I have yet to meet someone who doesn't have Italy, and particularly Michaelangelo's and Da Vinci's stomping grounds of Tuscany, on their bucket lists. Everything in this sunbathed countryside seems designed for the senses. Visually, miles of sunflowers, olive, and cypress groves capture a rugged, yet refined, landscape. The taste of sun kissed tomatoes, olive oil, and wine excite the palate. The crunch of farro and the velvet bite of artichoke hearts provide tactile sensation, while the sounds of native Italian speakers provide an upbeat rhythm and tempo that sets a romantic, exhilarating mood for travelers. Even shouting Italians seem musical to most foreigners.
Advice: when visiting Tuscany, take your time. Linger. Sit. Read in a piazza. Drink freshly squeezed fruit juice inside the gates of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and find interesting ways to immerse yourself in long, drawn out meals in which every bite of food is shared. Don't just eat, ask questions. If possible, watch the chefs--they will be flattered. Visit a local farmer's market. Taste as much as possible.
Rather than an adventure vacation, Tuscany fits snugly into the enjoyment, almost indulgent, category. Consider renting a Tuscan Villa such as IL GRANAIO and divide time between the hustle and bustle of Florence and its surrounding towns and the pool with its spectacular views of the undulating avocado green and goldenrod yellow countryside.
For my husband's fortieth birthday, we gathered his half of the wedding party, their spouses and children, and journeyed to The Bel Paise. Our villa's century old wood-fired pizza oven became an evening in which every person three to forty rolled their own crust and topped their own pie. The caretaker arrived daily with proprietary wine and a spread of antipasto she set up under a canopy next to the pool late in the afternoons. At night, she taught the children how to make pasta while the "growing ups" (as my then four year old Emily explained it) explored the restaurants in nearby towns.
Excursions to the the medieval small walled village of San Gimignano led us to adventure into a Franciscan convent built in 1587. Here, in the heart of the Chianti wine region, monks just "returning to the world" served us a lovely meal and chanted an Italian version of happy birthday during a champagne toast for our guest of honor.
On the second of July, we journeyed to the Palio di Provenzano to watch ten riders race bareback through the streets of Siena, an Etruscan village that hasn't change much over the last 800 years. After an exhausting 90 seconds of excitement, we retreated to the Tre Cristi, and its magnificent 15th century architecture for boar ragu, panzanella, and celebratory libations.
Italy is a place for families. Children are adored everywhere day and night. Petting a donkey, and meeting the sheep on our cheese making tour instigated giggling fits, and a tour of the MARTELLI pasta factory lead adults and kids alike to string pasta mouth to mouth and see who could get to the center first (encouraged by a jolly round Italian), two vineyard tours, a pasta factory tour, leisurely walks through towns with plenty of Italian kitsch for souvenirs, gelato, and linguine.
It was the year in which Italy and Germany played in the World Cup. On July 9, 2006, sixteen adults and eight children huddled around a tiny television set to watch the Italians rout the French in a penalty shoot out to determine the victor. For the first time during our stay, we heard noise. The hillside villages lit up with fireworks and noisy celebration lasted two days.
Pure delight exists in every nook of this sunshine soaked landscape in which hand-carved pinocchios and Lamborghinis are juxtaposed with Michelangelo statues and DaVinci inventions. Go ahead...indulge under the Tuscan sun at least once in your lifetime.
Strada Comunale del Borghetto, 53026 Pienza SI, Italy
Piazza del Campo 47, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
Via Case Sparse (Montefioralle, 50022 Greve In Chianti FI, Italy
Località Capannelle, 13, 53013 Gaiole In Chianti SI, Italy
RESIDENZA SAN LEO IN FIGLINE VALDARNO (olive oil mill & tasting)
Via Badia Montescalari, 11, 50063 Figline Valdarno FI, Italy
Viale G. Mazzini, 71, 56037, Peccioli, Italy
Via Condotta, 12/r 50122 Florence Italy
LA GREPPIA -- Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 39, 43100 Parma, Italy
FATTORIA LISCHETO (lunch and cheese making tour) -- Strada Provinciale Monte Volterrano, 56048 Volterra PI, Italy
ENOTECA PINCHIORRI -- Via Ghibellina, 87, 50122 Firenze, Italy
ORA D'ARIA (chef's table) -- Via dei Georgofili, 11, 50122 Firenze, Italy
CIBRÈO -- Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 8r, Firenze, Italy