Under the Tuscan Sun
When me and Cris say that we are from Italy, we always get the same answer: “OMG Italy, Tuscany is amazing !!!”. While we both know our country is pretty much full of history and good food everywhere, we both also know that if everyone knows Tuscany abroad, there has to be a reason. Parma, the city my family lives in, it’s just 2 hours away from Florence, the capital of the Tuscany itself so we had been multiple times and tasted the good food and wine this amazing place has to offer. Cris, on the other hand, lives very far away. When she told me that she had never visited Tuscany I had the moral obligation to take her, just to let her understand what people were talking about when they were so over the moon about it.
As this time we were in Italy separated from each other due to the short visit time, we decided to make this small Italian holiday, our occasion to take a break from us being apart.
Organising our trip
When to go to Tuscany.
Tuscany right is in the middle of Italy. It has the sea mitigating its temperature in summer (May to September) and the hills make it quite cold in winter (November to February). We decided to visit on a beautiful “end of March”. Great weather, not too cool nor warm but it is a bit of a gamble month. March climate, is famous enough in the Italian culture to make the Italians call it “the crazy month” as its weather can change multiple times during the day. This said we had an amazing week on Tuscan Hills, filled with sun and warm days.
Where to go and what to do in Tuscany
As said, you are in the “Region of food and wine”, in the “Country of food and wine” in the “Continent of food and wine”; it doesn’t get better than this. Decided to taste the best food we had in our lives, the best way was to take a map of the wine regions and put some crosses on it (if you have limited time like us you have to pick the ones you are most inspired from). That’s exactly what we did:
Excursions, Tours and Itineraries in Tuscany
Like usually, every hotel, accommodation or Airbnb has a list of tours and activities to do. As Tuscany is full of history and great places to eat and drink we would like to give you some advices to make your own itinerary:
- Take a car and drive around: Tuscany has the most breathtaking natural scenaries you’ll come across in Italy: hills and vineyards will surround every place you go to, eat in or just make petrol at. A lot of places are not even accessible without a car or a bus. In the middle of those hills you will often see small medieval towns, castles and monasteries which will probably be full of locally made delicious products to try for FREE or almost free (do not get fooled into super high priced degustations as they are just for tourists).
- Don’t necessarily stick with your plan. We had the best food and meal in places we were not even supposed to see.
- Calculate your time properly and give yourself some time off: Tuscany is a place where the Italians go to relax in their own country; Thermal water springs are everywhere (we personally advise you to check out “Saturnia” and “the Calidarium”), wine tasting is at every corner and you just want to TAKE YOUR TIME. Do not make a tight itinerary, remember you will spend at least an hour or more at the table every time you eat and than you will need time to check all the small corners and ridiculous views every town offers. Ancient Hot Springs in Tuscany
- Stay out of the cities: Florence is amazing and you should see it, but so are Siena, Lucca, Pisa and all the other ones. Unfortunately you gotta decide what to do: if you have 5 days or less, pick Florence and use the rest to travel around the country region.
Tip: Pisa is a small city, you can always duck in, see the leaning tower and go back to your hills in less than a couple of hours.
- Bring your swimmers: if you decide to go around the country regions, you will find randomly so many ancient hot springs, pools in hotels and vineyards that will make you regret not having something to get wet in.
Below you can see one of the views form a restaurant we found by mistake in “Montepulciano” (which is where the Twilight saga was filmed).
Where to stay in Tuscany
Cris, taking over…
When you go to Tuscany you have to keep in mind that you could pick any hotel, B&B, hostel, resort, but the best way to immerge yourself and feel like in the Middle Age and in the Renaissance times is to sleep in a “Casale”, or a Castello, or ancient house.
Don’t you be fooled by glamorous modern looking hotels, as the real experience you want you can find it in the authentic homes. WHERE DO YOU FIND THEM? Well, you will be surprised, you can find historical rooms with any budget, even on Airbnb.
In our small road trip we chose to spend each night in a different place, and ended up promising ourselves to go back to some of those places we have been because they were just stunning.
CHEAP WAY: For our first night we booked in a cheeky way: through Groupon Italy we found this hotel with all meals included plus free entrance to the nearby terme (hot springs) plus a tasting tour in an old local cascina. If you speak Italian or can translate it from the Groupon website, this could be a cheap option to save some money for one or two nights (and just pamper yourself).
TRADITIONAL WAY: for the second night, we went online on Agoda and looked for some historical mansion along our way. We found this:
To get a real princess baldaquin bed, we asked for a room upgrade. It was really well worth it and we felt like we were in “Game of thrones”. Also unforgettable, were the next morning breakfast served in a castle hall and the heated swimming pool with a “random” historical mosaic on the wall, just to point it out.
Simply an amazing place, where left our heart there.
LUXURY WAY: Our third night, well, it was a treat Emanuele got for me…(See I have this thing that I believe that in a past life I was a noble or a courtesan in a beautiful Castle…yeah ok you knew already I am kind of a naive weirdo anyway.) So, yes, long story short, he found this stunning Palace in a small-tiny-stuckintime Medieval village called Colle Val D’Elsa. The Palazzo is family owned, and don’t miss out the visit to their wine Cantina, where the friendly and talkative gentleman will take you through an educative and quite “drunkative” (sorry my made up word is is just how I would define it) journey through the tuscan wines.
Yeah, the room was just something special. This time the breakfast was very simple but also very traditional: you enjoy it on the beautiful balcony that offers a stunning view of the surrounding hills. If I had to pick an adjective, I would say peaceful.
CITY STAY: on our fourth night, as we were approaching Florence, we looked for something near the city. Now, all the blogs and websites will tell you to look for a place away from the city, as it gets ridiculously expensive. Also, driving in the city is not allowed if you are not a resident and fines are awaiting for you, foreigner.
Let me be honest. You go to Florence to sightsee, you want to take your time and wake up after the sun rises, right? So why get a hotel where you are away from the city, you have to get transports for an hour, and maybe a taxi in the night, you can’t go back home and get changed to go out because “it would take too long”? Our advice is: find a place close enough to the city so you can actually enjoy it. Do not expect to find affordable historical accommodation, so just go for any cute room you find. You will spend the whole day around the city anyway, AND you can go back and have a rinse before dinner as well – trust me you will need it as Florence is a very walkable city and you don’t want to miss out on anything by catching the transports.
People – Cultural tip.
You won’t probably find as nice people as you will find in Florence. Come on, they are surrounded by nature, they have a stuck in time atmosphere, they eat amazing food and have the best wines… how else can they be? If you see them a grumpy, just give them a smile and they will make your day.
Only thing: be mindful that in many places they will have a slow pace. Is just a relaxed lifestyle, it is good habit for them to leave you your time to enjoy, so when you ask for the check, it may take longer than you expect. Calculate this time.
What to bring to Tuscany
- Your Passport and your Driver’s license. Most hotels they will only accept passports as identification rather than foreign driver’s licence.
- Swimmers, as said before, and your swimming cup, as it is compulsory in the Terme. If you can, also bring a bathrobe and a pair flip flops/thongs, as we say in Australia, so you won’t have to rent them for something like €15 each set.
- Comfy shoes, different layers of clothing, as the Tuscan Sun can be hot and nice but the shade can be a bit chilly. (especially for women that like me, that are always cold)
- Empty stomach and wallet, you will have a culinary blast!!!
Many places will have access to eftpos machine, but if it’s not the case, ATMs are at easy reach, just ask your hotel receptionist where to find the closest one. We found jut easy to carry some change with us at all times but generally we paid by card. Mind you, AMEX can be hard to use though.
Local Sim card
Getting an Italian Sim card can be a nightmare, BUT if you are staying for some time, we can recommend a Vodafone one, which works all around Europe if you activate Vodafone Passport, and also offers specials for foreigners that were not born in Italy.
Food in Tuscany
I promise I won’t be long here. but please trust me, EAT , EAT EAT! The absolute-can’t-miss specialties are:
- La Fiorentina (can be very expansive, but it is worth it. You have to order it by weight so it is up to you)
- Anything cooked with the famous TARTUFO (truffle). Yumm. that is all I have to say before getting lost with words and getting hungry. Pastas especially are amazing.
- Boar meat (apologies to the vegetarians and vegans) is also a delicious option, even better in tomato sauce.
- Cantucci e VinSanto (special Biscuits and Liquor “holy” wine). To really appreciate them you must dunk the Cantuccio (pretty tough and dry otherwise) in the vinsanto. The result? Heaven. I know, it sounds disgusting, I thought that too, but yeah, try it and let us know.
- To eat out, you could eat anywhere, it really doesn’t matter where you go, food will be delicious. Of course the places with no English menu will be less touristy, but really anywhere will be fine, maybe just a bit more expansive.
- Don’t get fooled by a la carte wines, get the much cheaper house wine, is really nice and is paid by consumption from the jug they provide you.
- Have your dinner at an Osteria and order the house special, you will be delighted. Our absolute favourite place was “Alla Vecchia Bettola” , where our local friend Ginevra took us for dinner.
Nightlife in Tuscany
In the small little towns around, nightlife is not really an item, but in Florence there are quite a few clubs if you can handle to go after your humongous dinner and house wine.
As Em said before, take your time to indulge in healing thermal waters. Pick one on your itinerary, book your tickets (online they often are cheaper, maybe also check on Groupon) and bring the necessary ( swimmers and all I wrote in the What to bring chapter). Some hotels will also include a Spa inside, like Villa Casagrande where we went.
Check the alcoholic limit for your country, and get yourself some wine, Cantucci, truffle sauce. Flavour memory will be your best souvenir for when you will be back home and feel Nostalgia of such a beautiful region.