Tuscany: Stay, Eat, Do

by Grace Boyle on October 21, 2013

I recently went to Italy for 10 days with my family and man. We had an incredible time. As we’re Italian dual-citizens, it was exciting to be back as I lived there six years ago. My mother brings a group of women to Italy every year and her Italian is getting even better. Through our knowledge, we really dug into Tuscany.

Tuscan Countryside

I’ve put together a guide, if you will, outlining my favorite places to eat, stay and see in Chianti – Tuscany area.

Where To Stay:

Il Mattino | Pisa | Via Cisanello, 55:

I suggest Il Mattino because flying into Pisa is often the best choice in terms of flight prices and proximity to Tuscany. It’s an international airport and quite often, flights are more frequent and affordable than flying into Florence (my preferred city if I did have to pick between Florence and Pisa). Alas, Il Mattino is a beautiful bed and breakfast that’s only 10 minutes from the Pisa airport. Monica, the owner, is incredibly gracious and hospitable. Inside her bed and breakfast, there is beautiful light, clean (large) rooms, and she makes breakfast by hand each morning – it’s incluso in the price. I was very comfortable here as we stayed our first night and then at the tail end of the trip, the last night so we could easily get to the airport. Perhaps the only downside is the location, as there aren’t a lot of restaurants nearby (we walked to one) but she always calls you a cab and it’s very close to the airport.

Savignola Paolina Agriturismo | Greve in Chianti | Via Petriolo, 58:

This is where we stayed for the duration of our trip. If you’re going to stay in Tuscany, it’s nice to pick a home base that is somewhat central, then take day trips. You must drive in Tuscany as there are no other modes of train transportation from town to town. We liked Savignola Paolina as it was on a working vineyard, we’ve had friends stay there before and there was a kitchen so we could cook at home for some of our meals. Carlo and his family have lived here for years, so you have great hosts (they’re in the house attached, while you’re upstairs). There are three spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fairly large kitchen and living space. It’s just outside of Greve, so it’s quite and overlooking vineyards and mountains with 360 views. We dined with Carlo and his wife Valleria in their home one night and they greeted us with their own bottle of wine from the grapes outside our door. It’s beautiful, perhaps a tad rustic and we did have to focus on conserving water (an issue throughout Tuscany) but we still really enjoyed ourselves. The price is great and it’s nice to have a home base that’s not a hotel. You can learn more about their rates and information here.

Savignola Paolina

Where To Eat:

Note: A handful of What To Do’s below, include vineyards or locales that we also ate at. So this list goes beyond and eating is after all, so important, so it’s on two lists.

Ristorante Badia a Coltibunono | Loc. Badia a Coltibuono | 53013 Gaiole in Chianti (SI)

We’ve had a host of friends already dine at Coltibuono, so we knew it was a must. The name means “Abbey of the Good Harvest” and it’s 1000 years old. It’s a monestary, vineyard, restaurant, cooking school and bed and breakfast. We dined at the restaurant, which was very special. The meal lasted for hours, it was leisurely and the service was superior (for Italy especially). The food features traditional Tuscan recipes with simple, seasonal ingredients. They have their own wine and olive oil that they serve you, which make the meal even more amazing. At times our food came out slowly because it was busy, but you seem to forget moving fast in Italy so it doesn’t really matter. This is absolutely a restaurant / estate you should visit if you’re going to be in Tuscany. Note: This is another place you should absolutely book in advance.

Coltibuono

Ristoro di Lamole | Greve in Chianti | Via di Lamole, 6:

Rated the number one restaurant in Greve, the restaurant sits on top of a hill in the tiny village of Lamole just outside of Greve. The road is small, narrow and winding up a mountain but it’s worth it once you arrive. They accommodate their visitors by speaking French, English or German when explaining the menus and the food was delightful. One of our favorite meals of the trip. Be sure to end your evening with the house made limoncello at the end. I suggest trying to do a late lunch there, so you can capture the sunset and incredible hill top views. We made a reservation the day of, and that worked for us in September but I do suggest making a reservation as it’s a popular place.

di Lamole

L’Ostellino | Pisa | P.zza Cavallotti, 1:

On our last day in Italy, we were in Pisa because our flight flew out early the next morning. After living in Florence for a semester, I never made my way to Pisa’s Leaning Tower. It was too touristy for a local like me I thought! But on this day, we went to visit it. I was looking for great food nearby, that also weren’t tourist traps. I stumbled across L’Ostellino which is about a 5-10 minute easy walk from the tower. It’s tucked away in a piazza and was filled with only Italians. There are about six chairs so it’s great to grab to go or sit in a piazza to eat. It’s a salumeria and panini shop with help yourself wine on a side counter (in plastic cups). The menu is vast, offering all types of charcuterie plates and unique panini sandwiches (pressed or cold). It’s casual and delicious, with a good price point. Don’t stop at one of the tourist restaurants with lackluter food near the tower, walk a bit further and find yourself a great panini.

Trattoria Mario | Via Rosina 2r, (angolo Piazza del Mercato Centrale) | Florence:

When I lived in Florence, we went here weekly. It’s small and off a side street near the Central Market of the city center of Florence. Wooden tables line the small restaurant and the menu changes daily. You just look at what’s posted on the wall when you walk in and that’s what is being served. It’s Tuscan home cooking, with family recipes that are always fresh. There are no reservations, you just pop in and hope you can get a seat. The restaurant has been open since 1953 and is well loved by locals and tourists alike (it’s featured in Rick Steve’s Florence book). It’s still very much family run and you can feel the love and heart in the service, the food and space. Note: I have a whole document just on Florence if anyone every wants it.

What To Do + Services:

Avignonesi | Montepulciano in Tuscany | Via Colonica, 1:

This was one of my favorite wineries we visited. That being said, it is also one of the largest and most well known in the area but I feel they still keep a charm about them that doesn’t make it feel too “corporate” or large. I highly recommend their wine tour and lunch in the afternoon. Their grounds are quite impressive and as they move toward entirely organic, the history and information is interesting. The lunch is beautiful and the food was very thoughtfully paired. They serve a primi, secondi and dolci and there are three options for each with a vegetarian option at each. Each dish is paired with one of their wines and they do not skimp on refilling that glass – I believe we had about eight different glasses over lunch as we overlooked the warm, rolling Tuscan hills and vineyards in front of us. The cost compared to many other things we did, was well worth the price and the delicious meal we enjoyed. Note that their winery tours and lunches are only available if you reserve in advance.

Avignonesi

Arianna and Friends | Tuscany Tour Company:

I stumbled across Arianna and Friends online because the reviews were so positive. It’s a great group of Italians that have put together gourmet holiday and leisure tours in Tuscany that include cooking classes, excursions and tours. We personally went on the cheese and olive oil farm tour which you can see here. We felt we wanted to do something a little different and understanding how olive farms and mills work, in addition to Italian cheese was up there on our list. This group is incredibly professional and our tour guide, one of the owners, Massimo was a delight! We started in Volterra at an off the beaten path farm, Fattoria Lischeto (which by the way, this is a recommendation within a recommendation this is a great farm and agriturismo) to learn about their sheep andcheese making and to enjoy a delightful lunch. Massimo really knew a lot about their cheese making process, we visited the pigs and sheep (used for prosciutto and cheese respectively), walked through their cheese facility and the lunch was made almost entirely of food, produce, meat entirely from the farm. Then we went to an olive mill to learn about that process, how Italians value their olive trees and how the olive oil is made. It was such an enlightening day. Even if you don’t take this particular tour, I encourage you to go with Arianna and Friends. I really trust them and know you’re in good hands with them.

Arianna and Friends Tour, Tuscany

If you have any questions about Tuscany or these places, don’t hesitate to reach out. Furthermore, not all our experiences were positive (there are a few unnamed tours and companies we won’t work with again) so if you had a great experience in Tuscany, please share in the comments. The more the merrier! There’s such great options there.

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  • Claire

    We were recently in Italy too, but only tickled Tuscany with a few days in Florence. Love your report and your pix. And dual citizenship, you lucky ducks!

    • http://graceboyle.com/ Grace Boyle

      Oh fun! What dates were you there? We were there in late September and first week of October. Thanks for popping by :)

  • Jay Boyle

    Very nice review Grace. Thanks!

  • Laureen

    Agree! Arianna and Friends and Massimo are incredible!

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