With an intoxicating blend of fine red wine, Renaissance art and stunning countryside, Tuscany – halfway between Rome and the northern Alpine region – is many people's idea of the ideal holiday destination. And for three fine recent vintages it also became Italy's leading football region.
From 2005-06 to 2007-08 there were four Tuscan teams in Serie A, Empoli joining Fiorentina, Livorno and Siena. Empoli and Livorno dropped out and Siena went too in 2010, leaving Fiorentina flying the flag for a region with a key role in the development of the game.
Long before Association Football there was calcio. As far back as the 1530s, the Florentines understood that the purpose of a big piazza was to host a kickabout. On public holidays the nobles would don the colours of their quarter and, using giubbotti for goalposts, knock seven bells out of each other.
Calcio Fiorentino – which resembles Gaelic football – fell out of fashion in the 18th century but was revived in the 1930s and is now a major tourist attraction in late June in Piazza Santa Croce.
But it's art and architecture, rather than football and Fiorentina, that draw people to Florence. The cradle of the Renaissance is a vast storehouse of paintings, frescoes and sculptures and unless you have a good idea of what you want to see, trudging around galleries like the Uffizi, the Bargello and the Accademia, especially in the summer, can be exhausting.
Fortunately, most of the main sights are close together. Around the corner from the Uffizi is the Ponte Vecchio, the 14th-century bridge over the Arno which is encrusted with tiny jewellery shops. A short walk in the other direction lies the cathedral, with its mind-boggling dome, and the exquisite sixth-century baptistery.
Siena was Florence's great medieval rival until an outbreak of plague in 1348 decimated the population and brought the city to its knees. Today, Siena has the best-preserved medieval centre in Italy, spreading out from the campo, the central square which scores a 10 on the piazza-scape rating. The city boasts a stunning 13th-century cathedral and some fine galleries.
Siena also absorbs its visitors better than Florence, and while both make decent bases, it's far more relaxing to rent a farmhouse or villa in the country and make strategic forays into town.
The Chianti region lies between Florence and Siena but is pricey and overrun with tourists and second-homers. The Val d'Orcia and Maremma areas to the south are equally beautiful and handy for Siena and the wine towns, Montalcino and Montepulciano.
The Garfagnana area in the north is handy for the beautiful walled city of Lucca and for Livorno, a vibrant port with great seafood and a communist tradition. It's also close to Pisa, whose Leaning Tower is a perfect symbol of Italy – easy on the eye but seemingly always on the point of collapse. Building began at the end of the 12th Century, 100 years after work started on the splendid Romanesque cathedral it accompanies.
The circular baptistery and the frescoed Camposanto cemetery complete the Campo dei Miracoli (field of miracles), a complex of sublime religious buildings, now surrounded by stalls hustling cheap tat. Away from there, Pisa is low-key and agreeable with fine medieval and Renaissance buildings.
Explore the area with the interactive map below; click a badge to get a club guide.
For specific travel tips on Florence, Siena and Pisa, see the pages on the relevant clubs.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Italian football, see our blog Serie Aaaaargh!
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