As you probably know from the sneak peeks I revealed on Instagram, I was recently in Tuscany with my family. The holiday was one of total relaxation, staying in the most beautifully grand house, and exploring different towns and cities in the nearby area.
Our house was in a pretty remote little hamlet, but we made trips to some well-known and beautiful spots – many of which brought back strong memories from holidaying here over 20 years ago (I’ve included some of those vintage holiday snaps here too!).
If you’re looking for an itinerary, or some suggestions for places to visit without getting caught in the tourist traps, I hope this photo diary will be of use – particularly when it comes to wandering and eating (I’m pretty sure food blogging has been in my bones since my first trips to Tuscany all those years ago…)
We were staying in a fabulous mansion in Piantravigne. Piantravigne is a tiny little hamlet atop a hill, and La Giclaudiere clearly used to be the main house – it’s gated, with its own chapel, pool and acres of land sloping down the hill and packed with all sorts of fruit, veg and vines. The house is right next to a church – the bells rang out every half hour, which was lovely as we whiled away the time in the sun. On Sunday I could even hear the congregation singing as I opened my bedroom windows in the morning!
The interior was stunning, and like nowhere I’ve ever stayed before – old fashioned and classic, a cross between a museum and a palace, there were works of art and objets everywhere you looked.
The bedrooms were all individual and totally opulent, with smart furniture, drapes and carefully chosen accents – like the vintage Louis Vuitton suitcases that totally took my fancy!
The rural views in Tuscany are second-to-none, with miles of rolling hills stretching to the horizon, striped with vineyards and olive groves, and with lots of pretty houses perched on hillsides.
The towns of Tuscany tend to be quite remote and spread out, so we hired cars (a must) and day-tripped around.
First stop, Siena – a town that gave me serious déja-vu from multiple visits since the age of three. This is one of my favourite photos from the family archives, taken in the Piazza del Campo over 20 years ago:
We attempted to recreate it – which was nigh-on impossible as Siena is much busier with tourists nowadays – you’ll never get a photo with only pigeons for company today!
Other things to do when in Siena:
Gelato, obviously. Finding a gelaterie off the main concourse is key, otherwise you’ll pay through the nose for a substandard cone.
Almost as good as in the 1990s…
Il Palio horse race was taking place the weekend after we left Siena, so the town was gearing up for it – flags were hung down all the streets, different colours for the different contrade, or city wards.
I remember these from 20 years ago too…
The shopping in Siena is pretty good, particularly for those in the market for some Italian leather. Just wandering the shady streets is a wonderful way to pass the day.
Accept that it’s going to be a bit pricey, but have a drink in the main piazza anyway – the views are wonderful, particularly as the sun goes down and the light moves across the square – and the Aperol Spritzes are a-ok too 🙂
That night, we dined at Osteria Cice, a totally un-touristy and unpretentious cave of a restaurant – though I can’t remember what I ate that night so it can’t have been mind-blowing!!
Next on our list: Montepulciano, famous wine-making town.
Ellen, Dan and I breakfasted on coffee and cannoli while writing postcards, and then meandered our way up the steep hill, popping into shops and snapping photos of the amazing views from the top.
A few days into the trip it was my mum’s birthday, so we booked a table at hotly-tipped La Casa del Contadino, which was just down the road from our house.
Although fabulous in concept (25€ per person for a traditional Tuscan feast, including wine), in reality it was a hysterically awful dining experience…
We were the only guests in the restaurant, and were being served by a man who seemed to fill roles of front-of-house, chef and waiter, and was in dire need of a good wash. He seemed to have had rather too much to drink – and in fact when Charlotte popped inside in search of more wine, she found our man slugging back the red by the sink! Highly amusing, but not exactly sterling service…
Amazingly, the food was pretty good – grilled aubergine and zucchini, pasta with rabbit, spaghetti with pesto, vin santo and cantuccini all featured. Shame about the rest.
Next stop: Florence. Parking in Florence is impossible, so we took the train, and enjoyed a day of sightseeing and galleries (the Uffizi and Accademia were both ticked off).
The shopping is good, as is the eating – we picked up sandwiches on-the-go from I Due Fratellini, for less than 3€ each.
When we got back home that night, we dined at Enjoy Toscano restaurant in the main square at Castelfranco, the neighbouring town. Enjoy Toscano had the potential to be horrendously touristy, but was actually very high quality. We had visited Castelfranco during siesta time earlier in the week and it had been totally dead – but on that evening, it came alive, with locals partying in the square, with a barbecue and karaoke!
Another good meal came from Il Corvo restaurant – again, we were the only patrons in the restaurant, which was on the side of the hill looking back towards our house in Piantravigne. Great views and great pizza – including a chocolate covered dessert version.
I’m the type of person who can’t just lie on a beach doing nothing for a week, so Tuscany was a fabulous choice, combining sun, sightseeing and food for total relaxation. I highly recommend.
Photos by me.