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10 Unexpected Adventures to Explore in Tuscany

9/6/17 by Matt Wastradowski

The Tuscan countryside is perhaps best known for its spectacular landscapes, world-class wine and cuisine, and legendary art. The central Italian region, which is also brimming with history, beckons scores of visitors every year looking to get a taste for themselves of la dolce vita.

One lesser-known—but equally amazing—aspect of Tuscany is its vast bounty of outdoor adventure, whether you fancy yourself a heli-biking daredevil or passionate hiker. But with the arrival of the Adventure Travel Trade Association's AdventureWeek Tuscany, which takes place September 10-17, Tuscany’s outdoor playground is poised to showcase its prowess.

From scuba diving in some of the country’s clearest coastal waters to hunting for Italy’s best truffles, here are 10 unexpected adventures just waiting to be explored among Tuscany’s vineyards, olive groves, seas, and mountains.

1. Mountain Bike the Marble Quarries of the Apuane Alps.

Hop on a mountain bike to explore the marble flats of the Apuane Alps in Tuscany.
    © ATTA / Lukasz Warzecha
Hop on a mountain bike to explore the marble flats of the Apuane Alps in Tuscany. © ATTA / Lukasz Warzecha

If the effort doesn’t take your breath away—some seriously challenging climbs, as well as gnarly singletrack—the views certainly will: This unforgettable excursion will drop riders off by helicopter to explore the marble quarries of the famed Apuane Alps. Along with the adrenaline rush, you’ll get a dose of art history up close: This is just the spot where the marble for Michaelangelo’s David was sourced. Today, trucks still ramble down local country roads full of marble extracted from the quarries, but soaking up the region’s beauty and wonder from two wheels is the way to go.

2. Paddle the Waters of Lake Massaciuccoli.

Just a few miles from the Tyrrhenian Coast, the 1,700-acre Lake Massaciuccoli is a paddler’s paradise.
Just a few miles from the Tyrrhenian Coast, the 1,700-acre Lake Massaciuccoli is a paddler’s paradise. Grit Werner

Hiding between Pisa and Viareggio, serene Lake Massaciuccoli is surrounded by reeds, marshes, and wetlands. Beyond its shores, the lake sits in the shadow of pastoral hillsides, giving paddlers the sense they’re the first to discover this secret oasis.

Lake Massaciuccoli’s ecological diversity makes it an ideal destination for birds looking to breed, feed, and settle in for the winter. Long-necked grebes and regal herons, known for their wide wingspan, are just some of the 300 species paddlers might see on the water.

3. Sail the Historic Etruscan Coast.

Hop aboard a boat for a unique way to explore Italy’s Etruscan Coast.
Hop aboard a boat for a unique way to explore Italy’s Etruscan Coast. N i c o l a

Even in a region known for countrysides and castles, Tuscany also offers excellent sailing opportunities along the Etruscan Coast. Stretching from Livorno to Piombino, the coastline promises rocky shoreline views, gorgeous spots to swim (more on that later), and impressive castle vistas.

4. Pedal the Tuscan Countryside.

Explore the Tuscan countryside like locals do: on a bike.
Explore the Tuscan countryside like locals do: on a bike. Jim Werner

Few countries can boast of a thriving cycling culture like Italy’s. The country’s road races are legendary, and numerous frame manufacturers started here. No surprise, then, that cycling the Tuscan countryside should be on every bike lover’s bucket list.

We won’t sugarcoat it: Tuscany’s famous rolling hillsides are awesome for Instagram-worthy photos but can be a challenge, especially for newbie cyclists. That said, pedaling past acres-long olive groves, Italian castles, charming farmhouses, and villages that dot the Florentine foothills is a great distraction from burning quads. And if you get tired, you can always stop at one of Tuscany’s vineyards for rest and refreshments.

Looking for something a little less intense? Take a trip on the 38-mile Sentiero della Bonifica for a pleasant, mostly flat introduction to the region. The car-free cycling path follows the border between Tuscany and Umbria; along the way, you'll pass colorful sunflower fields (especially in early summer), pastoral farmland, and the remnants of old irrigation tools.

5. Soak in the Hot Springs at Bagni San Filippo.

The hot springs are a great way to soak tired muscles after a day of adventure.
The hot springs are a great way to soak tired muscles after a day of adventure. Udo Schrˆter

Weary muscles from an adventure-filled trip make a soak at in the hot springs at Bagni San Filippo even more deserved. Tucked among hidden rock formations and cascading waterfalls outside the small town, the outdoor hot springs are easily accessible via a short roadside path.

The farther you walk, the more removed you’ll feel from the world. Along the way, you’ll find small pools perfect for short soaks, a waterfall cascading over calcium deposits, and a fairy tale-like forest surrounding it all. Put another way, your hotel hot tub will suffer in comparison.

6. Hike to the Stone Arch of Monte Forato.

There are few more scenic hikes in the Apuan Alps than the one to the stone arch of Monte Forato.
There are few more scenic hikes in the Apuan Alps than the one to the stone arch of Monte Forato. Robert Cupisz

Joining two peaks just outside the mountain town of Fornovolasco, the famous stone arch affords breathtaking views of the surrounding Garfagnana and Versilia regions.

Along the way, you’ll follow the Turrite stream, hike in a covered forest canopy, and pass the remnants of a medieval church. It’s not an easy hike—you’ll gain roughly 2,600 feet over the course of seven miles—but you’ll have plenty of points of interest to gaze at while catching your breath.

Keep in mind that* *short stretches of the trail are exposed on either side; one is precarious enough to require the aid of a metal cable. In other words, any would-be hikers who don’t relish heights might want to sit this one out.

7. Swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The crystal-clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea make swimming sublime.
The crystal-clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea make swimming sublime. Piervincenzo Madeo

The Tyrrhenian Sea isn’t nearly as famous as the Adriatic or Mediterranean seas, both of which also border Italy. That said, the lack of notoriety makes the sapphire sea a sublime spot for escaping inland humidity and cooling down with a dip.

Nearly 20 beaches in Tuscany have been awarded the coveted "blue flag" by the Foundation for Environmental Education, which rewards beaches for clean water and sustainable practices. Wherever you stake your umbrella, chances are good you’ll find some quality shoreline for cooling off and beating the heat.

8. Scuba Dive the Tuscan National Archipelago Park.

The national park’s azure waters and protected status make it a gorgeous spot for diving.
The national park’s azure waters and protected status make it a gorgeous spot for diving. Visit Tuscany

The expansive azure waters throughout Arcipelago Toscano National Park—also known as Tuscan National Archipelago Park—have long invited scuba divers to see what lurks beneath its pristine surface. Comprising a chain of islands between the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas, the archipelago contains numerous islands popular with divers drawn to its protected waters and rich variety of marine life.

Roughly 12 miles from the town of Pimobino, the island of Elba is the most popular of the park’s islands. Elba hosts nearly 20 dive sites, and the clear waters make it easy to spot sea sponges, sea horses, and other sea creatures.

9. Go Hunting for Truffles.

Go hiking for the delicacy to find it at its source—and pay far less to savor it.
Go hiking for the delicacy to find it at its source—and pay far less to savor it. Michela Simoncini

Back home—wherever home may be—chances are good you’ve paid extra for truffle-infused dishes at your city’s finer restaurants.

Interested in sampling the delicacy without blowing your food budget? Keep your eyes peeled throughout Tuscany, where truffles commonly grow and are available for a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere.

Truffles grow throughout the fall, though peak season depends on summertime rainfall. Visitors can enjoy tastings at fall festivals, or, for a more immersive experience, join experts and their canine companions for sanctioned truffle hunts in the region’s forested foothills.

10. Savor the Summer Solstice at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The summer solstice is especially fascinating in Florence, thanks to a centuries-old viewing tool.
The summer solstice is especially fascinating in Florence, thanks to a centuries-old viewing tool. Aleksander Miler

There are many reasons to visit Florence each summer, but one of the most interesting involves a tradition you might not know about: the summer solstice at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Thanks to an astrological tool more than 500 years old, you can witness the precise moment when spring becomes summer.

Each June, the sun’s rays strike the cathedral’s gnomon—created in the late 1400s to measure the position of the sun in the sky—denoting the start of summer. The bronze tablet is cut with a four-centimeter hole, which forms a light beam that aligns perfectly with a marble slab in the Chapel of the Cross. The moment may last just a few minutes, but there are few more historic settings for experiencing the occasion. Summer 2018 trip to Florence, anyone?

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.