Let’s hit the road! After two and a half whirlwind days in Venice, we were indeed ready to relax during the next part of our trip in beautiful Tuscany. We had about an hour and a half drive from Florence (where we retrieved our automatic (!) Fiat) to our small agriturismo (working farm + b&b) located outside of Siena, Tuscany. The rolling hills and roadside poppies are just as breathtaking as you’d imagine and I could have gotten lost in them for days had I not needed to pay attention to the curving roads. Tuscany is a wine-lovers paradise and the food…I never could have imagined the richness and uniqueness of Tuscan cuisine. If you’re looking to slow down, truly “do as the Italians do”, and engage all of your senses, you better head to Toscana.
What to see:
- Siena- the whole city! Our home base was about 20 minutes away from Siena, and it was such a lovely town to explore for a day, as well as return to some nights for dinner. It’s definitely worth climing the 25 flights of winding, narrow stairs to the top of Torre del Mangia (The Belltower) to experience unreal views of the city and surrounding countryside. Then, you definitely deserve to grab a gelato or spritz and sit on the sloping Piazza del Campo and people-watch all afternoon.
- Vineyards- you can’t swing a cat without driving by a vineyard! We visited two: Tenuta Valdipiatta and Biondi Santi. Two very different styles of wine, but of course, we enjoyed our time at both equally! Valdipiatta is in the Montepulciano region of Tuscany and makes robust Vino Nobile wines, a variety made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that I’d never tasted before. Biondi Santi was recommended to me by a former co-worker from Lincoln, and an Italian no less, and so I knew this would be something special. The family Biondi Santi invented the complex wine known as Brunello di Montalcino. Their wines are so prized that they even still have a bottle from 1880 that would be completely drinkable-skills! When playing the “name the aroma and flavor notes” game, Danny and I stood out as novices, but our experience was still delicious.
What to skip:
- Stress- you don’t need it here! Everything moves a bit slower here, and so being the upset and pushy American just won’t fly, so leave your stress in the Italian cities. If your day starts out rainy and cloudy (as a few of ours did) don’t worry- just wait it out with a bottle of wine or go out adventuring anyways.
- Honestly, see, eat, and drink as much as you can while in Tuscany- it’s worth it!
Where to eat:
- Gallo Nero- we loved this authentic trattoria so much we ate here twice! You’ll find it off the beaten path in Sienna and can easily make yourself comfortable for a long night. We enjoyed red wine in big ceramic mugs, traditional picci (thicker spaghetti pasta) with wild boar and porcini mushroom sauce, papardella with duck ragu, and hearty ribolitta. This was where we truly got a feel for Tuscan cuisine and were happy to come back for seconds.
- Gelateria Dondoli- in San Gimignano and in all of Tuscany, this is where you should come for gelato. It was representing Tuscany at the World Expo in Milan for Pete’s sake, so we knew it would be worth the wait. I chose their signature Saffron Pine Nut and Wildberry Lavender, while Danny indulged in Chocolate and Stracciatella. All I can say is- heaven!
- La Taverna di San Giuseppe- this was our splurge meal in Sienna, as one would expect when going to a Michelin starred restaurant! Make your reservations the night before and when you arrive you will be promtly seated during one of the two seatings of the night. While we felt the service was somewhat disjointed, our meal flowed beautifully. We orderd an antipasti of brushetta, split the pork-stuffed gnocchi with sage, and then dove into a HUGE Bistec a la Florentina, cooked in the rarest of fashion. We were too busy chatting with the American couple next to us that we couldn’t even order dessert, not that our stomachs could have handled it anyways!
And with that, our four day stay in Tuscany came to an end. We were sad to leave behind the unbeatable scenery, rich red wines, land-based cuisine, and relaxed mentality, but Rome awaits! Scroll through our pictures of Toscana at your leisure (apologies for some repeats and disordering-not that you’d really know), but really, no photo does this region justice.