Tuscany is one of those magical, dream-like places that makes you fall in love at first sight. With its lush green hills, ancient stone farm houses and an endless number of wineries, you start to wonder why it took you this long to discover it. I had been to Italy a few times, but never to Tuscany, so when my mom suggested a family trip (all expenses paid) I couldn’t resist! We spent a full week learning how to cook authentic Italian dishes, spending late nights around the kitchen table laughing and drinking red wine and scouring the forest for rich, white truffles with our friendly truffle-hunting pup, Millie.
WHAT TO DO
Cooking school: Visit Locanda Demetra Cooking School in Montalcino, Tuscany for a “field to table” teaching experience. Located in a newly renovated farm house overlooking the valley, this is the perfect place to learn the art of Italian cooking. The teachers, Alessandro, Francisco and Emanuela, are passionate, knowledge and so much fun to hang out with. Learn how to make fresh pasta from scratch, cook authentic sourdough bread in the wood fire oven and create a simple (fail proof) recipe for tiramisu.
Foraging: Wake up early to go foraging in the forest in search of wild food that you will later cook and eat. Your guide will teach you how to look for signs of poisonous plants and how to find the perfect edible flowers for your dish. Once you’ve gathered a full basket of plants, head back to the kitchen and turn your weeds into a tasty, colorful salad for your first course.
Truffle hunting: Put on your wellies and meet Pedro and his pup, Millie, in San Giovanni d’Asso for a day of truffle-hunting in the woods. Learn how to find, clean and store these valuable edibles. Trust me, after spending a few hours chasing Millie as she sniffs at every tree, you’ll soon appreciate the work that goes into hunting the perfect truffle.
Dairy farm visit and cheese tasting: Take a day trip to Podere il Casale Dairy Farm to learn how to make specialty Italian cheeses. After visiting with all of the animals and chasing after the puppies, sit back and enjoy the view of the surrounding hills as you indulge in a tasting of 10 fresh cheeses with homemade honey and chili sauce. This is a true farm to table experience!
Wine tasting: There are hundreds of vineyards scattered throughout Tuscany and unfortunately it would be impossible to visit every one of them. But if you are staying in Montalcino, which is famous for its Brunello wine, I suggest you visit Tornesi winery, a family run establishment that has been in the wine making business since 1856. Learn how Brunello wine is grown and produced and enjoy a tasting on the balcony with sweeping views of the endless vines. I can almost guarantee you'll end up shipping a few bottles home.
Visit an apiary: Get an up close look at thousands of worker bees making sweet, sticky honey and find out how it goes from pollen to a topping on your toast. After a quick lesson, head inside to try all of the different homemade honeys.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb: If you’re looking for a small town vibe in the middle of wine country, I suggest staying at Massi’s charming little stone house located right in the heart of Montalcino. This beautiful Airbnb is located just around the corner from the main square, so there are many small cafes and restaurants to choose from, or opt to stay in a cook a true Italian dinner in the rustic country-style kitchen. The apartment has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a washing machine and a quiet private garden, a perfect place to lounge around and drink a coffee.
WHAT TO EAT/DRINK
Re di Macchia: This place is a hidden gem in Montalcino. Located just off the main square, it offers true Italian style dishes in a cozy, romantic atmosphere. They are known for their huge t-bone steaks, but we opted for fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms and wild boar bolognese.
Osteria delle Crete: We visited this place for lunch after our truffle-hunting experience in San Giovanni d’Asso. It’s quite pricey for Italian standards (especially if you order the truffle pasta like we did) but the food is worth every penny! The interior is a mix of rustic and contemporary design and everything on the menu is fresh, local and a true taste of Tuscany. Seriously, don’t leave without trying everything on the dessert board!
Montepulciano: If you’ve rented a car while in Tuscany you should definitely do a few road trips. The drive from Montalcino to Montepulciano, which only takes 45 minutes, is absolutely stunning. The hills are lush green and all of the driveways leading up to old farm houses are lined with hundreds of Cypress trees. Montepulciano is a Renaissance hill town that is nestled high up on a limestone ridge. It’s a quaint village full of beautiful old houses and breathtaking views of the countryside below. Spend the day souvenir shopping, visit the church of St. Augustine or take a stroll around Piazza Grande.
Orvieto: If you’re coming from Rome, Orvieto is a perfect place to stop for lunch. This small, magical town sits high above the valley atop a slab volcanic stone. Everything here is picturesque and the surrounding fields are full of endless rows of grape vines and olive trees. One of the highlights here is the the town’s Gothic Cathedral, which dates back to 1290. It’s full of exquisite detail including mesmerizing rainbow frescoes, golden mosaics and three huge bronze doors. Located directly across from the church is Il Giglio d'Oro restaurant. This is one of the best lunches we had in Italy! Try the house lasagna or the risotto with pancetta.
Learn to relax: Italians know how to take a break and enjoy life. So take a hint from them and spend a whole day in bed curled up with your favorite book and a glass of wine or sit outside the local cafe, sipping on an afternoon cappuccino and watch the locals shop for their daily groceries. Sometimes when we’re exploring a new place we feel obligated to get the most out of our time there, but often the best days are the ones where you do nothing at all. You’re on vacation, enjoy it while you can!