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This has to be the most frequently asked question in the Tuscany forum. There are a number of factors to be taken into consideration when choosing a base. The first one is to decide where you want to visit during your time in Tuscany . You need to buy a decent guide book and do some research on the region. You should then draw up a list of daytrips that you want to make. By looking at these locations on a map, a central location often becomes obvious.
The next factor to consider is what method of transport you plan to use while you are in Tuscany . If you want to explore the countryside, it really is essential to hire a car, or if you are not comfortable driving, to organise a private driver for your daytrips. Bus links tend to be localised and although train travel in Italy is very good compared to many other countries, access to rural areas is limited. Many people like to visit one or more of Tuscany ’s beautiful hilltop towns and villages, but one should bear in mind that any train stations near them will be down in the valley, often several kilometres away, and so it will be necessary to catch a bus up to the town. If you only want to visit major sights like Siena , Florence and Pisa , it might be worth saving yourself the cost of hiring a car and staying in a town or city with good transport links.
One daytrip that is best made by public transport is Florence . Not only are there the usual problems of heavy traffic, one way systems and expensive, and sometimes elusive, parking, but central Florence also has a limited traffic zone (ZTL). Residents have permits allowing them to drive in the centre, so it is very easy for tourists to follow them into the limited zone without realising it. Cameras record the licenses of cars entering the zone and, if you do not have the appropriate permit, eventually a hefty fine will find its way to you, via the car hire firm. Therefore, it is advisable to catch a bus, train or the new metro line into Florence , even if it means driving and parking somewhere and then travelling on into the city by public transport. Be aware that Pisa, Lucca, Siena , Arezzo and many smaller towns and villages also have ZTL zones, but in these places it is easier to park outside the zone and walk or bus into the centre, than it is in Florence.
The next thing to think about is whether you want to stay in the countryside, the city, or a town or village. Countryside villas can sometimes be remote and are often located on unmade roads. Staying in a city can be a problem if you have a car, but if you don’t have one, has all the advantages of restaurants, shops, museums, churches etc. being on your doorstep and good access to public transport if you want to day-trip to another city or town. Many people want to try to get the best of both worlds and stay just outside a town, but within walking distance of its amenities. Properties like this can be hard to find and even if you do find one that seems close to town, you need to consider that there may not be street lighting to light your way home in the evening or the route may be steep and so quite a trial in the heat of summer with heavy shopping bags to carry!
You also need to think about what kind of property you want to rent. There are a huge number of hotels, apartments and villas available in Tuscany . Tripadvisor’s hotel reviews are a great help in selecting a hotel, and now also includes reviews for B&B's and holiday rentals, apartments, villas, etc. When choosing a villa or apartment, you can pay more and go through a agency (their cut is usually between 15% and 45%), or you can search through the various websites carrying adverts from the owners themselves (though these sites are being increasingly high-jacked by large commission-based agencies). There are obvious advantages to dealing directly with an owner, but it is a good idea to choose somewhere with reviews left by previous guests, or one that has advertised with the website for some time. That way you can feel happy that you are really going to get what the advert promises. Choosing an 'agriturismo' can be a nice halfway house, where you can get a shared pool, the company of other guests, sometimes the possibility of an evening meal, while staying in beautiful surroundings, but at a more reasonable price than a private villa or hotel. Be aware that these are usually working farms, with associated farm noises! Also there is a great variation in the facilities and quality of such accommodation, so do your homework before booking.
Finally, many people mention a desire to stay somewhere with ’typical’ Tuscan scenery. Actually the scenery varies quite a lot. In the far north, Tuscany is mountainous and heavily wooded. As you move south generally, the mountains give way to hills, the woods thin out and by the time you get to southern Tuscany you have the rolling landscape of fields and cypress trees that most people think of as the ‘typical’ Tuscan scene. The Chianti region is one of the best for vineyards, if that is the vista you desire, and then there is the often overlooked coastline too. Every area of Tuscany has something beautiful and unique to offer, so if you do your research in advance, you can’t really go wrong.