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Florence or Siena as a base for visiting hill top towns

We will be in Italy in May and want to visit Cortona, Oriveto, Arezzo, Assisi, Voterra - haven't locked in exactly the places to visit. All our travel will be by bus or train. What I want to know is if we don't stay in any of these towns is it easier to base ourselves in Siena or Florence? Or should we stay elsewhere? Which of these places are must sees? Which would you not bother to visit? Any comments/suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

Posted by
7737 posts

The train station in Siena is far away from the historic center, where most people want to stay. For that reason, I think Florence would be the better choice.

Posted by
1 posts

I would based myself in Florence, depends if you want to stay in a large city or small village you musn't miss out seeing Orvieto, Perugia, San Giminiano or Todi.

Posted by
1449 posts

Florence is a train hub for Italy, Siena is not. Stay in Florence.

I've been to Cortona, Orvieto, Assisi; all are worth visiting. I also like Spello, Spoleto, and Perugia.

Figure on 2 towns/day if you get out early and do one thru lunch, the other in the afternoon. But I'd suggest picking at least one hill town to stay in for 2 nites to get a real feel; even if you leave during the day, coming back for drinks around sunset and then dinner later is a great experience. I'd recommend either Perugia or Cortona for that.

Posted by
7737 posts

I did a double-take on your comment about how Italians drive on the "wrong" side of the road, until I saw where you live. :-)

I think you're smart to keep that in mind, since I've heard of many, many American tourists who've gotten into car accidents when they drive in a country where the cars drive on the left side of the road. I've heard another big adjustment is the location of the stick shift. I can't imagine shifting with my left hand.

Posted by
705 posts

Renting a car is probably the way to go but, as the Italians not only drive fast but on the wrong side of the road, I'm afraid I don't have the courage to attempt this, especially on narrow winding roads. I know train/bus isn't ideal but it's the only option for us.

Posted by
12172 posts

I wouldn't use Florence as a base unless you are staying outside of the city (agritourismo?)and taking public transportation into town.

IMO and everyone else we talked to, the lodging in Florence is the most expensive and lowest quality in Italy (including Venice and Rome). Also there is a significant fine for driving in Florence if you don't have a local license plate.

Florence has some must see art and museums but I wouldn't stay there.

Of the hill towns I've been to Orvieto and San Gimignano were the best, Sienna was very good, Lucca wasn't that great.

Driving allows you to set your own schedule and opens up stops that many tourists aren't able to visit. If you are a group, driving may be cheaper than training too.

As far as driving on the wrong side, it only took me five minutes of putting the fear of God into my passengers before I got used to driving on the left in Australia.

Posted by
479 posts

It depends on the amount of money you want to spend on lodging. Florence prices are astronomical compared to Siena.

Posted by
10 posts

We rented a car and that would be my advice. Some of these towns are fairly far apart so I think that I would not base from one place but move (at least once). We stayed at an agritourismo near Montalcino and drove to Volterra and Assisi and some other places. Each was 2-3 hours (in opposite directions) which you have to drive to in the morning and from in the evening to return. In retrospect we could have stayed in some of those cities and cut out a lot of time spent driving.

In this area almost every intersection says Sienna (in one direction) and Rome (in the other direction). A good map or GPS is a must! We always got there, but almost always worried.

You'll have a great trip!

Posted by
705 posts

Thanks everyone. I have now decided to try driving - I have done it in France and over a mountain range which was rather challenging but I got there. I've also decided not to base ourselves in either Siena or Florence but to get a car from Siena and head off and stay in a small town somewhere along the way. Then head off the next day and stay somewhere else.

A GPS is probably essential for us. I have one and have the Tuscan and Umbrian maps loaded.

Thanks for all your suggestions and help, now the big challenge is deciding which towns to visit.