In my opinion, there are few finer places to visit than southern Tuscany. There is something special – almost magical – about Tuscany. It is a testament to the benefits of living a simple yet physically demanding life in a countryside that both Adam and Eve would have given a thumbs-up.
During our last visit, we stayed just outside the city walls in Montepulciano. This year we opted for a lovely restored farm cottage near the town of Torrenieri. The cottage was strategically placed on a ridge where you easily make out both the village of Montalcino and the skyline of Siena some 30 km away.
There are several good restaurants in Pienza, but we opted for Sette di Vino, which had received many great reviews. This restaurant takes no reservations and I was greeted at the door by the owner who took one look at our group and said “we don’t serve pasta or pizza.” I said “great,” and we were quickly escorted upstairs in this small but very crowded restaurant.
The limited menu offers a variety of Tuscan bruschetta (e), but is best known for its ribolitta: a hearty Tuscan peasant soup with lots of vegetables, cannellini beans, a crust of bread and pecorino cheese. While many may decide to take a pass on the soup, you would be making a mistake. It is simply delicious. The wine and other dishes are rather pedestrian, but the food is inexpensive. I would certainly return.
For those opting for something a little less “rustic, I would suggest Trattoria da Fiorella in Pienza which has a delicious appetizer consisting of polenta, pecorino, mushrooms, and sausage.
If you are into fine wines, a long visit to Montalcino is recommended. Inside the castle gates are samplings of Brunello di Montalcino, considered by many to be the finest wine in Italy. An authentic Brunello is not inexpensive, but it is rigorously controlled and tested to ensure that the final product is worth the money spent. For those who are likely to gasp at the price, there is always Brunello Rosso.
There is no “right” or “must” thing to do in this remarkable area of Italy. Personally, I prefer to watch the chingiale (wild boar) feed at sunset or watch sheep driven to farms that make the region’s finest pecorino cheese. The food is simple yet delicious, the people warm and embracing and the countryside is magnificent.
While Tuscany may seem rather small, there are hundreds of interesting places to explore. Take your time. There is no rush. Rent a small cottage or apartment in a location that makes sense and then do day trips to nearby restaurants and places of interest. There is never enough time, so don’t rush and take time for a coffee or something a little stronger.