Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Life on an Agriturismo in Southern Tuscany

35

Tuscan Valley

It’s been a day and a half since I left Tuscany and returned to London.  Since then, I’ve been deeply missing the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, the warmth and friendship that radiated from our agriturismo, and more than anything, the glorious food and wine that defined this trip, from beginning to end.

This trip was exactly what I needed.

I’ve long recommended G Adventures to my readers looking for tour groups.  Between their commitment to sustainable travel, keeping their groups small and manageable, and having wide variety of activities and adventures all over the world, they do a lot of things right.

But to be honest, I’d never wanted to a group tour in Europe, other than something like an island cruise.  Europe is a continent that I’ve traveled extensively solo and a place where I’m very comfortable.  I cringe at the thought of being herded through a major city by a guide with an umbrella.

Local Living trips are different.  Instead of moving from place to place, you spend a week based in one town or city, getting to know it intimately through connection to the land and the people.  Lots of fun activities are planned, and there is also quite a bit of free time so you can do your own thing.

There are lots of Local Living trips in Europe, from a canal boat in Burgundy to a farmhouse in Iceland, or a house on the coast of Crete.  (There are some trips outside Europe, like a beach house in Costa Rica or even a ger in Mongolia!)

My trip, Local Living Southern Tuscany, is one of the most popular Local Living trips — and you stay at an agriturismo, or farm guesthouse, in southern Tuscany, surrounded by vineyards and silvery olive trees.

Chianciano Terme

Agriturismo Life

I had never heard of the Tuscan town of Chianciano Terme (kee-AHN chee-AHN-o TAIR-may) before this trip.  It doesn’t have the famous works of art or memorable sights of other Tuscan towns, but it has THE view for the ages.  This is what I woke up to every morning.

Room at the Agriturismo

My room was very comfortable — rooms (and beds) can often be hit or miss in Italy, but this was one of the nicer ones where I’ve stayed.  And best of all, I had a balcony overlooking that view!

Our time at the agriturismo was all about our host: a gregarious, bearded man with a deep, booming voice and a passion for organic farming.  Meet Stefano.

Stefano

Stefano warmly welcomed us and immediately began feeding us.  One minute he’d be telling us about olive oil, teaching us to slurp it up with such velocity that it burned the back of our throats.

Vin Santo

The next, he’d be educating us on vin santo, the sweet Tuscan dessert wine.

Cantuccini e vin santo, almond cookies that you dip into the wine, is a popular dessert in Tuscany, but the vin santo that comes with the cookies is not nearly as good as the high quality stuff.  We sampled both the low- and high-quality vin santo.  At first, the two were indistinguishable to me; by the time Stefano’s lesson concluded, I was spitting out the low-quality stuff in disgust.

At one point, Stefano even suggested that we sample the raw ground pork he had been mixing with olive oil and garlic.  I recoiled.  “No, it’s okay,” he said.  Stefano is so confident of the quality of his pigs that he told us we’d have no problem.

So I tasted the raw pork — and it was delicious.

Organic Clementine

Organic food makes such a difference, especially in America, where chemicals and unnatural substances fill much of our food.  The next day at breakfast, I ate a clementine stuffed with seeds.  I’ve been used to eating seedless clementines.

Turns out, one of my companions pointed out, seedless clementines are genetically modified.  With that knowledge, I’ll happily go back to the seeded ones.

Wine Tasting in Chianciano Terme

Passionate Locals, Incredible Food

One thing I love about Italy is that the people are so passionate about what they do.  You’d be hard-pressed to find an ambivalent Italian!

One evening, we took a stroll up the hill into the old town of Chianciano Terme and visited a family-run winery, Agricola Fontanelle.  The three Rosati brothers, Riccardo, Valerio, and Leonardo, are producers of several beautiful wines from the town.

Wine Tasting at Agricola Fontanelle

We were invited into the wine cellar — which felt more like a wine closet, as it was on the ground floor — and Riccardo poured us samples of several wines, as our G Adventures CEO, Vivi, translated from Italian to English.

Riccardo

The wines?  Velvety.  Luscious.  Two of them are named RI.VA.LE. after the first two letters of the three brothers’ names.

And then they brought out the meats.  Cured meats are the way to my heart, and these were some of the absolute best I had ever tasted.  The prosciutto was as rich and nutty as the jamon iberico I had in Catalonia last year.  I’ve never had meat that good in Italy before.

BEST SALAME EVER.

One bite and I was obsessed.  I picked up a salami stuffed with fennel to take home with me.  The cost?  A mere €8 ($10).  That would cost double or more in the US or the UK.

It was such a pleasant night, sipping wine and getting to know the brothers and their families.

Val d'Orcia, black and white

Exploring the Area

Chianciano Terme is located close to the Val d’Orcia, a truly beautiful region of Italy and a UNESCO site.  During the Renaissance, this landscape of the Val d’Orcia was designed so it would look more beautiful in paintings.  Cypress trees were painstakingly placed in the ideal spots for optimal beauty.  You can see this beauty has lasted to this day.

There was Montalcino, a small but very charming town famous for its wine, the Brunello di Montalcino.  We also visited a church nearby that had monks chanting.

Montalcino

Oh, but PIENZA.  I fell absolutely head over heels in love with this adorable town.

Via dell'Amore, Pienza

This must be one of the most romantic places in Italy — and not just because it’s so beautiful.  Streets had names like Via dell’Amore (Love), Via de Baci (Kisses) and Via Della Fortuna (Luck).  My friends Dan and Audrey even got married in Pienza!

Mimosa Tree

On another day, we picked up bikes and went for a ride through the countryside, even catching a purple mimosa tree in full bloom.

Making Ravioli with Stefano

Cooking, Tuscan-Style

After sampling so many delights of the Tuscan countryside, we tried our own hand at making some of the dishes.  Simone, Stefano’s soft-spoken brother, showed me how to make a beautiful ricotta crostata and a quiche-like appetizer.  Stefano showed us how to make ricotta, walnut and arugula-stuffed ravioli, hand-spun pici pasta, and pork sausage.

Making Sausage with Stefano

Yes, I have now witnessed how sausage is made.  And it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be.

The results of our efforts:  Beautiful.

Ravioli and Pici

Of all our meals in Tuscany, this one was the best.  I’m still dreaming of these pastas.

Siena

Beyond the Region

On your first time to Tuscany, I suggest you take time to visit some of the major towns and cities in the region.  Lucca, Cortona, and San Gimignano are a few of the most well-known ones.  We went to Siena, one of the most important cities in Tuscany and a place where I had surprisingly never been until now.

And don’t forget beautiful Florence — a place dear to my heart.

Prosecco Toast!

I had such a wonderful time in Italy, and I’m looking forward to showing you more photos of the beautiful countryside and more information about Tuscan food.  Tuscany is a place that every traveler should visit once in his or her life.

Essential Info: The Local Living: Southern Tuscany costs £799/$1,299 per person. Included are six nights at the agriturismo, six breakfasts and five dinners, cooking class, wine tasting, and a day trip to the Val d’Orcia and surrounding towns, and G Adventures CEO throughout.  Departures are available this year for dates in May, June, July, and September.

Many thanks to G Adventures for hosting me on the Local Living: Southern Tuscany tour.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

35 Responses to “Life on an Agriturismo in Southern Tuscany”
  1. Julika says:

    This sounds like an amazing way to experience a country and support sustainably in the travel industry! Although I’m not the biggest fan of traveling in groups, living in a house surrounded by a beautiful landscape, and meeting passionate local organic farmers must really be a great (and authentic!) travel experience!

    • Julika, the thing is that it didn’t feel like a big group trip at all! G Adventures trips always have small groups. And having the freedom to do your own thing much of the time makes a big difference.

  2. Is it weird that I’m crying at the end of a post? This looks like a dream.

  3. Sounds like a great trip and your photos are amazing. You’re getting to be a pro with that camera!

  4. Kate! I’m hungry now! That looks amazing! But I’m starving! 😉

  5. Clare says:

    I’m yet to visit Tuscany, but I know I must. I told my other half yesterday that we need to go to Italy every year for the rest of our lives. I’m determined that we will. I love the passion, the scenery, the food, the history. Everything.

    We’re four weeks away from a trip to Sorrento – so Tuscany will have to wait. For now. But there’s always next year…

  6. Alice says:

    It looked like you had a great time. Kind of hard not to in such a beautiful place. Life in Tuscany is slow-paced compared to the States. Sigh…

  7. Local living sounds totally up my alley.. especially in Tuscany. Adding this to my list!

  8. andrew says:

    Impressed you managed to process the photos and get a post written – I’m still catching up on sleep and have only looked at my snaps.

    A fine few days – I’ve loads to write!

  9. Audrey says:

    Now this sounds like an absolutely awesome way to spend a few days in Tuscany. Although I’m rather partial to Pienza, the whole region is just fabulous for landscape, towns, people, food and wine. We went back a few years ago and were afraid that we might be disappointed, but we were anything but – the Val d’Orcia area is still amazing.

    • Now I’M partial to Pienza, too! I’m so glad it hasn’t gone completely haywire as a destination — the good thing is that it’s so large that there will always be room to explore undiscovered places.

  10. Anne says:

    That view is SO beautiful!! Exactly what i would picture Tuscany to look like, like it’s been taken right from some painting.

  11. Lindsey says:

    Wow, looks amazing! Can’t say I’d have tried raw pork though… what did it taste like?

  12. Brittany says:

    looks like a fantastic trip and gave me some great ideas for my own planning. Thank you!

  13. Amanda says:

    Sounds like a really cool experience. And the FOOD! Yum. Looks delicious.

    You’ll have to tell me more about what you thought of Siena. I may end up there for a few days later this year.

    • Siena was a very nice town to visit — though I wouldn’t mark it as one of my favorites. Pienza and Lucca have that title now. It kind of straddles the line between a large town and a small city, and there are tons of photographic opportunities — and tons of flags!

  14. Sofie says:

    Nice and detailed report!
    My parents have done a Agriturismo trip in Umbria and absolutely loved it.
    This sounds great as well, although I don’t think i’d be the perfect person for it as I don’t drink wine:)

  15. Charise says:

    You’re taking me back to my honeymoon! We spent a week of our time in Italy staying in Chianti, and we definitely made trips to Montalcino, Pienza, Siena, Florence, and a few more of the small villages. So. much. good. food. and. wine. And the prettiest landscapes I’ve ever seen. Now I want to go back to Tuscany ASAP!

  16. Gorgeous photos! Hoping to get back to Italy next year at some point. Have only been to Rome, but Tuscany looks gorgeous! And all that food- oh my god! Thanks for sharing!

  17. John Unger says:

    That definitely looks like an incredible trip. I made it as far as Lombardy on a trip right after college, but a family thing forced me to head home before I ever made it south to Tuscany. I haven’t been to Europe since–I mainly head to Mexico and South America on my vacations these days. I’m definitely inspired now to make it back to Italy.

  18. Oh this looks divine. I will have to keep track of the towns as we plan to explore Italy slowly over the summer.

  19. Kate,
    One of your best. In addition to advising on travel, you could advise on blog creation.
    Frank Cloutier

  20. Paul says:

    Reading this pos definitely leaves a burning desire to do some WWOOF’ing in the near future.

    Wonderful pictures and story.

  21. Barbara says:

    I so loved reading this post, it brought back so many wonderful memories of our time in Tuscany! I agree with everything you said in reference to Tuscany and the wonderful people, we can’t wait to return. Your photos are wonderful and really show the beauty of the area.

  22. Emma says:

    I’m looking at going on this trip, and found your blog when I was looking for reviews (just subscribed to the rss!)

    Anyway, I’m 22, and I’m really keen on this tour. I just wanted to ask, though, what is the make-up of the group? How many people, what ages, is it individual travellers or mostly couples?

    Thank you for such a detailed review!

    Emma

    • Hi, Emma —

      I would ask G about that directly. They might be able to give you pointers. I was on a press trip, so it was all bloggers.

      It’s a great trip — you’d love it!

  23. Ishita says:

    What a great post, Katie. I read this earlier through your twitter shares too. But i could read it again. I miss Italy so much 🙁 glad u had fun!

    http://www.ishitasood.blogspot.in

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  1. […] had a great experience at the Agriturismo check out this blog for a first hand experience! A great Agriturismo to stay at in Tuscany is the Podere Cacciamici.  A great booking site for […]



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