Cover Via de’ Tornabuoni in Florence ( Lorenzo Cotrozzi/Courtesy of Gruppo Editoriale)

Assouline's new book, Tuscany Marvel, throws light upon the noble histories of one of Italy’s most besotting regions

If, as Mark Twain had said, “The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo”, then it comes as no surprise that among the most romantic of Italian regions is the painter’s very own Tuscany.

The rolling hills, the rich perfume of olives: these are just a few of the sensory pleasures to be encountered amidst the sweeping vistas of the region. For many, the locale’s rich history and sensual implications have become more than mere ticklish fancy. It’s love, it’s ardour and it’s captured the minds and hearts of artists, epicures and intellectuals.

The ten provinces of Tuscany—Arezzo, Florence, Grosseto, Livorno, Lucca, Massa and Carrara, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato, Siena—all capture an elusive yet distinct essence, one that truly speaks of the region’s noble history and opulence. Though each province carries with it its own soul and speciality, the comprehensive accomplishments of each make up the Tuscany we hold dear. Here, art and architecture inspired by the Etruscans, the Romans and Renaissance men are in open display, an ode to the brilliant minds of past Tuscan dwellers. Among them is the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore, an artwork by Filippo Brunelleschi that remains as significant today as it did in the 15th century.

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Yet, manmade beauty is not the only diamond in this crown of jewels, as nature has gifted the region with a bountiful terroir, one that has piqued the imaginations of travellers around the world. There are the undulating hills alongside fruitful vineyards. Forests teem with olive trees and mysterious cypresses. Meanwhile, beaches run along for miles, shaping the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Here are found some of the most beautiful coasts in the Mediterranean, famed for crystal clear waters and a tranquil ambience that is much sought after. 

Florence, a bustling yet romantic town, welcomes visitors with artisanal shops and free-spirited piazzas. Restaurants, bookstores and stalls brim with fresh flowers and wares, all to greet the weary wanderer. In Siena, an inscription above the Porto Camollia beckons with words that can be said of the entire region: Cor magis tibi Sena pandit (“Siena opens up to you a heart that is greater”).

 

With all such inspirations, it’s no surprise that many brilliant minds have convened in Tuscany for the purposes of love or art. Italian masterminds and designers— from Salvatore Ferragamo to Guccio Gucci and Marquis Emilio Pucci—have all found their way back to the alluring charms of the region. Foreigners too, having been nicknamed anglobeceri (“English boors”), have lunched at the Gran Caffé Doney alongside Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain. Winston Churchill, enamoured by the Florentine views, had painted panoramas at the
Villa dell’Ombrellino. Of course, Tuscany is not just a playground for contemporary luminaries. Some of history’s most prominent families have also left an indelible mark on Tuscany. A few centuries ago, in 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte had established a brief monarchy in Lucca, giving the control to his beloved sister, Élisa. 

One of Italy’s most famous families, the Medicis, also had ties to the land. They’d helped to reinforce the might of the region, and are now remembered through the Palazzo Medici, a Renaissance palace in the heart of Florence. In fact, it was in this home that great minds birthed artistic fancies to light the way for innovation in poetry, humanist studies and intellectualism. Even the famed Michelangelo had himself trained at an academy managed by the Medici family.

Yet art is not the only sensual indulgence that Tuscany is known for. Its abundant terroir has blessed the region with gifts to satisfy even the most discerning of palates. The Chianti wine region, which is one of Europe’s most prestigious, stretches across Florence, Siena and Arezzo, producing wine of the highest calibre. Their process involves much love and tradition, and so Tuscans take much pride in the excellence of the region’s wines, its flavour and its bouquet. In recent years, architectural projects have focused on creating wine cellars that include the Cantina Petra in Lovorno and the magnificent Cantina Antinori in Florence.

Locally produced extra-virgin olive oil is yet another of the region’s principal offerings, the best of which is fiercely contested. Though there is much competition, there does seem to be a local accordance in culinary tradition: the region’s olive oil has mostly replaced butter, which still serves to be a primary ingredient in Northern Italian cooking. One of the most popular foods is called “la fettunta”, a simple yet aromatic combination of toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, seasoned with salt and drizzled with the much-celebrated olive oil.

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Though it’s fair to say that every territory on earth holds its own unique charm, it’s hard to contest the fact that Tuscany is a favourite among a majority of those who’ve been. In nature, in cuisine, in history and in art, Tuscany has contributed much to global stage and has rightfully earned itself a reputation for romance and dynamism. There is a sense of pride among Tuscans, and in the words of Cesare Cunaccia in the book Tuscany Marvel, “Tuscans look at you defiantly, like people who have never been mere witnesses, but judges and protagonists.”

For those who wonder at the adventure that awaits, trust in Assouline to tempt you with pages of lyrical history and beautifully captured photographs, all of which showcase the proud, epoch-making traditions of Tuscany. There is no fallacy nor exaggeration in the title of the book, as Tuscany is a true marvel for anyone who has had the privilege to encounter it. In the words of winemaker and writer, Count Gelasio Gaetani d’Aragona Lovatelli, “Tuscany is in my blood, it will disappear with me...like the sun of the Val d’Orcia that rises with the wind and dies in the sea far beyond its Sacred Mountain."

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Discover more about the history of Tuscany through one of Assouline's latest travel books, Tuscany MarvelVisit Assouline's website to know more. 

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