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A Taste of Tuscany

October 19, 2011 by Joan Nova in Italian, Travel, Travel Retrospectives | 24 Comments


While returning to Montecatini from a trip to Pisa, I had time to reflect on my travels in Italy. I realized that over the years I’ve visited close to 25 cities — and about three-quarters of them more than once (Florence 3x, Rome 3x, Venice 2x, Montecatini 2x, Pisa 2x, Lucca 2x, etc.) You get the idea. Amazing, isn’t it? 

And, while I probably won’t go back again next year, I am in no way done with Italy.

Some readers may know that for the past 6 years, I’ve made annual trips with a group of gal pals. In fact, our first group trip in 2006 was the Italian Riviera. In subsequent years, we went to Greece, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and this year we spent 9 nights in Tuscany. Here we are at the beautiful Verrazzano Winery in Chianti where we toured the grounds and had a wine tasting and fantastic antipasto lunch. (I’m second from the left.)

We chose the Francia e Quirnale hotel in Montecatini Terme as a home base and made daily day trips from there to other cities. The word ‘home base’ has real significance here because the staff at the hotel truly made us feel at home. They were attentive, helpful and professional with arranging tours, nightly restaurant recommendations/reservations and genuine friendliness. The hotel exudes old world charm with ample and exquisitely-decorated public areas, but also generously provides contemporary touches like free wi-fi throughout and fully renovated and modern bathrooms. It’s family-run and staffed with long-term employees manning the key areas of operation (front desk, dining and bar). In fact, 3 of the 5 of them have already friended me on facebook — so we’ll be friends forever!

If you haven’t been to Tuscany, the countryside is lovely. It’s mountainous and lush with wineries, olive groves, nurseries and farmland. On the other hand, it seems that every city has a medieval center with walls, towers, baptistries, duomos, cathedrals and churches (I still don’t know the difference). History dating back thousands of years is evident at every turn.

We chose to hire a guide and a driver for a day in Chianti, a split day in Siena and San Gimignano, and a morning trip to Pisa.

Other than that, we took the train…here I am with my TrenItalia tutor after I mastered the ticket purchasing system.

And we hoofed it (a lot!).

Off we went every morning to a different city…Lucca, Florence, Pistoia and Montecatini Alto, the medieval town on top of of the town we were staying in which required a funicolare ride up the mountain.

Of course, we ate and drank well (and a lot.) Isn’t that why everyone goes to Tuscany? :)

Non ti mettere in cammino se la bocca un sa divino.
Don’t start your walking journey if your mouth does not taste like wine.

I was all about trying different things to eat. Tripe made it to the table 3x. Some other interesting meals included boar ragu, amaretto gnocchi, zucchini cream, pappa pomodoro (so good), lots of porcini and truffles galore. They were served with pasta, risotto, pizza and in custards. We even tried a truffle creme brulee appetizer one night. Salads were wonderful and fresh and we ate the BEST tasting tomatoes! Of course, there were gelati (that’s plural) and there’s nothing more delicious to end a meal (for me) than cantucci (almond biscotti) dipped in Vin Santo.

Gi amici son come i fagioli, parlano di dietro.
Friends are like beans, they talk behind your back.

The cooks in the Tuscan kitchen have a gentle hand. I expected the food to be good and fresh, but I was somewhat surprised that it was mildly flavored. With the exception of truffles, which have a distinct  and lingering taste/aroma, no other spice or taste of garlic overpowered any dish (in contrast to the heavily garlicked Italian-American food we’re accustomed to on this side of the Atlantic.) I didn’t miss it…just saying. I think every pasta we ate was ‘fresh’, although I did see dry pasta in the stores. I guess even the Italians take shortcuts on occasions. I must say, though, we missed the salt in the bread. And almost every single dish was finished with a (more-than) drizzle of olive oil. That I liked! :)

•      •      •

A great way to end an active vacation is spending a few hours at a spa.  Montecatini is a ‘spa town’ and is famed for its thermal springs — so we ‘took the waters’ (drank bad-tasting water that is supposed to be good for you) and had some ‘feel good’ treatments before our long journey home.

Arrivaderci bella Toscana…I hope to see you again soon!

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!

24 Comments

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  1. Looks like a wonderful trip; did you ever think “I could live here?” I know I would, plus Italian is easy to pick up. Love that last pic from the hotel room.
    tasteofbeirut recently posted..Orange and olive oil cookiesMy Profile

  2. Peter says:

    A quick trip but a wonderful and no doubt delicious trip. Have you thought about going to Sicily? The food and beaches are awesome (I hear).
    Peter recently posted..Lobster Saganaki (Αστακος Σαγανακι)My Profile

    • Joan says:

      I haven’t been to the south, Sicily or Naples, and I haven’t been to the Lake Region. That’s why I said I’m not done with Italy.

  3. amelia says:

    Joan: looks like you had a fun trip! I am partial to the south (having grown up there) so I definitively recommend it for next time: so much culture, so much to see.
    amelia recently posted..Riso al latte (Rice pudding): grandmotherly comfortMy Profile

  4. bellini says:

    These photos and tale of your escapades just fuels the fire for my longing to travel to Italy next fall.

  5. Lidia Lipstick says:

    When are we going back!?!?!?!?!

  6. norma says:

    What fun and maybe next time I will be with you. Great shots…loved the beans and the veggie/cheese platter.
    norma recently posted..Carne Mechada – Puerto Rican Stuffed Pot RoastMy Profile

  7. Joan your photo’s are great and made me want to go back as soon as I can. The atmosphere, food, people, countryside and just simply love of life is so alluring. Can’t wait for you to come to dinner so that I can hear about your trip first hand. Love the post!

    Patricia
    Patricia Durr recently posted..Marky’s – International Food EmporiumMy Profile

  8. Oh thanks for the road trip. Tuscany is still in our hearts. We made friends there and we went to a wine festival in Chianti. I’m so jealous of all your fabulous trips. No wonder you are such a good cook, Joan

  9. What a trip and so nice that you have a good group of gal pals to do this with! I love the hill station you were staying at and seriously what else can one say? Everything is swoon-worthy :) And that hotel room pic is awesome!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors
    Devaki @ weavethousandflavors recently posted..What will you do with 50 Bucks from The Fairy Hobmother? And A Stinkin’ Room mate = Fabulous Yorkshire PuddingsMy Profile

  10. I’ve been waiting for this post. What a fabulous trip Joan. Of course we go to eat and drink. That’s the best part. Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us. I would love to go to Tuscany one day.
    Sam
    Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen recently posted..Cheerwine, BBQ and NASCAR – It’s a Carolina ThingMy Profile

  11. Your post just reminded me how sad I was to leave Italy last week. I always say that if I didn’t have a family back here, I’d never return! As for going back, I don’t think you can ever go back too much – this was my 8th or 9th trip to Rome, I’ve been to Siena (my FAVORITE in Tuscany) several times, and I’ll return to Bellagio on Lake Como (you MUST get there soon!) next spring for my 4th visit. With that said, I’ve never made it to the Emilia Romagna region and haven’t been to Sicily – so many places to see and enjoy!

  12. Katie says:

    I’ve never been to Italy, and I’m just dying to go there (although with the strong Italian influence we have here in Argentina, I guess I’m absorbing something of Italian culture, right?). My husband’s grandmother was born in Italy and immigrated to Argentina when she was 9 years old, and I’m lucky to get plenty of fresh pasta and gnocchi. :)

    Your photos are beautiful, especially the food shots. I also like the Italian sayings you added to the post. The one about the beans gave me a good chuckle.

    Thanks for sharing your travels with us, Joan!
    Katie recently posted..Foods of Argentina: Vizcacha (Viscacha)My Profile

  13. Robin Sue says:

    I am living through you on this trip! Beautiful photos and what wonderful dishes you were able to try. I do like trying different foods, but tripe is one I have yet to try.
    Robin Sue recently posted..Samosa BitesMy Profile

  14. How lucky to have been able to be in those places AND with good friends!! AND good food AND chianti !!
    Hey, I’m getting jealous! ;D
    Well done, Joan !!
    Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris recently posted..A Cheesecake (or two!) , Some Tips to Make Macarons, or When Clients Stick to our “Classics”?My Profile

  15. Kathleen Pomeroy says:

    Joan your write up is wonderful. I lived in Montecatini last year and I can still see and smell it’s beauty. I have stayed in many hotels in Italy but Francia e Quirnale will forever be the one I remember the most. Mrs Anna is every thing that is elegant about that hotel. Where would it be with out Marco and Giuseppe. How bella is life in Montecatini

  16. What a gorgeous photo of the leaning tower of Pisa. I’ve longed for a Tuscan getaway but…..glad you could bring us back a touch of Tuscan sun!!! Looks like a blast.
    Kitchen Butterfly recently posted..My Childhood FavouritesMy Profile

  17. Can I come too next time….?!
    Sally – My Custard Pie recently posted..Famine is the new F word, farming, fishing and other food issuesMy Profile

  18. Manu says:

    What a great post! You made me home-sick!!! sigh! I loved seeing all the pictures and reading about your trip! I know… I too have a problem with Tuscan bread… I like mine with salt! ;-) And yes… we do not use so much garlic as people abroad think. ;-) Also, the majority of Italians use dry pasta nowadays… it is so much more convenient :-)

    I definitely agree with Amelia… the South is a must!!! :-)
    Manu recently posted..Comment on VICHYSSOISE by AsiyaMy Profile

  19. Alice Peters says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful trip with us. Hopefully Tom and I will visit Tuscany one day. Your travel tips are always helpful, especially Hotel choices. The food looked delicious although I don’t know about the tripe.

  20. Lori Lynn says:

    Sounds like a wonderful trip Joan, thanks for sharing with us. Love that image of the restaurant with the red wall!
    LL
    Lori Lynn recently posted..Foodbuzz 24X24: Autumn Affair, New Nordic StyleMy Profile

  21. Oh, my! What a wonderful trip! I have a GREAT group of girl friends, but they are not into “girl travel” just “couple travel” and I am not into couple travel. I love to travel with my husband, but wish I had a group of gal friends like this to travel with a couple of times a year. What a blast! I, too, was surprised at how subtly the food was flavoured. I didn’t “miss” it, either – and the simple flavours were delectable and the quality of the produce used was exceptional. I don’t think I could recreate that quality here, thus the stronger flavourings – garlic, etc. I DID miss that in the bruschetta – but loved the simple toast with EVOO rubbed with garlic. What a grand time you had. We did, too – and you will be getting a much more detailed play by play of our trip… (what a heck of a lot of work – but I always appreciate it later)
    :)
    V
    A Canadian Foodie recently posted..Assisi with Anne Robichaud, Lunch at Enoteca Properzio in Spello with Roberto Angelini, and Mostoccioli!My Profile

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  1. […] years ago when my travel gal pals and I were in Tuscany, we had many memorable meals. Apparently, some more memorable than others. One such meal stuck in […]

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