Stunning Countryside, Charming Hilltop Towns And Impressive Cities - My Tuscan Travel Adventure
Written by Kiri (15/04/2016)
I have just returned from the trip of a lifetime, and I want to share with you everything I have discovered about this spectacular Italian region. It’s now my all-time favourite destination, and after reading this, you will soon see why. In summary, it’s mostly because of the beautiful landscapes, the ridiculously tasty food and the world class wine.
The only way I can describe what it’s like to travel through Tuscany is it’s kind of like living in a dream world. The pace of life is slow, you are bombarded with the most stunning views, and the scenery is constantly morphing in front of your eyes. I felt like I was living in dreamy Tuscan bubble for a week, and sadly, now that bubble has burst.
We stayed at Pesci at Montefiorile, in Lecchi in Chianti. The apartments are out in the countryside, and are perfect for a peaceful getaway. Upon arrival we enjoyed a glass of Prosecco on the balcony and took in the gorgeous views.
The main thing I remember about this apartment is sitting out on the balcony and literally hearing nothing apart from the birds chirping away, and the bees buzzing around the pretty flowers. The apartment had everything we needed, and had a cosy feel about it, we particularly liked the furnishings and the interior decor.
Here is a full account of what we got up to on our Tuscan adventure. Hopefully you will find my tips useful and get some ideas for your next trip to Tuscany.
I would definitely recommend visiting Lucca, a city encircled by Renaissance walls and famous for the olive oil it produces. Lucca is about a 30 minute drive from Pisa airport, so it’s an ideal place to stop off.
The best way to enjoy Lucca is by bike, there are lots of places to hire bikes. Spend a few hours cycling around the city walls and in the city centre. You can see views of the mountains and peek into the city as you cycle round. Lucca has a selection of great restaurants and plenty of shops where you can buy local specialities such as olive oil, wine and pasta.
You can’t really go to Tuscany without checking out Florence. It’s not easy to park in Florence, and there are some restrictions over where you can and can’t drive in the centre. We parked in the Station car park which is ideally located and is about 3 euros an hour, which is fairly reasonable for a big city.
The main things you need to see in Florence include the Duomo, Giotto’s Campanile, Palazzo Vecchio, The Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. Apparently, the Palazzo Pitti used to be the home of the government, and they built the Ponte Vecchio so that they could walk to their offices without being bugged by the general public.
The best views in Florence can be seen from the Piazzle Michelangelo. I hear it's particularly beautiful here at sunset, but sadly we had to leave before then. However, it was a bright sunny day and we got some fabulous shots of the city. Stop half way up the climb to the Piazzle Michelangelo and stroll round the pretty gardens which have stunning views.
On the way down we stopped at a restaurant that did a buffet with a glass of water for 8 euros. The buffet had aubergines, meatballs, potatoes, omelette, vegetables and green beans. We also had to try some ice cream in Florence, because the city is very famous for its ice cream shops.
Radda in Chianti
Radda is a breath of fresh air. It seems untouched by tourism, and still has lots of locally run shops and restaurants. A lot of the hilltop towns have amazing views, but Radda can compete with some of the best. The view surrounding the town are far reaching and mesmerising. Radda is a good place to meet as its quite central and you can easily get to lots of places from here.
The local shops sell fresh ingredients, so you can stock up and cook yourself a Tuscan meal in your apartment. Radda also has a small spa which I wanted to check out, but we didn’t have time. Make sure you pop into some of the wine shops, you can taste a few different wines for free. There’s also an art gallery in the centre, an ice cream shop and a few restaurants.
Of all the medieval hilltop towns, San Gimignano is perhaps the most famous. After reading so much about it, and seeing lots of spectacular pictures, I wanted to check it out for myself. It was raining when we visited which was a shame, but we still managed to enjoy everything this charming town has to offer. It has lots of cute shops selling all sorts of things, from art and pottery to souvenirs and food.
The town appears to be set inside castle walls which makes it seem rather grand and impressive. It looks even more striking when viewed from afar, so be sure to get a few snaps as you drive towards the town. We wandered round the town, took pictures of the views and ate pizzas in a family run restaurant.
I actually preferred Siena to Florence, but that’s just my personal opinion. Florence has all the big landmarks, but Siena is more laid back, spread out, and inviting. Although it was busy, unlike Florence, we didn’t seem to notice.
Siena is only about 45 minutes from Radda in Chianti. We parked outside of the city walls in a car park for about two euros an hour. We paid ten euros each to climb a ridiculous amount of steps to the top of the bell tower (Tower of Mangia). This 87 metre high stone building is the tallest bell tower I have climbed. The views at the top were pretty overwhelming, you can see all of the city, the countryside and the mountains in the distance.
I was dying to go to the hot springs, so we planned a day trip to Bagni San Filippo. There are quite a few places where you can enjoy the hot springs in Tuscany, Saturnia perhaps being the most well-known, but it was a bit too far for us.
We considered going to Terme di San Giovanni Rapolano which is essentially a spa that uses the natural hot springs. In the end decided on San Filippo as we wanted to visit the natural hot springs in the woods as well as Montalcino, and the Crete Senesi (an area with lunar like craters), which are both on the way back.
The drive from Lecchi in Chianti to San Filippo was absolutely incredible. This was by far the best scenery we saw the whole trip, I literally could not stop taking pictures and videos of the landscapes. The fields in this part of Tuscany are such a vibrant green. The scenery in central Tuscany and near Radda is much more rustic, the scenery changes as you go south, it’s much richer and fresher.
The hot springs are well worth a visit, they are right in the middle of the woods, and you can choose which temperature to bathe at. They get cooler the further downhill you go. We settled for a hot bath temperature, which was very soothing. There’s also some mud you can use as a scrub and skin mask if you are brave enough.
Montalcino has a reputation for producing excellent quality wine, it’s famous for its Brunello de Montalcino, which is one of the most expensive reds in Tuscany. Montalcino is a sweet hilltop town with picturesque views and a few restaurants and shops. We ate inside a restaurant with panoramic views of the countryside.
When you visit Tuscany, you should definitely consider hiring a private chef. It’s a unique opportunity to see Tuscan food being cooked in front of your eyes, and get a real taste of the local cuisine. We had Andrea as our chef for the evening. He was very friendly and happy to answer all our questions. We had the most unbelievable four course meal that I struggled to finish.
To begin with we had a Tuscan starter which consisted of Pecorino cheese with honey, Salami, Tuscan ham and bruschetta. Then we had ricotta and spinach ravioli with a tomato and pesto sauce (this was our first course). Our main (second) course was chicken cooked in Chianti wine, which was very tasty. Andrea also served up a massive side of garlic spinach. Finally, we had Portuguese milk which is similar to crème caramel.
We also had the pleasure of going wine tasting at an adorable local farm called Casanova di Ama. It’s about a 25 minute walk from the apartment, which is handy, because I wouldn’t recommend driving afterwards.
This was another highlight of the trip, our host, Daniela really spoiled us. She was a typical Tuscan mum who just wanted to feed us lots of delicious food and wine. We tried around seven different wines including one white and a dessert wine. Be aware that these are not your usual tasting portions, you get a decent amount of each wine.
Our favourite was probably the Chianti Classico Riserva, which is supposed to be one of the higher quality wines. Daniela taught us so much about how the wines are made, the history and how she runs her farm. I will definitely be writing a blog post about the wine tasting as I can't fit in all the detail here.
We had so much food including mozzarella and tomatoes, chicken liver and veal spleen pate (warm), a Tuscan vegetable hummus, bruschetta, salami, Tuscan ham, Pecorino cheese of varying maturity, a cheese, bacon and egg tart, and sweet biscuits to enjoy with the dessert wine at the end.
Castellina in Chianti
We stopped off at Castellina in Chianti on our last day to try the ice cream there, lots of people told us how good it was, and we weren’t disappointed. It was by far the tastiest ice cream we had all holiday. Castellina is also a nice place to stop off for lunch or to spend an afternoon.
Don’t miss out on the chance to go and see this spectacular castle. It passed onto the hands of the Ricasoli family thanks to an exchange of lands in 1141, and the first stones date back to the middle ages. It costs 5 euros to gain entry into the gardens, which also enables you to do wine tasting in their shop (you get to taste one wine). I think these were the best views of the entire trip.