Tuscany Cycling

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tuscany Cycling

written by Campbell Reid (22/05/2015)

As the steep gradient starts to bite, I rise out of the saddle to try to maintain my speed. But the back wheel of my bicycle spins and I lose traction, so I sit back down and try to power on. It’s my first morning in Tuscany and I have forgotten the most basic rule of riding the Strade Bianchi, the gravel-topped white roads that criss-cross this legendary cycling region.

It’s an understandable lapse in concentration as my eyes are constantly drawn to the vineyards cascading off the ridge I’m cycling along. This is Chianti country and I’m regretting last night’s bottle as my legs sting with the effort. I drop down off the ridge, seeking smooth Tarmac and ride into Gaiole in Chianti.

I’m here to meet Sean, the owner of To Tuscany,the villa company I’m staying with. He’s a keen cyclist and, accompanied by his friend, Brett, we’re going for a spin on the rolling, local roads. Our target today is Castellina in Chianti, where I’ve been promised the best gelato in Tuscany.

We leave Gaiole in the crisp, spring air and soon enough start climbing at a steady pace. The smooth road twists and turns upward as we ride past undulating fields and bare-branched woods just a few weeks away from an explosion of seasonal colour. We crest the hill and our private race begins as Sean and Brett descend like demons, making the best of their fitness and local knowledge.

Folks know their cycling around here. The local heroes are a who’s-who of professional road cycling – Bartali, Bettini, and Cipollini. There are several current professionals based in the area. Increasingly, though, it’s L’Eroica,  the vintage cycling event, that is gaining Tuscany international headlines, celebrating an era steel frames, woollen jerseys and the Strade Bianchi. Gaiole is its spiritual home – there’s even a store here full of memorabilia and re-imagined vintage gear by De Marchi.

The road to Castellina is a sinuous 7km climb. Sean pushes on ahead, while Brett and I settle into our own steady rhythm. Through the gaps in the trees I glimpse more vineyards on the plain below, stretching north and westward until, thankfully, we finally reach Sean at the top for a full-on view and that gelato.

A carload of American tourists pulls over and we chat about the glorious scenery. Selfies taken, they are back in the car, no doubt with a schedule to keep to. I don’t envy them: two wheels is quite simply the best way to connect with this beautiful landscape. And the ice-cream? Worth every metre of the climb.
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Tuscany for Walkers

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tuscany for Walkers

Posted by Sonia (15/05/2015)
Tuscany is a welcoming region for all sorts of passions, be it art, fine food, or shopping, there’s something for everyone. Of the many things that Tuscany is known for, walking often gets overlooked despite the beautiful countryside surrounding the cities and famous sites.

If you’re heading to Tuscany, and want to make the most of the outdoors, why not pack your best walking shoes, grab a map, sun hat, and plenty of water and try out some of these incredible walking routes.

Via Francigena
The Via Francigena is a medieval pilgrim pathway that begins in Canterbury and ends in Rome, passing through Tuscany on the way. The journey doesn’t get as much interest from religious pilgrims currently with other routes across Europe garnering more attention, but it makes for an interesting walk or trek depending on how far you wish to travel.

Routes in Tuscany include Carmaiore to Lucca (approx. 24km) and Lucca to Porcari (approx. 10km). If considering walking part of the Via Francigena during your holiday, then be prepared to do your research. Unlike other walks and trails, there is no uniformed signage, which can make following the route a little tricky. It is best to purchase a special map book, or downloading GPS directions so avoid getting lost en route.

Vie Cave
These Etruscan routes are excavated roads that link Sovana, Sorano, and Pitigliano and providing a wonderful historical walk. Thought to have been created for religious purposes, the Vie Cave provide a beautiful and unique area of Tuscany to explore. The sites contain a number of information points so that visitors can learn about Etruscan culture and the routes themselves, and offer stunning views of nature.

The Vie Cave are in the province of Grosseto, which is only a 1hr 45min drive from Siena so are an ideal daytrip for anyone staying in Tuscany. You can download a map showing the Vie Cave routes here.

Craft your own City Walk
Venturing into Tuscany cities guarantees a certain amount of walking, as many of the sites are best seen on foot. Those wanting to make the most of their visit could plan an inner city walk by choosing points of interest from guidebooks, or researching on Google maps. Pick out three or four points of interest and plan your route to bypass them all and you’ll have created a wonderful cultural walk. We’d recommend planning a bespoke walking tour of Siena or San Gimignano if you’re a confident walker who doesn’t mind a hilly town terrain.

Alternatively, you can book a tour with a local guide to find out about the rich history of Tuscany without having to consult your guidebook.

Stepping outside Tuscany
While there are plenty of good walks hidden away in Tuscany, you may be tempted to take daytrips to areas outside the region. If you like the idea of a coastal walk, then taking the train to Cinque Terre is worthwhile. The five coastal villages are home to brightly decorated houses and are linked by the Azure Trail. The trail provides some incredible coastal walks, but visitors should be warned that they can be quite a trek on a hot summer’s day.

For a gentle route, walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola, as this is flat and paved, and get the train to the other villages. Take a towel and your swimsuit, as Cinque Terre has some lovely beaches that are great for a mid-walk dip.

A Tuscan villa with a pool can be the ideal relaxing destination after a long day of walking in the warm Italian sun. Take a look at our selection of stunning villas and see whether you can find your haven from a hard day’s walk on the hills.
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Buon appetito! The Best Food to Taste When in Tuscany

Friday, May 8, 2015

Buon appetito! The Best Food to Taste When in Tuscany

Posted by Virginie (08/05/2015)

Tuscany provides a smorgasbord of culinary delights for its visitors, with the region being well known for producing fine food and drink. Whatever time of year, those taking a holiday in Tuscany are exposing their taste buds to many a treat, from light snacks to hearty Italian meals. Whether wanting to cook from scratch in the kitchen of your rental villa, or debating which dish to choose from a rustic or fancy restaurant, be sure to try these delicious local Tuscan dishes whilst there.

Bruschetta is a simple Italian antipasto that you’re likely to find in any restaurant or café. Traditionally consisting of grilled bread that has garlic rubbed into it and then topped with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, you’ll often find places offering extra toppings including mozzarella, cured meats, and even vegetables.

A variation on bruschetta that is local to the Tuscan region is fettunta. Fettunta is a stripped back version of the dish and is grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in delicious olive oil, and sprinkled with coarse salt.

Both dishes are simple enough for you to create in your rental Tuscany villa. Simply pick up some fresh ingredients from the local market and deli for the toppings and see what you can create. The dish works incredibly well if using day old, or slightly stale bread.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Tuscany provides an array of meaty dishes including Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The dish is a steak seasoned with salt and olive oil that has been grilled over either a wood or charcoal fire. The thick and large T-bone steak is usually sourced from the Chianina or Maremmana cattle, which are local to Tuscany.  The steak is usually served very rare, accompanied by a glass of red wine and a dish commonly known as Tuscan beans that typically consists of a mix of white beans that are seasoned with garlic and sage.

Pappardelle al Cinghiale
A pasta dish that is local to Siena, Pappardelle al Cinghiale makes for a beautiful evening meal.  Wide strips of fresh pasta are served with a tomato based sauce and wild boar that has been marinated in red wine. The sauce is flavoured with chilli, rosemary, or nutmeg, and often contains onions and other seasonal vegetables.

No one does Gelato like the Italians. Visit any Tuscan city or town and you are likely to find a gelateria with a vast array of spectacularly colourful iced treats. It’s not simply the taste that amazes visitors to Tuscany but also the choice. Flavours range from traditional pistachio to bubble gum and most gelaterias lavishly decorate their gelato with fresh fruit.

When it comes to gelato, we’d recommend that you experiment with flavour combinations, mixing light, fruity flavours like peach or grapefruit with the rich, creamier tastes of dark chocolate or almond. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample either!

The region’s most notorious export is likely to be its wine. The climate is perfect for growing a wide variety of grapes, and each year Tuscany produces some delightfully enjoyable wines that are the perfect accompaniment to an evening meal, or lunchtime break. Head to the Chianti region to sample some of the most popular wines, but don’t forget to taste wines produced in Montepulciano and San Gimignano.

Adds the Flavour
Tuscany is known for creating food filled with rich flavours due to the locally grown or sourced ingredients. Visitors to the region who are just as interested in what goes into the food as they are about eating it will be pleased to know that there are plenty of food based tours and tasting sessions available. From olive oil tasting sessions, foraging for truffles, to attending your own Tuscan cooking lessons.

Whether you’re planning on spending every night dining out, or want to spend your time creating your own culinary masterpieces, why not take a look at our wonderful selection of Tuscany villas to find the beautiful setting for your Tuscan adventure.
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3 Hidden Gems: Get Back To Nature In Tuscany

Friday, May 1, 2015

3 Hidden Gems: Get Back To Nature In Tuscany

Posted by Ruth Anne (01/05/2015)

If you take a trip to Tuscany you’ll find wonderful culture, art, and history around every corner. However for those who prefer a quieter experience, there is also a hidden, natural side to Tuscany away from the cities and towns. Here are three of the hidden treasures that you can visit around the region.

Diaccia Botrona
This nature reserve in the Maremma region was created in the 18th century when an existing lake was drained. The result was the creation of astonishing wetlands, a particular pull for birds who need this very specific habitat like herons, hawks and wild geese. One of the biggest pulls is the flamingos – one of the only places in Italy where they can be observed in the wild.

Within the nature reserve there is a multimedia museum called Casa Rossa, which for a small fee provides you with a great viewing point as well as a lot of additional information regarding the area and the research carried out there. However, access to the nature reserve itself is free, so as long as you are quiet and respectful of the area you can enjoy the wonderful scenery and observe wild tortoises, tree-frogs and porcupines as well as the birds without paying a penny.

Crete Senesi
Just outside Siena lies the beautiful and unique Crete Senesi. Vegetation here is sparse, exposing the blue-grey, clay based soil underneath which rolls in gentle hills that are in shape and texture not unlike a desert. The unique colour and sparseness has earned it a reputation as a ‘lunar landscape’. Those who have been there report that the effect is a little eerie, especially as it is dotted with patches of forest and farmhouses which stand in contrast to the stark backdrop. Photographers in particular are pulled here, as it’s unlike almost any other place on earth.

Arcipelago Toscano National Park
This is the largest marine park in Europe, safeguarding over 55,000 hectares of the Mediterranean Sea and encompassing the Tuscan archipelago – chain of islands – just off the coast. The islands themselves are well preserved beauty spots, and have a host of protected birds, plants and mammals to discover, while the sea is home to dolphins, rare fish and a wealth of underwater vegetation. The islands are dotted with educational visitors centres to visit, or if you fancy exploring yourself, you’ll find plenty to do and see. Make sure you check the rules of what you are and aren’t allowed to do, as the area is protected.

These aren’t the only hidden gems in Tuscany. If you want to explore the region’s wild side, you could consider a Tuscany villa rental to give you a comfortable place to rest at the end of each adventurous day. Contact us to start making your plans to explore Tuscany.
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Too many cooks? Not in this kitchen

Friday, April 24, 2015

Too many cooks? Not in this kitchen


By Kate Simon (24/04/2015)

“Mess, don’t press!” Simone, chef-owner of the Ristorante Malborghetto, is showing me how to make a ragù.

“This way we mix all the flavours – and we don’t burn the pan,” he smiles. He’s right. Though we cook the meaty stew for more than two hours, a little gentle coaxing with the spoon and a regular slug of water ­– “Water adds no flavour and takes no flavour away,” counsels Simone – keeps the washing-up to a minimum.

This is just one of the many tips, useful for a host of recipes, that Simone imparts during the three-hour cookery class my husband, Dean, and I have signed up for at his restaurant in Lecchi in Chianti. It’s a fun way to spend a morning of our villa holiday with To Tuscany.

And the ragù is only one of the dishes we will prepare during the course of the morning in his professional kitchen. By the time we are joined by our friends for lunch, hungry to sample our morning’s toil over a hot stove, we will be ready to serve up a four-course feast, featuring crostone di porcini, salsicce e fagioli, and tiramisu, too.

Our session began earlier that morning with a chat over a coffee, gaining a little insight into how Simone had ended up championing the produce of his native region in this pretty stone hamlet in the Tuscan hills. Then, pinnies on – embroidered with our names, souvenirs to take home – we got straight down to business prepping lunch.


We started at the end, with the tiramisu, “to allow it plenty of time to set”, explained Simone. First he got us separating the eggs like experts, shell to shell, then whisking the whites until we could lift the bowl upside down over our head without risking a foamy new hairdo.

In another bowl we beat the yolks with some mascarpone and sugar. Then we folded in the whites to create a light cream and began assembling the dish, layer upon layer of sweet liquid and sponge biscuits quickly dipped in a bowl of watery espresso. “Just touch the coffee,” said Simone, “you don’t want it to be too strong, you want to give a hint of its flavour.”

With the tiramisu in the fridge and the ragù underway, we turned our attention to the art of making gnocci, kneading a soft dough of potatoes, flour, egg, parmigiano cheese, and a sprinkling of nutmeg. We rolled sausages of the mixture and chopped them into thumbnail-sized dumplings, rolling some into balls in our hands. Then we placed them on a tray for firming up in the fridge before their final destiny, the boiling water bath in the corner.

Next, we browned a healthy pile of meaty sausages, from Simone’s favourite local butcher, in olive oil, garlic, sage and rosemary. The heady aroma infused the cannellini beans and tomatoes we added to the pan, slowly braising the hearty mixture with the help of our constant friend “a zip of water”.

Then Simone taught us a little frill, how to create a parmesan basket to serve our ragù and gnocci in. Turning a pancake of molten parmesan over a small glass bowl is not as easy as it sounds. But Simone had seen it all before: “Once you’ve done your first, it will become easier,” he smiled patiently at my initial lop-sided attempt.

And finally, we reached the beginning, searing the crostone on Simone’s large grill, then assembling the earthy topping of porcini, garlic, rosemary and salt. “Just clean the porcini with a damp cloth, not too much water,” he advised.

With our friends now seated at the table in Simone’s cosy dining room, we put our creations to the taste test, each course accompanied by an expertly paired glass of wine. The diners all agreed. We had, indeed, prepared a Tuscan feast – thanks to more than a little help from our new chef friend.

To find out more about cooking classes at Ristorante Malborghetto, see here.

Kate Simon is the former Travel Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She is co-founder of Little Black Book Creative, the specialist travel PR agency that represents villa-booking website To Tuscany.
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