Where we Stayed
We visited the tuscan countryside on two separate occasions during our trip to Italy. So, it is fair to say that it was our favorite region, in part due to our stunning accommodations.
On our first trip we stayed ata bed-and-breakfast just between Panzano and Greve in Chianti. Our home had a patio with a beautiful view of the countryside and neighboring vineyards where the host provided a lovely breakfast each morning. The property was walking distance to a bus stop and vineyard, which is pretty much all you need in Tuscany. Within the property itself was a small library, a pool, a ping-pong table, and very friendly cats and dogs. This bed-and-breakfast was the perfect place to meet other travelers and share a bottle of wine while swapping stories of our adventures.
Our second stay in the countryside was in San Casciano In Val di Pesa a very small town with just a few restaurants to its name. In addition to the cottage we stayed in the property is home to a sheep milk farm and a vineyard. A complementary tour of the property followed by cheese and wine tasting is included in the stay. The home itself is huge, with both a kitchenette in the room and a larger communal kitchen in the common area. If you are looking for a romantic isolated getaway, this is the perfect spot for you.
What we Saw
Wineries. What we saw was wineries and lots of them. But in all seriousness we spent most of our time in Tuscany relaxing and recovering from the hikes we had completed at our previous destinations. Throughout our entire Italian honeymoon, Tuscany was the only place that we rented a car, and of course in true Italian fashion we chose a tiny manual fiat 500. Driving on the Italian roads was a bit confusing considering all the signs were in Italian and the locals complete lack of adherence to speed limits. Having said that, renting a car is a must. It allowed us the freedom to explore the countryside on our own schedule and get lost along the way.
On our first visit; we toured wineries, spent time at the pool and experienced the best food of our whole trip! We picked up hitchhikers which was an adventure considering you can only fit so many bodies inside of a tiny fiat 500, but they soon became friends and the whole experience was a ball, they even invited us to visit them in Jerusalem and we are very much considering!
On our second visit to the countryside we were a bit more active. We took the scenic route from our Agriturismo to San Gimignano and saw the most beautiful views of our whole trip to Italy! The proof is in the pictures. San Gimignano itself is a beautiful medieval hill town with the most incredible skyline. Although it is definitely a tourist town it is rich in history. Guests can visit San Gimignano 1300, an exact miniature replica of the town in 1300, to learn more about it. However, my advice would be to spend your time exploring the countryside around this area at sunset. So, grab your camera, a blanket, and a bottle of wine and get lost!
The next day we took a private cooking class on an olive farm with an adorable young couple named Camilla and Tommy. We spent the day learning to make bread, pasta, papa a la pomodoro and biscotti while drinking wine and laughing at each others accents. Camilla taught us how to do a proper olive oil tasting which involves taking a swig of olive oil out of a round shot glass like container, swishing it around in your mouth, and swallowing it… no bread involved, you can imagine my disappointment. At the end of the day we all sat down and shared our meal together, the dogs included (see picture below). There was far too much food for the four of us so we brought the leftovers home and snacked on them the next couple days. This cooking class was such a great bang for your buck! I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area!
Before we left our Airbnb, the host took us on a tour of the winery and sat down with us as we enjoyed tastings of the cheese made on the property’s farm and wine made by the owners daughter. Cody claims it was the best wine we had the whole trip, but I was very sick so my pallet could barely distinguish the strong cheese flavors let alone wine aromas!
What we Ate
In Panzano we experienced predominately formal dining settings. For our first night we went to dinner at Ill Vescovino. If you choose to visit this spot (which I recommend you do) it is best to make a reservation for the patio so you can enjoy the beautiful views the restaurant has to offer! We dined on eggplant tartar, tuscan beans, zucchini ravioli, and tiramisu. The eggplant tartar was the most unique dish we enjoyed our whole honeymoon. It was sweet, herbaceous, and bright. If you are an adventurous eater, it is definitely worth the trip!
In Greve we found an informal pizzeria called La Cantina. The food was great, but it was the owner Alessandro that kept us coming back. His mom, Lorena, is the chef though, so if you visit the restaurant make sure to say nice things about the food. When you first sit, you are greeted with champagne and crispy bread somewhat similar to lavash. We tried an array of foods during our multiple visits, but the highlights were the vegetarian sampler and the papa la pomodoro, a hearty tomato “soup” thickened with bread. I use quotes because this dish is so thick it can be eaten with a fork! The sampler included grilled vegetables, papa la pomodoro, an assortment of cheeses, bruschetta, spinach soufflé, and a house made jam. Pizza at La Cantina is different from anything else we encountered on our trip. It is thin, crispy, flakey, and covered in more toppings than typically seen in Italy.
Our second stay in Tuscany was less of a culinary experience for two reasons: first, I fell ill our second day there, and secondly we were staying far outside of town. These conditions made it easier for us to cook at home. That being said, the cooking class we took in San Casciano provided the best food we had on our whole trip! Though we did cook more regularly during this Tuscan stay, this did not stop us from indulging in the local fare when the occasion arose. While we were exploring San Gimignano, we performed an ice cream taste test comparing 2 gelato shops next door to each other both claiming to have the best gelato. Gelateria Dondoli was the winner with its tomato garden gelato. This place is said to be the best gelato in the World, and although I can neither confirm nor deny that statement I can say it was the best gelato I had in Italy, and I tried about 30 different spots.
Lessons we Learned
1) Plan your trip to move between fast and slow paces. What I mean by this is that if you have a long vacation in which you will be moving from town to town, allow yourself to have catchup time. Our trip was planned as follows: Rome (fast pace) --> Amalfi (medium pace) --> Tuscany (slow pace) --> Cinque terre (fast pace) and so on. This allowed us some R&R time after very active or busy days so that we could both site see and relax on our vacation.
2) A car is a MUST when traveling in Tuscany. Not only do you need one to make the distance from place to place, but, some of my favorite memories were getting lost along the bumpy roads and enjoying the views.
3) Wine tasting structures differ from that in the States. Some wineries are not permitted to sell wine by glass, but only to provide free tastings so be prepared to buy some bottles. If you are traveling during the on season you will also likely be required to make reservations, but your Airbnb host or hotel concierge will likely help you with that.
4) Keep cash on hand in Tuscany. Smaller towns are not always as credit card friendly.