Tuscany is a postcard-perfect picture of rural Italy; an undulating landscape sprinkled with charming towns, sprawling beneath a big blue sky. There’s the cultural mecca of Florence, the ancient city of Lucca and the golden beaches of Versilia for you to explore. And when it comes to cuisine, you’re just as spoilt for choice.
Reflecting its rural nature, Tuscan food is rustic and unfussy. A typical Tuscan bite to eat could be a crumbling of pecorino di Pienza cheese with a crusty slice of bruschetta, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil (pressed and bottled locally). Sample a mouthful whilst seated comfortably on the terrace at Podere Il Sogno, with far-reaching views over Pienza itself.
Bread is celebrated here, and rarely wasted; when stale, it’s used to make panzanella – a bread salad with tomatoes, basil, onion and olive oil, as well as ribollita – a famous bread soup containing cannellini beans, kale, cabbage and a hearty hotchpotch of other veg. For something a little more meaty, you can’t go wrong with Florentine T-bone steak (bistecca alla Fiorentina). As its name suggests, this thick, aged cut of chianina cattle originated in Florence, and is served grilled, salted and lashed with olive oil – no frills is the Tuscan way.
Truffles are highly-prized in Tuscany, and the white truffle is considered the most desirable. They’re fiercely sought by local hunters accompanied by trained truffle-sniffing dogs (pigs tend to gobble them), and here you’ll see the fungi served thinly sliced or sparingly sprinkled into pasta. Sequestered in the hills of San Miniato is Villa Anemone. From here you can attend the truffle auction in the town or go along to the truffle fair, held in November.
Say ‘Tuscany’ to a sommelier and they’ll gush about the wine here. The region is home to the premium Brunello di Montalcino DOCG wines, made entirely with the unique variety of sangiovese found in the hilly municipality of Montalcino; Rosso di Montepulciano, DOC wines of the same region but aged to varying degrees; and the Bolgheri Super Tuscans, a range of DOC label reds produced in the Castagneto Carducci municipality. Perhaps most famous of all, the vast Chianti region produces wine cases by the millions each year. It originally stretched between Florence and Siena (Chianti Classico), but later encompassed surrounding provinces, with various rules regarding blends and titles. While blends differ, Chianti usually contains a high percentage of locally-harvested sangiovese grape – 70 per cent all the way up to 100.
For an in-depth experience of this revered wine region, stay at a luxury villa in Tuscany which makes its own Chianti Classico, such as Belvedere or Villa San Leolino. For Brunello di Montalcino DOCG wines, stay at Townhouse Montalcino, or the exceptional Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco. The Castiglion del Bosco estate offers a fantastic choice of restaurants and bars, as well as producing one of the best Brunello wines. For Super Tuscans, you can do no better than a stay at Villa Charme.