"Tuscany, land of fierce hates and wild loves and of limitless passions." - Oscar Fay Adams
This post could also be titled “48 Hours of Eating and Drinking Through Tuscany”.
"Food and Scenery Porn, Italian Style".
Either way, sit back, put your feet up and get ready to virtually fall in love with Tuscany.
After 24 hours in Florence, we hopped into an itty bitty teeny weeny Fiat (Joel naturally had a complex about it) and began the two hour sunset drive to Buenconvento, a town in southern Tuscany.
Thinking about visiting Tuscany?
Do yourself a favor and arrive during sunset. Sure, you’ll have a delayed arrival thanks to the constant pulling over to take pictures, but I can’t imagine a more breathtaking welcome.
Our Tuscan home base was Villa Armena, a family run 16th century house that just opened it’s baroque doors last year. The location is excellent, right in the middle of all the key Tuscan southern towns, while the actual house sits an extra 10 minute drive from the main village through cyprus trees to the tippy top of a hill overlooking the two of the most beautiful parts of Tuscany…
- Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site landscape often featured in Renaissance paintings.
- Crete Senesi, which consists of a range of hills and woods with a distinctive grey soil color that gives the landscape a “lunar” appearance.
Close your eyes and envision driving to heaven. I imagine this is quite similar.
Villa Armena truly is a family affair. Dad is chef, Mom is the designer and concierge, Grandma is the sommelier, and doggy, Franco, is the welcome wagon. With only ten rooms, it felt more like we were staying at a family friend’s country-home, not a hotel.
A peak outside our window at the purple sky and a deep breath in and I finally felt yes, this is vacation.
We kept the first night low key, taking in the scenery with a simple dinner at the hotel restaurant, which you can watch being cooked from the dining room. This meal turned out the be the most inventive of our trip, including this passion fruit pasta.
Totally bizarre and brilliant at the same time.
Fast forward to the following morning…
When you start a day in Tuscany with a view like this, you know it’s going to be good.
We crammed back into our little baby car, made our way down Villa Armena’s long drive way and began our official Brunello wine day, considered the king of Italian wines.
Winery #1 was Ciacci and Piccolomini. Frankly, I was happy to sit down and call it a day in these vineyards. Postcard anyone?
But, of course, there was wine to taste… (so good. so very good.)
Olive oil to sample…
And property tours to enjoy, including meeting a pack of hungarian wolves that the owner raises on site. Almost the same as dogs, right? They didn’t really get the whole “come here, good boy” thing.
Brunello wine is actually called Brunello di Montalcino, named after the fortressed hilltop village called, you guessed it, Montalcino.
It has all the makings of a quintessential Italian village….
A bell tower…
Small enough to explore completely in less than two hours ….
Did your heart skip a beat? Good, you’re human.
We had lunch at Osteria Osticcio Enoteca, a recommendation from Villa Armena.
Joel proclaimed their cappuccino the best he’s ever had, I proclaimed their chili pasta the best I’ve ever tasted, and we both proclaimed the view the best we’ve ever seen.
It was also our cheapest meal in Tuscany.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a win, win, win, win.
Following Montalcino, we visited winery #2, Castiglion del Bosco. Although there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding this wine label, our guide treated us more like a friend and made us feel right at home, pulling up a chair and joining us for the tasting.
They also have a super secret underground den where I imagine world leaders convene to discuss important secret matters and smoke cigars.
We returned to Villa Armena to drop off our wine goodies, take a snooze, and prepare for the night’s adventure.
On the itinerary? Siena, the main city in Tuscany, and a 30-minute drive north from our home base.
Siena puts on a bit of a front by making you drive through some very serious imposing stone walls…
But once you’re inside, there’s no doubt why this is considered the most famous medieval city. It felt just like a charming Tuscan village, just on a significantly larger scale.
Grander piazzas. Grander churches. Grander Italy.
Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of where we ate, but it another recommendation from Villa Armena and again, they hit a home run. Although Siena felt the most touristy of the Tuscan destinations we visited, we were definitely the only tourists in this restaurant….always a good sign.
Truffles were shaved in abundance…
And Pici, a thicker version of spaghetti created in Tuscany, quickly became my favourite pasta of the trip.
Following the daily dessert gelato (“daily’ might be an understatement), we made our way back up through the Tuscan countryside. In case you’re curious what that looks like at night, here you go.
Although the next day started off dreary, the grey clouds somehow reinforced the golden valleys. This sublime landscape setting was the perfect backdrop for our Tuscan village disco tour.
One day, five Tuscan villages, GO!
First up? Pienza. This village is famous for three things:
1) Pope Pius II built it as “the ideal Renaissance town” in the 1600’s.
2) It’s the birthplace of Pecorino cheese. The town literally reaks of cheese…in a good way.
3) There’s an abundance of flowers, a beautiful contrast to the tan stone architecture. Not a “famous” note, per se, but good to know.
As Pienza is the hometown of Pecorino cheese, we did what one does and sat down to devour a plate of cheese washed down with a glass of red wine.
La Taverna di Re Artu hit the nail on the head and served up the perfect cheese plate in the most charming setting in memory.
At this point, the whole town had me dancing for joy.
Alas, there were more towns to see.
With Pienza in our rear view mirror, we made our way to town #2…
Just as the sun started to poke our from behind the clouds.
Joel proclaimed the views too distracting and he was close to accidentally driving us off the road. These photos are evidence of that.
Town #2 was Monticchiello.
As with all the villages, we parked our car just outside of town, but unlike the other villages, we were in and out within 20 minutes. It’s certainly worth a quick visit, but it’s isolated beauty also means that there’s not much to see outside of a quick beautiful stroll.
We then set our sights on town #3, Montepulciano.
Although it was the most bustling of all the villages, Montepulciano was also the most touristy. I guess you could say it was somewhere between a Siena and a Pienza. As it’s also very well known for their food (are there any Tuscan villages that aren’t?), there was plenty to taste and sample, all gratis.
Down one particular tiny alley was a small wine tasting room full of visitors.
This charismatic man.
He begged everyone to join him for a taste of his wine, which he poured with liberal abundance.
He was also liberal with his hands….and lips…and used “being italian” as his excuse.
Village #4 is a mystery.
We had a time to kill before our dinner reservations, so we decided to just pull into whatever village we hit first.
Whatever village this was, it was absolutely the most authentic. There was not a tourist in sight, let alone anyone who spoke English.
Still, we managed to communicate in the best way we know how…through the language of dog love.
We stumbled upon one open cafe, came inside to dry off from the drizzling rain, pointed to a bottle of red wine, made a motion toward a glass, said grazie and pulled up a chair.
When it came time to order a second glass, the waiter asked the other guests if anyone spoke English. No one did, so between us we managed to get that he found it unusual that we were drinking just wine.
Flashback to a couple nights earlier when an Italian man told us how funny they find it that non-Italians drink by wine itself, that is to say, without food. In Italy, this seems to be a bit of a faux pas. If you want to drink alcohol, I guess you do that with beer? Or maybe even white wine? But a glass of red wine by itself is considered a bit odd.
Therefore, this sweet man voluntarily brought over a couple slices of thick bacon topped with pepper and and reminded us of “Italian protocol”.
The last visit of the day, village #5, was Montefollonico for dinner at 13 Gobbi, an excellent recommendation from another Tumblr.
We entered, saw this, and knew we were in for a treat.
We let the owner do the ordering, lent a helping hand cooking the pasta in a bowl of cheese, and said “yes, thank you” to the grappa and limoncello.
The next day was by far the most beautiful in Tuscany, but also our last.
Having explored the southern region, it was time to look toward the north and see what Chianti had to offer.
As this was Chianti, a wine tasting was naturally in order, so we coincided it with a village pit-stop to compare and contrast.
Fonterutoli Winery was located in, once again, an itty bitty village. According to our lovely wine pourer, there are ”40, maybe 50 people” living here. We barely saw another soul. Only horses.
When the time finally came to wrap up our Tuscan tour, we did it right with a farewell lunch at Badia a Coltibuono where the views continued to be the main attraction.
It may comes as a bit of the shock, but we had more pasta.
We’re nothing if not consistent.
I sit here now, three weeks later, still in complete awe of Tuscany. I read this quote just before arriving and I can safely say that this is 100% true. If you’re considering a trip, don’t just pull the trigger and do it…do it as soon as possible.
"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life." - Anna Akhmatova
Up next in our Italian adventure….72 hours in the rainbow colored sea towns of Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera.