Tuscany in central Italy is serious postcard material!
It has sun-kissed golden wheat fields, rows and rows of olive groves, greener than green vineyards, gently rolling hills, all set amidst ancient roads and small medieval towns.
So one of the best ways to immerse yourself in this part of the world is to stay in a villa to soak up the whole experience. With over 25 years’ experience, villa rental specialist, Tuscany Now, was able to offer us a villa that brought to life the very scenic landscape I had imagined. I was here to learn about the local traditional agriculture, from the food to the wine.
The region is a gourmet destination for foodies where locals spend ample time thinking, talking and eating food and sipping wine.
Going to the market is integral to the experience, and we were delighted to join our villa chef Irene on a visit to the nearby local market in Montevarchi. Each Thursday is market day, a tradition which has been going on since the middle ages. Over the years, farmers and customers have made deals with a handshake for centuries, and it still has that buzz of banter from yesteryear.
Simplicity is central to Tuscan cuisine with peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, oranges, ricotta cheese, eggplants, zucchini, certain types of fish (anchovies, sardines and tuna), and capers all important components in a variety of dishes. The next best thing to hand-picking the produce was actually watching Irene preparing them back in the villa. She made it all look so simple as she rustled up deep fried courgettes in a rice flour and beer batter, roasted porcini mushrooms in parsley and garlic oil, and beef Fiorentina steak and panzella – a dish similar to bruschetta. The courgettes were a particular favourite. They were so simple to make, and yet so tasty including the flower part which was stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella. Any guilt I felt about the deep frying process went out of the window after I learned tradition dictates “Fritta e buona anche una scarpa”, which translates as “Whatever you deep fry is good, even a shoe!”
Wine is a famous and common produce of Tuscany, and Chianti is arguably the most well-known internationally. One of the best ways to learn about how wine is made – and of course sample this delicious beverage – is to take a wine tour. And if you’re feeling adventurous, then it’s great to visit a couple that vary in size to give you a real sense of how important wine is, not only on a business level but also on a smaller scale as a family-run business. We did both, and it was interesting to see the difference.
The Castello di Fonterutoli Winery produces wine for both national and international consumption. Having run in the family for six generations, and with 650 hectares of land, the winery moved to bigger premises to produce some 800,000 bottles a year. The Tenuta La Novella vineyard is much smaller in scale with 12 hectares of land, but the principle of producing the best wine possible is the same. As both sommeliers told us, wine making is a science, but wine blending is an art. Personally, the Chianti Classico was a firm favourite at both vineyards. It follows strict guidelines, and must contain 80% of the Sangiovese grape to be categorised as a ‘classic’.
There is something very rewarding about lazing about by a pool, and watching the ravishing sunset when staying at a private villa.
The views from Cortile Pratolino are plentiful, and it’s a great way to unwind after a day full of sight-seeing, learning new experiences and taking in the local culture.
And when you’re ready to tear yourself away, exploring the area at night through good restaurants is much welcomed. There are plenty of dining options scattered around the area, and a good guide can recommend some of the best dining options out there. Both Ristorante di Badia a Coltibuono and II Canti di Maggio offered great food and great views in equal proportions.
Tuscany Now not only offers beautiful villas, but can add into the equation tailored experiences, both at the rental villa, as well as out and about in the countryside and cities. So whether you want to sample local wines and food, learn more about the culture, or just want to explore the area by foot or bike, they will come up with the best means to do so. The only problem is, with so much to do, one trip is just not enough. It’s arguably a problem worth having.
Tuscany – Where and How
For more information, visit Tuscany Now (www.tuscanynowandmore.com) 020 7684 8884). It offers Villa Il Cortile Pratolino from £3,321 per week which sleeps up to 15 people. Lounge Access courtesy of www.no1traveller.com.