Thoughts of Tuscany often evoke images of rolling green hills, small roads lined with cypress trees and gorgeous farm homes in remote areas surrounded by vineyards. If you search for “Tuscany” in Google, I’m willing to bet you’ll come up with something like this and that you’ve even seen this exact picture before…
Was I right?
Well either way, images like that one flooded my brain as I prepared for my summer trip to Italy. For years I had obsessed over this ideal Tuscan experience filled with natural beauty, peaceful locations and a never-ending flow of delicious wine. I just didn’t know how I would get that. The places I had been dreaming about were in rural areas that could only be accessed by car, and since renting one was out of the question for me (that was too expensive and I can’t drive stick shift to save my life), I was afraid my Tuscan dreams wouldn’t become a reality.
I couldn’t go exploring on my own so I settled for the next best thing, which actually turned out to be the far better thing to do: a day trip through Tuscany with Walks of Italy. I had already done an after hours tour of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice with Walks of Italy and absolutely loved it so I knew I was in good hands.
The tour group met in Florence and started with a quick visit to Piazzale Michelangelo, a hilltop plaza that offers the best views of the Tuscan capital city. We all took advantage of the photo op before piling into the vans and taking in the beautiful views of the countryside on the way to our first stop: Siena.
Siena is a city known for Il Palio, a horse race that takes place every summer in the city’s main plaza and draws in spectators from all over the world every year. Although we missed Il Palo by a couple of weeks, Siena still had plenty for us to see and do starting with a stop at a bakery to try some traditional Tuscan sweets. I’ve mentioned it many times on this blog, but I’ll say it again… I have a horrible sweet tooth. I’m talking used-to-put-sugar-on-Frosted-Flakes-cereal bad. So for me, this was a perfect introduction to Siena: a cookie made of pure sugar and almonds that was light and crispy on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside.
We continued our walk through the town making a stop at an organic market to check out some real fiorentina (Florentine) steak before finally making our way to Siena’s stunning cathedral. The details in the mosaic tiled floor, the striped columns and the colorful stain glass window were incredible. Italian churches and cathedrals were really starting to grow on me at that point. Their style, although still very different from one another, tended to be more intricate and colorful than anything I was used to, and I liked it.
What came next would be one of the biggest highlights of the day for me. We got back into the vans and went deeper into the Tuscan countryside. I kept my eyes glued to the window waiting for any clearing in the trees surrounding the road so I could catch a glimpse of the beautiful vineyards and rural homes we were passing. The drive alone would have been entertaining enough for me, but that was just the beginning. When we turned onto a small road and then eventually onto an even smaller one, that’s when I realized that our next stop would actually be one of those homes.
We pulled into a gravel driveway that led up to a picturesque, rustic home. I stepped out of the van and was hit with the smell of rosemary and lavender, the sound of bees buzzing and the sight of row after row of grape vines for as far as my eyes could see. This family-run, organic farm looked like something straight out of my dreams.
We were taken on a mini tour of the farm where we saw how and where their award-winning olive oil is made along with the cellars for their wine and balsamic vinegar. After the tour, they took us to the patio on the other side of the house where we would be having lunch.
I’m pretty sure my heart stopped for a quick second when I saw the setup they had for our lunch. While everyone was letting out their ooohs and aaaahs admiring the views of the vineyard and surrounding fields, I was oooh-ing and aaaahh-ing at the food already sitting on the table waiting for us. I snapped a few pictures then quickly grabbed a seat waiting anxiously for my tour buddies to sit down so we could dig in. I had to be polite and wait for them after all, but my mouth was salivating.
Once we were all seated we started with the two salads on the table, one a traditional tomato, mozzarella and basil salad and the other a chickpea and mixed veggie salad. The wine was busted out at this point, and one of the employees at the organic farm guided us through which type of wine to try with each of the appetizers on the plate in front of us.
First, I tried the bread drizzled with the farm’s award-winning olive oil. When we were in the wine cellar we got a whiff of that olive oil, and it was heavenly. After living in Spain, I know a thing or two about good olive oil, and theirs tasted and smelled incredible. I was just sad that they didn’t drench everything in it! I seriously could have been satisfied with just that all day, but of course, they stepped things up a notch.
I tried the crostinis with their different toppings next. Two of them had a tomato, garlic and chili paste mixture spread on top. Another had homemade mayo with green olives, and the last one had that same mayo mixed with red onions. They were all such simple ingredients that I could easily find in my own house (although they most likely wouldn’t be nearly as fresh or organic), but it was so delicious. I guess sometimes less really is more.
We finished off that first round with cheese, a spoonful of sweet honey and an orange slice topped with some fresh cheese, probably ricotta. I would tell you exactly what kind of cheese it was, but I honestly don’t remember because I was too busy looking like a weirdo, eating really slowly and savoring every bite.
Next, came our opportunity to try their scrumptious olive oil marinated in truffles. I thought that olive oil couldn’t get any better, but I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Those truffles just brought things to a whole new level. Only five drops of the oil were put on our plate of scrambled eggs, and with that little amount, the smell and taste of truffle completely took over the eggs making them some of the best I’ve ever had. Our truffle-y eggs were perfectly accompanied by pork slices marinated in garlic and rosemary, which we gobbled down before our last savory dish was brought out: a surprisingly light and creamy lasagna. I’m so used to heavy lasagnas that leave me feeling like I’m too full to walk, but this was perfect.
We finished off our meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with balsamic vinegar, a combo I thought would be really strange until I realized this vinegar was nothing like the liquidy stuff they sell in the States. It was thick, almost like caramel syrup, and slightly sweet/tangy. That dessert was the perfect finale for our incredibly tasty meal.
Before we had to leave the farm, I wandered out to the vineyards to admire the view just one more time. I took a deep breath in of that fresh country air and just smiled, trying to soak it all in. It was one of those times when I was just perfectly content in that present moment, and I absolutely loved it. I left the farm with a full stomach and a happy heart, excited to see where we’d go next.
Our next stop was the medieval town of San Gimignano. Walking through the gates of that town felt like stepping back in time or into a fairytale. Everything was so well preserved from its medieval origins. The stone buildings, the main square with its water well in the middle, the small winding roads, and the walls and gate that guarded the town. It all felt so authentic.
We walked around the town and went our separate ways to explore a little bit. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t too great at that point so we didn’t have much time to spend in San Gimignano, but I used mine very wisely. I found the tiny corner of my stomach that is reserved for extra dessert and filled it with gelato from a small shop in the town’s main plaza that has been crowned the gelato world champion three times so far! The line outside was long but totally worth getting to try some of their unique flavors. I enjoyed my gelato in the plaza while indulging in some people watching before the rain started. It forced us to head back to the vans and leave that medieval beauty behind us as we headed to our fourth and final stop: a wine tasting.
As we headed back down the country roads that had fascinated me so much earlier, I was excited to see where we would finally stop. I was also looking forward to checking off the box for “never-ending flow of delicious wine” as part of my Tuscan experience.
Right as the rain started to clear, we pulled into another organic farm and winery. We toured the area where they made, stored and bottled the wines then got a chance to sneak a peek at the cows that were inside the barn hiding from leftover drops of rain.
After our mini tour, the guide took us around back to the terrace where we would do our wine tasting. As we rounded the corner and I caught my first glimpse of the view we’d have while enjoying our wine, my jaw dropped. I had never seen such an incredible landscape. Even with a slightly gray and gloomy sky, the colors of the plush grass, the rows of grape vines, the trees and the flowers were all so vibrant. With the town of San Gimignano peaking out behind the hills in the background, the view could not have been more perfect for sipping on some delicious wine and living out my dreams of Tuscany.
We sat around a table on the terrace and tried two different types of red wine and a white wine along with some cheese, olives and perfectly toasted bread. I had been enjoying the company and conversation of my fellow tour buddies all day, but at this last stop I was just too distracted by all the gorgeous nature around me. I could have stared at that landscape all day with my wine in hand. I was captivated by it. I was in love with it. I wanted to stretch out my arms impossibly wide and just hug it because I was so happy to be there.
All throughout the day, every stop on our trip fulfilled some part of dreams about Tuscany, but this last stop just summarized everything that I wanted to see: peaceful remote locations, incredible displays of Mother Nature and wine… lots of wine.
People throw around the word “breathtaking” a lot. I know I’ve been guilty of that a time or two, but this time I am not exaggerating at all when I say that the beauty of this place literally took my breath away. It was the perfect way to end my day of gallivanting around Tuscany with Walks of Italy. I finally got to turn my Tuscan dreams into a reality.
Disclaimer: Walks of Italy sponsored me to participate in this tour in exchange for writing a post about my experience. The opinions expressed here, however, are all my own. Duh!