My title is taken from the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ because it embodies the exact emotion that I have; while leaving much to one’s imagination.
Tuscany is on most traveler’s bucket list and the reasons are simple- A picturesque landscape set in between some of the best vineyards and olive farms of the world, with food dipped in aromatic cheeses and home to some big fashion houses.
Tuscany is really big and therefore can be a tricky trip to plan. I spent about 8 days in Chianti and still feel I missed a lot.
Where to stay:
Every part of Tuscany is very beautiful and special; some has impressions of renaissance, some has medieval architecture alive while others give ample space to lie under the sun and not hear a human voice till acres of land. You can stay anywhere and drive around everyday to see the small little towns. Staying in Tuscany’s capital Florence would be boring because it is a touristy city at the end of the day (I love Florence BTW). To experience real Tuscany, stay in one of the many small resorts in different villages or agro-tourism hotels that accommodate just a few people at any given time.
Tip: If you like more of green vineyards and olive farms around then choose a place in and around Castellina in Chianti. If you prefer the well cultivated and gentle brown/green fields that you see in typical Tuscany photos then choose a place in the Val d’Orcia region.
I found this really pretty place in Castillina called Romitorio di Serelle that is a 1000 years old villa turned resort. The staff is really warm; including the most beautiful golden retriever in the world, Dotto! I still don’t know I miss Dotto more or the place. Its surrounded by vineyards, olive farms, hills, cats, bees, peace, love and more. There was no wi-fi in the rooms for which I give it a plus star.
Towns, towns and so many towns!
Tuscany is packed with small little medieval towns and often most of us have time constraint when it comes to visiting every place. I visited most of them and here are my suggestions:
Monteriggioni: Monteriggioni is tiny by real definition of tiny. It is a beautiful walled medieval town on top of a hill. Just a little below are two parking areas; you can park your car in either of the two and walk up to the town. There are two gates- one at each end of the town and you will enter from the Eastern one. The Western gate opens to the Chainti countryside. Piazza Roma is the central square of the town surrounded by the church and old villas and buildings. The town has a handful of shops and restaurants and all of them are special in their own way and under most normal circumstances you will come out happy and satisfied out of any place. For shopping, stick to wine, local pottery and handmade fashion accessories.
Buonconvento: This one was a complete surprise for us as we ended up here while on our way to Radicofani and very randomly decided to check it out. Guess what? It turned out to be one of the most beautiful Tuscan villages full of medieval age brown buildings kissed by bright fuchsia bougainvillea and more. Everything looks dreamy and yet accessible. People were extremely friendly and we had an amazing meal at a family restaurant called Ristorante da Maria. Extra points to the staff for being really helpful as I often need a little more assistance with vegetarian food if not many options given in the menu.
Pienza: The town famous for its Pecorino cheese falls in the province of Siena and is pretty close to Montalcino. It is really significant for being the first place to undergo Renaissance inspired urban planning under Pope Pius II in 1459. What makes Pienza a little more beautiful are the surrounding hills of Val d’Orcia covered with Olive groves, vineyards and fields can be seen till as far as you can see standing on the edge of this romantic town. I have an amazing memory of eating the darkest and yummiest chocolate gelato here at Fredo Il Gelato Artigianale.
Montalcino: If you are even close to being a wine lover then you would have heard of Brunello di Montalcino. If not then you would remember it for the rest of your life after visiting this small honey clad rustic town. Ever nook and corner boasts of the name of the wine produced in this region. For me it was also a bit of a minus because I hate things that get commercialised to the extent that people can’t even differentiate between the original and the wannabes. Saying that, this town is extremely pretty and one of my favourites. As you drive into the town don’t get fooled into parking at the first place that you see. Keep going as close as you can to the centre of the town as there are quite a few parkings in this area. I also had an amazing amazing dinner at this restaurant called Ristorante Re di Macchia. I highly recommend it for their sharp eye to details, wine stock, authenticity and warmness. We went without reservation and were welcomed despite being pretty busy. I obviously had a vintage Montalcino to drink and some spinach ravioli to eat. Rest is faded.
Castellina in Chianti: If you be living in the Chianti region or driving on the SS 222, which under most circumstances will happen, you will cross this small historic town for sure. It can be covered on foot in just a little time. We often came here to buy groceries. Just like most of the towns in this regions, the main mode of economy for Castellina is oil and wine production other than tourism of course. I would insist you visit this town and eat at another amazing restaurant called Antica Trattoria La Torre. The staff was very friendly, ever smiling and accommodating towards my useless demands. They actually lifted and moved a table outside for me. Sweet! And the food from their never changing menu was insanely good. It was one of my best meals in tuscany and reason behind my new love- peasant soup! Besides, I found this shop here that sells really good hats (if that’s you thing).
San Gimignano: This medieval town also falls between Florence and Siena; infact nearly half way. Similar to other walled towns of the region, it is situated on a small hill surrounded by a thick stone wall. I read somewhere that when the town was built, it had about 70 tall towers but only 14 survived the run of time. The town has a lot more to offer than just an interestingly old history. You can have really good gelato here for instance at Gelateria Dondoli. The owner was standing out when I reached, greeting and welcoming heat stricken tourists like me. Oh God! That reminds me how hot Tuscany can get in summers. Please, never go out without tons of sunscreen, a big sun hat, fluids and strength. And if you be fragile like me then spend afternoons by the pool and evenings exploring the towns. Going back to the gelato- It is must have if you be in Tuscany for it melts in the mouth, leaving behind subtle intricacies of all natural ingredients. I loved the mango one. But yes it is a little touristy. I would only suggest the hidden streets, gelato and back. Avoid eating in the main piazza or shopping.
Look out for the next post coming soon on the most beautiful Tuscan drives. Meanwhile, eat clean and smile big!