Italy: Why Tuscany is still a tourist magnet

Italy: Why Tuscany is still a tourist magnet

Famed for its beauty and for being the birthplace of Renaissance art, Tuscany has inspired painters for centuries and, in more recent years, become a favourite with filmmakers.

Not surprisingly, it’s a tourist magnet for exactly the same reasons and one of the most popular Italian destinations for Brits.

Originally appealing to culture seekers and a more mature market, these days an increase in specialist itineraries means there’s plenty on offer under the Tuscan sun.

Despite the euro buying far less pasta for your pound, the British love affair with Tuscany continues with a passion. Or as Rough Guide author Jonathan Buckley, puts it: “Tuscany is so densely packed with top-drawer attractions, it’s almost recession-proof.”

While some clients might be cutting down on the number of holidays they take, bargains and reduced prices are enabling Brits to keep on savouring a taste of la dolce vita, and several operators have expanded their programmes to cater for a more diverse demand.

Kirker Holidays director of sales and marketing Ted Wake said the region has an enduring appeal and, even when consumers are looking to protect their pocket, it can be packaged to provide a combination of great experiences and relative value for money.

“People are still looking to take one good holiday and Tuscany is the perfect place to have two holidays in one, with a twin-centre such as Florence and the countryside,” he said.

“People are also in no mood to risk their money and, while some products are not as cheap as a DIY holiday, consumers are realising that going through an agent offers peace of mind and overall value.”

Holiday Cottages Group regional manager James Hill is also confident that Tuscany will ride out the credit crisis because of its broad appeal.

The Tuscan capital Florence has more artistic treasures per square metre than anywhere else in the world and is Italy’s number one city attraction. But return visitors are now discovering the charm of cities such as Lucca, new to Kirker for 2009, and 12 miles from the famous leaning tower of Pisa.

Further afield, the rolling hills covered with olive groves and vineyards are dotted with villas and farmhouses that provide an ideal base for cookery, wine tasting, walking, riding, cycling and birdwatching breaks.

If money is no object, Quality Villas offers luxurious properties such as the 14th century Tenuta Val d’Elsa, which sleeps up to 35 and has hosted the Pope and various heads of state. Complete with a butler and six staff, it starts from £42,700 per week.

In August the Dutch online villa rental company Belvilla – launched in the UK last year – will start selling through the trade, with Tuscan properties starting from £219 per week.

Other keenly priced deals come from Cosmos Tourama, which is offering reduced prices on packages such as the seven-night Discover Tuscany itinerary, starting at £599. There is also a discount of £120 on all departures of its seven-night Venice, Florence and Rome tour this summer.

Confidence in the destination is reflected in new developments and products. Another premium villa specialist, Sanctuary Retreats, has added eight new properties for
2009 and Cadogan Holidays and Shearings Holidays have expanded their programmes.

New on the hotel scene is the 74-suite Castel Monastero, one hour from Florence and 20 minutes from Siena, scheduled to open in June. Part of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, it will include a spa and offer advanced cookery courses.

Kay D’Souza, who heads up Inntravel’s Italian programme, said active breaks were the next best thing to all-inclusives.

“With so much already included in the cost, customers are safe in the knowledge that they won’t return home with a hole in their pocket caused by the strength of the euro.

"On our Bologna-Florence 10-night walking holiday we include 10 breakfasts, six dinners and six picnic lunches, as well as providing walking notes and maps.”

Tuscany photos from flickr

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Sample product: Adventure, stargazing and Tuscan food

Activities Abroad has a seven-night multi-activity holiday near Vinci, offering activities such as canyoning, cycling, rock climbing, a treasure hunt and Italian cookery and pizza-making lesson, from £495 per adult and £420 per child, including some meals but excluding flights. (01670 789 991)

Orient-Express has a two-night Closer to the Stars break at Villa San Michele, Florence, to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope to explore the night sky. Prices start at £1,663 per person excluding flights, available until August 30. This includes bed and breakfast, a candlelit dinner, midnight champagne swim and tickets to the Galileo Galilei exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi. (0845 0772 222  oeh.com)

Page and Moy offers an eight-day half-board escorted Taste of Tuscany tour from £969 per person, including vineyard visits, meals in top restaurants and flights. (0116 217 8041  )

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