The last part of our ten day Italian vacation was in the Tuscany region of Italy. (Read about Milan and Lake Como here and here. Tuscany is a region in central Italy with a wide variety of landscapes. It’s capitol is Florence, which is where we arrived by train. We took a train from Como to Florence and it took about two hours. We rented a car in Florence and drove about thirty minutes to our hotel in Panzano.
Within Tuscany, we focused on the famed Chianti area just south of Florence. We stayed in Panzano, which is in the Chianti area. Since we had a car, we drove all around the area stopping at different wineries, olive oil farms, and tiny hill towns speckled across the Tuscan country side. We also took a day trip to Siena, which was about an hour drive from Panzano. The ride was very picturesque, but also very curvy! None of us got carsick, but I can imagine if you are prone to car sickness you would be miserable on this drive.
We stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast called Agriturismo Panzanello that also had a winery on site. I would 100% stay here again! The rooms were incredible, we each had our own living room and kitchen, plus the views were amazing. Panzano is the perfect base for exploring the Chianti region. It’s close to Florence, has a ton of incredible wineries nearby, and some of the best food.
Included with our rooms were a complimentary bottle of the property’s winery and a private tour of the winery. There were quite a few groups that came through to see the winery while we were there, so it was really cool to get a tour from the owner himself.
My favorite part of staying here was the private patio attached to our room. It was HUGE and the view was stunning. I miss having coffee out here every morning.
We didn’t take advantage of it, but Agriturismo Panzanello also offers bike rentals. This area of Tuscany is very popular for cycling. We saw a ton of people out cycling while on our drive back to Florence on our last day.
We ended each day by gathering in Pat and I’s living room area and drinking tea, chatting, and watching Italian music videos late into the night. With three semesters of college Italian under my belt, I still couldn’t understand most of of the music lyrics but Pat had a fun time guessing what they might be!
Wine Tasting in Chianti
There are vineyards as far as the eye can see along the roads through Chianti. Chianti is actually quite a large wine region that extends from just south of Florence down to Siena (about an hour’s drive). It encompasses many little towns, like Radda in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti. We rented a car, so we were able to enjoy the freedom of creating our own schedule.
We were in Tuscany the first week of April, and I really enjoyed being there at this time of year. We had great weather and there were absolutely no crowds. Our time in Tuscany was very relaxing and much slower paced than previous parts of our trip. Our main goal in Tuscany was to enjoy great food and wine, and we definitely achieved that. 🙂
Some of our favorite wineries we visited were:
- Castello di Verrazzano.
- Monte Bernardi
I would go back to Tuscany for the food alone. Tuscan cuisine is known for being simple, seasonal, and hearty, featuring locally-raised game meats, delicious wines and olive oils, and wild produce like truffles and wild asparagus. We literally did not have one bad meal while we were there. Each room at our bed and breakfast has a private kitchen, but when you’re in Tuscany you really don’t want to cook at home and miss out on the authentic Italian cuisine. We did save a few bucks and made breakfast every morning and enjoyed it on our patio overlooking Panzanello’s winery.
Here are some of our most memorable meals in Tuscany:
Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Pat was most excited to try the famous Tuscan steak, and we just so happened to be staying the same town, Panzano, that is home to the most famous butcher in the world, the legendary Dario Cecchini. So of course we had to visit it! The Antica Macelleria Cecchini can be found just around the corner from the main piazza and unless you were looking for it you might just pass it by as it has a very unassuming appearance. We went for lunch and all ordered a Mac Dario, which is described as “a 250 gram crumb crusted burger served with roasted potatoes and three house sauces” and is sold for 10 euros. SO GOOD. Plus, you can BYOB so we picked up an extra bottle at the winery we visited right before lunch and enjoyed it with our Mac Darios. I think this may have been Pat’s favorite meal of the trip.
Ristorante Oltre il giardino
Located in Panzano very close to our agriturismo and also just off the main piazza. We loved this place so much we ate here twice! Rustic Italian food with a great wine list and fresh homemade pasta. The first time we ate here, I got the wild boar ragu and it was AMAZING. And you cannot beat the view from their patio! In the spring and summer the wisteria covering the patio blooms, but unfortunately it hadn’t bloomed yet while we were there.
Osteria Castelvecchio in Siena
We ate dinner here while in Siena, and everything we had was amazing. I had the spinach noodles with truffles and would go back to Siena just for that dish! The restaurant is close to the city center and easy to find.
Gusta Pizza in Florence
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Florence, but we did manage to make it to Gusta Pizza aka some of the best pizza I have ever had! Casual and crowded, but totally worth it. Very reasonably priced. You can take it to go or sit inside. We managed to grab a table inside and had fun people watching. I had the Margherita pizza and yes I ate this whole thing by myself and it was amazing.
As mentioned we took a day trip to Siena, Tuscany’s 13th century hill town. Piazza del Campo is the city’s main square and a UNESCO world heritage site. If you’re planning a trip to Siena, please be aware that you cannot drive a car through the city…you need to park outside the city and take a bus into the city!
We spent the afternoon walking around the medieval brick buildings and made it to most of the major sights: Siena Cathedral, Piazza del Campo, and Palazzo Pubblico.
This was my favorite part of the entire trip! Agriturismo Panzanello also has a popular cooking class on site. We did a private cooking class with just us and our friends we were traveling with right after our wine tour. It was AMAZING. We also had wine pairings with everything we were cooking. Our teacher was the 76 year old Maria Vittoria, and she was the absolute sweetest lady. She told us (through a translator!) how to pick out items like basil, cheese, and meat at the grocery store. We made every aspect of the meal, and I really felt like I learned a lot. I’ve already made the Tuscan potatoes three times since we’ve been back home!
We learned how to make homemade bruschetta, Tuscan potatoes, Tuscan pork roast, spinach and cheese stuffed tortellini, tagliatelle, and Tiramisu. We even made the tortellini and tagliatelle literally from scratch with eggs and flour. Maria Vittoria showed us how to add the flour slowly to the eggs and then whipped out her very own pasta maker…that she received when she got married 50+ years ago!
We ended the trip with a few hours in Florence before our friends headed towards Milan for their flight and we went to Bologna. We had such an amazing time and I wanted to cry when we left Agriturismo Panzanello. Truly the trip of a lifetime!