A Guide to Tuscany
I’ve long been mesmerized by die striking beauty of Tuscany; the rolling hills of green vineyards adorned with cypress trees, the elegant, yet rustic farmhouses, the magical sunsets and of course, the wine! Being both wine lovers (as South Africans are tend to be), The Husband and I couldn’t wait to tick this dreamy location off our bucket list, and last summer we finally had the opportunity to do so. After exploring the breathtaking Amalfi Coast (you can see my guide to Positano here) we made our way to the peaceful countryside, where we spent 6 relaxing days in Montepulciano, Panzano and then Florence.
Below you can find out how to get there, and see my recommendations on where to stay, eat and explore the best of beautiful Tuscany.
HOW TO GET THERE
The nearest big airports are in Florence and Rome, so flying into either of them would be your best option. From here you can either take a bus or rent a car, which in my opinion is by far the best and most convenient way to explore as much of the countryside as you can. We started our vacation in Montepulciano (Which is in the southern part of Tuscany and nearest to Rome), from where we made our way north and spent a day in Panzano, and drove further north to our last destination, Florence.
There are tons of rental agencies to choose from, but after doing some research we decided on Europcar who has pickup and drop-off locations all over Italy and also had some of the best prices we could find. You can download the EuropCar application on your phone and easily reserve a car before your holiday starts, with no requirement to pay any deposit fees.
WHAT TO DO
Montepulciano is a picturesque hilltop town in the heart of the Tuscan Winelands, and is known for its medieval buildings and churches, charming squares, panoramic views of Val d’ Orcia, and its delicious Vino Nobile Wine (One of Italy’s most famous!). Surrounded by high walls, visitors enter the town through a large gate and can explore the cobblestone streets and alleys inside by foot (n cars are allowed inside the gates) and spend the day sipping on Tuscan wines, eating delicious cheeses and gelato, and exploring the ancient Renaissance buildings.
SEE & DO
Enter the old town and make your way down the cobblestone streets, stop for some gelato at the first Gelateria you see, and make sure not to miss the breathtaking vineyard views from the alleyways.
Follow the long and winding road until you meet one of the most famous squares in Italy, Piazza Grande, which you might recognize from the movie New Moon, whose filming took place here. Go to the town hall, Palazzo Comunale, and climb up its tower for some panoramic views of the rolling green hills of vineyards. Montepulciano’s cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta, is also located here and can be entered for free.
End the day with a visit to one of the magnificent underground wine cellars, where you can explore the tunnels and get a quick history lesson about Montepulciano and the making of its wines. La Città Sotterranea offers free tours and wine tastings, even providing free food pairings with the wine.
To experience Montepulciano in true Italian style, I highly recommend staying at one of the surrounding wineries, which are close enough to the town for daily visits, but still giving you the serenity of Tuscan farm life. We stayed at Villa Nottola, which was a quick 10 minute drive to town, had an on-site restaurant serving daily breakfasts, lunch and dinners, and a swimming pool that lies in an olive grove; the perfect spot to relax after a day of exploring. They also do wine tastings here and the surrounding vineyards and picturesque views offers tons of insta-worthy picnic opportunities.
EAT & DRINK
I highly recommend Ristorante Villa Nottola, which is located on the winery we stayed at. They have a large patio where diners can enjoy a romantic candle light dinner, and serve traditional Tuscan dishes such as Wild Boar Ragu Gnocchi, Duck Tortellini with Jiniper Butter Sauve and Cold Meat and Cheese Platters (Drool!)
For delicious pizzas, head to Pizzeria Linda Bistrot, a charming little pizzeria located in the old town. Grab a table on the patio, sit-back and relax and enjoy some authentic Italian pizzas and wine.
A wine tasting (with a view!) is a must when in Tuscany, and Azienda Agricola Canneto is just the place to go. A tasting includes 3 of their wines and a cheese platter, and as an added bonus you're spoiled with breathtaking views.
Panzano used to be one of the lesser-known towns in Tuscany, but was put on the tourist map by world famous Italian butcher, Dario Checchini, who has a butchery and restaurant located here (It's a carnivore’s dream!), and a must-visit when driving through Tuscany. This charming town in the Chianti region is the perfect stop on your way to Florence from Montepulciano to experience small town charm and also the delicious wines of Chianti.
SEE & DO
If you’re there on a Sunday, visit the local market where you can shop for clothes, flowers, vegetables, cheese and lots more. After a fun shopping spree, pop into Accademia del Buon Gusto (wine shop) for a once in a lifetime wine tasting of Chianti’s best wines, and listen to funny stories told by the passionate owner, Stefano.
Head to the main square and enjoy an afternoon snack on the terrace of Enoteca Baldi, or treat yourself to a delicious bowl of bolognaise. Afterwards you can take a leisurely stroll through the streets of Panzano and visit surrounding shops, boutiques and art galleries.
EAT & DRINK
Before you even set foot in Italy, pick up the phone and make a reservation at Dario Checchini’s restaurant, Officina della Bistecca and experience steak as you’ve never had it before. A set menu is dedicated entirely to bistecca (steak), and includes beef tartar, rump carpaccio, rib-eye, steak florentine, and more! To make a reservation online you can click here.
Another must when visiting the village of Panzano, is Enoteca Nuvolari, a wine shop and restaurant that sits among the vineyards of Chianti. Enjoy a wine tasting here while admiring the stunning views, and satisfy your palate with some authentic Tuscan antipasti.
Tramonto sul Chianti is located a mere 10-minute walk from the village and provides modern and clean rooms, larger than most in Italy. If you'd prefer to stay in the center, right on the main square of Panzano, a great option is Villa Sangiovese, a hotel with panoramic views of Chianti's vineyards and olive groves.
In the heart of Tuscany lies one of the most famous cities of Italy, and the birthplace of Renaissance, Florence. Full of history, fashion houses and amazing food, the city has tons to see and do, and is also one of the most beautiful places in the world. See my recommendations below!
SEE & DO
One of the most impressive landmarks and a must-visit in Florence is the breathtaking Duomo. To admire the beauty of the Duomo without swarms of people hovering around, I’d suggest going as early possible and also buying your tickets in advance. Entrance to the Duomo is free, but a ticket is needed to climb the dome and Giotto's Bell Tower.
Next up, head to Galleria Academia to see The David (Make a reservation online to skip the lines) Spend an hour or two here to admire this world-famous sculpture, and also additional work by Michelangelo and various paintings by other artists.
Make your way to Piazza Della Signoria, one of Italy’s most famous squares, and also home to the Gucci museum, named Gucci Garden. On the ground floor of this Florentine fashion house you will find the boutique and gift shop where you can buy exclusive Gucci items such as ceramics, furniture, clothes and accessories On the first and second floor there are various rooms showcasing the past collections of Gucci and also contemporary renditions of the brand. Entrance is free and it’s worth a visit if you’re a fashionista like me.
Next, go to Ponte Vecchio, aka, the bridge with the houses. Walk across the bridge (if you’re prepared to push your way through the crowds) or walk along the river to admire the bridge from afar. From here you can take a leisurely stroll all the way to Piazzale Michelangelo where you can enjoy afternoon snacks and sundowners while admiring the panoramic view of Florence.
Ponte Vecchio Bridge
EAT & DRINK
Dine in style at Gucci Osteria (the original Gucci restaurant) and enjoy fine dining prepared by Michelin-starred chef, Massimo Bottura. Meals are served in Gucci porcelain which are also available to buy in the shop.
For the best paninis in town, head to All’ Antico Vinaio, and treat yourself afterwards to some Italian gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita. If you're in the mood for some seafood, look no further than L'Angolo Del Mare.
More reccomendations: Shake Cafe
I highly recommend staying at Nonna Lina Rooms in Florence, especially if you have limited time and don’t want to make use of public transport. Nonna Lina is located in the center of Florence right by the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, surrounded by shops and restaurants and within walking distance of all major attractions.
A GUIDE TO TUSCANY - MAP