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Tuscany is a necessary part of any cultural education, as it has been for centuries.
By Eva Stelzer
Tuscany long ago earned its reputation for capturing the very essence of Italy – picturesque rolling hillsides with vineyards and charming medieval towns. The geography varies dramatically: coastal cities teeter along the Tyrrhenian Sea, while lush mountains, quaint hill towns and river plains stretch far inland. Add to this beauty seeing some of the world’s famous art in person. One of many reasons we are drawn to Italy and other European destinations is that touring “the Continent” always has been part of the ultimate educational experience.
Breakfast in Tuscany
Some mouth-watering delights from Italy
By Eva Stelzer
Starting breakfast with dessert is a slightly wicked Tuscan tradition that I thoroughly enjoy. At Florence’s Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco, the chef’s freshly baked crostata is a sensory delight. The sweet jam oozed in my mouth as the buttery crust crumbled onto my tongue. Manager Antonella Rocchini says the cheerful chef can be heard humming and whistling while baking. “Of all the treats on our menu, crostata is the most popular,” she adds. After devouring too many pieces of the lattice masterpiece, I understand the attraction.
The tiny, unadorned breakfast room hardly seems like the setting for such delicious food, but the morning buffet is filled with goodies from melt-in-the-mouth burratta cheese to warm apple tarts topped with smooth, creamy ricotta. As in most small Italian-owned hotels, a barista makes guests the perfect morning coffee. A barista is a professional coffeemaker who understands the important harmony between milk frothed into white airy peaks and the bitter dark espresso base. The combination of taste and texture creates the perfect balance.
“A barista is a professional coffeemaker who understands the important harmony between milk frothed into white airy peaks and the bitter dark espresso base.”
Chianti is one of the central regions in Tuscany. Chianti wines, formerly recognized by the squat bottles encased in a straw basket has now joined the rest of the region as one of the major producers of elegant water for the gods.
The Chianti recipe as we know it today, was created by Baron Bettino Ricasole. Taking a run down family property, he began analyzing grapes from various vines and discovered that each type of fruit resulted in a specialized palate. Today, all wines labelled as Chianti comprise 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malivasia Bianca. However, in 1992 white grapes were prohibited from use in a Chianti Classico. There are tens of thousands of small vineyards producing Chianti and the best way to find a good wine, is by tasting. Of course, Ricasole remains the larges producer but don’t limit yourself with some many other wines on the market. New organic wines are taking space on the shelves. My two faves (at the moment) from Chianti:
AMA 2010. Priced at about $27 Canadian and $17 Euros in Greve, this wine has flavourful bouquet that opens beautifully from the first sip. Here is a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth without breaking the bank. Founded in 1972, Castello di Ama provides a great product, thanks to dedication and hard work of founders Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti.
Food markets in Italy can be found in every city, town and village. In the larger cities the food markets are generally in permanent locations and even within permanent structures. In the smaller towns these markets may appear once or twice a week, pack up, and move on to the next town. When visiting smaller towns it’s best to check ahead and find out what day of the week the market will be there. Here are a few permanent food markets in the larger cities.
Bolognia has been called Italy’s heart of food. My pick in this city is Mercato Centrale, Bologna. The main produce market overflows from via Francesco Rizzoli to il Quadrilatero. The surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna is home to some of Italy’s greatest gastronomic gifts (prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, mortadella, balsamic vinegar, and more), and you can find them all here, along with fish vendors, meat stalls, fruits and vegetables, and a great housewares store, Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo, which carries every kind of pasta cutter imaginable. For me, the highlight of the market is A.F. Tamburini, a 78-year old pasta and provisions store where you can buy excellent ravioli, tagliatelle, and tortelli, either fresh or, in the adjoining cafe, cooked and served with a rich ragù bolognese. (9 via Francesco Rizzoli, Bologna.)
Tuscany has long ago earned a reputation for its picturesque, Italian atmosphere full of rolling hillsides of vineyards and charming medieval towns. The region’s geography varies dramatically; coastal cities teeter along the Tyrrhenian Sea, while lush mountains, quaint hill towns and river plains stretch far inland. For good reason, the region remains one of the most visited destinations in the world.
Most people recognize Tuscany, Florence specifically, as the birthplace of the Renaissance – a time of learning, beauty and, especially, the artistic movements. It’s the literal birthplace of some of the most famous names in Italian (and world) history. This includes Botticelli, Dante, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Galileo. As part of the Renaissance culture, architects wanted to reflect that in the landscapes and created paths that seemed like they would never end. They created gentle hills that would sooth the soul but make visible an open sky and wide open spaces. After this beauty was created, painters began to immortalize it in their art.
The culinary experience in Florence is unlike any other, filled with plenty of spots that any foodie will enjoy. But with so many choices it can get overwhelming. That’s why we’re offering our Top 5 Florence Restaurants that you must visit. For many foodies, eating in Florence is a must experience. We sample some of these restaurants on our Walking tours in Italy.
For the foodie and food savvy there’s an amazing new restaurant slash club in Florence. Across the river Arno, on the Pitti Palace side, and in an unsuspecting, rather dreary location, is an upscale new destination for fish loving, fun loving locals. A few tourists are finding their way to this trendy spot but only because some upscale connoisseur concierges are referring their clients.
Visiting the medieval town of San Gimignano is an unforgettable experience. Not only because of the amazing stonework or the beautiful landscapes, but because of the unforgettable skyline that brings to mind many of today’s more modern cities.
Located on a hilltop in Italy’s Tuscany region, San Gimignano stands out from other villages in the area due to its tall stone towers, easily visible from all over the region. The story of the towers dates back to the 14th century when the town was under the influence of two rival families: the Ardinghelli family and the Salvucci family. A contest began over who could build the taller house, towers being seen as symbolic of power and wealth.
- Walk the lush rolling hills and meander in the Tuscan countryside
- Discover medieval towns with their fortified walls and meandering streets.
- Visit a living renaissance town overlooking the Val D’Orcia and landscapes made famous by 14th century painters.
- Visit churches quietly hiding some remarkable art.
- Sip a glass of world-class Brunello.
- Savor traditional cuisine made with the freshest ingredients.
- Luxuriate in signature accommodations.
1. Galleria degli Uffizi. Filled with paintings by the most noted Italian artists visitors marvel at the mastery of Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael to mention a few. Purchase advance tickets.
2. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Brunelleshi’s dome and Giotto’s Tower dominate the Fiorentine skyline. Visitor’s never tire of these two most visited highlights of Italian architecture
3. The National Museum of the Bargello. Located near the Piazza della Signoria is a museum that houses sculptures of leading artists of the Renaissance era.
At the top of my list of fabulous things is walking through Tuscany’s network of white roads. These winding routes were originally carved out centuries ago by the enigmatic Etruscans, and later expanded by the Romans so that their war horses and soldiers could reach all parts of Europe from France to England. As a matter of fact, the sentence “all roads lead to Rome,” actually refers to this network of interconnecting trails. As cities grew they became neglected, left to be used by farmers and locals as they strolled from town to town.
Tuscany Back Stage Pass
Escape to Tuscany’s idyllic landscape. There is something eminently peaceful in wandering through vineyards and olive groves, passing vines tended by generations of winemakers, and savoring traditional cuisine made of the freshest local ingredients. Walk the lush rolling hills and medieval towns with their meandering roads. Experience the magic of medieval towns and renaissance landscapes and you’ll never want to leave.
- Discover the Tuscany countryside, culture, food, and traditions.
- Visit the Tuscany of your dreams on this awesome trip.
- Check out Chianti’s main wine market town of Greve.
- Walk past vineyards to the Castello di Brolio, home of the original Chianti Classico recipe.
- Enjoy guided visits to important Tuscan towns of Siena, Florence and Pienza.
- Meander up the steep hills of Medieval Montalcino.
- Savor the super Tuscans: Brunello di Montalcino and more.
- This is a bespoke travel group limited to a maximum of 10 people.
While French wine tasters roll the wine around in their mouth and spit before tasting the next, this is definitely not the custom in Argentina. I spent a week cycling through Mendoza where lunch often included 5 or 6 wines, following which we’d cycle to another winery a mere 10 kilometers away, and begin the tasting process again. I managed one sip from each glass while watching others drain their liquid happily and with ease. I did learn how to check the colour or a red and the clarity of a white, inhale the bouquet, and differentiate between citrus, chocolate and tobacco flavours of a good Malbec.
Wine tasting etiquette. To spit or not to spit?
On a recent walking holiday in Sicily I took a group to the Etna vineyards for a wine tasting adventure. Lava rich soil nourishes the grapes yielding a distinctive – and strong – flavour. Our group of mixed neophyte tasters and experienced oenophiles wanted to know, “Do we spit the wine after tasting or swallow it?”