As we treaded the Tuscan walking path, around half a dozen white butterflies flutter around us, as if curious to see just where we were headed.
First it is past the charming Tuscan farmhouses, some with fruit and vegetable gardens surrounding the cobbled cottages, others with olive chestnut tree groves. One farmyard has several goats, the bells around their necks clanking a rhythmic tune as they clamour up and down the sloped terrain.
Each of these Tuscan farmyards are rendered even more charming by flowers blooming, the wild roses popping red against the surrounding lush green countryside, contrasting with the yellow- and purple-headed flowering weeds pressing up against ancient rusty wire fences and hand-hewn wooden gates.
Beyond, still accompanied by our fluttering white friends, we enter into an old chestnut grove, where branches hold spikey green pods that house this areas precious nut. Like the landscape itself, the pods are soft and yet tough at the same time.
Ahead we see an abandoned Tuscan house that stands, poetic and stoic against the nature so determined to inhabit its empty walls, the entryway etched with the name and title of the Colonel who built this prestigious Tuscan house many eons ago.
A pear tree offers its fruits from heavy-loaded branches that dangle over the pathway, offering us a treat along our Tuscany countryside way. Wild berry vines grow on anything they can cling to. Smooth red berries contrast with spikey leaves on a shrub growing nearby. And the wildflowers add dashes of vibrant colour, growing out from beneath ivy that twirls around tress and loops through wire fences, set to ever explore this lovely Tuscan countryside.
All this goes unnoticed however to one member of our party – Greta.
She is too determined, too focused on what is coming up ahead of us. She knows what future brings this graveled country pathway that winds its way along the hilly Tuscan countryside we tour along.
Whilst we keep a steady pace on the pathways, stopping to admire the stunning Tuscan views beyond, to smell a flower or pick a fragrant herb growing wild, Greta runs ahead, stopping at each bend in the road to turn back and encourage us on.
And soon, up ahead, we see just what it is that Greta is anticipating with such enthusiasm, that she will dream about in days of naps to come.
It is a great Tuscan forest, filled with thousands of beautiful sticks. Greta – as we have previously mentioned – is arguably Tuscany’s best stick-catching expert dog and here she is truly in heaven!
In this unkempt forest, the temperature drops immediately as we enter into the pleasant darkness under the high tree canopy. The earth underfoot becomes more fecund, the air clean of the sun’s heat.
It is, finally, at this point that the butterflies decide to stick to the brighter spaces and leave us to explore on our own, satisfied that they have accompanied us safely to this little Tuscan heaven.
A nearby stream trickles down deeper into the forest as we hop, skip and jump across the rough-hewn dirt paths. This is truly the road less travelled, and it is splendid.
A bird occasionally squawks surprise at the company, a lizard scurries here and there through the foliage. But otherwise, the silence is just sensational. No traffic, no trains, not even the wind rustling the leaves too high up for even their delicate sounds to fall on your ears.
Greta runs off ahead to explore, perching aside what she expertly deems to be a suitable tool for her favoured sport. Each thrown stick lands with a crack that echoes up amongst the trees. There are so many sticks here that it takes her expert sense of smell and years of training to locate the very stick we have launched amongst this Tuscan greenery in the hills surrounding the little village town of Santa Fiora.
And so it is that we have been lucky enough to pass a few relaxing days in the Tuscan countryside. Either after a delicious traditional Tuscan lunch, or in the anticipation thereof, we have passed a few hours out walking in Tuscany, touring the stunning Tuscan countryside we love.
August in Italy marks the height of Italian summer, and coincides with a mass-exodus of local Italians from the cities, who make their way towards cooler climates in the mountains, or to the sea-side.
Some fortunate Italian families maintain a secondary summer home that they move to for the summer in Italy, or to at least have regular accommodation rental where they stay each year.
Friendships form between people from all around Italy who gather in the small towns year and after years of summers spent together, with many social events ensuing. And in great Italian tradition, these events usually revolve around food and accompanying wine.
In the small town of Santa Fiora, we were lucky enough to enjoy such an experience.
Wonderful for skiing in the winter, in the summer months Santa Fiora fills with regular summer-time visitors to this lovely Tuscany village town.
The temperatures are mild, warm enough by day to enjoy a gelato or two from the competing gelaterias in the town’s charming main piazza who have a friendly battle of making the best Italian ice-cream flavours about.
Nearby, there are great walking trails to explore, the tall trees providing excellent shade and keeping temperatures nice and cool. In just over around an hour’s drive, you can be seaside to enjoy a relaxing day of swimming. Each year, world-class jazz musicians descend to hone their craft together, offering classes to the next generation of musicians and organizing concerts for the locals. Then there is the annual Tombola game where all flock to the central piazza for a communal game of bingo! Occasionally we were also privilege by witnessing improvised jam sessions in the local wine bars of some world-class jazz musicians having fun playing into the wee hours surrounded by the rocky walls of this town built into the Tuscan hillside.
With Summer in Italy being the standard holiday time for Italians, the best time to visit Italy is probably April to June or September through to November as many stores and services are not available if visiting Italy in August. The heat and humidity is also at its height during August too, which is great for gelato consumption, but not so great for exploring the highlights of cities like Florence, Rome, Venice and the Cinque Terre.
Visiting a Tuscan town like Santa Fiora is great for a few days of relaxation. You can also choose to stay in Tuscany’s charming capital city, Florence, and do day trips from there for a nice mix of countryside and city, food and wine, wild life and night life. This also means you don’t have to worry about driving in Italy!
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 single-day 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.
A great afternoon activity offering wonderful views, including a visit a Tuscan villa can be had 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.
If you are a morning person (or at least jet lag is making you so!), you will enjoy our wonderful 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 are looking for some other great things to do in Tuscany to enjoy local cuisine, explore the Tuscan countryside in a small group, taste Tuscan wine and the like, we have a great range of small-group Tuscany tours.
To explore more 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. We also have a great range of fantastic 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.