|The Italian region of Tuscany
draws gay vacations with its cuisine, history, and architecture.
Above: The Piazza del Campo in Siena, in the heart of Tuscany, is considered by many travelers to be the most beautiful public plaza in the world.
Other travel ideas:
Scuba diving with a gay group.
A gay and lesbian hiking week.
See Venice and the Austrian Alps with Hanns Ebensten Travel
The author: Sasha Alyson is the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of gay and lesbian books. He sold that company in 1995 to start Alyson Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians.
Table of Contents of Venturing Out columns
If geographic names could be trademarked, Tuscany would be today’s leading brand. "Given a choice of places to spend a month, which name would you select – Tuscany or Cyberspace?" asked New York Times columnist Russell Baker in 1995. Even then, "Tuscany" evoked images of enchanting medieval towns, sprawling cypress trees, and ancient stonework.
But Tuscany’s greatest appeal is that within one small, beautiful corner of the world you can indulge in such a wealth of experiences. Pick your interest: Tuscany has something for you.
Foodies will be in heaven when they enter the region. Visit one of the independent wineries, operating from a five-centuries-old stone barn tucked away amidst the majesty of the "Chianti Classico" hills, then enjoy their wine along with a hearty dinner of risotto and fresh-picked wild mushrooms, in a small restaurant. There’s no limit to what a blazing fire in a cozy dining room will do to your appetite!
Art historians? You already knew you wanted to come here. The museums of Florence alone could take up an entire week, then you still have such jewels as the series of 36 Renaissance frescoes at the cloister of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Architects can visit the roofless abbey ruins at San Galgano one day, imagining its former grandeur seven centuries ago; the next day, admire the gilded dome and inlaid marble floors of Siena’s Gothic cathedral. And even unbiased critics agree with the Sienans who proclaim their breathtaking Piazza del Campo to be "the most beautiful public plaza in the world."
Outdoor enthusiasts? The region is laced with spectacular hiking trails, from hour-long rambles to all-day excursions. Biking is popular, and with good reason, but be prepared for hills; while Tuscan biking will amply reward your efforts, it isn’t for beginners.
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Despite this rich variety, the best of Tuscany lies within a small area. There’s no need to pack your suitcase and move to a new town each night. Simply find a comfortable base, rent a car (or bikes, if you’re ambitious) then make day trips to the spots that interest you.
For those more interested in art, architecture, and a modest level of gay nightlife, Florence is a logical base. Here you’ve got a choice of several gay-friendly hotels. One explicitly gay establishment is Hotel Medici (via dei Medici 6; 055/284818; Fax 055/216202), comfortable and moderately priced but be forewarned: Reception is on the fifth floor. A longer list of "gay-friendly" establishments appears on an Internet guide to Tuscany. Note that "gay-friendly" means only what it says in this case. These hotels welcome lesbian and gay visitors, but don’t expect to find a large gay crowd at most. Escape the city one day by renting a bike from Andrea and Marika at "Florence by Bike" (Via San Zanobi 120/122 R, near the train station; 055/488992). They’ll supply you with maps and advice. Florence is also home to Italy's first gay bar and disco, hot and saucy Tabasco.
One other option is to rent a villa in the countryside. While some villas are small enough to be appropriate for just one couple, this choice is most appealing for a group of four to eight friends. Share the costs, the driving, and the cooking – but keep a few evenings free to see what the local restaurant can produce. Many websites advertise such villas; one that welcomes gay clients is the Barclay International Group (800 845-6636)