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Dreaming of Tuscany

visit tuscany

Why is it that all Americans are obsessed with Tuscany?

Me included.

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?

visit tuscany

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!

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

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?

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany
visit tuscany

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

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.

visit tuscany

visit tuscany
visit tuscany

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?

Many thanks to Agriturismo I Pagliai and Walks of Italy  for hosting me in Tuscany. Like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect anything else from me!

58 Responses to Dreaming of Tuscany

  1. Julie @ A Life Exotic April 29, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    The place you stayed in Cortona reminds me of the church in The English Patient! There are some gorgeous scenes of the Italian countryside in that movie. I’m with ya – love the wooden beams! So pretty and rustic.

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      omg yes! I love that movie!

  2. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas April 29, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    I don’t have to tell you that A Year in the World is one of my favorite books! I know I’ll be back in Tuscany later this year or next – my friend’s father has lived there for years and will be moving back to the US to avoid double taxation, so it’s now or never!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      yeah go now!

  3. Jen Seligmann April 29, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    What a beautiful video. You took me back to Tuscany with you. It’s truly one of the world most amazing places.

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      thanks Jen, glad you liked it!

  4. Rachel of Hippie in Heels April 29, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    that pasta looks so yummy. I’ve been to Italy but never Tuscany- although I think I took a train through. That book inspired me to go to Italy for sure! But back when I was 18 I was only concerned with seeing the Big City things- Rome, Venice, Florence… etc. I need to go back!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      Yeah I know what you mean, it took about 5 trips to Italy before I started to really appreciate the small towns and countryside more than the hyped up cities

  5. Strawberry Fields April 29, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    *sigh* perfect snaps for a bit of desk travelling on my lunch break! gorgeous!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      haha awesome! I used to do the same thing on my lunches too!

  6. Erika April 30, 2014 at 12:58 am #

    Oh man, that video was enchanting! And this post was great! It’s so good to hear that Tuscany lives up to the hype around it!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks!

  7. Alison of AK Wanderlusts April 30, 2014 at 1:49 am #

    Tuscany is every bit worth the hype! What an incredible place. And I do believe, Tuscany has the best food in all of Italy…

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      It’s so yummy there!

  8. Lisa - Wee Wanders April 30, 2014 at 3:23 am #

    This genuinely looks like my idea of a dream holiday – good weather, amazing food, beautiful scenery, set in a stunning location, what more could you want!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      my thoughts exactly!

  9. Sam April 30, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    Ooft super cool post. I preferred venice, so easy to get lost in but all of italy is amazing!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      Italy is just amazing, isn’t it?

  10. Trevor Huxham April 30, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    Okay, I just need to say that these are some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen on your blog—or elsewhere, for that matter. They’re just so gorgeous and are distracting (in a good way) from the rest of the post 😛

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      ahah thanks!

  11. Jessica of Curiosity Travels April 30, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    These photos make me swoon inside!

    I got my first taste of Italy recently while I was in Rome and I feel in love. I just know that I must return and explore the rest of the country. There is a reason why it’s such a popular destination. The masses aren’t wrong!

    I also did the Walks of Italy pizza making tour so I bet the farmhouse one was truly perfect!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      ah cool, I did that tour as well, both awesome!

  12. Tayler April 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    It all looks so green and luscious, I want to go now! Not to mention your photos of the food. The video was awesome as well, you should create more!

    • Liz April 30, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

      I am working on it 🙂

  13. Mishfish13 April 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    I’m always scared that a place I’ve been dreaming about for the longest time turns out to be less than romanticized. So far, it’s been places that I’ve never expected that blow me out of the water! And I should really look at cooking classes—they always seem like so much fun! 🙂

    • Liz May 2, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      cooking classes while traveling are awesome!

  14. Christine April 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    I love the video, it should so be part of the Tuscan tourist board. 🙂 as always a wonderful post. Thanks for taking me to Tuscany. 🙂

    • Liz May 2, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      haha thank you!

  15. Anna (Invisible Images) April 30, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    I´ve actively avoided the Tsucan region because I´ll either cry from happiness or cry from dissapointment. Either way, tears will be had. Such lovely pictures, really captures the spirit.
    😀

    • Liz May 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

      haha I understand exactly how you feel

  16. Marie @ Budgeting for Travel May 2, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    I really got hungry while looking at your pictures! Thanks for the video and the pictures, it seems that I already travelled Tuscany!

    • Liz May 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      haha I got so hungry writing this!

  17. monica May 3, 2014 at 5:11 am #

    The food and wine in Tuscanny can’t be beat. I need to go there again.

    • Liz May 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      Yes! Which part did you visit?

  18. Mauro May 4, 2014 at 2:56 am #

    Ciao Liz 🙂 I’m 21 and live in Italy, I didn’t know that Americans are obsessed with Tuscany! I thought you guys were more for Rome and Venice.
    Your blog and Instagram are simply awesome, you’re a model for those who keep dreaming about traveling or escaping from a boring life, like me 🙂

    • Liz May 4, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

      Awesome! Thank you! Tuscany is very romanticized in the states, I am not sure why

  19. Mike of Mapless Mike May 5, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Tuscany has always been a place that I’ve wanted to go, and your experience with Walks of Italy makes me want to go there even more. Maybe I’ll hop over to Italy since I’ll be in La Rioja this next year. Great video by the way!

    • Liz May 5, 2014 at 11:42 am #

      Thanks! You should definitely visit while you’re in Spain, it’s close 🙂

  20. Katie @ The World on my Necklace May 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    I was also worried that Tuscany wouldn’t live up to my expectations but after visiting Florence, Chianti, Cortona and Siena I was thrilled that it was even better than I imagined! This post has made me really hungry for bread and olive oil 🙂

    • Liz May 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      I got so hungry writing this!!

  21. Susie May 5, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    So I kinda skipped Tuscany on my last trip to Italy but I definitely think I need to spend some time there. Thanks for the post. So beautiful!

    • Liz May 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      You gotta go back!

  22. Resident Kiwi May 6, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    Thank you for this terrific posting on Tuscany. It has been many years since I have been there, but your wonderful narrative and pictures breathe life back into those memories for me.
    I traveled extensively through Europe a number of times, and while I started with places and things in mind to see and do, what really struck me, and stayed with me, were the people.
    Yes the scenery is gorgeous. Yes the food is amazing. But even greater than that are the generous, kind, fun-loving people that live there. They turn it from a postcard into a real, life-changing experience.
    My life has been made so much the richer for the amazing people I have met along the way, and since emigrating from New Zealand to Canada five years ago (kinda doing what you did, only in reverse), not only have I been blessed by the nature of the people I have met, but have also had the opportunity to share some of my perspective and understanding with them in return.
    I truly do understand how fortunate I am, and seek every day to make the world just a little bit better in some way.

    • Liz May 7, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      I love this, thank you!

  23. Algarve-Explorer May 9, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    Thank you very much for this great article and the exciting pictures!
    It is true, Tuscany is exciting – even for a German who has traveled a lot. Tuscany has been one of the big centers of tourism in Europe since ages. And one of the effects of this popularity is, that Tuscany tends to be crowded and a bit worn out – compared to Portugal, the extreme west end of continental Europe.
    Try it and explore the Algarve – one of the loveliest regions in Europe!

  24. Shoreh May 10, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    Thanks Liz for this great article. It sure put a smile on my face stuck here in my office on a gray friday…and Cortona of all places ! ever since I saw Under the tuscan sun, I dreamt of goinig there and I finally did in 2010. I’ll never forget it, it was magical. Some of your pictures are almost identical to the ones I took. I did want to take a cooking class but it didn’t work out with our schedule. Maybe better luck in Spain 😉

    à bientôt !

    Shoreh

    • Liz May 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      That’s amazing! I am so happy you have such wonderful memories from Cortona!!!

  25. Matt May 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    I stayed in Siena last year. Great place, food (one of the best tomatoes I ever had).

    • Liz May 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      I really want to go to Siena!

  26. Victoria May 11, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    What a marvellous video and your photographs are beautiful. They bring back so many memories. Thankfully, I was in Tuscany a mere two years ago. It doesn’t matter what anybody says, we all flock to Tuscany as Tuscany is one of the most beautiful parts of Italy, if not the world! The vineyards, the herbs, the olive oil, the narrow, stony streets, the impronto classical summer concerts.
    Just wonderful memories.

    • Liz May 12, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      thank you!

  27. Mark May 16, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    I have to admit I am one of the few Americans who is not remotely interested in Tuscany. I apologize but I do have to say I enjoyed reading your post. It still did not convince me to put Tuscany on my bucket list. I suppose I have a greater desire to see other parts of Italy more than Tuscany. I am glad you had a memorable time though and shared it with us. I’ll be sure to tell others about your experience if anyone ask.

  28. Thebestinparis May 21, 2014 at 3:27 am #

    I was in Tuscany 2 weeks ago and would love to go back ! It is such a lovely place. That labrador on your pics looks so cute by the way

    • Liz May 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      They were so cute! I was playing with them the whole time!

  29. Marta August 14, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    No NO NOO!!!!

    Sorry to start like this but I just couldn’t help it! I’ll explain though, don’t get the wrong idea…
    I found your blog almost a year ago, by pure chance (or should I say by pure luck?) and fell in love with it immediately (I love travelling and I love the way you write). Seriously, I admire you and all I could think the first time that I read one of your articles was “She’s really funny, she’s exactly the kind of person that I would like to travel with, it would be great to meet her, …”
    Then in February I moved country and at first I really didn’t have the time to check your blog, and after I while I just forgot, untill now…
    You see, not only I’m from Italy, tuscany, I’m from Cortona!!! And damn! you came to Cortona, just right when I wasn’t there!!! I just wish I had been there, I would have loved to meet you. But I’m glad you liked Cortona and the agriturismo as well (my relatives have been going there every year for quite a few years now, they cook sososo well!).
    Well, maybe one day… In the meantime good luck with everything, I wish you the best!

    • Liz August 15, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Whoa too cool! Don’t worry I’ll be back, I love Cortona to pieces and can’t wait to come back! I would love to meet up one day!

  30. Kristen July 2, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    I’m so glad you loved it! I adore all things Tuscan! The cypress trees, the food, the wine, the food, the vineyards, the PEOPLE, the castles on hills, and did I mention the food? Fresh arugula salads with tomatoes, roasted pork, handmade pasta, soups of every season, olive drizzled on whatever, fresh cheese and prosciutto. And everything is just beautiful. The stones of buildings, beautiful. The windy roads lines with fig trees that you can walk forever, beautiful. Delapidated and rustic farm houses and arched bridges… just everything: Beautiful.
    I studied abroad for three months about 10 miles from Cortona in Castiglion Fiorentino. <3 My dream house is there. It's my happy place. I'll always go back.

  31. Pete December 31, 2016 at 2:38 am #

    I love Tuscany! Wonderful landscape and culture, friendly people and great food! I was there in a Tuscany beach resort last year and I directly fell in love with the region! I have to come back as soon as possible!

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