Travels in Tuscany --- Start in Pisa!
Why not head to Pisa and start your Italian holiday there?
I recently returned from a very relaxing vacation in Italy. I decided to have a nearly unstructured holiday, very few bookings, very few plans, no car, no frustrations on Italian roads. Of course, it helps that I have many friends to stay with throughout Italy, and that I have better than passable Italian, but I approached this adventure as a light nomad traveller, something that I havent done for many years.
Pisa and western Tuscany was the base for much of my holiday, because it offers much in terms of classic medieval Italy, ancient Etruscan Italy, and it is surprisingly central and accessible to the places that I enjoy the most.
Many travellers are not aware that the airport in Pisa (the Galileo Galilei) is an international airport, and a wonderfully small and manageable place (compared to Rome and Milan and Venice). The airport has a train station co-located, a 40 metre walk away, with 6 trains a day to Florence. Delta has a daily service from JKF (some non stop, some via Paris), and BA, Air France, Ryan Air, Easy Jet, and countless others offer great flights.
The airport has a useful website, www.pisa-airport.com, with loads of information and links. And if you consider the cost of taxis from the airport in Rome or Milan to the centre of the city, starting in Pisa (which is pretty small in comparison, but has lots on offer) makes lots of money saving sense. If your destination is to do a holiday drive around Tuscany, you can rent a car at the airport, and be on your way in an hour, instead of the chaos that starts in Rome or Milan. If you are taking it easy, and just taking trains, you could spend a few days in Pisa, and then head to Rome by train, and arrive relaxed, and save yourself hassle and money.
Trains from the central station in Pisa, which is a wonderfully calm and orderly train station, head to Rome, Genova, Turin, Milan, Florence. Regional and inter city trains, that are much more affordable than the Eurostar, take a comfortable pace up the Tuscan and Ligurian coast, stopping at various locations including Cinque Terre, through to the Italian Riviera, Genova, and on to Turin (where you can catch an inter-city train to Valle dAosta). If I recall correctly, Rome to Pisa, (an easy 4 hour train ride) on the inter-city was about 15 euro each person (all 2nd class, but some of the cars are retired first class trains, and more comfortable). Likely a more expensive version is available, but it isnt really worth the extra, when you could spend that on a grand dinner, or premium Barolo at your destination. Train has the added benefit of showing you the countryside, not the ugly petrol stations on the A1. Stress free, the way a holiday should be.
Compared to the other major airports in Italy (Rome and Milan), starting in Pisa makes so much more sense, both from a comfortable arrival and departure perspective, and financially.
And as for things to do in the area, summer is full of festivals in the area. Puccini is from the area and the Puccini Festival is in its 54th season. Visit www.puccinifestival.it (website is also in English --- grand outdoor stage on the lake). Ancient theatre is celebrated in the Etruscan city of Volterra, visit www.teatroromanovolterra.it . Siena is nearby, the wonderfully quaint cities of Cinque Terre are a short train ride away. And music, food, wine and medieval festivals are everywhere. Visit www.pisaturismo.it for more information. (Pisa has pedestrian only areas, lots of them, so it just feels that much more human friendly. And little markets, with all the pashmina scarves you can imagine, but somehow it doesnt seem as in your face as the open air markets in Rome and Milan.)
Luxury Hotels in Pisa. There is only one true luxury hotel in central Pisa, and thats the Hotel Relais DellOrologio, a faithfully restored 14th century tower house structure, that is a part of the Small Luxury Hotels association. Web site is www.hotelrelaisorologio.com . With only 25 rooms, it is a landmark 5 star facility. Lots of other options in the area, but this is the very finest in Pisa.