Two weeks ago I shared the first part of my Tuscany holiday. Last May I stayed in a beautiful privately-owned villa rented with Tuscany Now and located in the outskirts of Florence . I spent seven days driving around the region with my parents, trying as many local gastronomic specialties as possible. Italy’s local identities are very strong and each region has its own traditions and recipes that you won’t find anywhere else in the country.
My parents arrived on Monday evening just in time for the dinner we had planned at Anna Bini’s home, on the Tuscan hills overlooking Florence.
Anna Bini is an Italian acclaimed chef and restaurateur, specialized in Tuscan cuisine, who manages three restaurants in Paris with the help of two of her sons. I first met Mrs Bini one year ago in London when I took part to her Tuscan cookery class organized by Tuscany Now. They had launched the competition which made me win a week in a luxury holiday Tuscan villa and part of the prize was a dinner cooked by Mrs Bini.
Our host welcomed us to her house with open arms and immediately made us feel at home. Mrs Bini’s enthusiasm and joy of life are contagious! She cooked a fantastic dinner and entertained us with her life stories. My parents and I were mesmerized and kept talking about the dinner all the way back to our villa that night (and for days to follow).
The menu included: Bacon Wrapped Asparagus, Lemon Tagliolini, Pork Leg in Orange Sauce, Roasted Potatoes, Garlic Broccoli & Cabbage and Chestnut Semifreddo. As Anna repeated throughout the evening, she wasn’t going to prepare us a fancy dinner ‘fine dining’ style; instead she made simple home-cooked dishes to give us an authentic experience of eating in a Tuscan home.
A special thank you to Anna Bini for the hospitality and wonderful dinner.
The next morning we drove to the city of Livorno, a port city on the Ligurean sea, about one and a half hour drive from Florence. Livorno is not a touristic destination, but it’s the place where my dad was born so I really wanted to go back there with him. Unlike other Tuscan cities which have retained their medieval buildings, Livorno’s city centre is modern. We enjoyed walking by the port and sea promenade.
The highlight of our visit was lunch at La Barcarola, a renowned fish restaurant open in Livorno since 1935, where we tasted the Cacciucco, Livorno’s zesty fish stew. While my parents ate enough stew to survive for days, I ordered the Spaghetti La Pescatora for myself. They were delicious and definitely worth the trip.
Driving back to Colli Fiorentini, we made a quick stop in Lucca, a charming town that is a must of every Tuscan tour. It is famous for its Renaissance-era city walls that are still intact today and surround the whole town. The walls are so wide that there are gardens, lanes and cafes on top. I have a wonderful memory of visiting a friend in Lucca during University and spending a summer evening walking on the walls with him.
We didn’t have a lot of time to visit Lucca this time: just a quick stop at the Taddeucci bakery to buy Buccellato, a local sweet bread made with anise.
The next day was spent with tour guide Michela Ricciarelli meeting local food producers in Pistoia. I have already written about my day in Pistoia here.
A visit to the beautiful city of Siena could not miss from my Tuscan tour, even though it’s a popular touristic destination and you will meet more foreigners than locals.
Siena was declared World Heritage Site by Unesco, thanks to its medieval cityscape and beautiful sights such as the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo (where the Palio di Siena horse race takes place every year) and the Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (simply known as Duomo).
Unfortunately it was pouring down with rain the day we visited, so I tried to spend little time outside and instead found shelter in the charming Osteria Le Logge. I had a fantastic lunch with Spaghetti with Guanciale, Onions and Pecorino Cheese, followed by Gianduia cream with filo pastry cannolo filled with vanilla cream and salted pine nuts, hazelnut ice-cream and sponge cake. And a cheeky glass of Chianti red wine.
Before leaving Siena, I stopped at patisserie Nannini to buy Panforte and Ricciarelli. The first is a fruit cake with nuts, cinnamon and cloves, the second are marzipan biscuits with finely ground candied orange peel. Both are traditional Tuscan dessert and I have been told that this shop in Siena sells the best ones.
That evening Francesco, the Villa Colli Fiorentini owner, kindly invited us to dinner at Casa di Caccia “Roveta”. Having discovered that I was a food blogger on a mission to taste Tuscany’s best culinary specialties, he took us to dinner to the nearby hunting lodge. Located ten minutes’ walk from our holiday villa, it is usually open to members only, but guests of Villa Colli Fiorentini are also allowed to eat there.
And what a feast it was! For a ridiculously cheap set price of around 30€ (compared to London standards at least) they served around 10 different dishes (starters, first course, middle course, second course, dessert) all except dessert featuring meat.
Among the different food that we tried at the Casa di Caccia there where risotto, lasagne, wild boar, fried pork, porchetta, venison and other game meats.
The next and last day of my Tuscan holiday we visited Certaldo. Like other Tuscan towns, Certaldo is divided between a medieval walled town on a hill and a modern suburb spread below. We parked the car in Certaldo Basso and took the cablecar to reach the upper town (we walked down on the way back, which took about 10-15 minutes).
The town is small and develops around a main street called Via Boccaccio (Certaldo was the hometown of Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio), which leads to the Church of Santi Michele e Jacopo. We walked around the town and admired the view of the surrounding Tuscan landscape from our elevated position.
We had lunch at Osteria A Casa Tua, had wonderful food and a lovely chat with the owner Gianni (his wife Sara is the chef). We ordered the Tagliere Coccoli e Formaggi, Pappa al Pomodoro and Pici all’aglione and had one of the best meals of the entire holiday!
I fell in love with Certaldo, out of all the Tuscan towns I visited during this trip it came across as the most authentic, charming and prettiest one.
The next day I said goodbye to our Tuscan home on the Florentine hills as I travelled to Bologna for a few hours before taking my flight back to London.
I am so grateful for this experience as I learnt so much about Tuscany and its traditions. I met fantastic people, explored a beautiful region, ate amazing food and drank the best Chianti wine.
There is so much more to discover in Tuscany, so if you have any questions about Tuscany please feel free to email me. Also, you can find more food tips about Florence and Tuscany on Jul’s Kitchen and Emiko Davies blogs.