A taste of Tuscany
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of cycling through Tuscany with a group of friends. We enjoyed a guided tour through the wonderful landscape, small paths and many hills. In my opinion, Tuscany is the “great equalizer” for biking, since there are virtually no flat roads, you are going up or down. My husband was away at school, so he was not able to participate in this beautiful vacation.
By the time we arrived at the beautiful bed and breakfast, located south of Florence, in the middle of a vineyard; I knew my husband had to visit Tuscany. Anyone who loves wine, history and beautiful scenery must visit and fall in love with Tuscany in their lifetime.
We recently left our temporary home in Provence to spend a week in Italy, a few days in Tuscany, and a few days walking the Cinque Terre. Our exploration of Tuscany was also from a hotel located in a vineyard. We stayed in the beautiful Borgo San Felice. The vineyard has been in operation for centuries, but in recent years it was purchased and is now operated by Alliance.
Temperatures in early April were still cool. At this time of year, the fields are just beginning to green up and the gnarled vines are showing their first shoots. These are the first promises for the future harvest.
So what is Tuscany all about? Wine, History and Field
Came It’s serious business in Italy, after France, the Italians can boast of having the second largest production (by volume) in the entire world. Italians also love to drink wine, with the highest per capita consumption in the world. Vines have been growing in Italy and parts of Europe for millennia, however organized cultivation began under the Greeks, with viticulture recorded in Sicily around 800 BC. In today’s Italy, there is a classification system with four categories, two for table wine and two for “Quality wine produced in a specific region”. The system from lowest to highest quality is as follows (similar to the US appellation system):
- Da Tavola Wine (VdT)
- Typical Geographical Indication (IGT)
- Controlled designation of origin (DOC)
- Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed (DOCG)
There are twenty (20) wine regions in Italy, among which thirteen (13) areas produce-thirty (36) of the DOCG wines, these are the most sought after and typically most expensive wines. It probably goes without saying, but we sampled and purchased a few bottles during our brief visit.
Tea historical The roots in Tuscany run very deep. With only a couple of short days in the region, we were able to visit Sienna, Montepulicano, and San Gimignano, and even that was at a breakneck pace. Only Sienna is worth a long visit; the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is not big and can be easily visited on foot. There is a very good bus system available from the outlying parking areas. Parking in some lots is free and the bus costs one (1) euro.
In Siena, every visitor should visit Piazza dell Campo, this large shell-shaped public space dating from the 13th century and where the Palio (horse race) takes place on two summer dates each year. Il Campo is definitely one of the best preserved public squares in Europe. The other key site of interest is the Duomo (Cathedral), this impressive large scale 13th century church is well preserved and the crowds of visitors are now controlled as you need to buy a combined ticket to access the buildings and the panoramic view . perspective. The ten (10) euro ticket is well worth the price and seems to control the flow of crowds in one of the most visited cities in Italy. We had to wait about twenty minutes to access the panoramic viewpoint. I’m not much for waiting in lines, however I highly recommend that your patience be rewarded with the stunning views.
Sienna is a city of symbols; in each corner there is a plaque or mosaic indicating the territories or districts of the Contrada. Today there are seventeen contradas, before there were fifty-nine. The realities of mini-town management have forced consolidation over the years. The remaining Contrade can participate in the Palio horse race around Piazza del Campo on July 2 and August 16 according to the rules. Although we haven’t been to Sienna for the Palio, we understand from the locals that there’s a wild vibe surrounding the event and associated celebrations.
Montepulicano and San Gimignano are very well preserved ancient cities. Montepulicano dates from 308 BC and requires a good pair of walking shoes to reach the top of the village. Breathtaking views of the Tuscan countryside will reward your hike to the top. San Gimignano is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town once had seventy-two (72) towers, where eight (8) remain today. There was a settlement on the current site between 200-300BC. The city reached its heyday around 1300 before the Black Death. The city is still beautiful, albeit a shadow of its former glory. However, San Gimignano is very crowded (even in April) with tourists and almost unpleasant as a result.
Tea field it is a series of undulating hills, covered with pine forests, vineyards and endless olive trees. The Tuscan sun plays on the rolling landscape to provide an ever-changing blissful feast for the eyes.
At the end, a “Tasting of Tuscany” was great to confirm that much more time is required to take in the sights, enjoy the wine and the local specialities.