No trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to its capital: Florence. From the Renaissance art of the Accademia and Uffizi, to the lofty Gothic dome of Brunelleschi’s cathedral, this is a city that packs a cultural punch. But even within its urban confines, there are opportunities to explore the hidden side of Tuscany, too – by rafting along the River Arno, for example, which paddles you past the mediaeval district of San Niccolò for off-the-beaten-track views of the Ponte Vecchio – best seen at sunset. Your appetite for adventure doesn’t have to stop there, though. Tuscans are devoted to experiencing their land via outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and canyoning. After all, with a terra this beautiful, why wouldn’t you? Here’s our guide to three easy day trips from Florence to get you out exploring, the Tuscan way.
See: This verdant valley in Tuscany’s northernmost Lucca province is cleaved from mountains and the snaking Serchio River. Only two hours from Florence, it’s accessible as a day trip, or by teaming it an overnight stay at another Tuscan hotel. In this wild and untamed landscape, you can go canyoning with adventure guide Simone Cecchi. If you haven’t tried this sport before – which includes slipping, sliding and abseiling your way down river canyons – you’ll be in good hands… Simone is the president of the Italian Association of Canyoning Guides. Alternatively, go hiking amid the two mountain ranges that collide in Garfagnana – the Apennine and the Apuan Alps – where glossy-green slopes are cloaked with wildflowers in spring and summer.
Stay: For a bucolic base in Florence, choose Villa Cora, which borders on the Boboli Gardens and has frescoed rooms that worship at the altar of Italian opulence. After a day out hiking and canyoning, submit to rural splendour of Locanda al Colle, a hillside hotel near the commune of Camaiore, or at Principe Forte Dei Marmi, within stone-skimming distance of the Versilia coast.
See: An hour north of Florence, you uncover another of Tuscany’s scenic valleys: the Mugello. Here, you can go cycling along twisting roads, truffle hunting in autumn and winter, or Armadillo trekking in the leaf-shaded folds of the Casentinesi Forest. Armadillo trekking, in case you’re wondering, involves walking with a man-hauled cart – the ‘Armadillo’ – strapped to your body, which can be used to carry goods over long distances. You can also tour the untouched Maremma coast with the amphibious Armadillo, in an activity known as aqua trekking, where you switch between sand and sea.
Stay: One of the slickest and most affordable hotels in Florence is Continentale, with a romantic riverside terrace overlooking the Arno. After bidding goodbye to your Armadillo, bed down at Villa Sassolini, which has a spa, sauna and pool, surrounded by Chianti countryside.
See: The smallest of Chianti’s eight wine-making sub regions is just an hour from Florence, yet remains little-known. Most oenological explorers head straight for the bigger, more established vineyards of the Chianti Classico, whose bottles appear on restaurant menus the world over. However, Chianti Rufina shouldn’t be overlooked – not least for its location on the slopes of the Apennines, wafted by cool breezes, which makes for an elegant end product. One of the best places to sample it is Azienda Agricola Frascole, a rustic agriturismo that’s run by the affable Lippi family, who offer tastings in their atmospheric cellar.
Stay: Idle away your time in Florence at Il Salviatino – a 15th-century villa which sits on the eastern outskirts of the city, within easy reach of Chianti Rufina. On return, there’s a pool and parterre gardens to explore, and the grand Greenhouse Suite to collapse in, complete with a curved glass roof and foliage to remind you of the rural reaches beyond Florence.
Featured image is Tuscany at sunset; photo via Getty