Tuscany is a magical area of Italy, and it lives up to it’s romantic name with rolling hills, beautiful countryside, and fabulous wine! When I travel, I like to experience creative and different things than the typical tourist stuff… Here’s what I did in 3 days on my last trip to the Tuscany area, I hope I inspire you to try something new on your next trip!
Travel from Rome to Florence (Firenza) via the high speed train, it took about 1.5 hours. It is highly worth it to upgrade to business or executive class tickets. We found a special price for executive tickets (first class) so we jumped at the opportunity. There is LOTS of space in executive class, and they keep the prosecco and beer flowing. It was a relaxing travel experience away from the hustle and bustle of Italy.
Once arriving Firenze, we took a taxi to Hotel Golden Tower Spa. It was close enough that we could have walked, but didn’t feel like dragging our bags over the cobblestone streets. The hotel is a nice 5 star hotel (4.5 star by American standards).
As usual the rooms are on the small side, but very clean and nicely decorated. They have a ‘happy hour’ every evening at 6:30 with a free glass of prosecco and a snack bar that includes things like bruschetta, sandwich, pizza, and fruit. We enjoyed this once before heading out for the evening, but the quality of snacks wasn’t worth filling up on, when you consider all of the wonderful Italian meals to be had!
How to get around Florence
I discovered an amazing (free!) app called Stay. You can download cities to your phone, and tag the places / restaurants that you want to try. This map is available offline so it is very helpful for tracking your location in a new city. This made our trip much easier to navigate!
Florence Day 1
Truffle Hunting in Italy
Our first day in Florence, we did a truffle hunting tour with Francesca in the Tuscan countryside. Now this was an experience not to be missed! We caught the train to San Miniato, where Francesca had arranged to have a driver waiting for us. Once we arrived at her house, she took us with her truffle hunting dog Chocco, on a trek through the woods.
Truffles are usually found at the base of certain types of trees, and the dog’s nose was finely tuned to detect the pungent truffle smell. Once she found the truffle, she would gently start to dig in the dirt, at which time Francesco would give Chocco a treat, and then extract the truffle.
We were visiting mid September, which was black truffle season. The good news is that black truffles are much easier to find than white truffles, so we ended up gathering about 10 truffles!
Once we were satisfied with our haul, we headed back to Francesca’s house, where her family had started preparing our traditional 4 course Tuscan lunch, paired with various chianti wines. We enjoyed a starter of various cheeses, crostini, and salad – all with fresh shaved truffles on them. After the starter I was very satisfied, but there was lots more food to come! We then enjoyed a dish of fresh pasta with a light butter sauce and of course, lots of truffles on top.
Next was a very rustic dish of local beans, toast, fried egg, and more truffles. This dish was interesting, and a fun experience to try. Lastly, we enjoyed biscotti dipped in a sweet italian wine, to finish off the meal. The quantity of food was LOTS – too much for either of us to finish. We also had unlimited wine, so after the meal we were ready for a nap!
As soon as we were finished, our driver magically appeared to take us to the train station, and our truffle experience was finished. Overall, this was a really cool thing to try, as I LOVE anything with truffles.
Once at the train station, we decided that we were just over an hour from Pisa, We still had the entire afternoon free, so we jumped on the next train to Pisa. The city of Pisa is really easy to navigate – there’s one main street that leads from the train station to the famous leaning tower, so we strolled around and took in the sights. After way too much wine I thought it would be fun to do a yoga pose by the tower, but this photo didn’t make it onto my favorites list haha 🙂
Restaurants in Florence
After a couple of hours wandering around Pisa, we caught the train back to Florence. All of the wandering and traveling had made us hungry again, so we ate at one of our all time favorite restaurants in Italy – Toto.
We had our usual starter of bruschetta – this is my new favorite food! Then I had the most amazing dish of pasta with – more truffles on top!
We also discovered a very reasonably priced bottle of chianti, which was our favorite everyday wine on the trip – I learned that anything by Antinori is fantastic (these are the same people that make Tiganello… mmmm!)
We planned to go back to Toto while in Florence, but we did not make it, as too many other tempting places to try caught our eye. But Toto was by far our favorite restaurant in Florence.
After this very full day of truffle hunting, trains, Pisa, and too much great food and wine, we slept deeply to get ready for our next day.
Florence Day 2
At home, we don’t usually eat breakfast, but to prepare for our full day, we decided to indulge in the traditional Italian breakfast: cappuccino and pastry. Normally at home, I don’t eat either of these foods, but when I travel I try to immerse myself as much as possible. Needless to say, cappuccino is addictive, and every place that we tried it was delicious! Surprisingly, this simple breakfast kept us full until lunch time.
Chianti Bike Tour
Next we met our guided for a bike tour through Chianti. While I highly recommend this tour, the description of ‘cycle through the rolling hills of the chianti wine countryside’ is very accurate. There are hills, and they are very steep. Every member of our group ended up walking their bikes uphill at one point. But overall this was a great workout and a fun way to see the countryside.
We stopped for a break at a local winery, to see how chinati classico is made, and to tour the wine cellars. The smell of a Chianti wine cellar is distinct and different from the ones that I have visited in Bordeaux and Napa Valley. I joked that I wanted to get an air freshener for home, that would smell just like the chinati wine cellar!
After our stop at the winery, it was a long uphill ride back to the start of our tour, where a traditional Tuscan lunch was waiting for us, along with tastings of some of the Chianti we had seen growing along the hillsides. The meal included different types of olive oils and balsamic vinegars to try with the food as well.
After we were full, our guides took us back to Florence where we strolled around and took in the culture.
Florence Day 3
Hiking Cinque Terre
This was an early day, where we met our guide Martina for the ride to Cinque Terre. We discovered a juice stand close to our hotel, where we had some fresh orange and grapefruit juice to prepare for a full day of hiking. I love it when I stumble upon a healthy find when traveling in other countries! I think I went back to this juice stand 4 times during our stay in Florence!
We travelled by bus to the Cinque Terre area, which is a beautiful spread of 5 cities that are situated on the rugged mediterranean coastline.
After a short uphill hike to the first town, we enjoyed a sampling of some traditional seafood. When it comes to seafood I’m a little on the picky side. I didn’t love this meal, but the others at the table all found it delicious. We then snacked on pesto pasta (did you know that pesto was invented in this region?).
After the meal it was time for the longer part of the hike, where we actually hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza. This was a really enjoyable yet rugged hike right along the coastline with incredible views. I loved every minute of it, but then again I’m one of those crazy people who enjoys fitness! Others in our group found the hike quite challenging, so be aware that an intermediate level of fitness is required for this 🙂
Once in beautiful Vernazza we wandered around the quaint seaside village, it is literally built upon a cliff. The streets are very narrow and steep, but breathtaking!
Then we caught the train to Monterosso where we enjoyed a wine tasting of one wine from each of the 5 cities in cinque terre. The difference in taste was remarkable, with some light and refreshing, and others more full bodied.
After the wine tasting we took a boat ride along the Mediterranean to have a seaside view of the areas that we were hiking. It was remarkable to see the pretty colors of the building nestled into the cliffs! Feeling the ocean breeze was also refreshing after all of that hiking!
Once we reached Manarola, we then travelled back to Florence with our guide Martina. On the way back to Florence, we saw the mountains that Michelangelo found the marble for his famous state of David! I love seeing random things like this 🙂 It was a 13 hour day, so we were exhausted afterwards. But very worth it for a change of scenery from the Tuscan countryside!
A whirlwind time in Florence, and we were tired yet excited to catch the train to our next city -Naples!