If you're leaning toward Tuscan adventure, Pisa has so much more to offer than trademark tilting tower.
Impressive as is the imposing structure, looming some 55.86 metres above Miracles' Square - almost metre higher on upper slope - its host city shines as brightest gem in Tuscany's tourism crown for many reasons.
Quality culture and cuisine from historic sites to street markets combine and, courtesy of Jet2CityBreaks, such Italian breaks can be enjoyed from as little as bargain £269 per person.
Spreading your sight-seeing net further afield unearths delights of Florence's famous Michelangelo David and assorted art treasures, Colline Valdarno's signature food and drink as well Ligurian Riviera Framura's untouched coastline, overshadowed by rugged mountain landscape.
Where to stay: It may sound suspiciously like world's favourite fruit, but Grand Hotel Bonanno's a-peel is obvious, offering comfort and convenience in central location. Few steps from city's historic heart, this four-star accommodation also offers short walk to welcoming green lungs like National Park of San Rossore, Spa San Giuliano Terme and Mount Serra slopes. Three floors featuring 87 air-conditioned rooms, equipped with all mod cons, the venue - close to Museum of Mathematical Instruments - adds up to ideal bolthole for young and old alike.
Where to dine: Ghost of Teresa della Seta Bocca Gaetani reputedly still stalks Villa di Corliano corridors, decorated with 16th century Florentine graffiti, but more convivial spirits - in shape of fragrant pomace brandy grappa - flow at Wineries and Farmhouse within protected Pisan valley estate's manicured grounds, latter built by revered mid-18th century architect Ignazio Pellegrini. Within Osteria's refined and exclusive environment, diners enjoy Mediterranean cuisine based on fresh seasonal locally sourced ingredients on reserved or à la carte menus.
Antica Trattoria Il Campano, in shadow of same name bell tower, is 18th century brick and stone structure, divided over two floors, offering such Tuscan staples as Tagliere del Re rich appetizer, handmade pasta and meat cuts including wild boar, all washed down by commendable cellar boasting over 400 labels to meet every "different drinks for different needs" need. Their maxim is "sometimes there is a wait - this does not mean that we have forgotten about you, rather that we are working for you". Proof of that particular pudding sure is in the eating.
Set on mountain slopes, Da Beppino Restaurant's fine fare is as diverse as Summano seasons, its rich cuisine forever remaining true to authentic Venetian and Vicenza traditions. Such success on a plate comes in flavoursome form of bigoli with duck sauce, sopressa vicentina with pan biscuit, creamed cod with croutons, bacalà alla vicentina with corn polenta, gargati with consignment of peppers and spring onions. That chef Claudio Ballardin stays true to these agro-food cultural is evident with every serving at the 18th century villa's excellent eatery.
Where to visit: Time turns back some thousand years at Vicopisano fortified medieval village, whose go-to watering hole is welcoming tavernetta nestling amid Antico Frantoio del Rio Grifone's 3,000 grove trees producing organic olive oil, purer than Popeye's squeeze. Pines, peaches and pears also adorn God's fruit basket while wooden table alongside fireplace-grill combo heaved with hearty fare, most notable of which was Panna cotta producing euphoric reaction among some of our number to rival Meg Ryan's "When Harry Met Sally" moment!
National monument Charterhouse of Calci, monastic complex founded in 1367, has since 1986 been more in habit of attracting visitors aplenty to Natural History Museum, retracing over 400 years of Pisan University scientific-naturalistic research. Today home to extensive exhibits exploring all manner of collections from cetaceans to minerology, palaeontology to zoology, some 5,000 square metres of floor space over three floors showcase jaw-dropping galleries, none more impressive than marine subject matter in country's largest freshwater aquarium.
Material benefits aplenty await at Cerratelli Foundation exhibition within Villa Roncioni, featuring 30,000-plus film and stage costumes whose wearers were directed by likes of Visconti and Zeffirelli. Villa Alta meanwhile, immersed in greenery of Rigoli hills, enjoys eagle-eye panoramic position overlooking ancient Silk Road, the stuff of legend - and woven damask. And Vicari Castle remains today fortified legacy to warring times gone, back to 900 AD Arabs, then Chiaramonte noblemen, powerful and wealthy Sicilians ruling as formative Godfathers.
From times past to pasta, more clumsily than seamlessly, free tours don't come much more enlightening or entertaining than tour of medieval Lari's artisan Pasta Martelli, for almost a century home to "Italy's best" - a recipe for success endorsed by such high class customers as Rome’s Michelin-starred restaurant La Pergola. Quality not quantity is watchword where production mirrors pace of life, annual output amounting to only 300 tonnes. Based on bright bygone bin liners, packaging and uniforms are - without coming over all Coldplay - all yellow.
Pontedera's Piaggio Museum is an award-winning mod mecca, housing homage to simple scooter since 2000 launch in production factory's tooling department that this year, after welcoming more than 600.000 guests, stepped up a gear with upgraded attraction affording close-up examination of 250 two-wheel transports of delight. The iconic company's story, spanning generations, also spotlights ships, trains, planes, motorcycles and cars, chiefly trademark Vespas that make visitors want to watch Roman Holiday and Quadrophenia on repeat.
Tenuta Torre a Cenaia is one stop shop for all manner of delights from agricultural beer to gastronomic fare with winery and wildlife, best sen by horse-drawn carriage, to boot ... boots that trod this land a thousand years ago. The estate, latticed by ditches that once kept Florentine armies at bay, became home to Otto-Ernst Flick, whose entrance gate initials bear testament to German tycoon's tenure, inviting likes of chancellor Willy Brandt and socialite Christina Onassis. And don't forget - easily done after several steins! - on-site brewery J62's superior cellar.
Pony and trap is also way to go at magnificent Migliarino San Rossore and Massaciuccoli National Park, mosaic of disparate environments from dunes to marshes, forests to thickets. Suitably protected "People's Park" harbours beautiful beaches, overlooking Secche della Meloria craggy coastal rocks that any self-respecting siren would want to occupy. Some 3,000 hectares are home to wild boar and fallow deer, white ibis to herons, as well as rarest plant, carnivorous "sundew" drosera that *graphic content* lures, captures and digests insect prey.
Music lovers will think Lajatico noteworthy, birthplace of "world's most beautiful voice" Andrea Bocelli, where his mother and brother still occupy family homestead, close to Teatro del Silenzio the blind tenor graces annually after becoming open air amphitheatre's benefactor. Straying off tourism track reveals Volterra's salt mine and alabaster workshop traditions while, if former asylums appeal, Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, once home to 6,000 psychiatric patients, still carries mysterious marks of tortured artist Oreste Ferdinand Nannetti aka NOF4.
When in Rome - well near enough! - do as the Tusans do ... drink wine. Nowhere is that more apparent and appropriate than San Cipriano hillside location. "Let yourself be conquered by Podere Marcampo" was our welcome, warmer than Vin Brulé. Female fraternity, frankly, would have been more than satisfied being conquered by our chisel-chinned escort! Here, however, was something for everyone as we watched setting sun sink over scenic landscape, drinking in the vista, after abundance of red and white, through rosé coloured spectacles.
Way to go: Leading leisure airline Jet2.com offers friendly low fares, starting at £49 one way including taxes, and great flight times operating up to twice a week to Pisa from Birmingham, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle airports. Jet2CityBreaks escapes at four-star Grand Hotel Bonanno start from £269 per person, based on three nights’ bed & breakfast accommodation, including 10kg of hand luggage. To book flights visit www.jet2.com or, for city breaks, visit www.jet2holidays.com/city-breaks or call free on 0800 408 5599.
So, over sound of John Lennon spinning, all we are saying is give Pisa chance!
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