A Tuscan holiday, family style, Italy

April 24, 2012 1 comment

Freshly back from a week in South Tuscany for Easter, I can still smell the melted cheese in my dish of pasta. I can still visualize the tantalizing choice of gelati at the ice cream shop. And I still dream of those picture-perfect rolling hills and beautifully preserved Renaissance buildings.

There’s something wonderful about vacationing in Tuscany during a pregnancy: No guilt feeling what so ever at indulging in the best food on earth!! Antipasto. Primo piatto. Secondo piatto. E si, anche un dolce per favore.

We did not have the best weather as it went from rain to bright sunshine to hail in a matter of hours pretty much every day. But we still had a wonderful time touring the many villages around, taking rests in the many delicious trattoria. Here’s a run down of our week.

ITINERARY & ACCOMODATION

– With our Europcar rental car hired at Florence airport ( I soooo wanted a teeny tiny Fiat 500 but there was no way the 4 of us + my round belly + suitcases could fit), we strolled the region up and down the many hills.

Tuscany is a big region and it’s best to choose and discover a specific part to avoid long distances by car with the children. We chose the Val d’Orcia in South Tuscany as we heard it was somehow less visited and quite rural. True and everything was within a 45min drive. Based near a tiny medieval village, we went from piccolo Montichiello to impressive Florence in a week, discovering the towns of Pienza, Montepulciano, Bagno Vignoni, Montalcino, and Sienna along the way. All of them worthwhile.

– Our base was the agriturismo Terre di Nano for 5 nights, and then Palazzo Guadagni to finish in Florence.

This was the view from our little house in the Tuscan countryside:

Terre di Nano came highly recommended on the blogs momfilter & travels with clara, and indeed the place is a perfect family option (grazie Yolanda). The location just outside the medieval village of Montichiello is outstanding. It’s on top of a hill, overlooking fields of olive trees and 10 minutes drive from two of the most beautiful towns in the region, Pienza and Montepulciano. The place is relaxed, it’s an active wine-making and olive oil producing farm where you feel part of the environment rather than a guest, which is a good thing when you don’t want to like feeling like a tourist. The cassetta is the place to rent with children as it’s an independent cottage fully equipped with a stunning terrace. They’ll bring you meals home for dinner if you pre-book and a buffet breakfast is available daily.   Fly into Florence (some international flights with Meridiana, Air France, Air Berlin..) and drive 1h30. Or fly into Rome or Pisa for a 2h/2h30 drive.

VISIT HIGHLIGHTS

Bagno Vignoni is a hot spring hamlet that dates back to the Roman times. On a sunny day, it’s very pleasant to spend a day there with the children, going from hot to warm pools at Hotel La Posta Marcucci followed by a nice lunch in the little village (La Osteria del Leone, closed on Mondays, on the main square where children can run around freely), and a gelato at Le Terme Wellness and Spa. At La Posta, you pay a daily fee and can rent everything from towels to swim caps and a locker. Children love it, and the views over the valley are very pleasing too. For a nice massage, Le Terme is the place to go (apparently, they dont accept children at the pools).

Montalcino is where you’ll find some of the best Italian red wines (Brunello di Monalcino in particular). The location of this old picturesque town is stunning. Climb to the top of the medieval castle via some old stairs and ladders and marvel in the impressive views 360degree over the valley.

      

Indulge in some casual wine tasting in the many enoteca in town (where children can grab a bite) or go for a proper tasting at the larger producer Casanova di Neri (no appointment necessary, right before arriving into town, we did not try it but it came well recommended) or at the smaller producer Le Tenute Nardi where you can have a tour, a tasting and a delicious buffet lunch if you pre-book.

Driving around the Val d’Orcia, you’ll see many hills that seem too pretty to be true. Literally, everything is picture-perfect! Going to Montalcino and arriving from the South, you’ll see indications to Sant’Anna in Camprena. There is a sanctuary there where some parts of The English Patient were shot. You can have a meal at the annexed agriturismo, a lovely place. Going forward Montalcino, there is La Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, another great place to visit.

Horseback riding is possible at Castiglione d’Orcia, approximately 30minutes from Pienza. We could not do it because of the weather but it came highly recommended by our Italian friends. Contact Valentina on +39 333 981 7276 (grazie Paolo & Ira for all the good tips!)

– Nearby Terre di Nano, there’s the tiny medieval village of Montichiello, a fief of resistance during fascism. We happened to visit during the town celebration of Montichiello’s war heroes, with music and processions. A very local experience. And not to be missed, a meal at the Osteria La Porta. Their specialty of  pici all’aglione is unbelievably delicious (you have to like garlic!). Book a table on the terrace on a sunny day.

– In Pienza and Montepulciano, it’s more about strolling the old cobbled-stone streets, shopping for food in the many mouth-watering shops selling cheese, sausages and other Tuscan delicacies. And stepping into some of the beautiful churches of course. And lighting a candle in each of them with the children…

      

The organic farm Il Casale is quite famous for its lunch, but also as a place to spend time with the children, and see how one of the best ricotta cheese in the region is being made (they serve it for breakfast at Terre di Nano! on white bread with honey drizzled over it…a perfect start of the day)

You’ll also find in Tuscany a rare-breed of pigs named Cinta Senese. Have a delicious meal of pici pasta al ragu di Cinta Senese at the farm Lo Spicchio in Campiglia d’Orcia, and then get some bread from the owners to go and feed their pigs…quite fun. They’ll like it for sure (the pigs, and the children).

It’s hard not to fall in love with Sienna. It was pouring rain the day we were there, even with hailstorms, and still we loved it. We hid underneath some old porches, and waited til the sun came out. And it did. That’s when I took this photo. After the rain, Piazza del Campo…

To top it all, we finished our stay in Florence, albeit shortened by a rash of chicken pox…but that’s another story…oh..the joys of travelling with children. Any good guidebook (we alway travel with the Everyman Mapguide) will tell you what’s not to miss in Florence. We only had time for some strolls in the city, stopping to marvel at the Ponte Vecchio, and a last supper at the delicious 13Gobbi trattoria.

SOME SHOPPING

We filled our suitcases with good bottles of wine, and lots of local food. But there are two shops I am particularly happy I had time to visit:

In Sienna, Il Casale where they sell beautiful linen table cloths with re-edited Renaissance patterns in contemporary tones. I loved their work, made by an independent family. This is their only shop in Italy but they will ship worldwide.

– And in Florence, Farmacia Santa Novella of course. They’re celebrating their 400th anniversary this year. The body lotion for children smells divine. I think it’s ok for moms to use it too!

And some patterns that I loved here and there in Tuscany…

      

Read this article from the NY Times for more good addresses. And don’t forget to practice the art of eating an ice cream in a cone. Here’s a demo:

   

Ps: did you know that you can find Ice Cream alla Nutella in Italy? literally pure Nutella on a cone. To die for, according to the children. 

   

Pss: When in Italy, One ice cream a day keeps the doctor away

Arrivederci Italia

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