We love Tuscany! Out of all of the places we have visited in Italy, I think that Tuscany would be our favorite. We can actually see ourselves living here one day. The combination of fantastic food and wine, gorgeous landscapes, wonderful climate and kind and loving people make it so special. We have traveled up and down the Tuscan hills to many tiny towns; many mom and pop restaurants; many fantastic family-run wineries- all have been amazing and memorable. We were fortunate enough to book the best guide of all to show us his home and take us to all of his favorite places. Roberto with Papillion Tours is the best! While we only intended to book him for one day to drive us to Tuscan wineries so we could sample the goods and not have to worry about driving, we ended up booking him again and again and now consider him a friend. It makes all of the difference in the world to have a passionate local show you the land they love and introduce you to its people, its food and its history!
Here are some of the highlights of our tours of Tuscany:
Bolgheri: a quaint medieval town that has some of the best wine shops and taverns in the world. Bolgheri is known for its unique production of the Super Tuscan variety of wine. Bolgheri was only relatively recently put on the international wine map (1974)when it beat out traditional and world renowned French Bordeaux wines in a blind taste test with its now famous wine Sassicaia (at the time only 6 years old!). Super Tuscan wines are made with grapes not traditionally grown in Italy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc). But, a micro-climate exists in this small Tuscan area that allows these types of grapes to thrive. The result is complex and full-bodied wine in the old world style that rival those from the oldest and best houses in France.
We visited Campo alla Sughera winery to see first-hand how Super Tuscans are made and to sample all they had to offer. Of course, we bought lots of their bottles and left giddy and ready for the next stop which was lunch! Lunch was at the wonderful tavern of Enoteca Tognoni in the town center of Bolgheri. The walls of the tavern were lined from floor to ceiling with all of the types of locally produced Tuscan wines. You simply had to go to the wall and pick what you wanted to drink. We plucked three bottles of fantastic wine from the shelves and settled in for a feast. It was awesome!
Volterra: A beautiful village set high up above the Tuscan countryside. Built by the Etruscans (2,500 years ago), it is dominated by the Piazza dei Priori clocktower. It also boasts a pretty gruesome torture museum which we skipped in favor of finding more delicious wine tavernas. Volterra was visually stunning and offered expansive views from everywhere you looked.
Siena: This could be the most beautiful city in Tuscany (although they are all beautiful). What stands out about Siena are the gorgeous Siena Cathedral and the famous Piazza del Campo. The Cathedral is in the gothic style and was built in the 1200s. Perhaps only the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona rivals its ornateness and beauty. Unique about the Siena Cathedral is its interior which is strikingly done in black and white marble stripes. It was truly magnificent.
The Piazza del Campo is the central town circle (it is not a square, but a circle). All along the circle are al fresco bars and restaurants. In the center, locals congregate and treat it as a park, bringing picnic lunches and blankets. In the summer is the famous Il Palio horserace around the circle. Each of the town’s distinct neighborhoods put up a horse and rider and compete for the title. We were not there for the race, but it would have been something to see- next time. Instead, we enjoyed a bottle of wine at an enoteca along the circle and enjoyed the view.
San Gimignano: A beautiful medieval town known for its preserved 76 watchtowers protecting the city. We wandered the narrow cobblestone streets and felt as we stepped back in time. This town is also home to an award-winning gelato establishment. We indulged in giant cones of its gelato and agree that it was the best we have ever had.
Tuscany is such a magical place that it deserves a blog post on just its food, another on just its wine, another on each town. In fact, it deserves its own blog period (which I am sure someone already has established!). We can’t wait to return. Pirate also was introduced by Roberto to a fabulous rum shop there (who would have imagined in the land of wine there would be another pirate at heart). We are coming back soon Roberto!!!