ITALY PART I

Tuscany. It’s the land of vine-lined landscapes, the centre of Renaissance art and culture, home to excellent cuisine and world-renowned wines.

The way to experience the beauty of Tuscany is by going to the countryside, and the best place to stay? An agriturismo! An agriturismo is a popular concept in Italy which translates to “farm-stay,” but it’s so much more than that! It’s a ‘hotel’ within a working farm, where you get to live with an Italian family, mingle with guests from across the world, and eat gourmet food — all homemade with produce from the estate.

During my time in Tuscany, I stayed in the sun-drenched Val d’Orcia region of southern Tuscany, in an agriturismo called Casa Fabbrini. The dream of Paola and Giorgio Fabbrini (who own and run the place), Casa Fabbrini is a restored 17th century farmhouse, which now functions as a luxury country guest house. It is situated on acres of land dotted by cypress trees, and surrounded by olive groves. The rooms are beautiful and comfortable, and the living spaces are homely and very tastefully done up. The food – phenomenal!

Whether it was the modern take on traditional Italian cuisine presented by Giorgio (a published cookbook author), or the typical Italian breakfast pastries and jams made by Paola, I was spoilt for choice here. The majority of the ingredients are from the land surrounding the house – the jams served at breakfast made from fruit freshly picked in the orchard, the salad at dinner made with vegetables from the gardens, and even the extra virgin olive oil produced from the olive groves in the estate!

Imagine breakfast with freshly baked apricot pastries, strawberry and cherry jams, yogurt, and bread… Dinner with homemade pastas, salads, and soups, served with local wines. We enjoyed evenings under the Tuscan sun in the numerous cozy sit-outs on the property, and meals around a communal table with people from across the world. The Fabbrinis have opened up their home, hearts, and kitchen to create a getaway that is truly amazing – an experience that I highly recommend to everyone visiting Tuscany!

Staying here also made it possible for me to visit other small towns in the countryside, as they are best accessed by car. The drives getting to the quaint towns are as beautiful as the towns themselves. I visited the towns of Pienza, Montepulciano, and Siena — all within a couple hours drive from each other. While Pienza is your typical quaint medieval Tuscan village with cobblestone streets, Siena is on the bigger side with a large population and a big university at its centre. Montepulciano is in the heart of the Tuscan wine-region, famous for its numerous vineyards and the vino nobilo and vino santo wines.

In visiting these smaller towns, I got to experience the gourmet destination that Tuscany is, and try local Tuscan fare. Though pasta and pizza is popular across the world as “Italian” food, the cuisine of Italy is as diverse as its regions. You can’t categorise all the regional specialities in Italy under one blanket term of “Italian food” the same way you cannot possibly name just one regional cuisine as “Indian.”

Local Tuscan fare has peasant origins, made with simple ingredients that bring out the natural flavours in seasonal ingredients. “Slow food” is a movement that is given much importance here, in order to promote local seasonal produce, regional cuisine, and sustainable agriculture and tourism.

Best Tuscan dishes?

One of my favourite Tuscan dishes has to be the panzanella. A quick salad, it is a staple during the summers. It is made with stale bread, tomatoes, onions and basil all drenched in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The ribolitta, a bread and vegetables soup made with cannellini beans was comfort food at its best. I also couldn’t get enough of the cheeses here – specially the aged Tuscan Pecorino, and the softer goat cheese Caprino. Tuscany also has an abundance of truffles, and I enjoyed the fresh summer black truffles on many dishes here. Even dessert in Tuscany is simple and delicious – seasonal fruits like strawberries, peaches, and apricots – served with a scoop of gelato of course!

And… to drink?

Tuscan wine! I visited the popular Avignonesi vineyards in Montepulciano, and tasted the classic red vino nobilo that this region is known for. Each town in Tuscany produces it’s own wine that is served in restaurants, and you can’t go wrong in choosing what’s locally produced!

 

My days in Tuscany were relaxing to say the least, away from the busier cities and traditional tourist hotspots in Italy, and full of great food and wine. I got to experience the authentic countryside, while avoiding the swarms of tourists that make their way to the sights in the bigger cities during the summer. It’s a definite must visit, and a stay in an agriturismo is recommended if you’re looking for something more offbeat than a traditional hotel.

 

 

This is the first part of the Italy travel series. Stay tuned for more… And meanwhile, tell us about your favourite Tuscan places in the comments below!

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