I was so excited to be heading to Tuscany. Although I don’t have great memories of Florence from the last time I was there (over crowded with tourists and beggars being my main memory), I was still really looking forward to seeing the rolling hills of Tuscany, the beautiful old cottages and villages, and the place we had booked to stay. I was not to be disappointed.
On the way to Tuscany, we stopped for lunch at Montepulciano. The driving force behind going there was that it was sort of on the way, and we knew it was a wine region. We really knew nothing about the place beyond that. But I am SO glad we went, it was an absolute highlight, such a gorgeous little town that definitely attracted tourists, but still maintained its old village feel.
We had an amazing lunch in Montepulciano, at a family friendly trattoria called Osteria Aquacheta, that was doing a roaring trade. The owner was a charismatic older man who ran a tight ship, and was greeting, serving, cutting hams, chops and cheese, making coffee and generally charming everyone.
We had a mixed cold meats entrée, local cheese smothered in honey and walnuts, and fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and potato for starter. It was all delicious but for me the cheese was an absolute standout, such a great combination of flavours and textures.
We then had one of the specials for main, a gnocchi with porcini mushrooms that was melt in the mouth heaven. It doesn’t look like much in the picture, but it was a standout.
I can’t help but compare Montepulciano with San Gimignano, where we went for a day trip while in Tuscany.
The town is just as beautiful and interesting as Montepulciano with its medieval towers and cobblestoned paths, but it is overrun with tourists (including us I know) and was just a bit too much for us – we had some lunch and got out of there.
San Gimignano – so many tourists!!
Anyway, onto our time in Tuscany – we arrived at Casa Al Bosco, in the tiny town of Donnini. The Casa is an organic wine and honey farm where we stayed.
Donnini is a gorgeous little town with one restaurant and one mini supermarket.
We had to go to Pontassieve, about a half hour drive away, to get to the large supermarket, but it’s an easy drive and no drama at all. If you have a car, and you want to relax for a few days in a beautiful setting, this is the place for you. We spent 5 nights at Casa Al Bosco, and really chilled out, lying in the sun or on our bed, reading books, writing, patting Tigro the friendly cat, and just enjoying living a slower life for a few days.
Andrea, who runs the farm is really friendly and helpful, and gave us a sampler of the white wine (viognier) and red wine (90% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot) that he makes. Both were delicious and we ended up buying quite a few bottles, including 3 to take with us on our travels. The bottles we purchased were all clean skins and I asked Andrea what the labels look like – he said that generally he sells out before he has time to label them!! Popular wine.
There are bees everywhere, making the honey that Andrea sells, but they seemed to be friendly, happy bees and didn’t bother us too much as they buzzed about.
One day we caught the train into Florence, an easy half an hour trip.
The sights were beautiful, and we had a great time in the Bargello museum. There were no lines to get in and there were rooms and rooms of incredible statues, armoury, plates and all sorts of other incredible treasures. The building itself oozes with history. It’s like a hidden treasure in the middle of Florence, I still can’t believe that there were no lines.
It was still a very touristy town and very crowded, but I must say I enjoyed it more than last time. We had a delicious tasting plate for lunch and left Florence feeling very satisfied.
We ate at home for dinner every night in Tuscany, partly to save money, partly to make the most of the incredible place we were staying, and partly because we were inspired to cook, being in Tuscany. We bought a great cooking book in Florence, called The Food of Italy [region by region], by Claudia Roden, and I made a Tuscan dinner of chicken, spinach and then red wine poached fruits with marscapone.
We are going to try and buy a cookbook in each of the countries we visit as our main souvenir, both of us are just loving reading about the local specialties and trying the local produce, it’s all very inspiring.
From Tuscany, we were on to Cinque Terre (via Modena for lunch), staying there for four nights, and arrived in Nice yesterday! We are still getting used to saying Merci instead of Gracie! More on that to come.
I’ll finish off this post with a delicious pasta Dan made one night in Tuscany.
Bavette Casa Al Bosco
Bavette n.139 (Barilla), small tomatoes (pomodoro minioblungo varieta: dunne), pancetta, garlic, olive oil, butter, lemon, white wine, pecorino
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain. Set aside and drizzle olive oil over the top. In a separate pan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil on high Add four cloves of thinly sliced garlic, torn pancetta and a handful of tomatoes, sliced in half. Fry until the pancetta is crispy and tomatoes have blistered. Add a splash of white wine, a knob of butter and the juice of half a lemon. Season to taste. Add the cooked pasta back into the pan, along with a quarter of a cup of grated pecorino. Stir to combine. Serve with shaved pecorino on top, and enjoy!