A Taste of Tuscany
Just the sound of the word Tuscany brings to mind great wines, fresh pasta and rolling hills, all of which get a big thumbs up from me. So it was with great excitement that I jetted off to explore, first stop: Lucca.
Lucca is famous for its renaissance walls encompassing the old town, topped with tree-lined pathways, guarding within them secret Roman and medieval piazzas, tiny churches and a maze of cobbled walkways. A town where the pleasures are incidental, where it is enough to take a stroll and sip a drink. Elisa Bonaparte, younger sister of Napoleon and 18th century princess of the city has left her name on many of the streets and porta’s which of course gave me a feeling of being in a town where everyone knew my name. And the porta made a good memory point to start my morning runs around the high city walls.
A car is essential to make the most of Tuscany. We took the roughly 2 hour drive to Cinque Terre to take in the hillside towns of the Italian Riviera. I decided to make this only a day-trip mainly due to the stories of the hordes of tourists at this time of year and because we were looking for something more chilled from our trip, although as ever, curious to see one of the most picturesque sights in the world.
The road leading to the area gets extremely narrow towards the end, (we may have taken a wrong turn, but the road we ended on resembled a farm road?!) it’s worth having in mind in advance which town you are heading for and preparing yourself mentally for parking your car. The car parks start way up above the towns, but it’s a short stroll down along cafe and shop-lined walkways to the beach fronts. We decided on Monterosso al Mare due to the ease of getting in just for the day and what awaited us was stunning, expanses of blue sea with white and blue parasols lining the beach. With boats coming in escorting people from one town to another, I was wishing we had more time to take a day trip and see it all. Instead we headed to a little restaurant with a mighty view for lunch in such special surroundings.
Our next stay was back in the heart of Tuscany at the Castello del Nero in the Chianti region. The former home of a nobleman, surrounded by picture-perfect landscapes of olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye can see, the hotel retains the charm of its heritage with original frescoes, cotto floors and scattered with antique furniture. With our suite being filled throughout with frescoes, we were in for quite the noble stay.
The hotel has three options of walking routes around the fields ranging from more to less active which provide a great start to your day with a walk or run past the fields of sunflowers. Days by the pool feel as though you are immersed in the middle of your very own vineyard with the rolling hills expanding ahead of you. Evening sunsets are worthy of an Apperol Spritz on their terrace before dinner in their Michelin starred La Torre restaurant. If you’d prefer something a little more relaxed, the La Taverna restaurant serves homecook style Tuscan dishes overlooking the vineyards and is simply stunning at sunset. Either way, be prepared to find out the difference between a Tuscan and Super Tuscan wine.
There are of course many vineyards to visit in the area. We headed to the winery of one of our favourite Tuscan wines, Villa Antinori, where you get a real understanding of the passion the Antinori family have for their wines over the years. The winery has recently undertaken an extensive refurbishment with the structure and colours reflecting the deeply rooted ties to the soil and showing full respect for the natural beauty of its location. A visit simply must be finished off in the restaurant tasting some Antinori wines over a delicious Tuscan lunch.
There was just enough time, which was perfectly planned, to head into Pisa for the classic image pushing up the Leaning Tower en route to the airport. While Pisa serves as one of the main hubs to the Tuscan region, once you’ve seen the Tower, it’s much better to get out and explore the beauty and flavours of the Tuscan region.