No, I haven’t been back yet, but I’ve been writing a bit about my recent travels and it brought up some great memories of Tuscany. Until this year I’d only visited the area of Italy around the Lakes and Mountains – staying up in the hills near Lake Garda and travelling to Venice and Verona. Fabulous places in their own rights. And, of course I’d heard of Tuscany. Anyone with an interest in food and wine has heard of Tuscany. Home to some of the finest Italian winemakers, to truffle hunting and to great olive oils. But I’d never been until this year despite the fact that there are lovely villas in Tuscany to rent that you can use as a base to explore the wonderful countryside and taste the local foods and wines.
I was lucky enough to be staying in a small hamlet up in the hills, right next door to one of the Chianti region’s most famous winemakers, Castello di Ama. We drank the wine pretty much every evening, looking out over the vineyards watching the sun set. Soft lush red wine that we paired with local olives, meats and bread for a simple but perfect supper. Somehow there’s a magic to drinking wine that comes from the same area as the food you are eating. It seems to create a very special pairing.
We explored. I loved Siena – we arrived quite early in the morning and were almost the first up the tower in the piazza. Looking out over the City with its fabulous medieval buildings, it was easy to understand why people fall in love with Tuscany. We drank coffee so strong it seemed to be intended to wake me up by a shock to the back of my throat and ate the local nougat, Torronne, to keep us going as we rambled through the streets. The Cathedral we’d spotted in the distance from the tower was a complete surprise when we found it on foot, turning a corner of a narrow street and finding a vast marble building, humbug striped in black and white, dominating a small square.
Our very brief visit to Florence really only served as a taster. There wasn’t time to visit inside the museums and art galleries – just to walk around, look at the shops, eat gelato and drink prosecco! We did walk across the Ponte Vecchio, and we spent a little time at Sante Croce, home to the final resting place of many eminent Italians, including Machievelli and Dante. My warped sense of humour meant I really loved finding the original Statue of Liberty there. Of course the one in NYC is just a little bigger, but then being American it would be;)
The best part of the trip for me though, was simply spending time in some of the lovely small towns and villages around the Chianti region of Tuscany. Our local hamlet was home to a small bar and a rather fine restaurant which we only discovered on our last day there. And, a rainy day took us to a rather grand hotel in the hills. As the weather cleared, the hotel staff recommended we took the small track up the hill to the hamlet – peaceful, unspoilt and picturesque. We found cashmere goats living happily in a small farm near where we were staying, we were charmed by the passion of the Italian people on Liberation Day and we loved the little renovated collection of farm cottages where we stayed.
My favourite element of Tuscany was without a doubt, the food. From the rustic hams and olives we bought from the local shop to fine dining in the Hotel Castello di Spaltenne, from a simple but special bruschetta in a café in Siena, to the white truffle sauce and wild asparagus we bought to take to our Tuscany villa to dress our fresh pasta.
There’s so much more to see, and I’d love to go back to a different part of Tuscany. I need to spend more time in Florence and see some of the palaces and historic monuments I missed – and I want to explore some more of the fabulous food, beautiful countryside and fine wines.