Don’t be fooled by the title of this post into thinking that any of these places I will be talking about doing day trips to can be fully explored in just a day, as that is so far from the truth. These are just the places we took day trips to, while we were staying at the beautiful Torraccia di Chuisi.They are mere suggestions for day trips if you are staying in Tuscany and want to explore some of the cities in this region.
Our first day in Tuscany, we decided to explore the closest town to the Torraccia, San Gimignano. San Gimignano is a small medieval, walled town located in the province of Siena. It is well known for its towers and other medieval architecture. Its history spans back to the time of the Etruscans. During the middle ages it was a well known stopping point for Catholic pilgrims on their way from Canterbury, England to Rome. The pilgrim’s trail is still called Via Francigena and from the Torraccia di Chuisi you can use it to walk to San Gimignano “in less than an hour”. From the Torraccia, San Gimgnano is clearly visible, so we decided to make a day of it. Roberto and I are big fans of hiking and nature, and so we decided to follow the Via Francigena to San Gimignano, giving us a good chance to enjoy the Tuscan countryside.
At first things went pretty well. We were escorted for the first leg of the tour by one of the feline residents of the Torraccia, Leo. After he left us, we followed all the cute little Via Francigena signs, until we got to Montauto.
I am still not clear what exactly Montauto is. But it a big castle-y looking thing that is midway between the Torraccia and San Gimignano. From there, the dirt trail turns into a paved road. We are still to this day not sure if that paved road is a part of the Via Francigena because at this point we could not find another cute little sign for the life of us. We didn’t think at first that the paved road would be part of the Via Francigena so we tried several other dirt roads to no avail.
About an hour into the walk, with San Gimignano still looming far off in the distance, we decided to walk back to Montauto and take the paved road, since we knew that at least got you to San Gimignano even if it wasn’t part of the Pilgrim’s Path. Although the hike was much more than we had bargained for, it was a beautiful day.
We saw many vineyards, farms and other agro-turismo everywhere. No matter which way you turned you were greeted with another view of the beautiful landscape. Granted, this hike was very hilly and so if you are not in fairly good shape, or into hiking, you might just want to take a car. But we were happy to have had the experience we did…as it provided a guilt free opportunity to eat to our heart’s content once we got to San Gimignano!
Once we got to San Gimignano, we were exhausted. As the paved road was pretty much all up hill, and it was at least a 45 minute walk from Montauto. We had no watches, so we really don’t know how long our hike was in terms of time, but after looking at our trajectory on google maps when we got home, we realized it was about 4 miles – counting the getting lost parts…mostly up hill…so like I said, once we got to San Gimignano, we were hungry. We decided to first take a quick look around, and get the lay of the land before eating. Plus we had several restaurants that we wanted to check out before making a decision.
One of the things I immediately loved about San Gimignano is that it is not very crowded. Even though there were a lot of tourists, there were many streets that were empty, and so it was easy to get a lot of beautiful shots. It was on this day that I really started getting into taking photos. Roberto had our video camera, and so I was in charge of the camera during our trip. I had a great time taking photos in Venice as well. But in San Gimignano, I really got into it. Plus I love Medieval architecture, not to mention that once you are high up in San Gimignano the entire Tuscan countryside is laid out before you . So I was in heaven.
After taking some photos and exploring restaurant options, we decided on Ristorante Beppone which basically translates to “Big Pepino”. So of course we had to go. It is a bit off the main streets, but once you get inside, you know you have picked a winner. The whole inside looks like a wine cellar – it is like a brick tunnel – super warm and cozy. We were tired and hungry and so we decided to order a “fiasco” of house wine. I asked Roberto what a fiasco was, and he said a small bottle of wine. It was only 5 Euros, so I figured what the heck. Well what they brought out was a regular bottle of Chianti in the basket. But for 5 Euros, even if you don’t finish it, you haven’t lost much.
Beppone is known for its Tuscan specialties and so we were really excited – already being fans of Tuscan cooking. I ordered gnocchi with a truffle cream sauce and Roberto got roasted wild boar. We figured the two dishes would go well together, and did they ever. My gnocchi were extremely tender, and the sauce, full of the flavor and aroma of black truffles. Roberto’s wild boar was incredible, it was in a tomato base, and there was enough olive oil in there that it was literally swimming in it. Delicious. We really enjoyed that meal. The weather was chilly and so after a long walk in the hills, this was the perfect way to warm up.
After lunch we decided to continue exploring the town on our own, taking lots of pictures and enjoying ourselves. We also were scouting out all the specialty stores. Bruno was going to be away that night at a Tuscan food producers gathering, and even though he would have missed it to cook for us, we didn’t think that was right. Plus we decided it would be fun to have a picnic in our room that night to celebrate our 11 month anniversary which was that day! We had also been told by Grazia that there was an incredible gelateria in the square called Gelato di Piazza. Now even though I know di Piazza means “of the square” and that was the reference in the name, it is still pretty cool to find a gelateria “named after you”. This particular gelateria has won many international awards for it’s gelato, and so we were excited to try it. I went with nocciola (hazelnut) which is my favorite because I figured this was closest to the best nocciola gelato in the world, that I was ever going to get. I also got “santa ….” because I had never heard of it before and wanted to try it (something that usually works in my favor, but really did NOT in Florence…which we will get to in a later post) which had a lemony flavor dotted with pine nuts. Roberto got his classic pistachio and coconut. They really were so excellent. The texture was perfect and the flavors very true to their names.
After gelato, we decided to start getting provisions for the evening. We started with getting some local cheeses – all pecorino – some fresh and some slightly aged. If all you have ever had before is Pecorino Romano, like I have, you will be amazed at how different these fresh pecorinos are. They are not salty and hard, but more like a havarti both in flavor and texture. It made me even more excited than I already am about having sheep and making cheese someday. Then we got several varieties of salami and prosciutto – some made from boar meat and others from regular pigs, as well as some olives and preserved mushrooms and of course chianti produced in San Gimignano. I had also heard somewhere before about Panforte and how it is a Tuscan specialty. So I saw lots of shops selling all kinds of varieties of panforte, and we decided to get some for dessert. We chose chocolate and marzipan flavors. Once we were finished with shopping we both agreed that although it was the wussy way out, we needed to take a cab back to the Torraccia.
We had a great evening really delighting in our room, eating all these great Tuscan treats and talking about our own future plans for having a farm and enjoying a more rustic lifestyle. We loved being able to buy all local products, much like we did when we were in Vermont and really taste the difference. It is these moments in life that make you think about your priorities in life and really how you want to live it. Being in Tuscany and enjoying all the flavors confirmed for us our desire to live a more sustainable life, where most of the food we either produce or get locally. This is not something that happens overnight, but it is a goal for us that we are looking forward to pursuing in earnest and we have the people of the countryside of Tuscany and their dedication to producing local foods to thank for that reminder.