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Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore and the Campanile by Giotto

In a country blessed with beauty, Tuscany is, arguably the most beautiful.

Not only. The food, the wine and the olive oil are also the best. Without going into endless disquisitions about Italian food (one of the preferred subjects of conversation among Latins in general and Italians in particular), the food is wholesome and tasty.

In Tuscany, however, nature ends up by being just a frame to man's achievement.

With a singular single-mindedness, Italians have been busy accumulating endless treasures of art and architecture all over the country - since the Etruscans (9th century b.C.) to the Romans, then the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, until today.

With some exceptions, the Italians have mostly opted for leaving the old buildings alone and to build the new ones elsewhere. Also, some of the towns, once rich and busy building monumental churches and palaces, have fallen on hard times at some stage during their history - and have become frozen in time, with hardly any new buildings for hundreds of years.

As you travel across Tuscany, you will find Etruscan and Roman fragments embedded in medieval churches. Churches which, in turn, have not been completely redecorated during the Baroque rush for renovation, like in Rome.

I don't know whether it's the land, the sun or the wealth accumulated by the rulers - but Tuscany has produced scores of great artists. As often in Italy, the greatest painters' and sculptors' works are sheltered in churches or palaces - enough art to drive nuts the curator of any museum.

Considering how much has been sold, looted, stolen and destroyed for centuries - enough to fill museums and collections around the world - there is still enough art all over Italy to fill churches, palaces and museum stores to overflowing - and nowhere more than in Tuscany.

Italy could be one of the richest countries in the world - if it sold just a small part of its art. Luckily they have the sense not to. What's the price of a painting by Raffaello, a statue by Michelangelo or Bernini? There is no price - this kind of objects just don't come on the market and you can only see them in Italy - practically all over the place.

Volumes have been written on Tuscany - many with considerable talent - pictures probably speak louder than any description.

All right, I will admit it, I am rather biased.

And you know what's bet? There are still Italian regions untouched by the rat race and tourism - waiting to be discovered. The locals are not always willing to give away their little secrets - with good reason.


View from Cortona

Cortona, view from the ramparts