A few weeks ago I talked holiday looks and general fabulousness-in-the-heat on my recent trip to Tuscany (have a cheeky read here), but I wanted to share more with you the trip itself and the little things we got up to. Maybe it will inspire, maybe it will create a bit of wanderlust, but hopefully in the very least it'll put Tuscany on your holiday bucket list...
(I apologise in advance for all the photos, but my days is it a photogenic place)
Tuscany is a huge region of central Italy so my musings and adventures by no means, and go no way to, truly grasp the vast amount of things to do, or places to visit. But let's get one thing straight, Tuscany is a glorious, gorgeous area, known for it's vineyards and delicious wine, having some of the BEST Italian home cooking, rolling stunning countryside, as well as vast historical influences on art and culture. There is an absolute wealth to discover (and eat) but it is also an incredible place to relax and switch off. I'm normally one for going full pelt on a trip away, every day having a new activity or place to explore, but since starting my new job in ad land, I, for one of the first times in my life, also fancied simply sitting poolside with a good book. So here are some of my absolute trip highlights, sans me lying in the sun...
Staying in the Grosseto area (Southern Tuscany) meant we were a far reach from any of the major towns - Florence, Siena, Pisa just seemed too far to leave our quiet slice of countryside living and delving into a tourist melting pot in the mid day sun didn't appeal. Florence is tempting however, and has firmly been added to the city break list! The tiny hilltop towns in the surrounding area were however, right up my slow-paced-street, starting with Montalchino...
We visited primarily for lunch (when in Italy, eat) but found the town itself to contain both an impressive hilltop fortress as well as some charming little streets to wander down. The vibe was laid back and authentic, with even the occassional vintage car to drool over.
From Montalchino we ended right for a gorgeous vineyard to talk (and drink) wine and bask in glorious views over the Tuscan hills. There are PLENTY of vineyards for you to discover in much of Tuscany (I'm not sure if you can go wrong from my meagre wine-loving experience) but this place was, I must say, pretty spectacular. The wine was delicious and the storage rooms vast and beautiful, stacked high with huge wooden barrels in a cool (literally) underground cellar. But it was the spread they laid on for us that was particularly memorable; 3 tasting wines (2 red and 1 white) with multiple cheeses and meats to complement. Overlooking gorgeous rolling hills, dining al fresco at a rustic house in the middle of a gorgeous vineyard, I couldn't have felt more Italian in that moment if I'd tried! And god damn the reds were gorgeous - deep, full bodied and sun blushed the barolo we tried was blissful and made for an incredibly sleepy afternoon.
The next tiny slice of paradise was a not-so-tiny seaside town Castiglione della Pescaia, or just Castiglione among friends. An ancient town right on the coast provided both a gentle wander through some lovely little cafe lined streets and the obligatory beach lounging I'd been craving - although warning, the sand was the equivalent of fire walking. It was cute, but it was also a little crowded and incredibly hot so we didn't stay long. If you do venture here, bring a parasol, or at least find somewhere along the long coast line to rent one!
I want to take a moment for a couple of the other activities available in Tuscany - and not just lounging by a pool, although that is also highly recommended....
It turns out, people are really into tennis in Tuscany - who knew?! Or at least that's my impression due to the semi-random but stunningly placed tennis courts we saw on our travels. It also turns out I suck at tennis, but that didn't make it any less fun playing until the sun set. These courts were pretty well kept considering and I'm pretty sure belonged to the owners of the huge estates Tuscany is famous for - probably best to ask permission first if you fancy giving this a go...
Most trips I try to partake in an activity I know I'll enjoy but never would have time for in my hectic London life; this for me in Tuscany was a touch of horse riding.
After my posture and technique was corrected about 50 times in the first couple minutes by the fairly terrifying Italian named Chiara, I got into the swing of things and even handled my horse (and myself) when he took an unplanned gallop down a hairy little forest path. Trotting across the tuscan countryside was pretty special - through a vineyard (obvs), into the woods spotting boar tracks and around a surprise lake. The riding was as you'd expect, montonous except for the one aforementioned moment, with our horses well versed in where they were headed. But that didn't stop a gorgeous ride and my bum hurting for days after.
It was a this point in the trip that I discovered my absolute FAVE place, the gorgeous little town Massa Marittima - I actually ended up coming back here twice because I just didn't get enough the first time. Lots of winding little alleys and a surprise secret cafes, a beautiful cathedral (Duomo) atop of some huge stone steps up to it and a curious curiosity shop who's owner insisted on playing us some Bob Marley on Vinyl, because it fed his soul... those were my highlights. But I do think there is something for everyone to fall in love with here - maybe with the quirky fashion boutiques or classic shops selling pottery and carved wooden boards; maybe with the beautiful Piazza Garibaldi beneath the Duomo; maybe with the older Italian gentlemen sitting smoking on shade, a picture of times past; maybe the bakery selling delicious homemade Italian desserts; maybe the stunning architecture which seemed to be everywhere in this little town.
If you do anything specifically, however, I recommend visiting La Torre del Candeliere, or 'The Candlestick Tower' which has stood since 1228, mainly in order to walk across the arch which connects the tower to the part of the fort. One very narrow climb from the ground floor straight up (literally) to the almost top level of the tower, allowed you to walk along the vertigo-inducing arch to the wall of the fort. In a pretty breathtaking moment, the spectacular panoramic view of the town and it's gorgeous red-brown rooftops suddenly appears. I couldn't get enough.
I might have saved the best till last with this INSANE dinner destination we had the pleasure of dining at; I say destination because it was far more than a restaurant (in fact it's more a winery and event venue than anything else). Set atop a tree lined hill, with a drive way leading up which good have been straight out of bond film, I knew this was gonna be good the moment I set eyes on it. A few of us arrived early and were treated to cocktails and charcuterie whilst we watched the sunset - it was a moment of absolute paradise as the warm yellow of the tuscan sun disappeared over the hills in the distance. I was in love, and I hadn't even eaten yet.
I've got to pre-empt this with a general shout out to tuscan dining - I don't think I had a single bad dish whilst I was there. Then again I am a massive fan of carbs and with all the bread and pasta and pizza I wasn't going to be disappointed. However we were also right by the coast meaning fresh seafood, and somehow Tuscany delivers on the meat front too (wild boar is the bomb as it turns out). You understand the weight of the claim then when I say this restaurant, was (shocker) THE best food I ate the entire time I was in Tuscany. 7 courses of varying meats, pastas, flavours and general delciousness later I was willing to sacrifice my figure and cholesterol for just a bit more of what Maremmana Restaurant was dishing out... I will never do the place or the food justice but I implore you to go if you ever get the chance.
I came, I explored, I ate everything. Tuscany, you're a total treat.