ELLE Escapes: Tuscany (2024)

Take it from Frances Mayes: everything really is better under the Tuscan sun—from the crisp vino to heaping plates of fresh pasta and ancient palazzos. I had the privilege of navigating Italy’s famed countryside in a 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale, winding through vineyards and olive groves, and past charming villas tucked into lush hillsides. If you need a reset from, well, life, Tuscany is without a doubt the place to do it. The beloved region is world renowned for its relaxed vibes, red wines, Roman bath houses, and Renaissance cities like Florence and Lucca. Grab a glass of wine, and prepare to live la dolce vita. Below, the best places to visit, eat, drink, and where to stay in Tuscany.

    What to See

    Bagni di Lucca

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    FYI, there’s a collection of hamlets in northern Tuscany just outside of Lucca called “Bagni di Lucca” or “Baths of Lucca.” The area is famous for its healing thermal waters used by the Etruscans and Romans. During the 19th century, the area peaked in popularity when it became the summer residence of Elisa Baciocchi, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. You can now soak in her personal marble bath, a black and white checkered masterpiece, at the Terme Bagno Bernabo in Villa Corsena.

    Bike and Bites

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    If you want to experience Lucca like a local, hop on a bike. The city is known for its incredibly well-preserved Renaissance walls encircling the historic city center. The 40-feet high by 90-feet wide walls form a 3-mile loop that has been turned into a walking and biking path. It is completely flat, shaded by trees, and has great spots to stop for a picnic (read: great for beginners). There are loads of bike rental spots around the city, but guests staying at Grand Universe Lucca can opt for a “bike and bites” experience that comes with a bike and a basket of “schiacciata” or Tuscan flatbread, stuffed sandwiches, “buccellato” or sweet bread, and Tuscan wine.

      Gioielleria Carli

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      Founded in 1655, Gioielleria Carli is the oldest jewelry store in Italy—and one of the country’s most stunning. The shop in Lucca is itself a work of art, with checkerboard marble floors, soaring frescoed ceilings, and a stunning gilded clock. Walking through the front door is like stepping back in time. The merchandise is equally ornate, with romantic gold rings, antique silver brooches, and Italian red-coral pendants. Some of the jewelry was crafted by the members of the family-owned business (the Carli family is now in its 13th generation running the boutique), and other pieces are made by local goldsmiths.

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      Where to Eat

      Sala dei Grappoli

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      Famed Tuscan landmark Castello Banfi is known for producing some of Tuscany’s best wines. Turns out, its doors are also open to diners. Kick back with a bottle of Brunello and seasonal Italian dishes at the vineyard’s Michelin-starred restaurant La Sala dei Grappoli. In nice weather, you’ll want to try the house pastas on the outdoor terrace, which has a beautiful view of the property.

      Osteria San Michele

      Osteria San Michele is open both to hotel guests at Villa Lena, as well as other travelers. Produce from the property’s garden influences the seasonal menu, with items like stewed artichokes with wild mint and truffle, pecorino soufflé, and twice-cooked asparagus. San Michele’s wine list includes bottles produced by local winemakers, plus a selection of the estate’s home-grown organic wines. There is Tutti I Giorni, a vibrant Tuscan red, and Da Occassioni, a full-bodied Tuscan red. Also available is a sparkling rosé created in collaboration with a family run business in Veneto that has been making wine for over 600 years.

      Gelateria Dondoli

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      This is no ordinary gelato. This is prize-winning gelato. Gelateria Dondoli, a shop in Gimignano, has garnered several top titles in the competitive world of ice cream making, including “world champion” and “best ice cream in the world.” Sergio Dondoli is the mastermind behind the shop’s sweet creations, which includes more than 40 flavors and 12 trademarked ones. Simply put, San Gimignano is one of Italy’s tastiest national treasures.

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      Where to Drink

      Villa a Sesta

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      Villa a Sesta is set in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, amid a sprinkling of medieval villages and other vineyards. They are famous for producing Chianti Classico Gallo Nero. The property predominantly cultivates the Sangiovese grape, the main base for Chianti Classico wine, and a new cellar incorporates cutting-edge technological systems for fermentation and winemaking in French oak barrels and barriques. The property is open for wine-tasting, dinner, and even has a world-famous polo and equestrian club, if you’re up for it.

      Buchette del Vino

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      Buchette del vino, or wine windows, are one of Florence’s best kept secrets. Most of the windows are around 12 inches high and 8 inches wide, built out of stone or brick, and in a dome shape. They were first popularized as a safe way to sell wine when the plague swept through the city in the 1630s and nearly 300 have been cataloged across Tuscany since. A Facebook group “Buchette del Vino” now tracks all the open windows in Florence.

      Antinori nel Chianti Classico

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      Antinori nel Chianti Classico is a more than 600-year-old wine producer. Today, it’s a major destination in Tuscany, as much for its legacy as its mesmerizing edifice designed by Marco Casamonti. Antinori is one of the Italy’s largest wine producers, and the label is synonymous with prestige and grandeur. The vineyard is open for tastings and tours, but it’s best to make a reservation. PSA: It operates other estates in Tuscany, including Le Mortelle, which can be found on the coast close to Castiglione della Pescaia.

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        Where to Stay

        Villa Lena

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        There’s heaven, and then there’s Villa Lena. Set deep in the peaceful woods of Tuscany, the property is a special retreat with an ancient history. The terracotta-hued 19th century villa on the grounds still has its original frescoes, and the surrounding forests remain practically untouched. While technically a hotel, Villa Lena also operates as a residency program dedicated to supporting international contemporary artists working in art, music, film, literature, fashion, and other creative disciplines. Not only are guests able to take in one-of-a-kind art hanging up in the hotel—they can also take a painting class with the current artist resident. Villa Lena grows its own wine and olive oil, and offers tours of the vineyard and groves for guests. It even has a new shop (now available online) called the Cabinet of Curiosities, featuring its wine, olive oil, and art. In addition, the entire villa can be rented out for weddings that are catered in-house, and decorated with flowers grown on the property. Because why not get hitched in Italian paradise?

        Casali di Casole

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        Why stay in a hotel room when you can stay in a gigantic villa? If you’re looking for a family or group trip to Tuscany, Casali di Casole offers several large private properties you can rent that will help you live your best Under the Tuscan Sun life. Our favorite is the Casale Campo al Doccio, a five-bedroom luxury farm house and guest house with sweeping views of the Tuscan countryside and a heated infinity pool. It has all the benefits of a home rental stay (gourmet chef’s kitchen, plenty of privacy), but with a concierge service and daily housekeeping. Diane Lane would love it.

          Grand Universe Lucca

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          Lucca is, in a word, magical. Known as “The City of 100 Churches,” it’s located between the Apuan Alps and the Versilia coast and is famous for its art and imposing city walls, which are among the best preserved fortifications in all of Europe. Through the walls and into the heart of the city at Piazza Napoleone is Grand Universe Lucca, the former Palazzo of the Paoli family during the Renaissance era. The boutique hotel is situated just steps from the famed Teatro del Giglio and the Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Reparata. The interior of Grand Universe is just as stately, with velvet drapes and high-end amenities. Legacy, the restaurant at Grand Universe, offers local cuisine, while the hotel’s famous rooftop champagne bar serves up unparalleled views of Lucca’s famous architecture.

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          ELLE Escapes: Tuscany (2024)
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