If your mental image of Tuscany is all golden sunshine and vines heavy with overripe grapes… you’ve never seen Florence when it rains. Showers come quickly – once, standing in a sunny piazza, I turned to see a wall of rain sweeping from one end to the other. I had time to pull out an umbrella, and had a good laugh as less observant pedestrians cried out and ran for the nearest shelter.

candlesI’m sure they weren’t disappointed; one of the most charming experiences in the world is joining the mad dash into the nearest church sanctuary. Dismayed chatter falls to a reverent hush; wet clothing is forgotten as everyone stops to admire vaulted ceilings aglow with flickering candlelight. And afterward, when the rain passes, the world is clean and fresh. The marbled pinks and greens of the duomo glow, and terracotta roof tiles turn rust-red. 

firenzeNow add twinkling lights along the river Arno, the smell of roasting chestnuts, and the sound of music wafting out of every church, palazzo, and public hall. 

This is Christmas in Tuscany. 

And if you’ve come here wondering if its wise or wonderful to visit Tuscany at Christmastime – yes, it’s both. Crowds are fewer, prices are cheaper, and it’s a gorgeous time of year. Here are some a few special things to look for. 

Christmas Markets: Called Mercatini di Natale in Italian, Christmas Markets are a tradition imported from Germany. Outdoor stalls spring up in various places, filled with goodies of all kinds. You’ll find handmade crafts (think leather), ornaments, and absolutely amazing food. In Florence, you should find the biggest area in the Piazza Santa Croce. If you want even more food, check out the Mercato Centrale (be aware most vendors open early and close around 2 p.m.). 

Ice Skating in Florence: An outdoor rink can be found at the Parterre Piazza delle Liberta. It’s 20 meters by 30 meters and accommodates 200 people. I’ve been told on Christmas morning, only children are allowed onto the rink, where they can greet Santa Claus – or, as he is known in Italy, Babbo Natale! 

Concerts and Exhibitions: Not surprisingly, music and art abound throughout Tuscany. You can find concerts all over the place no matter what time of year it is, but they’re especially atmospheric at Christmastime. For a current list of things happening in and around Florence, go to the official tourism website, www.firenzeturismo.it. Then scroll down to the middle of the page and click on the red magnifying glass icon labeled “Trova.” A little drop-down menu appears; click “eventi.” And… voila! You can now view all events during a particular time period. You can also select Florence or a number of outlying smaller cities and towns, such as Certaldo or Bagno a Ripoli. (Note: This website can be seriously annoying, so if you’re planning on renting through RentVillas.com give us a ring and one of our Travel Advisors will help you out.) 

Nativity Scenes: In Italy, Christmas trees definitely play second fiddle to Nativity Scenes, or presepio. St. Francis of Assisi is supposed to have created the first one in the year 1223, and the tradition took off from there. Now you’ll find a scene in almost every church, some of them quite elaborate. Families put together their own nativity scenes, and in Florence there’s a public competition for the best one! Some churches will even organize a living nativity for a night or two. Small nativity scenes made of wood or plaster (often sold at Christmas markets) also make wonderful gifts for friends and family who weren’t able to join you on your trip!

As you can see, there’s no shortage of activities in Tuscany in the winter months. Yes, some museums will have sightly shorter hours, and some restaurants will be closed on holidays. Yes, it may rain – or even snow! Nevertheless, it’s a small price to pay for this much charm.