“The Tuscans have the faculty of making much of common things, and converting small occasions into great pleasures.”
Oltre il Giardino, Panzano in Chianti, Italy
As do so many romantics, I’ve often dreamt of lazy days in Tuscany. Hot, sunny afternoons spent cruising narrow, winding roads, lines of cypress trees and rolling wine fields around every curve. Tuscany is a movie scene of epic proportion, a life size canvas set to inspire best selling novels. Quite simply, Tuscany is art.
While Tuscany is vast, and broken into smaller regions, we had the pleasure of immersing ourselves in the Chianti Region between Florence and Siena. Villas of the Renaissance overlooking perfectly formed rows of grapes, bottled and sold as world famous Chianti and Chianti Classico, stamped by the official Gallo Nero. An expensive glass of Brunello, Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the stone of medieval castles, hairpin turns and candles melting down the sides of a long emptied bottle. With exquisite wines and incredible dishes overlooking postcard views, Tuscany is a place that will enhance your appreciation for life.
WHERE WE STAYED
I literally can’t say enough about Residence Rocca del Palazzaccio, and blogged about it previously in Local is the New Lux. Being based in Tavarnuzze, just 10 minutes south of Florence, and situated perfectly for experiencing all the region has to offer, was a location win. Francesco and Jennifer are the type of hosts that will forever change the way you view travel. While RRDP will never be the same without them, we wish them huge success as they move onwards and upwards as Kiwigest. We can hardly wait to have them tailor an Italian adventure for us in the future!
Do yourself a favor and stay with locals of the area. This is where you learn about the true Italian ways, where you can experience authenticity at it’s finest. And if they have an ancient cellar with wine and food….by all means, JOIN THEM.
WE DROVE IN ITALY…AND LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT…
Renting a car and driving in Italy is not for the faint of heart, but if there was anywhere we figured we could do it (and were more than determined) it was along the country roads of Tuscany. We so desperately wanted to throw away the schedules and the planned routes, and I am fortunate that Sam is a confident driver who convinced me that we could actually make this happen. We rented a Fiat 500 (of course!) from Maggiore at the location on via Maso Finiguerra. This location worked perfectly for dropping off and heading to the nearby train station at the end of our stay. We grabbed a map, wove our way down the narrow streets of Florence, and set out to explore the amazing towns and stunning scenery the good old fashioned way, by getting lost and making spontaneous stops!
WE DEVOURED A 3 LB STEAK:
Spontaneous stop number one was an early lunch, and we happened upon an amazing little restaurant with views to equal the food and wine. Oltre il Giardino in Panzano in Chianti, is one of those places you could stay all day, sitting beneath the vine covered roof, glass of wine in hand, enjoying the stunning panorama. Coming from Alberta, Canada, known for it’s amazing beef, I was excited to check out this impressive piece of meat. We talked with the gentleman who delivered and carved our meal, and he informed us that it’s delicious flavor is no secret. No combinations or blends, no spices, no generational recipes. Just meat in it’s simplest form. It was absolutely amazing.
Legend dates San Gimignano as far back as the arrival of the two brothers, Muzio and Silvio, who fled Rome in 63 BC. In the province of Siena, and set upon a hill at 334 meters above sea level, San Gimignano is as rich in history as it is in beauty. The historical center is registered as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. At one time boasting 72 towers, one built by each wealthy family as a power symbol, visitors today can enjoy the remaining 13. We paid for parking outside the walls, and ventured in thru the historical Porta San Giovanni. (Only local traffic may enter the walls of the city, so avoid a fine and park outside!) We enjoyed viewing the specialty shops thru glass windows lining the narrow street, offering ceramics, saffron, wines and oils. We followed narrow alleys to the outer edges of the town for sweeping views of Tuscany.
We then wound our way towards the Piazza della Cisterna. Here, the girls tossed wished upon coins into the ancient well and enjoyed gelato at world renowned Gelateria Dondoli. The town offers endless opportunities for every taste, with towers, churches, wine tasting, cooking, art and even a museum of torture. It is beautiful and large, so take the time to stroll thru history and enjoy all San Gimignano has to offer.
If medieval cities are your thing, then look no further than Siena. Roots rich in history and legend, it is said to be founded by Senius, son of Remus, one of the legendary founders of Rome. Read more about the legend here.
One event that makes Siena so popular is il Palio, a horse race that occurs every year on July 2nd, to honor the Madonna of Provenzano, and August 16th, in honor of the Assumption of Mary. It is a grand affair, with celebrations, costumes, music, flags, food and qualifying races going on 4 days prior. The grounds of Piazza del Campo, where the race takes place, is covered in a dirt race track. On the big day, over 30,000 people jam themselves into stands and spaces to watch the final ten bareback riders circle the piazza three times in a 90 second frenzy of excitement. While we didn’t attend the Palio itself, it was exciting to see the track setup in the days before!
In the heart of the Piazza del Campo sits the 13th century medieval and slightly gothic, Palazzo Pubblico. Climbing the Mangia Tower, designed to be taller that it’s rival in Florence, is a must. The views are absolutely spectacular.
Cruising the winding roads of Tuscany is a bucket list adventure and stopping for a glass of chianti in the region itself, it’s the very definition of a dream. Have a conversation with the locals, pull into a winery, and take advantage of an opportunity to be schedule free in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
From Tuscany with love,
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