Tag Archives: Italy

The long and winding road to buy a property in Italy….

If a year ago someone had told me that it would have taken us (my boyfriend and I) a full year to buy a property in Italy, I think we would have probably walked away – and choose another country. A year. In the same period of time I had plenty of friends that got engaged and married, others planning children and actually giving birth to them.

But I suppose that – at the end of the day – buying a property in Italy is probably something like having a baby: painful and rewarding at the same time.

Now that we have finally completed, we don’t even have time to stop and think about the whole process itself but I am pretty sure we won’t never forget the experience: extremely slow, stressful and – for most of it – terribly frustrating. So, if you are thinking about buying down here, make sure you have plenty of patience and you are truly committed to get to the end. And in the not too distant future if you need a place to stay while looking around for the right property (which it can take a while!)…you can stay with us – keep reading! 🙂

Every single person that we met throughout the process (agents, consultants, builders etc) promptly reminded us “This is Italy!”, which basically means:

  • Bureaucracy is a nightmare. Sadly Italy lives up to its name and it doesn’t seem it will make procedures easier any time soon. From the very first moment you land in Italy you will soon realize that literally everything needs a stamp and someone’s signature in order to go ahead…Plenty more to be said on this topic!
  • If you don’t speak Italian, language is clearly an obstacle because you  will necessarily have to rely on someone else for the whole buying process. To find someone you can rely on it’s a whole different story (and that will deserve a separate post too!). Being an Italian speaker, I still had my difficulties throughout the whole process.
  • We have bought a property made up of an old farmhouse and a former hay-barn dated XVI century. Pretty old eh? Well, if you are looking to buy something similar just bear in mind that there is a huge number of countryside properties (at least in Tuscany, but I am pretty sure that the further south you go in Italy and the worse it will be) that to some extent does not comply with the current building/landscape regulations. I can easily say that out of the over 30 properties that we viewed in Tuscany before falling for this one, NONE was actually 100% compliant at the time of visiting. Again, plenty more to be said on this point but generally the bigger the house and the more likely it is there might something not fully legal or that needs to be fixed in order to be fully compliant. It can takes days or it can take months or – worst case scenario – it can’t be fixed. As long as you are prepared, no problem.
  • Plenty should be said on the quality of real estate agents – and we met quite a few in the last couple of year. Sorry to say that – and I am pretty sure it does not apply to everyone of course – but I don’t need a realtor to enter a kitchen and tell me “this is the kitchen” or to enter a bathroom and tell me “this is the bathroom” (YES, I am still frustrated about this). What about giving away some more basic but constructive information that can truly help the purchase? With the commissions they get (from both sides!), they should definitely provide a far better service.

Other than that, it has been definitely a fun ride with plenty of ups and downs, a lot of people that have crossed our path (some of them truly amazing that made and still make our days) and a whole bunch of new experiences that will definitely help us in the upcoming challenges – there will be plenty!

For us, completing on this property is just a step closer to the final goal that is not only converting it into our “home” but also into a bed and breakfast. Definitely a big challenge that will take a few more months of hard work but we are so looking forward to literally open our doors to our future guests and sharing with them our love for Tuscany, Italy, travels and plenty more that all the efforts will be absolutely worth it.

And the bottom line is: if you are planning a trip to Tuscany in the upcoming year(s), we would definitely love to host you! We expect to be up and running for the next season so, if you wish, follow us along this path: we will launch a webpage and an Instagram account so you can follow our progress (and give some advice too, why not?).

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In the meantime, before we disclose our location here are some of the most beautiful places in Tuscany that would deserve a visit and that are very close to where we live:

CERTALDO (10 minutes)

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Often overlooked but definitely worth a stop as one of the prettiest hill-top towns in the area. Every summer it hosts Mercantia, an amazing street-art festival that shouldn’t be missed. Another very well organized event is the Boccaccesca, a truly Italian food fair (with plenty of very good wine too!) in a lovely setting!

SAN GIMIGNANO (15 minutes)

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Possibly the most famous hill-top town in Tuscany, boasting gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, stunning architecture and plenty of excellent restaurants. Get there early in the morning or late afternoon to beat the crowds and enjoy the town at its best.

MONTERIGGIONI (20 minutes)

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On route to Siena, this tiny little castle-town is definitely worth a stop – far less crowded than San Gimignano. It can make a great stop for a couple of hours to enjoy an aperitivo in its lovely square or a walk around its walls.

CHIANTI (from 20 minutes)

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We are literally on the doorstep to Chianti, the land of olives and vineyards. Take a full day to drive around the charming towns of Radda, Greve and Gaiole in Chianti, tasting some of the best wines in a stunning setting.

SIENA (30 minutes)

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Home to the most famous horse races in Italy (the Palio, held twice a year), there is plenty to visit and explore in Siena to keep you busy for a couple of days. Despite the number of tourists visiting (particularly during the summer months), it still retains a truly Italian atmosphere.  

FLORENCE (45 minutes)

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Does it really need an introduction? Florence is a “wow” for the eyes and the soul and every single corner, church, square, alley etc is worth a stop. If you are planning to visit, make sure to plan ahead what to do and see so you don’t miss anything: even  only 24 hours can be an absolute blast!

SAN MINIATO (45 minutes)

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Another one of those pretty hill-top towns that can make a perfect stop on the way to Pisa Airport (if that’s the airport you will use), particularly if you come here during November/December, when it hosts the Truffle Market Fair (check dates), definitely the best place to eat and buy white truffle!

CRETE SENESI (50 minutes)

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Rolling hills and some of the most stunning lunar landscape in Tuscany. Plus, home to a couple of stunning Abbeys (including Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore). Great for scenery and sunsets.

PISA (1,15 h minutes)

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Though it is definitely the Leaning Tower that made Pisa famous, the whole city deserves a visit. Crossed by the Arno river, there is plenty to discover on both banks. If you don’t plan to sleep in, it’s definitely worth spending a few hours in the city before flying back….wherever you are flying back to! 🙂

 

Plenty more to discover so keep following!

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How to hire a car without the feeling of being ripped off (and a few more tips!)

Anywhere in the world, hiring a car (or a moped or anything else that moves) is definitely one of the best ways to get around and know the country you are visiting. Though I can see many positives in exploring a country by public transport (one above all: getting more in contact with local people by using their same means of transport), there are some places where hiring a car is definitely the best decision: you are completely flexible and able to reach quiet and unspoiled spots. Tuscany is definitely one of those places. Whilst Florence, Siena, Pisa and are easy to reach by using public transport, for many destinations, a car is almost a must: Val d’Orcia, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni etc. Though doable, visiting Tuscany by train and bus can be a bit challenging and sometimes frustrating. Not impossible, but definitely a bit more hard work especially if you want to get off the beaten track.

For this reason, I feel like hiring a car is the best option if you are planning to spend some time in Tuscany. I have been hiring cars both for business trips and during holidays for many years now in Italy, Spain, UK and USA and luckily (fingers crossed) I only had a couple of unpleasant situations but on plenty of occasions I have found myself struggling to get a decent car without feeling to be ripped off at the counter. 😦

What to keep in mind:

  • Discounts, Avios etc: check if with your airline you are entitled to some discounts or if, for being a customer of a specific airline, you have some additional benefits (you may be entitled to use them even though you have not flown with them when hiring a car). An example: Iberia was offering a free additional driver to any Iberia Plus member which is definitely a big saving since generally an additional driver is around Eur 10 per day (I used Easyjet to fly to Pisa and then hired with Avis, using the promotion). On top of that, airlines generally offer very good reward programs if using their partner hire company (Iberia/British Airways partner with Avis). Sometimes, paying a bit more for your rental definitely gives you more benefits 🙂

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  • Go safe: Hertz, Europecar, Avis etc….they are all big names and generally they are synonymous of good service (and generally they charge more!). More staff at their desks (you don’t want to queue for ages after a flight!), more cars available in their parking lots and more offices around the country in case you are planning to pick up a car and drop it off somewhere else. On one occasion where I rented with a smaller company (Locauto), I had to change the car I was hiring and, though I gave 4 days notices to the company, they couldn’t find me any another car in any of their other offices located in 3 different airports so I had to stick with the one I had.
  • Credit card: when it comes to hire a car, companies always ask for a credit card. They may accept a debit card  but always check in advance in order to avoid last minute surprises. In both debit or credit card, they will “block” a considerable amount on your account until the car is returned (“deposit”). Amount varies according to the class of vehicle rented. Take that into account since the money they put on hold won’t be available for you to spent until they release it (which generally is a few days after the rental contract is concluded). Also, in case of presenting a debit card, they might “force” you to take their own insurance – see next point.
  • Insurance: this is a difficult point and I can only tell my personal experience. I am fully recommending insurance4carhire (Car Hire Excess Insurance) that I have been using for over 3 years because 1) I had a claim for a car hire in Spain and the full sum was promptly refunded, 2) it’s a huge saving compare to the full insurance that the rental company offer and above all 3) I feel definitely much safer than going without insurance. For the newbies: when you hire a car, it always come with an excess that means the amount of money that – in case of accident/damage etc – you will have to pay to the car rental company (each company has its own excess amounts). With insurance4carhire, in case of accident/damage, you will pay upfront the excess stated in you rental agreement to the car hire company but the amount will be reimbursed by your insurance soon afterwards (you will have to fill in some forms and submit pictures). If you hire a car a couple of times a year, the saving is impressive since their current insurance for 1 year in Europe is £39,99 (unlimited number of rentals for a max of 60 days each, up to £6,500 excess on damage and theft plus plenty more cover). Definitely worth having a look at the website – especially if you compare it with the insurance offered by any rental company! Claiming is pretty easy and straightforward and their customer assistance was extremely helpful. Note: at the moment, to purchase this policy you must be resident of the UK, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy or Germany. I am sure that for residents of other countries there will be similar insurance company.

Just a couple of final rules to keep in mind before setting off – valid with any car rental, regardless of their name/reputation…

1) It is widely known that, as with everything (restaurants, hotels etc), car rental companies try to get rid first of the less appealing cars or that have got some issues (as small as the issue may be). So, if you are not happy with the car you have been given, politely complain; I am not a pain but I believe that if I pay for something (and sometimes car hire is a fortune!), it needs to be in good condition – it doesn’t matter if I am hiring a Fiat Panda or a Mercedes (the former is more likely!). On several occasions, I have been offered cars not cleaned, with seat belt broken, external fuel cap missing etc. I have learnt to polite refuse the car and try to get another one; it takes minutes and it saves you some hassle later, particularly if you plan to rent the car for more than just a couple of days.

2) Check the car extremely carefully, no matter if the car rental guy is packed with other customers waiting after you. Take your time and check everything, particularly wheels, bumpers, extra wheel and fuel (ask for full and bring it back full). Rushing may cost you money if you miss any existing damage. If there is any existing damage when you pick up the car, check that the car rental staff notes it in your contract and always take pictures of the damage.

3) Always keep the car hire contract in the car!

4) For as much a Fiat 500 looks extremely Italian and cool to hire, remember a couple of things:

a) many Tuscan roads (particularly to reach agriturismo or remote locations) are called “strada bianca” (white road, which basically means unpaved). A Fiat 500 is perfect for the city but not so much for driving off-road and on particularly winding roads (also not great if you are planning long driving throughout the region). 2) the boot is minimal so make sure you can fit your luggage in it before setting off, leaving nothing on display (see next point).

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Fancy a drive off-road and uphill? Make sure you hire the right car! (image from Pixabay)

5) This has always been my first rule since I had a car and even though I am perfectly aware that Tuscany countryside is not Milan (at all!!) or any other big city, it’s always worth remembering an Italian saying that goes “L’occasione fa l’uomo ladro” (that is more or less “opportunity makes the thief”). So, avoid leaving anything on display inside the car and – even worse – open the boot full of luggage in public spaces and then leave the car unattended (this to be particularly avoided in service areas on the motorway). When you leave the car, even though you have locked it remotely, double check the doors to make sure it’s properly closed (thieves do inhibit the transmission of your car remote control and when you think you have closed it,  in reality it’s still open…and it’s not a metropolitan legend, promise!). It literally takes a second and saves more pain later and, as always, better safe than sorry!

 

Other than that…get your Sat Nav set on your next destination and safe travels! 🙂

 

 

(Featured image from expedia.com)

Discovering Tuscany – Certaldo & Mercantia Festival

Widely renowned throughout Italy for being the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio (one of the greatest Italian authors of the Renaissance period, buried in the town), Certaldo is not so famous among foreign tourists. Located just 25 minutes from the most famous San Gimignano, it enjoys relative quietness and peacefulness even during high season when hordes of tourists flock to San Gimignano. As other Tuscan villages, Certaldo is divided in two parts: the Certaldo Basso (literally “low Certaldo”), not particularly attractive but where all the services are located (including train station with direct links to Florence and Siena, banks, supermarkets, restaurants, gelaterie, caffetterie and a few shops) and the charming Certaldo Alto (“high Certaldo”), with definitely fewer services but much prettier, located on top of a hill and overlooking the neighboring countryside, including San Gimignano.

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Certaldo Alto (which can be reached from Certaldo Basso either by foot or by a funicular – Eur 1,50 each way) was badly damaged during the II World War (including the house of Giovanni Boccaccio) but it was fully reconstructed soon afterwards, as it was in the Medieval times.

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If you visit, you will find yourself wandering in a charming little old town, a couple of accommodation options, some delicious restaurants (some boasting gorgeous views), a few independent little shops and an overall sense of peacefulness. Definitely more sleepy and far less crowded than San Gimignano, the hill-top town deserves a couple of hours visit and can be easily combined with an half a day visit to San Gimignano. If you don’t want to walk up or take the funicular from Certaldo Basso, you can also drive and that will definitely ensure you some of the best opportunities for shots (just put in your Sat Nav “Via delle Mura” and follow the indication for car park); as in many old town, access inside the walls is restricted to residents only (stay away from any ZTL – Zona Traffico Limitato) but you can find a car park just right outside the old walls (if it’s full you will need to go back to Certaldo Basso and park in Piazza Boccaccio in the pay car park or try in the nearby roads – white lines only).

One of the best things of this little town is that, despite its relatively small size, it has got a good number of events organized throughout the year; one above all the Mercantia Festival, a international festival of street art performers, considered one of the best of its genre in Italy.

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For this reason, if you are planning a trip to Tuscany around mid-July/early August next summer (dates of the Festival are confirmed a few months in advance), Certaldo should definitely be included in your trip. For 5 days, Mercantia Festival takes over all the streets, palaces and gardens of the old town and people from the nearby towns flock here to enjoy the shows (very few foreign tourists around which gives a true sense of local festival). I have been this year for the first time after plenty of people from different areas recommended it (including people from Siena, which is 40 minutes away) and it is an absolute must do, particularly if you fancy acrobats, live performances, body paint artists, dancers and live music.

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The festival –  with performers coming from all over the world – is definitely well organized with plenty of activities for everyone at anytime and though thousands of people attend it never feels too overcrowded (it’s always easy to find a quieter corner). Prior to visit, we had been told that you should choose in advance what performance you want to see but the truth is that because there is so much going on (and we were being a bit lazy), we just wandered around for hours enjoying the shows we found ourselves in – and some of them were truly amazing!

If you are planning a trip in the area for next year during the Festival, bear in mind the following (unless things change from one year to the other):

  • The festival takes place in Certaldo Alto from 9 PM to 1.30 AM (on Saturdays and Sundays it starts at 6 PM) and in order to attend (i.g. to enter the old town after 8 PM) you need to purchase a ticket. You can still enter Certaldo Alto until 5/5.30 PM but after a certain hour, access routes are closed and security staff check entrance tickets. I can’t tell what happens if you are in Certaldo Alto before they start closing the accesses. Festival dates will be disclosed a few months in advance.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or directly in Piazza Boccaccio (even on the same day), in front of the Town Hall located in Certaldo Basso which is also the place where they will give you a daily planner (shows vary daily) and all sorts of information on the event. Ticket prices vary depending on the day you want to assist: this year it was Eur 10 for Wednesday or Thursday, Eur 15 for Friday or Sunday and Eur 20 for Saturday. Discounts are available for kids between 7-14 years old. Ticket office generally opens in the afternoon around 3 / 4 PM. The best thing in order to avoid queuing for tickets is buying them in the afternoon as soon as the ticket office opens and then get back when the festival starts.
  • There are plenty of signposted car parks around Certaldo Basso. If you want to avoid any parking issue and want to get a space close to Piazza Boccaccio (the car park located in the square is closed during the festival since there are dozens of stalls in its place), I recommend that you get in town before 8 PM, since soon after the festival starts to get particularly busy and parking can be tricky. If you are lucky you might be able to find a free parking space close to Piazza Boccaccio (try Via Trieste or Via Alessandro Manzoni).
  • If you are planning to have a proper sit down meal in Certaldo Alto during the Festival (but there are plenty of delicious street food options too!), it’s definitely recommended to book in advance since there are not many restaurants and they fill up pretty quickly, particularly the best rated. We chose one L’Antica Fonte, where we had a great dinner (lovely pork with lardo) in the outdoor terrace overlooking San Gimignano while listening to some live music from the Festival (at the time of booking, ask for a table right at the end of the terrace, with views over the countryside).

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Are you about to visit Tuscany and have you found this post interesting? Have a look at my other posts on Tuscan foodSiena (with two full posts dedicated to the amazing Palio – next one scheduled on August 16th!) and San Gimignano!

Happy reading! 🙂

Visiting Tuscany soon? Make sure you don’t miss any of these delicacies…

One of the biggest struggles I am encountering since I’ve moved to Tuscany is trying not to over eat. It’s proving to be a mission impossible since food is literally everywhere at anytime and it doesn’t matter if it’s 37 degrees and eating a plate of pappardelle with wild boar ragu’ sounds like suicide…

If you are a fan of fresh and tasty local produce, lovely al fresco restaurants with great views both in the city and in the countryside…well, Tuscany is the place to be!

If you are visiting for the first time, there is some food that – in my opinion – should be tried at least once before going back home, wherever your home is. As in any region, Tuscan food varies a lot depending on the areas you visit and on the season but in general the following recommendations can be found almost all year round.

Here is my top list:

Pappardelle con ragu’ di cinghiale (pappardelle with wild boar ragu’): if the pappardelle are home made and the wild boar ragu’ is fresh, it can truly be a star dish. I can’t count how many times I have eaten it throughout my visits to Tuscany but the rule number one – as with any local produce – is always to eat the product in season. Wild boar (normally hunted in Autumn/Winter) is currently such a big issue for Tuscany (their ever growing numbers have a major impact on the environment and agriculture) that a law has recently been approved to allow wild boar hunting all year round, in an effort to contain their numbers, so you may well be able to find it fresh throughout the year. If in doubt whether it’s fresh or frozen, ask your waiter!

Stracciatella: it’s both a cheese and an ice-cream flavor but in this case I would focus only on the cheese, a creamy and stringy artisanal full-fat delicacy. Though I know that the true stracciatella comes from Puglia region, to be fair I had some of my best here in Tuscany (more than once, just to make sure it was not an exception!) so I feel like recommending it, particularly because you will find it hard to buy this cheese outside of Italy so it’s worth indulging. The safest place to get it? Unless you can find a proper and well stocked cheese shop, go to any big chain supermarket, straight to the deli cheese counter and order a bit to take away (it’s sold by weight and they will serve it in a disposable box, ready to dip in). Then enjoy it with a couple of cherry tomatoes, a few basil leaves, some Tuscan bread and a glass of red wine….aperitivo, done! 🙂

Lardo di Colonnata: it’s the mix of two great Tuscan products: white marble and pig (make sure you don’t eat the former!) :-). Colonnata is the town in Tuscany where it comes from and where it is still produced following the old tradition: layers of lard seasoned with rosemary, sea salt, pepper and garlic are cured in local marble for at least 6 to 10 months giving it an unique flavor. Then it’s thinly sliced and ready to eat. It is a true delicacy – and terribly fattening as the word itself reminds you. Once again, if you can’t wait to be in a restaurant to order it, go to a local butcher or to the supermarket deli counter and ask for a few thin slices, slice up some Tuscan bread, get another glass of wine and again your aperitivo is done! 🙂 It’s sublime if you warm the bread beforehand since the lard will literally melt over it…While searching for some more information on Lardo di Colonnata, I stumbled across the wonderful blog of Emiko Davies, with mouthwatering recipes (and pics!) and a great post about Lardo di Colonnata, in case you want to find out more about it!

Pecorino: by saying Pecorino, you are opening in front of you an incredible variety of tasty and delicious of cheeses (made from sheep milk, “pecora”). Hopefully you are a cheese lover, in which case you are in the right region. Head to Pienza, in Val d’Orcia and just have a stroll downtown to get infused by the most amazing cheese smells. Since there are plenty of free tastings around, make sure to try some of the different flavors of Pecorino, including those cured in walnut leaves, in hay or infused with truffle. Not a cheese lover just yet..? I am pretty sure a trip to Pienza will quickly convert you!

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Pecorini selection (picture from Wikipedia)

Tartufo (truffle): the season is crucial but the good thing is that there is at least a variety of truffle for every season so, regardless when you visit, you can always taste some fresh one (if you pick the right restaurant). I still can’t decide between the white truffle or the black truffle but I definitely had one of my best truffle based meal in Radda in Chianti (La Terrazza), on a warm and sunny evening in November. Truffle was excellent (and in good quantity) in both the antipasti and primi and definitely recommended. Plus, they have got a lovely terrace, perfect to enjoy a warm autumn evening eating al fresco. If you are a fan of truffle and you are self catering and feel like using some of it while in Tuscany, read my full post on the little town of San Giovanni d’Asso, one of the best places to go in Tuscany to get some amazing fresh truffle.

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Delicious truffle and porcini tortino in La Terrazza – Radda

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-Bone Steak): I still have not developed an unconditional love for bistecca alla fiorentina simply because I can’t eat huge quantity of steak: no matter how delicious and buttery the meat is, I get “bored” easily (I suppose it’s due to the fact that generally after a steak I struggle to eat anything else :-). Having said this, if you are a meat lover, this should absolutely be on your list. The general rule is that the steak should come from a particularly cow (Chianina), bred in Valdichiana. Normally cooked on a wooden grill, it comes out rare (don’t even think of asking “well done” cause the waiter will frown at you) and, though prices for this cut varies depending on the restaurant (and its location!), generally a fair price would be around Eur 4 for 100 grams; the average portion is 1 kg so expect to pay around Eur 40. It comes without saying that it is highly recommended to share it – unless you are prepared to eat 1 Kg of almost VERY rare meat. It’s a pretty manly dish but I have seen women doing very well too (including me)! I haven’t had many fiorentina steaks but a very good one was at Trattoria Marione in Florence, just off Santa Maria Novella Square and a great one in a picture-perfect Tuscan Osteria called La Sosta di Pio VII, in Barberino Val d’Elsa (FI), definitely worth the drive in the Florentine countryside: amazing Tuscan food, lovely atmosphere, great service and an incredibly mouth watering Fiorentina (if you manage a dessert, try their mascarpone and Nutella one!). It’s open all year round and in summer time they have a gorgeous outdoor pergola….you will see, it doesn’t get any more Tuscan than this – booking is recommended!

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Picture from Pixabay

Tagliata ai funghi porcini: less manly and definitely my favourite meat dish in Tuscany since it allows me to leave a bit of room for an antipasti and potentially dessert! Literally “tagliata” means “sliced” and that’s what it is: a sliced medium-rare beef that if cooked properly is absolutely buttery and delicious. Put it on a couple of layers of porcini mushrooms and it’s absolute heaven! You can be sure that (if not always with porcini) it’s always present on any Tuscan menu – I haven’t found one that didn’t advertise it. Worth trying 🙂 As for the Fiorentina, I would definitely recommend the Osteria La Sosta di Pio VII: tagliata is beautifully cooked and it literally melts in your mouth! If you are in Siena, try Boccon del Prete, a great restaurant not far from Duomo: great primi and a very good tagliata (booking recommended!).

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As far as Tuscan food, there is plenty more to taste and experience, particularly as far as salumi (cold meats) and cheeses. If you are self catering and want to try several of them without getting ripped off, just keep in mind some easy rules:

  1. Avoid the “deli” shops located in the most touristy towns (particularly San Gimignano); Italians generally don’t buy in them for being overpriced and catering mainly to tourists.
  2. Check if in or near the town you are staying there is a weekly market. Apart from the fact that it’s an experience on itself, it’s worth going in the morning and wandering around the food stalls and get something to eat on the spot or take away. It’s cheap, it’s yummy and above all it’s truly Italian with plenty of grandmas chatting and local vendors shouting their best deals!
  3. If you are tight with time and can’t visit a local market, head to one of the big supermarket chains (COOP and PAM, for example). Since markets are generally held during the week days, the great majority of people do their shopping at the supermarket. No doubt it hasn’t got the same market atmosphere but it’s definitely a great opportunity to buy some local produce. Salumi prices shown at the deli counter are always per 100 grams but if you are not sure how much you want, you can just ask for slices.

Not self-catering? Then just order a tagliere di salumi e formaggi (literally a board for cold meats and cheeses) and you can’t go wrong.

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Tagliere di salumi e formaggi at Enoteca di Piazza, Montepulciano

 

Getting hungry already….? 🙂 I am!

 

 

3 good reasons to visit Tuscany now…

Let’s face it: sipping a glass of vino rosso overlooking the Tuscan hills is possibly one of the best thing you could do on a sunny day in Italy. While plenty of people choose to visit Tuscany during the summer, the wiser (and the luckier) that can plan to visit out of peak season will be pleasantly surprised by the peacefulness of one of the richest region in Italy in terms of history and natural beauty paired with great food and wine – and friendly locals! Plenty of people from all over Europe (and the world, I would say) choose Tuscany as their second home, as well. And if you spend a few days in this corner of Italy it’s not difficult to understand why.

Up to a couple of years ago, quite sadly my knowledge of Tuscany was limited to Florence and Siena, two stunning cities that it is impossible not to fall in love with. It is only when I seriously thought of moving here that I started to explore a lot more, discovering some amazing towns, villages and hidden corners of a region that offers absolutely everything for everyone (I still haven’t tested its seaside yet….just waiting for the great weather to start!) Life goes at a much more relaxed pace than life in the north of Italy where I come from and I suppose that is another good reason that it attracts plenty of people from all around the globe, for just a few days or for a lifetime.

As for many regions in Italy, when to visit is the key. In some Italian regions most tourist related businesses completely shut down during the late autumn/winter months until early spring and then become unbearably busy and congested with skyrocketed prices during the peak summer months (mid-June to mid-September) making the whole travel experience less enjoyable and less relaxed.

Probably Tuscany will never feel too congested (with the exception of its main tourist spots) since it’s not too difficult to get out of the main towns and get lost in stunning countryside lanes where you barely meet anyone but it’s no doubt that part of Tuscany’s charm is to be able to enjoy its beauty without stress and without crowds.

Why should you choose to visit Tuscany now? Here are 3 good enough reasons why you should not wait for summer – if you can!

1. It’s very quiet. Unless you like visiting towns and cities surrounded by crowds of tourists, having almost to push to enter to any major tourist attraction, having to queue in any restaurant and having to book your accommodation months in advance to avoid disappointment…THIS (and the late summer too) is the perfect time to visit. Tuscany in general can get very busy but it is also true that – generally – people tend to concentrate in some specific areas: Florence, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano or a bit further down in Pienza, Montalcino and Montepulciano. As soon as you leave these main cities/towns, you will be pleasantly surprised to notice how some charming and pretty villages barely get any visitors out of season. The big crowds will not arrive until mid June and if you plan smartly you may have a town or a village all by yourself (such as the tiny villages of Monteriggioni, San Quirico d’Orcia or in Bagno Vignoni). A great opportunity to enjoy the peace and the quietness that Tuscany should convey to any tourists.  

 

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Framing Bagno Vignoni in Val d’Orcia

 

 

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The pleasure of not having to queue for a table…in Bagno Vignoni

 

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San Quirico d’Orcia

The same goes for traffic. Whilst traffic in Tuscany is quite an overstatement compared to where I have previously lived (Milan, Madrid, London), during the peak months car parks tend to fill up pretty quickly, roads can get busy (particularly around the big cities, such as Florence and Siena) and make the whole experience less enjoyable, if you are planning to drive (which in Tuscany is undoubtedly the best option to reach some of the most fascinating places). Being quieter, generally also means that you will receive a better service in cafes, restaurants, hotels etc: staff are at the very beginning of their working season and they haven’t got the stress of the whole season on their shoulder – yet!

 

2. It’s more affordable. Visiting Tuscany in peak season (particularly July – August) can be obscenely expensive. In the main cities (namely Florence and Siena) most businesses that cater to tourists will be open all year round but in the small/mid size towns in the countryside, most businesses will generally close from November to March/April for lack of tourism. This is typical of many regions in Italy (including two other stunning regions like Puglia and Sicily) and unfortunately it is as a real limit of the Italian way of thinking: having more businesses and services open all year round would encourage more tourists to come off-peak, particularly in regions where the weather is reasonably good all year round. Anyway, it’s in this time of the year (March – May) that you should still be able to find good prices. Though it’s true that cities like Florence and Siena are generally expensive all year round, hotels and bed and breakfasts near the most touristy towns (San Gimignano, for example) have far more affordable room rates than the peak season. To save a bit of money, choose an accommodation to use as a base to explore near to the main tourist towns without having to pay the premium of sleeping in it.

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Your very own private terrace in Montepulciano. 

3. It’s beautiful. Against this argument you could probably say that “it’s beautiful all year round” and that it’s absolutely true but its beauty is also in its peacefulness and, above all, its colours. Though autumn offers arguably a more interesting palette of colours, spring is the perfect time to visit: trees start to blossom, the air is crisp and clear and days are wonderfully bright. After a long winter (this year actually not so long and cold), sun is finally shining, swifts are out and about, days are getting longer and sunset are getting gorgeous. During day time temperature can go up to 25C, whilst in the evening you will still need a medium weight jacket. Overall: DIVINE!

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Door detail, Sovicille (SI)
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Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

 

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Enjoying an healthy portion of local cold meats and cheeses at Enoteca di Piazza, Montalcino
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A quiet evening outside Palazzo Salimbeni, Siena
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Enjoying the sunset having a glass of wine on top of San Gimignano towers

For more information on accommodation, restaurants and places to visit, have a look at my other posts on Tuscany!