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News & Advice

Insider's Guide: Tuscany

In the first of a new series, we ask the experts how to get the best out of some favourite holiday destinations. This week Graham Wickens, operations manager of villa rental company Tuscany Now (tuscanynow .com), gives his tips on one of our favourite parts of Italy.

1 After admiring the view of Florence from Fiesole, visit the gardens of the Villa Medici, then admire the view again with a glass of prosecco from the terrace of Villa San Michele. The cost of the prosecco will be as breathtaking as the setting (this palazzo, now a five-star hotel, was designed by Michelangelo), but the view and the wine together are worth every cent.

2 If driving, be prepared to get lost unless you have, or have hired, a satnav. Never choose the "quickest" option on a GPS in Italy – it will send you down strade bianche, "white roads", often better suited to goats than cars. A key shortcoming of satnavs here is that they overlook the restricted traffic areas within the medieval towns, called ZTLs. These are clearly marked and rigorously monitored by cameras. Ignore the signs and your car-hire company will eventually send you a ticket for €200 or more.

3 In summer, Italians flock to the beaches and tourists flock to the main cities, including Florence and Siena. So, avoid the "big" cities and coastal areas at the weekend. If you have to travel, try to avoid the very busy motorways and main routes at these times.

4 Once upon a time, a visit to Arezzo was a cultural exercise with the emphasis on exercise – all its best bits are at the top of a steep hill. Now there's an escalator from the Pietri car park straight up to the duomo.

5 In 2009, Lucca sparked an international controversy by banning the sale of non-Italian food. The move was presented as an initiative to protect the city's culinary heritage, echoing the philosophy of the Italian-founded Slow Food. Check out slowfood.it for where to eat. These restaurants all have a snail logo over the words Slow Food.

6 The region is sprinkled with natural, mineral-rich thermal springs, where hot water bubbles from the ground at around 37C. My favourite is the Terme dei Papi in Viterbo, which offers various treatments at reasonable prices.

7 Weekly markets in main piazzas operate from 7am to 1pm or so. In villages, everything is sold at the alimentary; opening times vary, but typically they do business on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday (8am to 1pm and 4 to 7pm). Bakeries often open Sunday mornings, and supermarkets tend to open seven days a week.

8 Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (the Tarot Garden), in Capalbio, is a fun, colourful and unique place. French artist Niki de Saint Phalle took 17 years to build this collection of towering tarot figures. The Gaudi-like statues appear whimsical yet are inspiring. I've never left here without a smile on my face.

9 The best wines of Montalcino and Montepulciano are among Italy's most highly regarded. Their second-tier wines, rosso di Montalcino and rosso di Montepulciano, aren't bad either. Red Montalcino, made from a local variety of the sangiovese grape, is not to be drunk young. Red Montepulciano is a blend of 70 per cent sangiovese and is ready to drink far earlier.

10 Buongiorno and cappuccinos are only for mornings. After lunch, switch to buonasera and black coffee (or macchiato with a dash of foamy milk).

For more information, visit the website of Abtoi (Association of British Travel Organisers to Italy) at loveitaly.co.uk