Tuscany requires little introduction, as it has become the hottest real estate market for Anglos since the rush to southern France in the 1980s. The ocher-colored house on the hill with the cypress-lined drive is now faded by camera flashes, and anyone that hasn’t been there need only read the deluge of literature expounding on the pleasures of living in this Italian paradise.
The pictures don’t lie, and every praising word is true, though it is hard to express in words the unique appeal of Tuscany without coming off as trite, if I haven’t already. It is a subtle landscape of olive groves and vineyards, with forests spilling out chestnuts, white truffles, hares, and wild boar, just as they did centuries ago.
Tuscans turn to the Renaissance for their identity. This golden period not only produced the region’s beautiful art and architecture, but it also gave the rest of the peninsula Dante, whose Florentine dialect would become the national standard. The scent of the era is so strong here, you get the impression that the average Tuscan would prefer to be living in the 15th century. Annual medieval festivals here are greatly anticipated events of high pageantry; feudal flags are unfurled, while men in tights and silly hats proclaim the local lore with period music, food, and contests.
Ancient rivalries between the region’s major cities endure to this day. Livorno and Pisa still avenge centuries-old grudges on the soccer field and in the grandstands; a Florentine license plate in Arezzo still elicits a snarl. But the feuding doesn’t stop at the town line. Within the cities, neighborhoods have a go at each other each year in such anticipated events as the Palio of Siena and the Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo. And then, within the neighborhoods themselves, battles between families and even family members can be dragged out for decades. This region that claims to have united the country linguistically is actually about as fractious as they come. The Arno River winds through Florence.