Food and Drink Events & Festivals in Tuscany

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Top Food and Drink Events & Festivals in Tuscany
Posted by Sonia (01/07/2016)

Located in central Italy and covering almost 9,000 square miles, stretched from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea you’ll find Tuscany, one of Italy’s most prized foodie regions from Pisa to Siena and Florence.
Known for its history, landscapes and architecture, Tuscany has become known around the globe for its artistic and edible legacy. This rich tapestry of edible history is rustic and simple at its core and rooted in the seasonality and traditional methods of the region.
While exploring this foodie’s haven, you’ll struggle to avoid sampling crostini and fennel salami; mains such as bistecca fiorentina and fish stew, as well as the irresistibly creamy flavours of chestnut cake or castagnaccio and cantuccini. While you’re enjoying these make sure you take a moment to sample Italy’s finest,
Tuscany produces some of the world’s most famous wines including Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino but don’t forget a sip of Vin Sinto, a sweet wine that is best served with catucci/biscotti.
There’s so much to experience in this region that it can be a little overwhelming when planning a gastronomic trip. The simplest plan of attack is to pick a few key foodie festivals or sagre you’d like to experience, where you’ll be able to take in a wide variety of different flavours and then explore the surrounding areas, our top picks are:


Bravio delle Botte, Montipulciano
This annual event takes place in the medieval city of Montepulciano. The festival is based on the traditional method of moving wine of the Montipulciano region and is an exciting competition between 8 different districts of the region. Each team has to roll a botte (wooden barrel of wine) uphill for about 1000 meters to the finish line where they ‘capture’ the flag before enjoying traditional produce from the region.


National White Truffle Festival, San Miniato
Taking place on Saturdays and Sundays in November, this mid-region town celebrates the humble, perfumed white truffle. The festival takes the shape of a heaving town market where you can sample and buy as much local produce as you can carry and more.
 You’ll be able to sample and buy everything from extra virgin olive oil, honey, pecorino, chocolate, focaccia, pickles, cakes and so much more. Have a through brows and sample of the white truffle products including oils and pastes and then pop off to a local eatery for a simple pasta dish cooked with truffle oil and fresh mushrooms.


Fest’ all’Olio, Vitolini
A tradition of the Florentine Autumn, the Fest’ all’Olio takes place in November every year in celebration, as you can probably guess, of locally produced olive oil. Most local restaurants have speciality menus in celebration and there’s a wealth of opportunities to take a tour around the local area to learn more about the region and its produce including olives and chestnuts.
 They also hold a celebratory market where you can sample Florentine products. Perhaps you could even compare the flavours to products from one of your previous visits.

If you want to know more about any of these events, or you’d like to find other events to immerse yourself in Italian culture visit the Italian Tourist Office official website – www.italia.it


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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.

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 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. 



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.


Parking
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.

Cyclists
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.

Fuel
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.

Tolls
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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