Honeymoon Part 2
Let me first just say that we still can’t decide where we liked best in Italy. Amalfi vs. Tuscany? Can you really even compare them?
After making our way from Positano to the Napoli train station, we cruised up to Florence where we rented a car and had a hellofa time navigating the roundabouts and making it out to the highway. While in the southern region, we stayed in Chuisi for three nights and took day trips to Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano, all of which I would highly recommend visiting. On our last night, we stayed in Florence, so we stopped in Siena on the way back up north. I wish had more time there, but we overslept and had to rush back to return our car on time. Guess we just have to go back!
Before I get to the highlights of our trip around Tuscan wine country, here are a few things to note:
- A little PSA about the Autostrade. This is a toll road where you take a ticket on your way on to the highway and insert that ticket into the machine when you get off on an exit and then pay a fee based on the distance you went. Make sure not to go through the express lane and also follow signs for change versus card since they are two different lines.
- If you like history, many historical monuments don’t have much information posted about them. Thank goodness for Matt’s international plan or he wouldn’t have known what year the church of Pienza was built in!
- While driving on the straight roads in Chiusi, we oddly felt like we were in Lodi, CA.
- Brunello comes from Montalcino. Sangiovese from Montepulcino. More on that later.
We spent three nights at Poggio Piglia in Chiusi, which was such a treat. First of all, the property is absolutely amazing. Grape vines and olive trees galore, a large vegetable garden, tons of lavender, sage and rosemary, and plenty of space for morning and evening walks. The service is incredible, the breakfast display was almost too pretty to dig in (but we did of course), and while it’s pretty far south, it forces you to drive all around the region which I would say is a great thing. Poggio Piglia was also the only hotel we stayed at that didn’t nickel and dime us for small extras like a poached egg in the morning, tea at night.
Montepulciano is essentially the wine capital of Tuscany. Italian wineries must follow strict rules based on their region. Here, they produce wines with at least 75% Sangiovese. Wines labelled DOC have an even higher Sangiovese content and DOCG is the highest at 100%. Most importantly, we learned that because of this high quality stuff, it was literally impossibly to get a wine hangover. In the US, winemakers don’t have to follow rules like this, so it’s no wonder that after 3 glasses, you might end up with a pounding headache.
Another thing to note about wine tasting in Tuscany…you might think this would be incredibly easy and you can just show up and be welcomed with wine and charcuterie platters. However, it’s quite the opposite. A lot of wineries have certain tasting hours and only take reservations. We were turned down by multiple during their open hours because they already had “a few” people there. Being used to America where restaurants and bars are all about packing the house, Italy was all about quality of service and never overcrowding their spaces.
This is nice and all, but where can a girl get a glass of vino?! Luckily, after about an hour and a half of driving around, we ended up finding three wineries right in a row that were not only physically open, but also open to having us there.
Needless to say, Google isn’t always right. It isn’t always open a the time it says it is, there isn’t always food. Just play it safe and call ahead. Also, most wine tasting rooms don’t have snacks and they also have you tour the cellar before you taste…without a glass of wine.
- Cantina Tombesi. 5 euros for a glass of nobile and 9 euros a cheese and meat platter while you sit and chat in a cute little cellar/market.
- Veduta Panoramica. While wondering the streets of downtown Montepulicano, we saw a sign that said Panoramica. I don’t speak Italian very well, but I definitely know what that means. Picture time!
- Talosa Tasting Room. Great wine and a huge cellar that seems to never end, complete with an old tomb.
- Avignonesi. I would say we have pretty high standards for cheese and charcuterie platters. Avignonesi’s light lunch chef’s platter blew every pleasant thought about any other board out of the water. I’m talking about mmmm’s and oh my god’s in between each bite. We topped that off with their delicious Avanti Sangiovese/Merlot plus a wasp sting on the side. Sorry Matt!
- Poliziano. Wine so good, we just had to ship ourselves some.
- La Grotta. My coworker recommended this restaurant as the best meal he had in Italy. We were running a bit low on energy by the time we had dinner here so we took most of our meal to go, but it was quite good.
- Vino Mobile. Next door to La Grotta, this cute little shop is run by the sweetest woman ever. Turns out her husband is from Brea, CA so we sure had a lot to talk about! Takeaways include cured meats, pasta seasoning mixes, spicy chocolate, and a bunch of other delicious items.
Other Tuscan Favorites
Bagno de Vignini. Okay, this was so cool. Bagno de Vignini is one of the many Tuscan hot springs and happened to be located on our way to Montalicino. Matt was very skeptical about the coolness of said hot spring, but I was determined to find it. It didn’t help that Google Maps had us take a very sketchy back road to get there (second dirt road after you turn off the main highway) and we weren’t sure if our tiny smart car would make it back up the way we came. Turns out there’s a paid parking lot above, where you can overlook the hot spring, but we thought it was pretty awesome to be able to cruise around below, even though portions of the walkway were flooded.
Pienza. Pienza is a small town with an incredible walkway overlooking the hills of Tuscany below. It’s definitely worth a stop for some gelato or a quick snack!
La Fortezza in Montalcino. This old fortress charges 2 euros to take in some breathtaking views. It’s quite the maze inside, with various rooms connected by tunnels…so cool!! There’s also a wine tasting room inside.
Cafe Corsini in Montalcino. Located somewhere in a small park…with some weird dolls…in Montalcino, this cafe was cheap, had GREAT food and there were a lot of locals eating there. Yes, the dolls sound weird and they were, but the outdoor cafe is really quite lovely. I got the tartufina (panini with prosciutto, truffle cream, and argula) and braesaola salad (thinly sliced raw beef, salad, pine nuts, tomatoes, and balsamic cream sauce) and was in heaven. Are you drooling yet? Oh and the brunello. Don’t forget the brunello.
We arrived in Florence at about 2:30 pm on a Friday and had to take the 9:00 am train to Milan so we didn’t get much time there. In our short time there, we walked all over the north side of the river. It’s truly an amazing city full of breathtaking architecture. I already can’t wait to go back and see more of it.
Sesto Rooftop Bar at Westin Excelsior. I know, I know…the Westin is not a legit Florence bar, but hey, we’re all about rooftop drinks. With views of the river, duomo and city, we couldn’t ask for more. Ask for the cookies with your drinks. Yum!
Uffizi. A couple we met in Positano said we had to go here and luckily, we were able to buy tickets at the door and cruise around. Although we didn’t realize the entire museum showcases heads and statues made of marble, it was amazing! But let’s be honest…there’s really only so much time you can spend looking at various people from the shoulders up before you start going dizzy.
Palazzo Gamba. I didn’t realize this when I booked, but this apartment looks directly at the Duomo. There’s nothing in between you and the Duomo except the street below. Needless to say, we thought this place was pretty rad. Since it’s located right in the middle of Florence, it’s a bit loud, but totally worth it for being central. Did I mention you can stare at all the intricate details of the Duomo from your bedroom and living room windows?!
Until next time, Italia!
P.S. You can read my Amalfi Coast recs for Positano, Sorrento, and Capri here.