A Perfect Week in Tuscany, Part Two
Day Four (Lucca, cooking class): One of my favorite Tuscan towns, and one that I’m loath to miss each time I am anywhere near Tuscany, is Lucca. It’s about an hour directly west of your villa and well worth the trip. Of course it’s an old medieval walled town just like all of the others, but there is something different about Lucca. It has the vibe of a city where real Italians live and work, and its beauty is understated compared to that of Siena or San Gimignano.
Park just outside the city’s wall, walk through one of its arched entrances, and immediately obtain your bikes from one of many rental shops. In Lucca, renting a bike is as easy as pointing to the one you want and taking off. You pay by the hour when you get back. You can spend your first hour of the day cruising atop the city’s wide wall, enjoying the scenery, or keep your bike all day and dip down from the wall into shops and cafes as you go. At some point your bike should be parked or returned before you walk Via Fillungo, the lively shopping street of Lucca. Work your way toward the beautiful piazza outside of the San Michele church, and down the street is the fabulous restaurant Buca di Sant’Antonio. Order anything on the menu that looks good, as it’s all amazing.
After lunch wander to the central piazza in town, the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, which was originally built to be a Roman entertainment center (amphitheater). Here you can sit and enjoy an after-lunch espresso or gelato, and observe life in Lucca.
Now it’s time to head home, but on your way you will visit one of the other properties that we represent, Casa di Lusso, where your group will enjoy a fun and delicious private cooking class. I’ve taken a class there with 3 generations of my family, and their chef really knows how to please guests of all ages. The fresh vegetables from their garden are amazing, as is the wine from their estate. You can learn to make hand-made pasta, pizza in their outdoor wood-fired oven or a traditional Tuscan meal. This experience is sure to be one of the most memorable highlights of the trip, and likely the best meal!
Day Five (Chianti region): By now, you are ready for a slightly slower day and a little more time at home in your villa. Given that you are located in the heart of Chianti, which is truly the heart of Tuscany, you should get in your car, wind through the hills and simply explore. One quick and easy place to visit is Monteriggioni, which is a tiny town encased within medieval castle walls. Or you can work your way through the wineries in Radda in Chianti, eventually ending up at my favorite Chianti eatery, Badia al Coltibuono, which is just outside of the town of Gaiole. Here you put your fate squarely in the chef’s hands and relax while a beautiful meal is presented to you in several courses, as you overlook a breathtaking view of the hills.
Next head to Greve in Chianti, which is a small and seemingly nondescript town with a simple central piazza. But looks can be deceiving. You are in Chianti central with some of the best food and wine that Italy has to offer. Go to the wine tasting bar that dispenses tastes of their wares from taps in the wall. Don’t miss the meat shop with a dizzying number of prosciutto hanging from the ceiling. In Greve you can pick up all you might need to make a simple dinner back at the villa. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a bottle of Rosato or Prosecco to enjoy with your afternoon swim as the sun sets over the Tuscan hills.
Day Six (Montepulciano, Pienza): For your biggest driving day, depart early and head south to find out what Southern Tuscany has to offer. The hills of this region are more dramatic than the gently-rolling variety found in the Chianti region. You will see one beautiful hilltop town after another in breathtaking gravity-defying positions. Montepulciano is a charming medieval town that reminds me of San Gimignano, but with fewer tourists. Wander the streets and enjoy the wonderful and sometimes humorous statues on public display, and the dizzying views from the edges of town. Be sure to stop in one of the wineries or wine shops and pick up a local Nobile di Montepulciano wine to enjoy later at home. Peruse the shops, perhaps stop by the modest but lovely Museo Civico and climb the tower of the Palazzo del Comune.
When you’ve had your fill, head back to the car for the short drive to Pienza, another Tuscan gem. Pienza is a tiny village that packs a huge punch of beauty. It seems to occupy the most privileged location in the Southern Tuscan hills overlooking the Val d’Orcia region. As you wander the charming streets and shops, be sure to pick up some pecorino cheese, one of the gourmet signatures of this town. For lunch you will go to La Bandita Townhouse and get ready to be surprised. This stylish boutique hotel occupies a medieval convent right in the middle of town, and offers the best of local fare with a modern twist. After lunch, ask to see a room and start dreaming of your next trip to Tuscany! The New York-native owner also runs La Bandita country house, a stunning, secluded and very hip B&B in the hills outside of town.
Eventually it will be time to head back to the villa, where you get ready for an easy dinner in, or out at nearby Il Battibecco, a restaurant in a beautiful setting with lovely ambiance, great food and service. You will be glad you ventured out, and it’s not at all far from home.
Day Seven (Wine tasting): Today is your last full day in Tuscany, and it’s time to live it up. Your private driver comes to pick up your group and transport you, via comfortable air-conditioned Mercedes van, to a winery or two in Chianti. Visiting a winery in Italy is not like what we’re used to in Napa. Each winery offers a lengthy and luxurious experience, complete with tour of the facility, discussion of the history, tastings and often a meal. So, it’s best to plan to visit only one or two. More than once I have been to Montecchio, with its delicious views and wines. Another excellent choice near Greve is Vignamaggio, where they’ve been making world-class wine since the 1400s and where some think the real Mona Lisa was born. (Apparently that rumor is not true, but I’m guessing the winery doesn’t mind the attention). I have yet to visit but have heard tremendous things about Colle Bereto located near Radda in Chianti. It is said to offer an exceptional tour and tasting experience.
Now home to relax for the remainder of the afternoon, until sunset when your private chef arrives to make you a leisurely, hearty, traditional Italian meal. On your last night in Italy, why not be a little pampered? Then rest well and start dreaming of the next time….