My Favourite Tuscan Dishes & Delicacies

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Favourite Tuscan Dishes & Delicacies

Posted by Kiri (20/05/2016)

When I look back on our recent trip to Tuscany, one thing that really sticks in my mind is the food. The food alone is a good enough reason to book a trip to this beautiful Italian region. The cuisine here rivals the rest of the country, and many feel it offers some of the best food in Italy. Tuscan food is very distinctive. It’s simple and homely, yet full of flavour.

They don’t mess around with fussy ingredients and complicated sauces, it’s all about fresh local ingredients. The Tuscan people are lucky because they are able to produce extremely high quality, locally grown ingredients, which means everything is really fresh and tastes amazing.

 It’s not all pizza and pasta, although we did indulge in a few few pasta and pizza dishes during our stay. There were a few dishes I didn’t get to try that I will hunt down on my next trip including the T-Bone Fiorentina steak and Panzanella. However, we did get to have some mouth-watering food during our trip. Here are some of my favourite foods and dishes.

Pecorino cheese
This is a hard, salty cheese made from sheep’s milk.

Pappardelle pasta (with wild boar sauce)
A thick pasta that is served throughout Tuscany. We tried it with a boar sauce and also a beef sauce, both of which were very tasty. I think this was my favourite dish, the best one we had was at a local restaurant in Lecchi in Chianti called Malborghetto.

Traditional Tuscan starter
This consists of Pecorino cheese, Tuscan ham and bruschetta.

Sausage, mozzarella and spinach pizza
This pizza doesn’t have any tomato sauce, but the spinach and spicy sausage combo works perfectly.

Fresh fish selection
We were recommended this place in Lucca by the hotel manager. You choose from a huge selection of fish and also get a glass of wine all for 10 euros.

Meatballs, aubergine and vegetable buffet
This was excellent value at 8 euros for an all you can eat buffet and a glass of water. I’m obsessed with aubergines, so obviously it was heaven for me. The meatballs were so tasty. We ate this at a small restaurant on the way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence.

Traditional Tuscan soup (Ribollita)
This soup doesn’t look that appealing, but what it doesn’t have in looks it makes up in flavour. It’s a local favourite made with carrots, onion, leek, cauliflower, savoy cabbage, cabbage, cannellini beans, black cabbage, tomatoes, oil, wine and stale bread.

Panna cotta
A delicious light, sweet dessert.

Olive oil from Casanuova di Ama
The olive oil we tasted at Casanuova di Ama was the best I have ever tasted.

Spinach with olive oil and garlic
A very simple side dish that’s very moorish and full of goodness.

Chicken in Chianti wine
This was the main dish the private chef served up for us. It’s made with chicken, carrots, onions and tomatoes in a red wine sauce.

Warm chicken liver and veal spleen pate
We were served this during the wine tasting and it was full of flavour.

Tuscan ice cream

Obviously the Tuscan ice cream is amazing, especially the ice cream from the new shop in Castellina in Chianti, which came highly recommended. 
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Wine Tasting At Casanuova di Ama

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Holiday Highlight - Wine Tasting At Casanuova di Ama

Posted by Kiri (13/05/2016)

One of my favourite things we did on our recent trip to Tuscany was wine tasting. It was a fantastic experience I will never forget, and I want to share it with you. If you are planning on going to Tuscany this year, don’t miss out on the chance to go wine tasting in a region that produces world renowned wines.
We were staying at this beautiful villa in Lecchi in Chianti. The wine tasting venue, Casanuova di Ama was thankfully within walking distance. I definitely wouldn’t advise driving afterwards, particularly as the ‘tastings’ that you get are far more generous than your average wine tasting amounts.
Casanuova di Ama is a small farm where generations of family live and work. It’s an authentic Tuscan farm covering 15 hectares, 5 of which are used as a vineyard. They also have over 2000 olive trees, and it seems the olive oil they produce here is just as important to them as the wine. Daniela was the perfect host, she did everything she could to make us happy and answered all my questions with enthusiasm.
Daniela said that the soil here is dry, hard, stony and lighter, which makes it ideal for wine and olive oil production, but not much else. The soil is different near Siena, the ground is much softer and brown in colour.
She also mentioned that it is harder in this area (Chianti) to find a very good olive oil, and she is very proud of the oil they produce. They use granite stone to press it, so rather than being filtered, it’s pressed through granite stone instead. The olives are also hand picked rather than shaken, because this preserves the taste and it’s an ancient tradition here.
We expected a few light bites during the wine tasting, but Daniela literally prepared a feast for us. During the tasting she served up all sorts of delicious treats that were carefully selected to go perfectly with the wines.
We had Pecorino cheese, Tuscan ham, a cheese and ham tart, bruschetta, mozzarella from Southern Italy, a vegetable hummus type dip, warm chicken liver and veal spleen pate, bread, olives, cheese on toast with honey and balsamic vinegar, and finally, to finish, Cantuccini biscuits. As you can imagine, we were completely stuffed by the end of it.
We tasted one white wine, five reds, a dessert wine and also a liqueur.

1. White wine
This was a simple table white wine made from two local grapes. She said they only produce a few bottles of white compared to the red wines they produce (20% of their grapes are Chardonnay). I’m definitely more of a red wine fan, I rarely drink white wine. However, I really liked this fresh, crisp white, and it was perfect with the appetiser she served.

2. Comena (2012) - red
In Brolio a rich gentleman first made what we know of as the Chianti Classico with four grapes, two red and two white. Up until 2006 since, when the regulations changed, the wine was made with both red and white grapes.
The recipe was changed in 2006 to only red grapes. After producing wine on the farm using both red and white grapes, Daniela’s family wondered why such a popular wine had to be changed. It took them a while to come around, but now they understand, the wine made from only red grapes has more body, texture and colour and is of a higher quality.
After a few years of resistance, the mentality changed and people conserved wine for longer because the longer it is conserved, the better the taste. Daniela explained all this to us before we tasted the first two wines.
The first one was the old style wine called Comena (which she said means ‘as it was’), which contains two white and two red grapes. This wine is much lighter than the newer style, and you can definitely taste the white grapes a little. Daniela mentioned that this wine is still her favourite. Personally, I preferred the newer version (below) made from only red grapes.

2. Chianti Classico Casanuova di Ama (2014) - red
This is the newer version, which as mentioned above has a stronger flavour and more body, texture and colour. It’s made entirely of red grapes. Daniela said that although this wine is excellent quality, she had even better wines in store for us that have been matured for longer.
She said that the Sangiovese grape that’s used to make these wines is quite a hard tasting to begin with, it’s only after a long time that you can achieve a softer taste. With Merlot for example, it’s possible to get the softer taste sooner, but this is not the case with the Sangiovese.

3. Chianti Classico (2012) - red
This was my personal favourite of all the wines she served (although the Riserva came a close second). Daniela served each wine in a bigger glass, and said that the bigger the glass, the better the wine. Older wines require a bigger glass so that they can air and get more oxygen. This was similar to the 2014, but it had a more distinctive taste.

4. Chianti Classico Riserva - red
For the Riserva, they are very selective with the grapes, as it is a higher quality wine. This is why it is a little more expensive than some of the other red wines in this region. They change the flavour using a smaller 500 litre barrel and preserving the wine for at least 18 months (the longer the better). In comparison, normal non Riserva Chianti Classico is only kept for around 9-12 months.

5. Merlot (2010) - red
Back in the UK, my current favourite wine is Merlot, although I definitely need to branch out. I like Merlot because it is soft and smooth, and to me it tastes less tangy and acidic than most other reds. It’s basically a safe bet.
 The Merlot at Casanova di Ama is made with 50% Sangiovese grapes and 50% Merlot grapes. It has a totally different perfume, texture and colour. It’s more of a deep purply red colour. They don’t make much Merlot compared to Chianti Classico wine on their vineyard. 60% of the vineyard is dedicated to the Sangiovese grape, and the rest is made up of Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay.
 Turns out her husband and brother in law were against producing Merlot, but her son managed to convince the family to give it a go. It’s quite a good wine to have during the tasting, as it really contrasts with the Chianti wines. I’m a Merlot lover, but I have been converted, I much prefered the Chianti Classico. Although the Merlot was still very enjoyable, I noticed how much less flavour it had.

6. Vin Santo dessert wine
We also had the pleasure of being treated to the dessert wine, which despite being very sweet, contains no added sugar. Two white grapes and a very small amount of red are used to make this wine. They pick the grapes then hang them for a long time (3 months) as they want the wine to be very dry.
 It takes a large quantity of grapes to make a small quantity of Vin Santo wine. For example, for normal wine they use 100 kilograms for 750 litres of wine, and for Vin Santo, they use 100 kilograms for 250 litres of wine. This dessert wine is ideal with cake and ice cream and as an after dinner drink. Daniela served this wine with sweet biscuits and a little chocolate pastry.

7. Grappa - liqueur
Finally, despite feeling very tipsy by this point, we couldn’t resist trying some Grappa. It’s a strong liqueur (40%) that’s served after coffee.

If you are interested in going wine tasting whilst in Tuscany, click here. 
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Holiday Highlight - Private Tuscan Chef

Friday, May 6, 2016

Holiday Highlight - Private Tuscan Chef

Posted by Kiri (06/05/2016)

On our recent trip to Tuscany, we decided to treat ourselves to a private chef. You might assume that a private chef is really expensive, but the price is actually very reasonable when you consider everything you get.

For us, it was well worth the money, and it’s an experience that we will treasure for a long time. There’s no better place to enjoy a private chef than in Tuscany, where the food is such a big part of the lifestyle.

Hiring a private chef is perfect for a special occasion such as a wedding anniversary, a birthday party, or if you want to celebrate with friends. We just fancied a special treat, and wanted to get a better understanding of the local food. It’s definitely also ideal for couples who want a romantic evening.

Our chef, Andrea was fantastic (click here for more information). He was so friendly and passionate about his work. He sent me a menu in advance to choose from, and it was very difficult to pick what we wanted, because all the options seemed appealing. Our dinner was made up of four courses and a side dish.

Picture yourself in a charming private Tuscan villa, with absolutely stunning views, being wined and dined by your very own private chef. When we went it wasn’t quite warm enough to sit out on the balcony, but we could still appreciate the view from inside. You literally don’t have to lift a finger, Andrea does everything, including washing up everything he uses.

My partner and I both have big appetites, so we didn’t think we would have any trouble finishing this meal, but we were wrong. I was forced to leave a bit of pasta, as I knew I wouldn’t manage the rest of the meal otherwise (I ended up having the pasta for lunch the next morning). The portions were very generous. We didn’t manage to finish the enormous side of spinach but we enjoyed having it for breakfast the next day.

What we had

Starter - Traditional Tuscan starter including salami, Pecorino cheese with chestnut honey and black pepper, Tuscan ham and meats and bruschetta. The bruschetta was made from simple ingredients (cherry tomatoes, local olive oil and garlic) but it was so tasty.

First course - Homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with a tomato and pesto sauce. The sauce was made from tomato, pesto, olive oil and garlic.

Main course - Chicken in Chianti wine with a sauce made with carrots, onions, garlic, olive oil and tomato.

Pudding - Portuguese milk (very similar to crème caramel). This is a dessert made with milk, sugar and eggs, and the sauce is made with caramel and chocolate. It was served with Cantucci almond biscuits and fresh strawberries.

Side dish - Spinach with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic, and also another side of bread.

Thanks so much Andrea for a mouth-watering memorable meal that we thoroughly enjoyed. Everything was perfect including the food and the friendly service, we would definitely do it again.

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Celebrities That Have Houses In & Around Tuscany

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Celebrities That Have Houses In & Around Tuscany

Posted by Dympna (29/04/2016)

Tuscany is an absolutely stunning region, so it’s not hard to see why some celebrities choose to live and purchase lavish holiday homes here. Many celebrities have been seduced by the charms of Tuscany including its wine, food and breathtaking landscapes. Some of the celebrity homes in Tuscany are mind blowing. Prepare to be green with envy, here are some celebrities that have amazing houses in and around Tuscany.

Sting, being the former frontman of Police, a hugely successful band, has many holiday homes. However, one of the places he spends a lot of time is in Tuscany. He and his wife, Trudie Styler head to Tuscany most summers.
He has an enormous 900 acre estate and 16th century villa in Il Palagio. It has a swimming pool obviously, exotic gardens and Sting also produces his own wine, honey and olive oil on the property. Sting is definitely a fan of Italy in general, as he also has a house in the ultra fashionable Lake Como. 

Roberto Cavalli
One of the world’s most successful fashion designers also chose to purchase a home in Italy. This fashion mogul has a 32 acre estate just outside of Florence, which was designed by Italo Rota, a world famous architect. 
His house has a sauna, gym, vineyard, two pools and a landing pad for his helicopter. The interior of his farmhouse is reportedly filled with animal prints and paintings and antiques from different eras, reflecting his flamboyant style. 
Fellow fashion designer Giorgio Armani also has a home in  Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany. 

George Clooney
Hollywood Royalty also resides within the vineyards of Tuscany. George Clooney recently made an offer on a holiday home in the seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia. This area was recommended to him by his chef friend Federico Salza. 
Apparently he has been looking all summer for the right place in Tuscany, as it is an area that his wife Amal loves. George also owns properties in Mexico, LA and Lake Como, this place in Tuscany is a new addition to his collection of enviable homes. You never know, you could soon bump into George Clooney whilst holidaying in Tuscany!

Helen Mirren
Puglia, not actually in Tuscany is a region in Southern Italy that’s often called the ‘Florence of the South’. Helen Mirren visited Puglia after promoting her film ‘The Queen’ and fell in love with the area. She has an amazing 500 year old castle that needs a bit of love and restoration. She will probably have to spend a lot of money on improvements to the castle but it is stunning nonetheless.

George Lucas
The creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie series also appreciates Italian property. With the money he has made from all his films, he is certainly not restricted in terms of budget. Lucas has a 16th century property that reportedly cost him around 15 million dollars to purchase.
It used to be a convent for monks, and it has been transformed into a luxury villa for George Lucas. It has a spa, swimming pool, billiard room and picturesque grounds. His home from home is located in Passignano sul Trasimeno, Umbria, which borders Tuscany.
Debi Mazar
Not as well known as some of the above celebs, Debi Mazar was in Batman Forever, GoodFellas and Entourage. Her husband was born in Italy, and they spend their time in LA and Tuscany. Her husband’s parents gave their 14th century Tuscan house as a wedding gift to Mazar and her husband. The pair also run a Tuscan food website and restaurant, called Under The Tuscan Gun.

Frances Mayes
Frances Mayes wrote the famous book ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, so naturally she had to have a place in Tuscany. She owns a property in Cortona, Bramasole which is not far from Arezzo. Many people come to her house to try and photograph it as she is well known within the region. 
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Why Tuscany Is A Family Friendly Destination

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Tuscany Is A Family Friendly Destination

Posted by Mikolaj (22/04/2016)

Tuscany is often considered the perfect destination for couples, but it’s also a fantastic place for family holidays. There’s so many things to do and authentic, interesting experiences for the whole family to enjoy. Many families book private villas, which are the perfect setting for a memorable and relaxing family holiday.

If you are thinking of taking your family to Tuscany for the first time, don’t worry, there are plenty of activities to keep the kids busy while you unwind. From family friendly beaches to theme parks, caves, castles and days out in amazing cities, Tuscany has it all. Here’s why Tuscany is a family friendly destination.

Family villas in Tuscany
One of the most popular accommodation types for families in Tuscany is private villas. Our private villas have all the facilities you need for a stress free family holiday. From villas with pools to child friendly facilities and free Wi-Fi. The kids can play out in your private garden while you sit back and take in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside, coastline or city views. Check out our wide range of family friendly villas.

Eating out
The restaurants through Tuscany are child friendly, and the locals will make your kids feel right at home. Your kids can sample many delicious Tuscan delicacies, or if you have a fussy eater, then they can always tuck into a simple pasta or pizza. Lots of restaurants in Tuscany have gorgeous gardens to occupy the kids while you enjoy being wined and dined.

Things to do
You certainly won’t run out of things to do in Tuscany. You and your family will have hundreds of attractions on your doorstep. No matter what sort of activities your kids enjoy, you will manage to keep them occupied in Tuscany.

There are lots of magical castles to explore, as well as spooky dungeons, towers to climb and fascinating museums. Florence is home to three child friendly museums including the Museo di Storia della Scienza, Palazzo Vecchio and Museo Stibbert. Older kids will be impressed by the fact that some scenes for the Twilight movies were filmed in ancient Tuscan towns.

The Boboli Gardens in Florence are also ideal for families, it’s one of the biggest parks you can find in the city, covering 11 acres. The kids will love the enormous maze and playing amongst the beautiful flowers and trees.

If your kids love animals then don’t miss Pistoia Zoo, which has lots of different exotic animals including tigers, elephants, penguins, bears and lions. There’s also a large children’s playground and a cafe.

Pinocchio Park is also a bit family attraction, it’s a little village where the author of Pinocchio lived which is now called Collodi. Here there are activities for kids such as puppet-making workshops and a butterfly park.

Tuscany is not short of theme parks, there are two main waterparks which are both called Acqua Villa. One is in Cecina and one is in Follonica. If your kids don’t like water much then Cavallino Matto, a huge theme park with a 4D movie theatre and pirate shows is another option to consider.

Check out our ‘Tuscany for children’ page on our website for a list of all the best family friendly attractions in Tuscany.

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