Travel

Delicious Food, Hilltop Towns & Dreamy Views – My Epic Tuscan Travel Adventure

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I have just had a week off, and I didn’t touch a computer or do any writing. I thought I would love not writing for a week, but it turns out I have been itching to write this blog post ever since I left.

I have just got back from the most amazing holiday to Tuscany, Italy. It’s officially my new favourite place. Mainly because of the food and wine, I could go on for days about the heavenly food, but also because of how spectacularly beautiful it is. Just a quick warning, this is going to be a stupidly long blog post, because I have so many adventures to tell you about.

tuscany flowers countryside

I felt as though I had been magically transported into some sort of dream land for a week. Travelling through Tuscany sort of feels like you are in a magic land, filled with breath-taking views and surprises to uncover.

I knew that the scenery if Tuscany is quite varied, but it’s not until you visit that you realise just how much the views transform as you move from one region to the next. Driving in Tuscany is not a chore, it’s a pleasure.

driving in tuscany views roads

This holiday was made possible thanks to the wonderful people at To Tuscany. They kindly let us stay in one of their apartments in Lecchi in Chianti. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a lovely apartment with enviable views of the stunning Tuscan countryside.

balcony in tuscany view

tuscany chianti apartment

As soon as we arrived we enjoyed a glass of Prosecco on the balcony, and took in our picturesque surroundings. The apartment is right in the countryside, so it’s extremely peaceful and quiet. All you can hear when you sit outside is the birds and the bees, literally.

tuscany apartment with a view

tuscany kitchen chianti

If you haven’t been to Tuscany before, you absolutely must go. I want to share everything we did, so that you guys can plan a kick ass trip to this famous Italian region. I hope you find all my tips and suggestions helpful. Here’s what we did on our Tuscany travel adventure.

Day 1

We flew into Pisa, because there weren’t’ many flights to Florence or closer airports, but also because there were places I wanted to visit near Pisa. We drove around Pisa for a bit trying to find the Leaning Tower, but after getting a bit lost, we decided to see it on the way back instead (I have seen it before but my partner hasn’t).

We then drove on to Lucca, which is only around 30 minutes’ drive from Pisa. Lucca was a must visit town on my to do list. It’s a city encircled by Renaissance walls which is well known for its olive oil production.

lucca cycling walls

We stayed in a budget hotel about five minutes’ walk from the centre called Hotel Melecchi. It was extremely good value, was in a great location, and had parking. It was like Fawlty Towers, but in a good way. The owner’s son actually described his dad as Mr Bean, partly because he drives around in a 1970’s Mini Cooper.

1970's mini cooper and Fiat

The staff were really helpful and they even let us use their old school bikes for free. So we spent an afternoon cycling around the walls, which is a lovely way to take in the city and appreciate the surrounding mountains.

cycling around Lucca TuSCANY

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lucca tuscany river

The hotel recommended a local fish place, where we got a wonderful selection of fresh fish (salmon, trout, cod, crayfish, muscles) and a glass of wine for 10 euros. After wandering round the city for a bit and checking out all the local shops, we went back to the hotel for a much needed nap. Then we went out for dinner and had delish pasta, (Pappardelle pasta with local meat).

Day 2

We had breakfast at the hotel for five euros each which included cheese, prosciutto, cereal, fruit, yogurt, cakes and pastries. Really good value and definitely worth it as we needed to fuel up before heading to Florence for the day. We drove from Lucca to Florence, which took about an hour.

fLORENCE TOURIST SIGHTS

A little heads up if you are planning on driving in Florence, parking is a bit of a nightmare. There are some parts of the city where only residents and locals are allowed, and you get fined if you go in these areas.

The Lucca hotel manager recommended we park in the Station car park. It was quite stressful trying to find the car park without going into the areas where we might get fined. However, the car park is ideally located and is about 3 euros an hour, which isn’t too bad for a city centre.

We walked around visiting all the main sights including the Duomo, Giotto’s Campanile,  Palazzo Vecchio, The Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio and the  Palazzo Pitti. We were told the Palazzo Pitti used to be the home of the government, and they built the Ponte Vecchio so that they could walk to their offices without being bugged by the general public.

If you want to see Florence in all its glory, make your way to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The climb up to the top is well worth it. Stop part way up to wander round pretty gardens which have stunning views. Then climb the final steps to the top for breath-taking views of Florence.

view over florence gardens and city

view from piazzle michelangelo Florence TuSCANY

We ate lunch on the way back down from the Piazzale Michelangelo at this restaurant that did a buffet and a glass of water for 8 euros. It basically had all of my favourite things, aubergines, meatballs, potatoes, omelette, vegetables and green beans. Yum. My stomach is rumbling as I type this.

eating out in florence restaurants budget

Obviously we had to try some ice cream in Florence, because the city is famous for its frozen delights. Sadly we only had about three or four hours in Florence, so we didn’t get to do as much as we wanted. There were enormous queues for all the big attractions, so we simply admired them from afar.

Florence bridge

Florence statue

Perhaps if we go back for a bit longer we can delve into the cultural side of the city a little more. I think my favourite moment in Florence was walking along the river and looking at the Ponte Vecchio, and of course, the views from the Piazzale Michelangelo.

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Next we drove to Radda, which is very close to our apartment (about 20 minutes’ drive). We wanted to check out our nearest town, and we weren’t disappointed. I think it’s one of my favourite places we went to, but that’s probably because we got to know the town quite well.

Radda in Chianti TuSCANY

Unlike a lot of the more popular towns that have been tainted by tourism, Radda still retains its traditional charm.

The views around this hilltop town are unbelievable, you can see miles upon miles of Tuscan countryside.  We bought some local pecorino cheese, prosciutto and tomatoes for breakfast.

Radda in Chianti

Then it was time to head to our apartment in Lecchi in Chianti. We stayed there courtesy of To Tuscany. The apartments here are in the middle of nowhere, but for us that was a very good thing. It’s fine if you have a car.

This apartment is the perfect place to escape to if you want to get away from it all and completely switch off from life back home. It has charming character features such as a fireplace with a fire you can use, wooden beams and gorgeous furnishings. The best part about our apartment was the views from the terrace/balcony.

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In the evening we went to a local restaurant in Lecchi called Malborgetto, and tucked into one of the best meals we have ever had. Every mouthful was a little piece of heaven. I had prawn and pumpkin soup and beef pasta (the boyf had wild boar pasta, which was also delish).

restaurant Lecchi in Chianti

papardelle pasta boar TuSCANY SPECIAL

panna cotta tuscanyDay 3

After a busy few days, we needed to chill, and where better to unwind than in our lovely private villa? We relaxed on the balcony for a bit and then ventured into Radda again.

If you go into the wine shops you can taste the wines for free, so we tried a couple of different places and decided on a winner. We particularly liked the Chianti Classico Riserva. Part of the 2016 Giro D’Italia will pass through Radda this year, there were a few signs around the town advertising this. 

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There’s an art gallery in the centre of the town you can enjoy for free. We had a cheeky ice cream from the local ice cream shop and then went back to the apartment and cooked our own Tuscan meal. We bought all the fresh ingredients from Radda and enjoy food and wine by a warm fire.

DSC_1846Day four

San Gimignano is a famous medieval hilltop town. I had to see this magical town for myself. The drive was about an hour. Driving in Tuscany is never really a chore, because the scenery is just so spectacular. Sadly it was raining when we went to San Gimignano, but the rain died down soon after we arrived.

San Gimignano

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This busy hilltop town has lots of little shops selling art, pottery, food and souvenirs. Imagine a town perched on the top of a hill, set inside castle walls, with cobbled streets and the most amazing views.

Try and get a picture of the town as you drive in as it looks fabulous from a distance. We had pizzas at a local restaurant, Will particularly enjoyed his spinach and sausage pizza.

sausage and spinach pizza tuscany

multicoloured pasta tuscany Day Five

We started off day five by going for a coffee and a pastry in a bar in Radda, before heading to Siena. Siena is only about 45 minutes from Radda in Chianti. We parked outside of the city walls in a car park for about two euros an hour.

Siena Piazza

Siena bell tower

I really loved Siena, there was something special about the city. It was far more relaxed and laid back than Florence. Florence has quite a lot of stuff packed into one area, whereas Siena feels a bit more spread out. It might just seem that way because Siena didn’t have big crowds when we went.

I think this is my favourite and most Italian photo. This man was there when we passed him on the way in to town, and also three hours later on the way out. He looks like a hilarious secret agent. What a dude.  

typical italian man

We paid ten euros each to go up the bell tower (Tower of Mangia), which was by far the tallest bell tower I have climbed so far. It’s an 87 metre high square stone tower with a belfry dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Once you reach the top, you can admire the entire city and surrounding countryside. After walking up the tower we obviously deserved an ice cream as a reward, so we sat out on the Piazza in the sunshine.

views of siena

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On our way back from Siena, we stopped off at Brolio. If you are staying in this part of Tuscany, find some time to see this castle. You pay five euros each to get into the grounds, this gives you entrance to the gardens and also free wine tasting at their wine shop. The views from this castle were probably the best of the entire trip.

brolio castle tuscany

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IMG_7567Day 6

On day six, we debated whether to go to Terme di San Giovanni Rapolano (a spa with hot springs where you have to pay about £20 each to enter), or drive a lot further to Bianchi San Filippo hot springs. We decided on San Filippo as we wanted to visit Montalcino and the Crete Senesi, which are both on the way back.

These hot springs are free, and set in woodland. They are located in the woods near a tiny village called Bagni San Filippo. The drive from Radda to San Filippo is literally jaw dropping. We saw some of the best scenery on this route, bright green fields and lush vegetation.

Where we were staying the scenery was a lot more rustic and dry, but as you move towards southern Tuscany it’s brighter and more vibrant.

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tuscany green scenery

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You can literally choose what temperature you want to bathe in, as the lower down the springs you go, the cooler it is. The spot we chose was just like a hot bath, it was pure bliss.

There’s also some mud you can use as a scrub and skin mask if you are brave enough. Slap it on your skin and leave it for a bit and it dries just like a face mask.

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san filippo hot springs tuscany

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tuscany san filippo hot springs waterfall

Just a little warning, the water turns silver jewellery into a dirty copper colour. I was devastated when my favourite ring changed colour, but thankfully it returned to normal after a few hours. We could have stayed there all day, but we had lots more to see so we made our way to Montalcino.

Montalcino is famous for producing the world renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine. It’s a fairly hilltop town with beautiful views (let me just point out that pretty much all the hilltop towns have the most amazing views). We ate at a local pizzeria, I had lasagne and we topped off our meal with pastries and coffee.

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We then drove to the Crete Senesi, it’s a part of Tuscany that has these big lunar like craters. We tried to find the tourist office but ended up stumbling upon a small castle. Again, the scenery around here was spectacular, on the way back we pulled over numerous times to take photos of the views. There’s lots of stopping points on the road purely for this purpose.

creta senesi tuscany craters

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In the evening, we had a private chef called Andrea come over and cook us a four course Tuscan meal. This was an amazing experience, it felt like a real treat to have a private chef cook for us. Andrea was very friendly and informative, and the food he cooked was unbelievable.

To begin with we had a Tuscan started which consisted of Pecorino cheese with honey, Salami, Tuscan ham and bruschetta. The bruschetta was made from simple ingredients (cherry tomatoes, local olive oil and garlic) but it was so tasty.

Next we had ricotta and spinach ravioli with a tomato and pesto sauce (this was our first course). Our main (second) course was chicken cooked in Chianti wine, which was simple but delicious. Andrea also served up a massive side of garlic spinach.

Finally, we had Portuguese milk which is similar to crème caramel. I would definitely recommend this experience if you fancy treating yourself, want to plan a special evening or simply want to get a real insight into local Tuscan food.

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traditional tuscan starter

tuscan puddingDay 7

In the morning we went back to Bar Dante in Radda for coffee, peppermint tea and pastries. Then we went back to the apartment to get ready for wine tasting. The wine tasting was at a local farm, called Casanova di Ama, and it was run by a lovely lady called Daniela.

She really made this experience special for us. I think we tried about six or seven different wines, all of which we liked. Our favourite was probably the Chianti Riserva.

Daniela really wanted to spoil us, she brought out so much food. She had carefully chosen different snacks to go perfectly with her wines. We had mozzarella and tomatoes, chicken liver and veal spleen pate (warm), a Tuscan vegetable hummus, bruschetta, salami, Tuscan ham, Pecorino cheese of varying maturity, a cheese, bacon and egg tart and sweet biscuits to enjoy with sweet wine at the end.

She also served us coffee at the end, which we definitely needed to sober up. I definitely got a little bit distracted by the adorable german shepherd lab cross, who was my new best friend. 

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The wine tasting portions were more than you would normally get, so we had quite a lot of wine! I will be doing a specific post on our wine tasting experience with more details, Daniela taught us so much. It was a brilliant experience and something we really want to do again.

wine tasting Chianti tuscany

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IMG_7660Day 8

On our last day, we went to Castellina in Chianti to try the ice cream there (it has come highly recommended). This ice cream was by far the best ice cream we had all holiday, I had a mouth-watering biscuit flavour ice cream that I am still craving now!

We then made our way to Lucca for one last stroll around the city, and then it was on to the airport. We couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Thank you so much To Tuscany.