even outside of the city center.

1. Take a walk from your parking spot into the town center along the Arno

 The Arno in Florence,  Ponte Vecchio

The Arno in Florence, Ponte Vecchio

2. Enjoy the gardens and the view at Forte Belvedere and the Giardino di Boboli, that is host to many famous Renaissance sculptures of the 16th century. Here you can sit back and enjoy the view of Florence from above, apart from the crowds. Dominant from every angle is the dome of the Florence Cathedral. TIP: EU citizens between 18-25 only have to pay the reduced price of 3.50 Euros, otherwise it is 7 Euros to enter the gardens. 

3. Do not miss the cathedral. It might be touristy, but even I have never seen such a work of architecture. Finished in 1436, the church is known for its green and white marble panels and its dome that was a technical miracle during the Renaissance. 

 Kathedral of Florence

Kathedral of Florence

 Dome left view Florence

Dome left view Florence

Day 4: A day at the Beach and Pietrasanta

If you need a day to take a breath not far from Pisa there are beautiful beaches with mountain horizons. Spread your towel, read a book and take a dip in the sea. Make sure to go early, since Italians also like to chill on the beach (who doesn't?) and parking spots can get scarce. We went to this one: It was close to the Dunes. 

Beach Tirreno 

Beach in close to Pisa: WWF Dune Tirrenia

 

A smaller town around Lucca that I can wholeheartedly recommend is Pietrasanta. It is known for its huge modern art exhibitions, such as the chili sculpture that you can see in the picture. It combines modernity with a classic Italian small town, with great ice cream, nice cafés, and charm. This sleepy town is perfect for letting the day pass into the sunset. 

Day 5: Pisa and exploring the mountains

 Leaning Tower of Pisa 

Leaning Tower of Pisa 

Since we flew into Pisa, this city had to be on our bucket list for our 5-day northern Tuscany trip. However, I have to admit it was not the favorite part of my time in Italy. Again, a lot of tourists ( the funny pictures about people leaning against the tower are not a joke), a lot of scams. But avoiding Pisa altogether is also not the right choice. My advice is simply not to stay in the city, and go there for one day (maximum). Walking around is the best way to avoid the crowds, to discover the streets and maybe a café where the capuccino is not outrageously expensive. 

When we realized that Pisa was not really according to our vibe, we deciced to go out to the mountains around Pietrasanta (see Day4) and its little villages. Sometimes driving up makes you get a new perspective.

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