I just got back from a wonderful, three-week trip to Italy. I spent my first week there on a road trip around Puglia and the subsequent time divided up between the Lazio region including Rome and a three-day jaunt to Tuscany.
I’ve been to Tuscany before but no matter how many times you visit that area of the Italian peninsula, you can never get enough of the breathtaking scenery of rolling green and yellow hills, perfectly aligned cypresses, centuries-old farms and medieval villages.
Tuscany is a short and easy drive from Rome. You can spend weeks exploring the area, especially if you decide to push your escapade to Florence but since I only had a couple of days, I devised an itinerary that would allow me to explore some smaller towns and a little bit of the lovely countryside.
Start your first day early so you can fit in as many town visits along the way. My only stop on that first day was Siena where I stopped for lunch and a two-hour quick visit of one of my favourite Tuscan towns. The historic centre of most cities in Italy is off limits to cars and Siena’s is no exception, so park your car in one of the parking lots on the outskirts of town and make your way in to Piazza del Campo (Campo Square), Siena’s main square and the centre stage for the Palio, a bi-annual horse race. Visit Torre del Mangia and climb up the Santa Maria Church’s tower for a breathtaking view of the city. Piazza del Campo is surrounded by cafés and restaurants, most of them catering to a very touristy crowd. Have a pre-lunch drink or a post-lunch coffee around there if you want but head to Osteria Le Logge (Via del Porrione, 33) for lunch. It’s only a few feet away on one of the tiny side streets and offers great Tuscan food, more on the high end side of things but still very casual. Reservations are recommended.
After lunch, walk around the historic centre and head to the Duomo di Siena, a magnificent cathedral and one of the highlights of Siena.
After your (quick) visit to Siena, head towards San Gimignano and Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a family-run farm producing organic wine, olive oil, honey, saffron, meat, salumi and more. This will be your home away from home for the next two nights. The 10-room farm offers simple yet comfortable accommodations and breathtaking views of Tuscany’s rolling hills and the San Gimignano towers. They offer traditional Tuscan cooking classes directly on the farm, which I didn’t have time to enjoy unfortunately. I did, however, partake in an absolute dinner feast at the farm. Seasonal and organic products that come directly from the farm are transformed into traditional Tuscan dishes and paired with the fattoria’s own wines to create a veritable cornucopia of exquisite flavours and textures. Dinner is served al fresco as the setting sun drowns the surrounding hills in a golden shimmer. Magical!
Alternate itinerary for day one: If you have some time, detour through Pienza, Orvieto or Montepulciano, all three are lovely towns that deserve to be discovered.
Start your day with a farm breakfast including their very own eggs, cheese and salumi then take a tour of the facilities. Hear all about the fantastic eco-friendly philosophy this family-run fattoria is based on and visit the vines, wine-making facilities and the white Chianina cows, an almost extinct, traditional breed that is still going strong at Poggio Alloro.
After your morning farm tour, head to Volterra–an easily accessible small town–for a stroll and lunch. Points of interest include Piazza dei Priori, the clock tower, the Volterra Cathedral and gorgeous vistas over the surrounding hills. Volterra is known for its alabaster, a translucent stone mined from the surrounding areas and carved into exquisite sculptures by local artisans for the past 100 years. I had lunch at VolaTerrA, which serves simple fare such as a whole menu of bruschette, some pasta dishes and local salumi and cheeses.
After lunch, take the long way around to San Gimignano. Admire the patchwork yellow and green hills with their perfect hay bails, bright vines and silver green olive fields. To me, this is what Tuscany is all about: driving around the countryside and gasping at the beauty of it all. San Gimignano is a walled, hilltop medieval city but it differs from all the others in that it managed to conserve 14 of its original towers, which were destroyed by wars and the passing of time in all the other towns around Tuscany. It makes for a dramatic walk around the historic city centre (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). There are many churches and piazzas to visit, as well as museums and great examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Walk around and enjoy the town then sit at one of the cafés for a well-deserved aperitivo. I had dinner at Il Trovatore, just outside the walls where they make great pizza and grill delicious meats in their wood-burning oven.
If you take the fastest route back to Rome, it will take you about 3 hours to drive back there from San Gimignano. However, for an extra hour and half, you can detour and take the road along the shore and stop for lunch at La Pineta, one of my favourite food memories which I described in detail here. Another option would be to stop for lunch and an afternoon at the beach in Monte Argentario, a peninsula that juts out of the coast line. Its two main towns–Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano–are both great options for lunch or you can drive around the peninsula and find Cala del Gesso, an absolutely gorgeous hidden wild beach that you have to hike down to. It takes about 15 minutes of hiking down the jagged hill to get to the beach using rudimentary trails. It’s not for the faint of heart but oh so worth it since this is considered the most beautiful beach in Monte Argentario. If I can do it, you can do it. Don’t forget to bring everything you need with you, otherwise you’ll have to hike back up the hill!
Alternate itinerary for day three: Lago di Bolsena. You can have lunch at one-Michelin star Il Falconiere, a Relais & Châteaux offering exquisite food and equally exquisite vistas.