My Favourite Tuscan Hilltop Towns So Far

Friday, June 24, 2016

My Favourite Tuscan Hilltop Towns So Far

Posted by Kiri 24/06/2016

When planning our trip to Tuscany, I wanted to make sure we had enough time to visit as many hilltop tops as possible. Tuscany is known for its awe-inspiring medieval hilltop towns that captivate visitors to the region. Sadly as we only had a week, we couldn’t fit as many as we wanted in, but there’s always next time. These are some of my favourite hilltop towns that I have seen so far.

We really fell in love with Lucca. It’s quite different to the other towns as it doesn’t seem as high up, and it’s enclosed by impressive walls that are distinctively different to the walls of other towns. One of my favourite memories from the entire holiday was simply cycling our retro bikes around the walls of Lucca.

Look in towards the city and you get a sneak peek of what’s inside, and look out into the distance and you can enjoy views of the surrounding mountains. It was so relaxing cycling in the sunshine and watching the locals walk their dogs around the path that runs round the city. There’s lots of restaurants and cafes to sample, a little stream runs through the city and there’s lots of shops selling local souvenirs including olive oil, which Lucca is famous for.

San Gimignano
I had heard a lot about the infamous San Gimignano. It’s a well-known hilltop town that attracts a lot of tourists, and for good reason. It should definitely be on your Tuscan hilltop town to do list. You will gain an appreciation for San Gimignano as soon as you spot it in the distance, it looks rather magical from afar. I would recommend arriving early in the morning as we got there at lunch time, and there was traffic going into the town, if you go early you are more likely to get a parking space.

I think the most memorable part about this hilltop town was the architecture and the way the city is laid out. It feels like you are inside castle walls as you make your way along the narrow cobbled streets. Like many other hilltop towns, the views here are incredible. Make sure you wander to the viewing point and take a few photos. There’s lots of shops selling everything from wine and Italian meat to all kinds of pasta and sweet biscuits. Make sure you check out the The Duomo di San Gimignano, an impressive 12th century church.

Radda in Chianti
Radda would definitely make our top three, mainly because it seems less tainted by tourism than some of the more well-known towns. It’s refreshing and unique, and the views here rival some of the best in the region. All the restaurants, bars and shops appear to be locally run with fresh local produce.

Bar Dante, on the corner of the town is a great place to relax and enjoy a spot of people watching. We grabbed pastries and coffee here a few times. Radda also has an art gallery in the centre, a spa if you fancy a cheeky treatment, a few wine shops where you can samples the wines and a good selection of restaurants.

Montalcino is home to the famous Brunello di Montalcino wine, one of the most expensive reds in Tuscany. We stopped here on the way back from the natural thermal spa at  Bagni San Filippo. We parked our car and walked to the top of the steps where there were stunning views of the hills and mountains, it was quite spectacular. Montalcino is a fairly small hilltop town, and good place to stop off. We stopped here for some lunch and to try some Brunello wine. 

Castellina in Chianti
The main reason Castellina is getting a mention is because we found the best ice cream shop in the entire world (no exaggeration) here. The lovely people at To Tuscany had recommended the new ice cream shop here, and when we arrived, we weren’t disappointed. It was the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted, hands down.

The shop is located just outside the town (a five minute walk). Castellina is similar to Radda in that it’s quite a local town. There’s a few restaurants, shops and bars to enjoy, and the usual jaw-dropping views that many of these hilltop towns offer. 
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Top 10 Free Things To Do In Tuscany

Friday, June 10, 2016

Top 10 Free Things To Do In Tuscany

Posted by Dympna (10/06/2016)

As Tuscany is a naturally beautiful area, there’s plenty of outdoor activities and jaw-dropping sights to keep you entertained. You may not need to bring loads of spending money on your Tuscan holiday, not when there are so many things you can do for free.

A holiday in Tuscany doesn’t have to break the bank, if you do your research, you can plan activities that won’t cost you a thing. We have come up with some of the best free things to do in Tuscany, check them out below.

1.    Visit the natural hot springs and bathe in the warm waters
There are plenty of hot springs dotted around Tuscany, many of which are completely free. You can pay to go to the luxurious spas, or you can simply be alone with nature and take a dip in the hot springs in the middle of the woods. If you are happy to go without showers or facilities, it’s a wonderful natural, and best of all, free experience to enjoy. Try the hot springs at Saturnia or San Filippo.

2.    Go on a hike through the Tuscan hills
Tuscany is one of the most visually stunning places in the world to go walking and hiking. As you go from one part of Tuscany to the next, the scenery completely changes, giving you a vast array of landscapes to trek across. There’s nothing like getting out in the great outdoors and seeing some amazing views on a challenging hike.

3.    Swim in the sea or visit one of Tuscany’s beautiful beaches
As well as the iconic rolling hills and lush countryside, Tuscany is also blessed with a gorgeous coastline. Spend a day at the beach and take a dip in the sea on one of Tuscany's free beaches. Try the ancient seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia or the Marina di Alberese, a peaceful beach located in a nature reserve.

4.    Visit a free museum, there are plenty throughout the region
Following the Ministerial decreefrom July 2014, lots of state run museums in Tuscany are free on the first Sunday of every month. Plan your trip accordingly and you can visit some of Tuscany’s most impressive museums, such as the Uffizi Gallery, for free. Click here for a list of Tuscan museums which are in this scheme.  

5.    Attend a festival or event and immerse yourself in the local culture
Tuscany host lots of interesting events, including plenty of food and wine festivals that you can attend for free. If you get the opportunity, make sure you go to a festival and experience the cultural side of Tuscany and soak up the atmosphere. you can find a list of Tuscan festivals here. 

6.    Walk up to the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo and take in the views of Florence
There are lots of tourist attractions and impressive buildings that will cost money to enjoy in Florence, and if you aren’t careful, you can end up spending a lot. One of the best things you can do for free in the city is climb the steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo where you can take in the most spectacular views of the city.

7.    Visit one of the charming medieval hilltop towns
Visiting the hilltop towns doesn’t cost anything, unless you want to grab a bite to eat or a coffee in a local cafe. However, you can bring a picnic and simply wander round hilltop towns without needing to spend anything. Here’s some info on the best hilltop towns to visit including San Gimignano, Pistoia, Lucca and Montalcino.

8.    See the Roman ruins whilst strolling round Siena
Interestingly, Siena’s origins date back to the first century AD, and you see evidence of Roman ruins all around the city. Keep an eye out for the dappled red bricks which were made using small crimson stones mixed with cement in Roman times.

9.    Take your bike and cycle up and down Tuscany’s undulating scenic hills
Tuscany attracts a huge amount of cyclists because of its challenging, undulating hills and scenic riding routes. Bring your bike with you to Tuscany and enjoy countless free bike rides on Tuscany’s most impressive roads. Here’s five ways to cycle around the Chianti.

10. Go on a road trip and admire some of Tuscany’s most stunning driving routes
You can occupy a whole day just driving through Tuscany and admiring the scenery. You might have to spend some money on petrol but driving round and seeing the heart of this picturesque region won’t cost a thing. Check out our guide to driving in Tuscany here. 
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Handy Tips For Driving Around Tuscany

Friday, June 3, 2016

Handy Tips For Driving Around Tuscany

Posted by Kiri (03/06/2016)
During my recent road trip around Tuscany, I picked up some handy driving tips. It’s helpful to know some things about driving in Tuscany before you set off, so you can be prepared for what to expect. If you are planning on driving anywhere in Italy, you need to always have your driving license, car registration document/log book and car insurance.

If you want to see as much of Tuscany’s spectacular scenery as possible, then driving is the best way to uncover the region. It’s only by car or by cycling that you stumble across small charming towns and hidden treasures. Here are my top tips for driving in Tuscany and some things we learned on our trip.

Winding roads
In the countryside the roads can get very windy, and it can take quite a while to travel a few miles. However, it’s usually worth it for the beautiful scenery. Take care on country roads as some of the bends are extremely sharp, and come out of nowhere.

If you get car sickness you may want to take some sickness tablets to get around the backroads. Don’t worry if a couple of crazy Italian drivers are right behind you, take your time manoeuvring around the bends.

Photo spots
On some of the more scenic routes there are special spots in the road designed specifically for stopping and taking photos. Like us, you will probably be tempted to stop at every single one because you don’t want to miss an incredible view.

In most towns if you want to park you need to set the timer on your dashboard to show when you arrived, as they have time limits on how long you can stay (some are only 30 minutes). Your hire care should come with a timer badge, just make sure you remember to use it or you could get a ticket. You also have to pay for parking in some towns, so always double check.

Tuscany is an amazing place to go cycling, so naturally there’s quite a few cyclists on the roads. It can take quite a while until it’s safe to overtake them, especially when there’s lots of blind corners and bends. Don’t rush to overtake cyclists and give them plenty of room.

Scenic roads
Our most scenic drive was from Radda in Chianti to San Filippo where we captured some incredible footage. As you move from southern to central and northern Tuscany, the scenery changes so much. Siena to Grosseto is also a fabulous drive. For more info about scenic driving routes click here.

Driving in Florence
Driving in Florence is a bit of a nightmare, and I would advise against it. If you can, get the train into the city. Some of the city is a no driving zone, and you get fined if you venture into these areas. It’s not that clear as the locals who have a permit can drive in, so it’s easy to accidentally follow them. We managed to avoid the restricted areas and parked in the station car park, which was about 3 euros an hour.

We found a fair few petrol stations while we were driving, and luckily there was one nearby where we were staying. However, there aren’t always petrol stations out in the countryside so make sure you fill up in plenty of time. There are 24 hour petrol stations on the Motorways.

Keep in mind that there are some toll roads in Tuscany, but if you are happy to go the longer, scenic route, you can easily avoid them. We decided at the beginning of our trip to avoid the motorways. When you go on the back roads, that’s when you stumble upon impressive sights and adorable little towns and villages. For a toll calculator, click here.

There’s a more in depth guide to driving in Italy with details about road signs, speed limits and driving laws here. 
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My Top Ten Moments In Tuscany

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Top Ten Moments In Tuscany

Posted by Kiti (27/05/2016)

Choosing my favourite moments from Tuscany is like finding a needle in a haystack. There’s so many magical memories floating around in my head that it seems impossible to pick out a top ten.

We had the type of holiday that is going to stay with us forever. My partner said it was one of the best holidays he’s been on, and I can understand why. We shared so many wonderful moments and Tuscany had absolutely everything we wanted from a holiday destination, stunning views, irresistible food, plenty of interesting things to do, and of course, lots of top quality wine.

So here goes, these are my top ten moments from our recent trip to Tuscany.

1.    Eating pappardelle pasta at Malborgetto in Lecchi
I think my favourite dish was the pappardelle pasta dish I ate at the local restaurant in Lecchi. We enjoyed our meal so much we went back there twice. I also really liked the Tuscan soup (Ribollita), panna cotta and pumpkin soup. The pasta was made with a rich wild boar sauce and it was just so tasty, I have been dreaming about eating it again ever since.

2.    Seeing Florence in all its glory from the Piazzale Michelangelo
Another amazing moment was when we climbed the steps up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and gazed upon impressive views of the city. If you visit Florence you have to walk to this fabulous viewpoint, it’s the best place to take photos.

3.    Sipping champagne on our villa balcony
A simple yet very satisfying moment was simply arriving at our gorgeous private villa and taking in the views from the balcony whilst sipping on champagne. It was the perfect way to start our holiday.

4.    Bathing in the natural thermal waters at San Filippo
One of the highlights of our trip had to be when we took a dip in the soothing, warm waters of the natural springs. These thermal waters are located right in the middle of the woods, so it really feels like you are surrounded by nature.

5.    Climbing the Tower of Mangia in Siena
To get the best views of Siena, head up to the top of the Tower of Mangia. It’s quite a climb to the top but it’s worth it. Half way up you get to see views of Siena’s medieval square, which looks even  cooler from above. Then at the top you can see panoramic views of the entire city and surrounding countryside.

6.    Wine tasting at Casanuova di Ama
We couldn’t go to Tuscany without going wine tasting, and Casanuova di Ama came highly recommended. We tried size or seven different wines which were accompanied by a wonderful feast that the host prepared. This would definitely be in my top three experiences, I can’t wait to do it again.

7.    Enjoying a meal cooked by a private Tuscan chef
We decided to treat yourself and splash out on a private Tuscan chef (which isn’t actually that expensive), and boy was it worth it. Andrea came to our villa and cooked the most incredible meal. It’s an experience I will never forget.

8.    Walking around Brolio Castle
I was absolutely stunned by the panoramic views around Brolio castle, and impressed by the grandeur of the building. Of all the amazing views we saw on our trip, Brolio Castle would probably top the list.

9.    Tasting the ice cream at Castellina in Chianti
If you love ice cream make sure you stop by the new ice cream shop in Castellina in Chianti. I have never tasted ice cream this good, which is probably why my mouth is watering as I type. Pure heaven.

10. Cycling around Lucca
I really enjoyed cycling around Lucca’s walls. It was so relaxing cycling around the outside of the city and watching all the locals going on their daily stroll. I was able to look to my right and see an insight into the city and to my left there were views of the mountains.

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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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