Visit Tuscany and you may wonder why all the locals live in apartments stacked up in the charming Tuscan hilltop towns, instead of sprawled out in villas and farmhouses around the Tuscan countryside.
Whilst these Tuscan hilltop towns certainly make great places to visit in Tuscany, and definately look great in photos and paintings, their reasons for existence are actually quite practical.
In times past, people would live in walled towns for means of protection. Times were harsh in centuries past. Aside from plagues and other illness to survive, there was also a lot of battling for land control for political and religious reasons.
Farmland, home to the olive groves, the Tuscan vineyards and other produce would be worked by farmers who would then scurry into the town at the first sign of approaching trouble – spotted much quicker from the hilltop vantage point! Large wooden and iron town gates would then be closed as the town went into lockdown until the threat disappeared, or the attackers broke through and took over.
Then there is the familial reason. Grandparents would live on one floor of an apartment, their children on other levels to raise family, always having help on hand to raise the grandchildren. The men would go out to work and the women would stay home to prepare great Tuscan meals like slow-cooked traditional soup recipes, hand-made pasta, stews, and the famous Tuscan desserts.
These days, little has changed. Many families still live in this way, mealtimes are still all enjoyed as a family and most people still live in charming apartments, much of the furniture antiques from previous generations.
Living in such a way also kept the land free to be utilised for food production, not to mention the great Tuscan wine!
Today, the lay of the land is little changed. In fact, many of us here at Artviva, from our office staff and great Florence and Tuscany tour guides still live in charming Tuscan village towns where there are lands designated only to be used as a fruit and vegetable garden (‘orto’), surrounding the Tuscan towns, some of which date back to Medieval times. Beyond there are untouched lands and rivers where meat and fish are sparingly taken from their natural habitats to be bought back to the home kitchen and turned into amazing Tuscan recipes which date back through the generations.
Living this way meant that certain recipes, wine making traditions and dialects grew very specific to each area. Even today, recipes passed down through the generations still refer back to the towns from which they sprung – Chianti Classico wine from the Chianti area, and recipes ‘Biscotti di Prato’ (Biscotti from Prato), ‘Bistecca alla FIorentina’ (Florentine steak), Cacciucco alla Livornese (typical fish stew from Livorno), Pesto di Siena (Siena pesto) and the like.
You can also visit charming hilltop towns of Siena and San Gimignano and Monteriggioni on our Best of Tuscany small-group tour. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence, immerse yourself in the Tuscan wine-producing countryside, enjoy a wine tasting and cellar visit, and be part of the scenery that has inspired so many great artists. Our small-group Best of Tuscany tour visits Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning Tusvan villa wine estate.
Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore historic wine estates 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.
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 explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about our Florence private tours, private Rome tours, Venice tours with a private tour guide, the best private guides in Cinque Terre , Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.