If it’s a trip to Italy that’s on your mind, a drive through Tuscany probably ranks pretty high on the list of things you want to do. And sure enough, when we were planning our trip, we were both very sure we wanted to drive through the little hills and villages we’d seen during our research. We later discovered that there’s little that actually matches the experience of discovering these magical hill towns.
We were clear that we weren’t going to just go hill-hopping and tick off all the popular hill towns. Sure, we wanted to visit vineyards, do a few tastings, walk through little gardens hidden away on hilltops, discover quaint cafes and do all of it again at the next hill town, but there were things we wanted to do that were a little off the popular beaten path as well. Here’s a little glimpse at a few things we did that we didn’t expect to experience at Tuscany.
We spent a couple of beautiful days with friends at the Montechiaro Wine Estate just outside of Siena. While Alessandro, the talented winemaker behind the Montechiaro wines, shared some of his fine wines with us, we also got talking about his family and their history. Alessandro brought a lot of the stories to life as he took us on a long walk through the estate, sharing funny quips about the large water tank, showing us his grandfather’s horse carriage and sharing a little more than just his wine – his life at the Estate every day.
Alessandro did an understandable double take when we told him how much we love steak. And after we reassured him that it’s really not uncommon that a lot of Indians love their beef even though we now don’t get too much of it, he made a recommendation that we will probably never forget ever. And we didn’t even need to drive through Tuscany. Just a short walk down the road on the next hillock was Mario and his farm. And this was no ordinary farm. It was home to some of the largest cows in Europe and the wonderful Mario cooks up a nice meal for guests every now and then. And so we were off the next afternoon to meet the cows first and then well, meet them again at Mario’s dining table. The beef was some of the freshest we’ve ever had and the entire meal was simple, rustic and most importantly, honest. It wasn’t like we were at a restaurant at all, as we all spent the afternoon clinking glasses of wine, tucking into the beautiful meant and doing a lot of talking (in broken Italian). It actually felt like we were visiting friends for lunch.
Across the world, from Bangkok to Barcelona, we’ve loved visiting local markets and seeing things we don’t find back home. And there was no better place than Tuscany to get more local. Along our drive through Tuscany, we chanced upon a really small market that was just being set up. As the locals began dropping in to do their shopping, we wandered around picking things we were hoping to cook later in the evening back at our villa. Coming from India, a lot of the fresh produce here was completely unlike anything we find in markets back home, and Alex wonderfully offered to cook with produce we don’t usually eat back home. Check out our list of the Best Souvenirs from Tuscany.
Both of us are big on all kinds of food but our interest with food isn’t just limited to eating. We love cooking as well and because of that we always try and catch a cooking class or course, or even just cook with locals. So when we had the option to have a couple of locals over one evening and cook a meal together with them, we jumped at it. Sandra and Sabrina cooked up quite a storm that evening and we all pitched in to help, rolling pasta, chopping, sautéing and sipping a lot of wine while we were at it. Taking a cooking class or cooking with locals is a wonderful way to discover a little more than what the eye sees. And for us, this as a tiny way to take a little of Tuscany back home with us. In Siena, we were lucky enough to have stayed in the home of Tuscan nobles and spend an afternoon discovering the illustrious family history at Residenza d’Epoca Palazzo Coli Bizzarrini.
We could sit for days and look at the rolling hills of Tuscany. But on this drive through Tuscany, we discovered a few gems below the surface as well. After a long, long dinner at La Taverna di San Giuseppe in Siena, and after everyone else left and the taverna officially shut for the night, we found ourselves still inside sipping wine and talking to the manager. Discovering we all shared a common love for wine and cheese, he took us down to his cellar which was actually a cave dating back a couple of thousand years. A couple of thousand years! And there were markings on the walls that were clear proof that this cave was inhabited. The manager was kind enough to offer us samples of anything we wanted to taste here and it was then that we decided to see if there were other caves we could visit during our time here. And there were many especially in Montepulciano. From really old Etruscan caves to a few more recent ones, all the caves had two things in common – wine and stories!
Although this wasn’t planned, we were so happy we strolled down that particular street in Montepulciano early one morning. We peeped into a store window that seemed to have an interesting collection of plaster art. As the beautiful art of Gypsea drew us in, we were greeted by Rosanna, the wonderfully friendly store owner who took us on a little guided tour of the store and the little artist’s studio within it. After spending a while chatting with her on everything from art to travel to India in the 70s, we left wishing we had more time to spend with the artist and perhaps actually see some of the beautiful pieces come to life.
We were really tempted to drive through Tuscany covering as many hill towns as we possibly could because each one we visited seemed so different from the previous. But we’re glad we didn’t. To borrow a cliché, Tuscany is an experience. The rolling hills, the little villages and towns, the wonderful fresh produce, the exceptional wine and so much more. But there’s really one thing we did that we’ll probably always remember from our first trip to Tuscany. And they’re the moments we spent doing nothing. Just sitting on a bench, looking out at the hills, sipping some locally produced wine and letting Tuscany take over.
Have you been driving through Tuscany? We’d love to hear of your favourite things to do in the region or any hidden gems you discovered there!