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Florence: The Best Offbeat Travel Experiences

Ballooning over Tuscany: What better way to see Europe's most famous countryside than floating lazily over the olive- and vine-covered hillsides in a hot-air balloon with a champagne breakfast? Many outfits offer this indulgent pastime. Rates start around 200€ ($260) for a sunrise 1 1/2-hour flight (champagne included). Contact Ballooning in Tuscany at tel. 0577-725-517 (fax 0577-725-519;

Museo Zoologico la Specola (Florence): As if a 19th-century natural history museum full of glass cases displaying stuffed specimens from all species around the world weren't enough, you've also got room after room of well-crafted late-18th-century wax models of human beings in just about every stage of dissection imaginable. These models are medical study aids from the days before genuine corpses for gross anatomy were available in every med school.

Museo Stibbert (Florence): This former private museum of an eccentric Scottish-Italian is made up of the general clutter of more than 50,000 random items and a huge collection of armor from all eras and world cultures, including an entire regiment of armored mannequins.

Prehistoric Lunigiana Statue-Stele (Pontrȳmoli): These mysterious tombstone-shaped statues were carved over a 3,000-year period starting about 3000 B.C. by an extraordinarily long-lived cult isolated in the Lunigiana. Some of the abstracted figures bear a suggestive resemblance to how ancient Roman historians described Celtic warriors from Gaul.

Etruscan "Sunken Roads" (Maremma): No one is quite sure why the Etruscans of the Maremma carved a network of passages, some more than 20m (66 ft.) deep, into the tufa surrounding Pitigliano, Sorano, and Sovana. Many stretches of the Via Cave have survived the millennia, and you can follow them sometimes up to a kilometer (2/3 mile) in what are kind of open-air cave tunnels.

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