Italy’s greenest and richest region was always a faraway place I only experienced in the movies, on postcards from friends, or in the pages of romantic memoirs.Beyond the crowded tourist attractions in Italy like Pisa and Florence, I was anxious to explore Tuscany’s rolling green hills, local medieval towns, and quaint countryside vineyards in person, but with only one travel day available and more than 9,000 square miles at my feet, I knew I needed a plan.
I didn’t want to lose time zigzagging around a new city.With a local guide from Tuscany, there was no getting lost and visiting three hilltop villages was the best way to discover the less travelled part of Tuscany in a Day.
West of Siena and driving past the lush green landscapes of the UNESCO valley, Val d’Orcia is the renaissance town of Montepulciano. Characterised by old stone houses and narrow passageways, we took a walking tour of the town which sits on Tuscany’s highest hilltop and 600 metres above sea level. We strolled the winding corso to Piazza Grande, a beautifully open space surrounded by wine shops selling the town’s famous ruby red Vino Nobile, one of the oldest wines in Italy. The Tower of Pulcinella acts as the symbol of the city. On top, a funny looking clown from 16th century Neapolitan theatre with its long nose and snarky expression strikes the bell every hour.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Montepulciano is the visible remains of its history. Outside Palazzo Buccelli on the lower facade is the inscribed wall and ancient urns of its early settlers, the Etruscans. It’s not clear what the carved messages signify as the Etruscan language was lost over the years, but the wall is a symbol that life in Tuscany originated as early as 500 B.C.
I had my first true taste of local living in the town of Montalcino where we stopped for wine tasting atop a local vineyard and lunch in an old Tuscan wine cellar. We sampled the famous Brunello that had been aged five years in the very barrels that surrounded us.
Along with locally produced cheese and salumi served on a traditional wooden board, our personal Italian cook Franca made her home-made picci, a uniquely hand-rolled pasta characteristic of the region.
A village of only two thousand residents, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pienza seemed like a fairytale town from an impressionist painting. The romantic Via Dell’Amore, tucked away behind il Duomo and in between Renaissance stone buildings, led us to one of the most scenic Tuscan views overlooking the hills of the region.
I sat on the terrace for a few moments longer, taking in my day in Tuscany and the green countryside in front of me. On the other side of the cathedral everyday life passes by Piazza Pio II where local artisans sell their savory truffles, fresh gelato, and famous pecorino cheese.
With many things to do in Rome, if you’re crunched for time, Tuscany in a Day is an easy day trip from Rome. One of my favorite things about this tour is that it is led by someone who actually lives there. The local guide’s leisurely tour gets you off the tourist track to the less visited places in Tuscany where only the locals roam.