The people of Toscana (Tuscany) can rightly claim to have just about the best of everything - architecture, the country's greatest collection of art, beautiful countryside bathed in soft pink hues, and some of Italy's finest fresh produce and best known wines.
The works of Michelangelo, Donatello, da Vinci and other 15th and 16th-century Tuscan masters still influence artists worldwide. Tuscan architects have influenced architects through the centuries. The literary works of Dante, Petrarch and Bocaccio planted the seeds for the Italian language, and today there still remains a sense of rivalry between the Sienese and the Florentines as to who speaks the purest Italian. Most people are drawn to Toscana by the artistic splendour of Firenze and Siena or to view the Leaning Tower in Pisa. But Toscana also features some of Italy's most impressive hill towns, including San Gimignano, Volterra, Cortona and Montepulciano.
Walkers and nature lovers can enjoy the Alpi Apuane, the Garfagnana, the Mugello and the Parco Naturale della Maremma, near Grosseto.
Tuscan cuisine is dominated by bread and the extra virgin olive oil produced in the region's hills, which is close to Italy's finest. Bread features in every course, including dessert, where it can be topped with egg yolk and orange rind and sprinkled with a heavy layer of powdered sugar. Crostini, minced chicken liver canapes, and fettunta, a slab of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and dipped in oil, are popular antipasti, and hearty soups, such as ribollita, thickened with bread, are common starters. Meat and poultry are grilled, roasted or fried, and may come simply with a slice of lemon, which the Tuscans refer to as sauce. Traditional desserts are simple, such as biscuits flavoured with nuts or spices and served with a glass of the dessert wine vin santo.
The region's wines are among the country's best known: Chianti, the vino nobile of Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. Traditionally, most Tuscan wines are red, but in recent years the vineyards around San Gimignano have produced Vernaccia, a crisp white that is becoming more popular.
City: Arezzo, Firenze, Grosseto, Livorno, Lucca, Massa Carrara, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato, Siena
Surface: kmq 22993
Nationale Parks: Parco Nazionale dell'Arcipelago Toscano (1989), Parco Nazionale del Monte Falterona, Campigna e delle Foreste Casentinesi (1990).