Over my years as a Florentine resident, I have had a lot of guests, and the ones that have been the hardest to entertain were the ones who don’t much like art. There was the old university friend who was more interested in cars and beers. Then there was a week with my pre-teenaged half brother and sister, interested in videogames and shopping, respectively. And a visit from a very sporty cousin. Each of these visitors forced me to stretch my knowledge of my adopted land of Tuscany, to discover fun and active things to do outside of museums and churches.
The things to do around here if you are a “car guy” are quite ample, and since they may also involve iconic Italian machines and fabulous landscapes, car guy’s girlfriend or entire family can enjoy them too. For example, the whole family can fit into a vintage Fiat Cinquecento (if it’s a family of four skinny people). Based on Florence, the 500 Touring Club offers you-drive-it tours from 2 hours to the whole day, some of which incorporate wine tasting (not for the driver?!) or picnicking in the shade. The cuteness of the vehicles pretty much never wears off.
Car guy’s whole family can also get enthusiastic about Vespa’s. (Who can’t?) In this case, driving them can be a bit dangerous, so I suggest going to the Museo Piaggio – the Vespa museum. Located in Pontedera in the province of Pisa, it is steps away from the train station so can be reached easily for a half day trip from Florence. Here you learn the history of an Italian icon, the Vespa, from its first clunky version from 1943 through Audrey Hepburn’s ride in Rome in the 50s, up to the present day. But Piaggio also makes other vehicles, including the amusing Ape, staple of rural Italy and of city plumbers who buzz around in this miniaturized green pickup.
My car guy friend was also into beer, so he would have been happy to hear that Tuscan microbreweries have recently won numerous worldwide prizes. This is all heresay since I am not a drinker, but some foodie friends of mine recently visited Birrificio Brùton near Lucca for a privately arranged beer tasting. Owner Iacopo Lenci illustrated how hops and local spring water have become a line of tasty beers from a light blonde to a dark English style brew. While wine tasting in Tuscany is a given, a beer tasting is certainly off the beaten tourist track.
of tracks, driving fanatics might also enjoy buzzing around the Senese hills on an ATV (called Quad in Italian). My husband has twice gone on group day trips with Quad Incentives near Monteriggioni (in the photo: a bachelor party on ATVs). If you don’t have a group of your own, you can call ahead and see about joining a group tour. Tours can be personalized in length, challenge of terrain, and activities, and may include lunch. Participants were impressed with the attention to safety by the organizers, which is clearly a good thing! Tours run year-round: in winter, be equipped with ski pants and gloves: in summer you’ll want to wear something to protect you from dust. The ride is bumpy so women will want sports-level support garments… or can hang around at the luxury resort that this company uses as home base.
If you’re an active type, the traditional two-wheeled vehicle also makes for a fun way to explore just outside Florence. Companies like Tuscany Bike Tours offer a classic Chianti bike tour that, in one day, takes you through olive groves, and serves you a big lunch with wine tasting, before pushing you back downhill to the city. Luckily, helmets are provided.
After all these vehicles, you probably will need to relax a bit. Good thing Tuscany has a lot of thermal spas. Saturnia, in the southern area of Tuscany called Maremma, has a fancy hotel attached to a series of pools for which you can pay daily access and feel like a movie star. Massages and other spa treatments can be booked in advance. Bring your own flipflops and robe.
One more thing would make the tour complete: a visit to a local farm. If you are not already staying at an agriturismo (farm-stay), ask around for or google a producer of cheese, vegetables or cinta senese (a special race of pig). Many citified kids have never been on a real farm: I took two challenging pre-teens to see vegetables and cows in their natural environment and they were enchanted!
Each of these activities provides an authentic way to get to know modern day Tuscany through contact with its landscape and local products, elements that are just as important as its history through museums and churches.
Alexandra Korey has been living in Florence, Italy for well over a decade. She has a PhD in art history and now works in social media, hoping to promote the arts and culture to a wider public. She is also a big geek.