If this isn’t your next summer getaway then it should be. We’ve picked the brains of our Italian Head Chef Edo as well as travel experts Chic Retreats on the five absolute must-sees when you make the trip to the birthplace of modern Europe.
We’ve got where to eat as well as where to soak up all the beautiful culture so you can get the most out of your trip.
TRAVEL GUIDE TO TUSCANY
1. Eat, eat, EAT!
Italy is famed for its phenomenal food and Tuscany is no exception: this sun-drenched region abounds in bountiful fresh produce, rich local dishes and excellent wines. Tuscan cuisine is a fusion of two important principles: simplicity and freshness, and great pride is taken in the quality of ingredients used. Seasonality is key - with lighter salad dishes being served in the summer while richer meat and bean-based dishes are served in the winter.
While there are so many fantastic local dishes to try it can be hard to know where to begin. There is one unmissable ingredient on the Tuscan menu: truffles. This treasure of the culinary world grows relatively well in Tuscany’s climate and during the truffle season – October-November – is sought after by a frenzied host of truffle hunters and their faithful hounds. Although truffles go well with pretty much anything, our favourite way to enjoy this gourmet gem is freshly shaved on some steaming handmade pasta – with plenty of parmesan, of course.
As well as fantastic food, Tuscany is also home to some of the finest Renaissance art and architecture in the world. Head to Florence to discover Machiavelli’s favourite haunts, visit The Uffizi Gallery – one of the world’s best finest art museums – and maybe catch a glimpse of Michelangelo’s legendary David. Next up is Pisa for a picture next to its famous leaning tower – one of the seven wonders of the medieval world – and then a walk along the pretty riverside, gelato in hand. Another great city to visit is Siena where you can walk the route of the exhilarating Palio – a heart-stopping horse race through the city, held twice a year, in which the opposing jockeys fiercely jostle to win. As well as being the birthplace of the Palio, Siena is also home to the Pinacoteca Nazionale Art museum where you can discover an alternative side to the traditional perception of Renaissance art.
If you fancy getting out of the cities then head on a day trip out to one of the many stunning little medieval villages, artistically scattered amongst the rolling Tuscan hills. Among our favourites are Cortona – from the film ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ – Montepulciano (yes, like the wine) and Pitigiliano. All three are stunning hilltop towns, brimming with history and character – spend a day exploring winding alleys, romantically-crumbling Palazzos and elegant architecture. Before sunset falls, find a pretty terrazza to relax on, glass of wine in hand, and admire the stunning views.
3. Wine Tours
The wine scene in Tuscany is as rich, varied and prestigious as the food scene – perhaps because it has been a key part of the area for over 3,000 years. The region boasts some of Italy’s most famous appellations: including the iconic basket-ensconced Chianti Classico as well as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. While most of the wine produced in Tuscany is red, there are some great whites, including Trebbiano, and some notable dessert wines.
There are plenty of fantastic wine tours you can do in the area where you will discover a variety of blends the region has to offer. Many of the vineyards are still located on the original estate and more often than not you’ll spend a blissful afternoon sampling wine in an old family castello, surrounded by ancient forests and olive groves. Want to be Lord of the Manor for a week? You can also stay at some of these historical estates with vineyards: such as the award-winning Castello Banfi il Borgo or the idyllic L’Andana which is set in a renovated Medici villa.
4. Cookery Courses
Now that you’ve spent some time sampling the amazing food and wine this region has to offer, why not try your hand at cooking up some local dishes yourself? From pasta-making masterclasses to a 6-day long cooking course with a Michelin-starred chef – there’s plenty of options for every ability. The thing that truly sets Italian food apart is that it’s all from the heart – and especially in Tuscany. Whatever course you choose, you can be sure that the person teaching you will be passionate and proud about the food they make.
This is the perfect opportunity to learn from the experts and take home some fantastic new skills to wow your friends and family with. Dinner parties at yours will never be the same again… One of the best places to learn the tricks of the trade is with Michelin-starred chef Silvia Barrachi at her idyllic boutique hotel, Il Falconiere. Her dishes focus on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, and the environment in her authentic and homely kitchen is one of relaxation and welcome.
5. Get active
For the more active types, there’s plenty of opportunities for adventure in the stunning Tuscan countryside. Take advantage of the region’s lovely weather, gently rolling (not too steep) hills and good quality trails by hiring bikes or spending a day hiking. There’s also the chance to discover hidden castles and ancient Roman ruins from horseback – a great option for families and friends alike.
Argentario Golf Resort & Spa, whose 18-hole golf course and driving range were designed by the architect David Mezzacane and the professional golfer Baldovino Dassù. Other activities include enjoying the beautiful landscape from the basket of a hot air balloon, as well as renting a Vintage Fiat 500 to explore the area in true Italian style.
WHERE TO STAY
In proper Italian style, Tuscany is bursting with small, charming stays where you can experience first-hand the famed Italian hospitality. From original Medici villas to pool-blessed Palazzos and elegant urban hideaways, Tuscany’s boutique accommodation offering is truly second to none. Whilst every little hotel has its own story and unique charm, their friendly hosts are all ready to welcome you with open arms and will do everything they can to make your trip unforgettable.
Fancy a trip somewhere else? Chic Retreats offer a curated collection of small, charming and independent properties from across the world.
With a focus on knowledgeable hosts and a passion for personal service, each of their boutique stays has a different story to tell. From cosy houseboats and luxurious safari lodges to design hotels and converted châteaux: these are the experiences, you'll never forget.