It was a stunning summer’s day when we set out from Florence to Tuscany with our own personal driver to explore the famous undulating Tuscan hillside and the treasures it bestows.
First, we stopped in the charming town of Monteriggioni for a traditional Italian breakfast of cappuccino and a pastry. A common mistake of the uninitiated is to call the typical crescent-formed pastry a ‘croissant’. In Italy, that is a big no-no because as all Italians will tell you, their breakfast of choice is a ‘brioce’ (pronounced something similar to ‘bree-osh’, remembering to roll your r a little and add a touch of Italian flair to the pronunciation) or ‘cornetto’, taken from the Italian word for horn.
The Italian version has less butter than the French variety, making it slightly softer, and can be filled with chocolate, cream, jam or ‘vuoto’ (empty). Combining the Italian tradition of standing at the coffee bar, it means that the floor of the coffee shop in the mornings is covered in a thin layer of pastry flakes and icing sugar that crunches underfoot.
Having contributed our own crumbs to the coffee shop floor, we took a short stroll around the tiny and charming hilltop town, before heading back to the van to continue exploring the stunning Tuscan region.
Our private Tuscany tour guide pointed out the best places to take photographs, talked about the layout of the land and how it has evolved over the centuries. The land has been tendered to throughout the long history of this region, the food production and the vineyard systems perfected to produce the delicious ingredients that make up the famous Tuscan cuisine and classic Tuscan wines.
At this time of year, there are the amazing sunflower fields in full bloom. Where a few weeks ago, the sunflowers seemed to turn their faces to the sun in adolescent adoration of their solar deity, now their faces are reverently downturned a little as they await their inevitable, imminent collection.
In Italian, sunflowers are known as ‘girasole’ – ‘sun turners’, owing to the way the younger flowers actually turn with the sun (known scientifically as ‘heliotropism’).
Sunflowers have been grown in Europe since the 1500s when they were introduced from South America. Their seeds and oil have since become common ingredients in Italian cooking.
But on a totally non-practical level, the sunflower fields in Tuscany are exquisite. It is impossible to not feel a little happier just at the sight of a field of yellow flower faces. And given that we’re already ecstatic at being in Tuscany – exploring the beautiful wine country, passing ancient Tuscan villas and farmhouses, seeing the best of Tuscany – life is just great in Tuscany!
Our next stop was at the amazing La Fornace winery in Tuscany, a small family-run vineyard producing what is one of the best Brunello di Montalcino that we have ever tasted. The owner, Fabio, took us on a guided tour to see the vineyards and cellar, explaining the process from the hand-done harvest to the first fermentation in a small collection of vats, to the aging in large Slovenian oak barrels for some of the wine and the smaller French oak barriques for the rest.
We were then led back to the farmhouse for a tasting, passing by the ‘orto’ (vegetable patch) and flower garden carefully tended to by Fabio’s mother.
Brunello is made with 100% sangiovese grapes, a varietal that has proven to be very faithful to the Tuscan countryside as it has never proved to have such great results anywhere else in the world. Brunello is aged for at least two years, and for the ‘Riserva’, 4 years to give the big bodied flavor of one of Italy’s best-loved wines.
Brunello di Montalcino is only made in the Montalcino area, following strictly regulated rules. Even if the same production techniques were to be followed with the same varietal in another area, the name would have to be different. Brunello falls into the DOCG wine appellation and production is strictly governed by a tight set of rules. Don’t be mistaken, the Italians may not take the road rules very seriously, and let’s not get started on Italian politics, but wine production rules and the foods that they are combined with are taken very seriously!
(That is after all why we do love Italy so much – the great food and wine. And then there is the great collection of artworks to enjoy of course! And the fashion, and the lifestyle generally, and about a hundred other reasons really…)
After the wine tasting, the whole family came out to wave goodbye to us as we drove off down the pebbled drive, and on to the next stop – a charming little restaurant nestled in the hillside.
At La Foresteria del Boccone, we enjoyed a stunning meal comprising traditional Tuscan cuisine given a slightly modern twist in the presentation. We’re not sure what was better – the fantastic meal, the great service, or the spectacular views surrounding us. Perhaps it was the combination of all the best of Tuscany in one fantastic lunch, but we are hoping to return many times over to help us decide on that!
After our delicious Tuscan meal, we headed on into the landscape, onto another winery, the Castello dei Rampolla in Panzano for a tasting of their magnificent organic wines.
After seeing how they produce their wines, and having a tasting of the delicious results we then returned to the van to drive towards the end of our day touring around Tuscany.
After a great day out in the stunning Tuscan countryside, dining and wine tasting, we were happy to sit back and relax, taking in the postcard views flashing by as we traversed the countryside.
Getting to the surrounding Tuscan countryside from Florence is but a short and delightful drive. If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to Rome, Venice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.
To learn about the traditional Italian ingredients and learn to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence.
If you are looking for some great things to do in Tuscany to explore the Tuscan countryside in a small group, you can visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore the historic wine estate before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.
Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan countryside and be part of the scenery that has inspired so many great artworks, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, and stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.
To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.