The flourishing cities and towns surrounding Florence were traditionally the locations for the homes of well-known noble families who sought to immerse themselves in art and nature. This sentiment is still reflected today as a visit to these towns provides unmissable experiences, views, and food. The outstanding areas of natural beauty with rivers, streams and woods, provide the backdrop to villas, churches, and mountainous villages, creating a perfectly authentic and truly jaw-dropping Tuscan experience.
The hilltop town of Fiesole not only boasts the best views of Florence, it also has a local feeling that you may feel is missing from Florence during those busy summer months. For lovers of walking and nature, don’t miss an uphill walk from central Florence through the blossoming trees and winding roads. The stunning Roman amphitheatre in the centre of Fiesole hosts the popular Estate Fiesolana concert series in summer and is also the site of the fascinating archaeological museum.
Entering the town of Fiesole, you immediately find yourself in front of the beautiful Cathedral of San Romolo, a Romanesque cathedral which centres the town. Continuing on your journey, visit the nearby Convent of San Francesco, which also grants spectacular views over Florence, or venture up to Monte Ceceri Park with its ancient Etruscan walls.
Malmantile, a village on the Via Pisana just outside Florence, is famous for its legend of St Ambrose, who cursed the house of a local shop owner, shouting ‘Mal Mantila’. The castle of Malmantile was built to defend the Republic of Florence from Pisa in the 1400s, and in the 1800s the village went on to be dominated by powerful Florentine families such as the Frescobaldi family.
Visit the former Lecceto Monastery, or enjoy the scenes of the Malmantile medieval festival, typically held in May and June, where you can see traditional Tuscan processions and enjoy musical performances and medieval re-enactments. This town provides the perfect stopping off point if you are traveling from Florence to Pisa.
The land of terracotta, Impruneta was inhabited in the Roman and Etruscan times, making this small-town rich in history. The centuries-old tradition of terracotta is fundamental in Impruneta’s history. Immersed in the beautiful Tuscan scenery, visit the famous sanctuary of Santa Maria, founded in 1060 and that’s legendary for the discovery of a sacred image of the Madonna. Visit the museum of the treasure of Santa Maria, located in the loggia. It conserves an important heritage of gold works, textiles, vases and reliquaries.
The mountainous town of Calenzano is nestled between Monte Morello and Monti della Calvana. It’s easily recognisable for its olive groves, medieval towers, and farmhouses. The historic centre, built along the Via Del Sale, is home to several beautiful parish churches, such as those of San Donato, San Severo in Legri and Santa Maria a Carraia. The nearby Calvana mountains is a protected area, reaching 916 meters in height and made up of chalky mountains and caves, an ideal place to hike. Calenzano is also home to the Museum of Industrial Design, an homage to Italian design production.
Another small, traditional Tuscan town near Florence is Pontassieve, located at the meeting point of the Arno and Sieve rivers, giving the town its name. It has strong medieval origins, evidenced in the Castel Sant’Angelo, a fortress built by the Florentines in 1357. This town also suffered heavy bombings during World War II, due to its desirably strategic and accessible location. Visiting Pontassieve, you will undoubtedly head to the bustling town center, Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle II, and the town hall in Palazzo Sansoni Trombetta, where you can find a series of frescoes in the Palazzo’s Hall of Heroines. Pontassieve is home to many food and wine events which run throughout the year, including Il Toscanello d’Oro which is held in the first week of June and celebrates Valdisieve’s wine and products.
This nearby town to Florence is certainly worth visiting for lovers of oil and wine. Pelago dominates its surrounding valleys, a place which is home to the production of the famous Chianti Rufina. A tour of the wineries surrounding this area is a must, making sure to see Castello di Nipozzano that was built in the year 1000 as a defense fortress and later became the centre of communal life in the village. Today, it houses a wine cellar. A historic holiday destination for Florentines looking to escape the hot city, Pelago reflects this with its gorgeous and refined villas dotted throughout the area. Visit the Parish Church of San Clemente, home to the Museum of Sacred Art, in the centre of the village for a spot of culture before indulging in the fine cuisine.
Londa is a small town in the Florentine area that was historically isolated by the convergence of the Ricine and Moscia creeks, giving it its first name, Isola (island). This was later changes to Onda, alluding to the stream around which it’s situated. Entering the town over a bridge, you will arrive at the historic Piazza Umberto I, a natural amphitheatre which still hosts an abundance of events and shows.
Facing onto this piazza is the Palazzo Comunale and Church of Santissima Concezione. Lake Londa is a popular fishing destination, whilst the town of Londa borders the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna. A few local treats to try are undoubtedly the exquisite regina peach, and bardiccio, a wild fennel and pork sausage.
The city of straw, Signa has played a vital role in trade and development since medieval times. Its traditional production of straw started in the 18th century, thanks to Bolognino’s cultivation of Marzuolo Wheat. To understand this historic tradition in more depth, visit the Museum of Straw and Weaving where you’ll find a collection of straw hats and machinery dedicated to the process.
Located west of Florence, Signa is full of art and culture, visit the historic area known as Castello, where you will find the main churches of the town including the Church of San Giovanni. The nearby Parco Dei Renai is a WWF protected area offering natural swimming spots and incredible scenery for a picture-perfect picnic.
Located in the cool Vallombrosa Forest, Reggello makes for the perfect escape from the city, even just for a day. A highlight when visiting Reggello must be the eccentric Sammezzano Castle, built in Moorish Style. Commissioned by Spanish nobility in 1605, this castle bears intricate designs and a breath-taking display of patterns and colours. Stop in the museum dedicated to Masaccio to visit the Triptych of San Giovenale.
The town is surrounded by nature and greenery, making it an important ecosystem for conservation. You can’t go amiss by spending a day or two hiking in the Natural Protected Area of the Sant’Antonio Forest and the Blaze area. An event that marks the beginning of the olive oil season is the Review of Extra Virgin Olive Oil that takes place in late October each year to sample some true Tuscan excellence.
The Bagno a Ripoli area situated between Chianti and Florence is famed for its array of beautiful Medici Villas, as well as churches that are home to 15th century and Renaissance masterpieces. For example, visit the Parish Church of San Pietro a Ripoli that’s considered one of the oldest churches in Italy and vaunts a famous Roman Baptismal Font. Don’t miss the Oratory of Santa Caterina delle Ruote, commissioned by the Florentine Alberti family in 1354, a gem of the Italian Gothic that’s famous for its rare and beautiful frescoes.
Annually on the second Sunday of September, Bagno a Ripoli hosts the Palio delle Contrade – Giostra della Stella, a traditional medieval event between the four districts that will leave you with unforgettable memories.