Why is it that all Americans are obsessed with Tuscany?
Perhaps for most of the western world, Tuscany has come to embody our dream Italian vacation, right?
“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.” Frances Mayes
What is it about Tuscany that we crave?
Thanks to incredible authors like Frances Mayes, we have come to envision Tuscany as a sort of idealized fairytale-esque locale, a place that seems to good to be true.
I’ve idealized Tuscany for so long, that when I finally made the decision to venture there for the first time, I was nervous, nervous that the reality wouldn’t live up to expectation – I’ve already waxed poetic about it here.
In all honesty, how could it?
Over the years in my head Tuscany became a place of fantasy, filled with sunflower fields, impeccably dressed handsome Italian men scooting around on vintage vespas and adorable old Italian grandmas just waiting to beckon you into their kitchens in restored historic farmhouses and stuff you full of delicious home cooked meals.
Sigh. Sounds like heaven to me!
Ever since I saw the movie Under the Tuscan Sun way back when and subsequently devoured all of Frances Mayes books, I knew one day I would make the journey to Tuscany. But I wanted it to be on my own terms.
Last summer, my chance finally came to explore this part of Italy. And I knew where my first stop would be – Cortona.
Made famous by Frances Mayes, surprise surprise, I knew this had to be my first Tuscan experience.
And trust me, it did not disappoint.
The perfect introduction to Tuscany, Cortona is all steep cobbled streets, winding stairs that drop down with beautiful views of the Arrezo countryside with beautiful rolling green hills and farmland as far as the eye can see.
Perched high on a hill, it’s the quintessential medieval fortress town in Tuscany but with hints of each passing era tucked away here and there throughout the town, spotted only by the ones who look hard enough.
I arrived in town in the early evening, just in time to watch the late afternoon sun set, turning the beautiful buildings gold and pink. Dashing up random ancient walkways, there seemed to be endless spots to explore in town.
Finally I found a beautiful lookout point tucked away off the main square, overlooking the surrounding farms and villas. Here I watched the sun go down, turning the sky pink and the hills blue, totally satisfied with myself and my decision to come to Cortona.
After that it was a quest of following my nose to the best and most quaint restaurant in town, Osteria del Teatro where I proceeded to drink and eat my way into an early grave. Let’s just say truffle fondue was involved. ZOMG.
Nothing finishes up a beautiful day in a new place quite like a meal fit for a queen, am I right?
A trip to Tuscany would be incomplete without getting to stay at one of the many glorious restored villas and farmhouses that dot the the countryside.
Agriturismo I Pagliai is located right outside Cortona, and it’s the perfect base for Tuscan adventures.
A restored medieval farmhouse that oozes charm and tranquility, it’s set amongst beautiful gardens and wheat fields, giving it a feeling of stepping back in time, with a few modern amenities.
It’s one of those places that has so many gems to explore on the grounds and hidden spots to relax in, I could have easily spent a week there and never left the property.
In summertime the grounds linger with the heady smell of pine and cyprus trees, with patches of lavender cutting a path here and there.
Grapes drip off the vines that have curled around the terraces and balconies and beautiful bright rose bushes clash with purple lavender covered in butterflies. Seriously, how is this place for real?
My favorite part was waking up in the morning under the bright summer sun and sitting out on the terrace drinking tea and having a beautifully displayed breakfast all homemade by the owners.
Nothing makes ma happier than staying in historic properties with exposed wooden beam ceilings, which Agriturismo I Pagliai has in abundance.
With vintage fireplaces, retro cookware and charming wrought iron beds with classic furniture, the setting here is perfect rustic simplicity.
If you are looking for a proper Tuscan experience and are interested in sleeping somewhere that is so much more than a hotel, this is the place for you.
All too soon I had to say goodbye to Cortona and begin my journey towards the Tuscan border with Umbria.
The second unbeatable part of my time in Tuscany was with Walks of Italy, getting to experience a proper working farmhouse and learn to cook a traditional meal from the region from scratch, along with a local wine and olive oil tasting. I love hands-on traveling, what about you?
It’s one thing to visit beautiful places, eat some good food, take some photos and then peace out, but it’s a whole other experience when you get to participate in activities, try new things and really learn about the culture and history behind the place you’re exploring.
And for me the best way to do that is through food, like with a cooking class.
On the Walks of Italy Tuscan Farmhouse Experience, you get the opportunity to see a different side of Italy, one that’s more hands-on and, well, food on too.
Pretty much anything that involves Italy and eating and I’m game.
This beautiful family-owned working farm sits on 40 lush acres of olive groves, vineyards and even fig trees, and its setting couldn’t be more gorgeous. I couldn’t think of a better place I’d rather spend a warm summer day in Italy than here.
After living in southern Spain for a year, I quickly developed a strong love for delicious olive oil. And to think I used to hate olives!
Now when I’m traveling, I love getting to sample local olive oils, especially in Italy. The stronger and spicier, the better! Luckily at the farmhouse you get an olive oil tasting that they produce themselves. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be asking for extra bread to sop up the leftovers on the plate! Yum!
From there we got to explore the wine cellar and get a tasting from one of the owners who is a sommelier, and I finalyl got to learn a little bit about Tuscan reds.
Of course my favorite part of the day was when we got to start cooking, though at this point I was so full from snacking, I was happy to have a few hours respite to let my hunger build again.
Eating in Italy is a marathon, not a sprint.
In spite of coming from a family of chefs, I had absolutely no idea how to make pasta from scratch.
I was so excited to sink my fingers into the soft dough and learn how to make tagliatelle for the first time. With everything produced on the farm without chemicals, I was getting more and more excited for this epic lunch.
By the time we sat down together for lunch, we were all a few glasses of wine in and ready to feast!
Did I mention we made tiramisu for desert?
With the family’s friendly chocolate labs curled under our feet, we dug into our delicious lunch we made ourselves, surrounded by the beauty of Tuscany.
Sigh, this was exactly what I was looking for when I came to this part of Italy.
If I learned anything from my long weekend in Tuscany, besides how to make tagliatelle from scratch, it was that I shouldn’t have been afraid that all my dreams and fantasies I had imagined about this remarkable slice of Italy couldn’t live up to expectations.
Tuscany is full of surprises, and the main one that I discovered was that it is even BETTER in person!
So take a leaf out of my book and don’t put your travel dreams on hold for something as stupid as doubts or worries. Those will always be there, and you will never know how you feel about a place until you go there yourself for the first time.
Oh, and just remember what Frances Mayes wrote:
“Life offers you a thousand chances… all you have to do is take one.”
Do you dream of Tuscany too? Have you ever wanted to visit a place but worried that it wouldn’t live up to expectations?