I have just the perfect one in mind but I have vowed to keep this one a secret lest the place get overrun by tourists. I, however, am open to bribery. Maybe.
An agriturismo is a working farm usually run by Tuscan families who, while making a living in the farm, also provide lodging and meals B&B style to guests. There is a whole slew of them ranging in size and luxury, but I am convinced that we ended up at the best one judging from the impression of Tuscany and Italy we were able to bring home with us.
We stayed in a small agriturismo in Monteriggioni that only had ten rooms if that. We had breakfast of local yogurt, cheeses and homemade jams and cakes, but the highlight was definitely dinner, when we would sit at the table with our fellow travelers from across the world. Emiliano, our perfect Italian host would bring in one course at a time (which he lovingly prepares in the kitchen with his wife), announcing what dish it is, where the ingredients come from (his garden, the neighbor's, truffle foraged last winter, his friend's farm, and so on). This is also the place where I learned how to make fresh tagliatelle by lingering in the kitchen while Emiliano worked.
|The sun would spill in our bedroom window every morning, just as the rooster would crow.|
Italians are obsessed with bicycles (and anything with two wheels, in general). Driving around Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, you would always, always see cyclists of all shapes and sizes, climbing hills mostly. What I did not know was there is also a strong mountain bike culture in Tuscany. There were mountains in Tuscany? I had come across Punt Ala while after staring at a map and daydreaming about the possibilities. Then I read about a mountain bike race called the Superenduro Pro that would have just wrapped up when we got there.
The Dutch is a zealot for anything bicycles and I myself had just invested in a sweet mountain bike prior to our trip. I figured that getting our ass kicked on the trail was a way to negate the overindulgence in pasta and dolci in this Italian trip (it was the last form of intense heart-thumping we would get until the holiday wrapped up). We rented bikes from PuntAla Cycle Tours and Mario, mountain bike guide extraordinaire, took us around the cross-country trails with some challenging climbs (I had to walk parts), some technical downhills, single trail switchbacks, and towards the end, a small portion of the forest with some fun jumps (I only dared to do one). I LOVE LOVE LOVE this part of our trip and I am so exhilarated we got to experience Tuscany's wild side. An entire blog post on this MTB adventure here!
A little Italian vocabulary lesson. Spiaggia. This is a very important word to learn. Say it again. Spiaggia. The beach.
Tourists often don't realize that Tuscany has a beautiful coastline. Why do I know this? Planning this Italian road trip required me to pore over maps for hours. I went through dozens of iterations of possible itineraries inland, but my eyes keep stealing glances on that big blue area to the west of Tuscany. I. MUST. GO.
Tuscany is synonymous with Chianti and Montepulciano, its most famous growing regions for wines. But how about Carmignano in a northern Tuscany villa established by the Medicis of Florence?
I've tasted this wine back in January at a restaurant in Park City. I thought it was stellar and it had haunted me since. None of the wine distributors in town carried it. Months later, when I realized I was going to Tuscany, I researched this winemaker and made an appointment for a tasting. I exchanged emails with Serena Bonacossi (member of the family that makes this wine) and arranged for a tour and a tasting. We were also invited to stay for lunch. It was a wonderfully lazy afternoon doing what we all ought to be doing on lazy afternoons - having an amazing meal while sipping on astounding wine with a sweeping panorama of vineyards and olive groves before you. More on Capezzana on this blog here!
Thermal baths have long been an Italian history and tradition to promote wellness and health. If you look back to the ancient Roman times, the Romans went to communal baths to get clean but in a way, also to be social. Tuscany has many natural mineral and thermal baths, but Grotta Giusti in Monsummano Terme is unique because it also has an underground "thermal" cave where you can descend to and bask in its natural heat. I have never seen or heard of anything like it. Until you try it for yourself, you would have to trust me on this - it was delirious. Especially after the intensity of being on a mountain bike saddle the day before, and the headiness from the wine tasting at Carmignano, an afternoon of relaxation was well needed. An entire post on this unique find on the blog here!
|Photo credit: Grotta Guisti. (I did not bring a camera in the cave.)|