Saturday, November 9, 2013

Should You Visit or Avoid Tuscany’s Tourist Locations?

Just the other day I was privy to a discussion about whether or not one should encourage clients to visit the most famous “tourist locations” in Tuscany. While it is true that the crowds and commercialization of several of the region’s most renowned towns have diminished some of their charm and authenticity, it is also true that they have become this popular for a reason. So even for those of us who pride ourselves on helping people to discover the real Tuscany,  the answer is not quite so straightforward.

San Gimignano - photo:

I always suggest for my clients to include some off-the-beaten-path experiences in their itineraries. There are still places, unknown to the masses, which allow you to discover a more genuine side of Tuscany – less exploited and very authentic. Although, as the world becomes more and more fascinated by this small Italian region, and the number of visitors increases (including those who return several times seeking to expand their area of exploration), even these “secret” places are becoming fewer and fewer. 

San Gimignano off season - photo: Auro Giotti

Yet for the first-time visitor, the question often comes up, “Should we go to Pisa (or San Gimignano - for example), or is it too touristy?” While other clients premise the argument with, “I figure we should go to see what all the fuss is about, right?” Inevitably, my answer is always, “Yes, it's touristy, but if you can deal with that, then yes, you should go.” And in the end, I am happy to say that almost no one regrets it - especially if they are lucky enough to visit in low season, when the payback is extreme.

San Gimignano's skyline in Autumn - photo: Auro Giotti

Unfortunately, during peak season the risk is very high that you will encounter the barbaric invasions at some of these sites – but missing the chance to visit them is really a shame. No matter how many photos of the Leaning Tower you see, they will never convey the impact of actually standing next to it (or climbing to the top). It’s true, the town of San Gimignano has become a tourist mecca – and in the summer you are hard pressed to remember that you are in Italy. Yet, if you can look beyond the crowds, it is really a place of incredible beauty and amazing character. For those lucky enough to visit after October and before Easter, I challenge you to tell me you don’t like San Gimignano!

San Gimignano courtyard - photo: Carlo Boccacci

So, in the final analysis, if you are coming to Tuscany for the first time, I do think you should include some of the typical tourist sites in your itinerary. As a general rule for sightseeing, the best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons - but if you have to come during high season, avoid these popular places on weekends and holidays - as then you will also find Italian tourists! Ideally, one day you’ll be able to come back during the slower season and enjoy these places again under different circumstances. One reason for my conviction comes after a client recently commented on their day in Pisa, “I never expected it to be SO amazing! Looking at the Tower from up close, I was awestruck. History came alive for us, and I don’t regret the visit (or even waiting on the lines) one single bit. In fact I am so happy we went!”  And I’m glad I didn’t tell them not to bother!!

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