There are hundreds of good reasons to visit Tuscany—but fabulous food has to be near the top of the list; after all, what’s more fabulous than sipping Brunello with a crusty loaf of bread and some olio nuovo as the sun sets over the terrace of your 19th century villa? Or enjoying fresh capellini with a rich, fragrant pomodoro sauce prepared by your own Tuscan cook? That’s the beauty of Tuscany—there are food experiences to tempt your eyes and your palate everywhere you look. If you’re looking for reasons to visit this magical region of Italy this year, here are 20 one-of-a-kind experiences you should add to your list.
1. What is Tuscany without grapes?
Have your own “I Love Lucy” moment and do a harvest festival with grape stomping.
These usually take place in September, but if you can’t get to Tuscany then, there are plenty of wine tours and tastings available to ensure you get a true taste of Tuscan vino.
2. How about some fresh ricotta?
Get involved in agritourism in Pistoia—try some warm sheep’s milk ricotta made right in front of your eyes.
Ricotta is a cheese made from whey left behind when making other cheeses. “Ricotta” literally means “Re-cooked”. It’s soft and delicious – now often used in Cannelloni and other filled pastas, but originally it was usually eaten by the shepherds who produced it, due to its shorter shelf life than classic cheeses.
My favourite way to eat it is with sugar or even with Nutella. Delicious!
3. You could always just go back in time.
Go medieval and feast like a knight at the Palio in Siena, Italy’s oldest horse race. Ask us if you’d like to book tickets – the race is held twice a year, in early July and then again in mid August.
4. Perhaps a bit of romance suits your holiday.
Have an intimate dinner for two with bistecca alla Fiorentina prepared at your romantic Tuscan villa by a private chef and washed down with a couple of glasses of Chianti (when in Rome, and all that…).
Or if you fancy trying to cook it yourself, follow this recipe by Emiko Davies, a chef who went to Tuscany on a whim and ended up staying for 11 years!
6. Eat street food in Florence like a local.
You may think of street food as being an overpriced hotdog, bought from a bearded hipster who is trying to “revolutionise the sausage”, but in Florence it’s a whole different story…
Food – specifically offal – has been sold from carts around the markets in Florence since the 19th century. Try the lampredotto, a sandwich with a long history!
7. Speaking of street food, don’t miss this…
8. How to drink coffee like an Italian
One particularly hidden gem is offered by local tour guide Michela Ricciarelli. Have the chance to visit a Tuscan coffee roastery and sip espresso standing up—like a true Italian.
The roastery has its own interesting story, and the coffee roasted here is now exported around the world.
Situated in Pistoia, about 20 miles from Florence, it’s well worth a trip to truly experience the importance of coffee for Italians.
9. Dine with a Countess
Have a fabulous lunch and wine tasting with a countess at her Tuscan estate and gardens. The estate has 20 vineyards spanning 350 hectares of land, up in the Pisan hills.
Naturally, there are years of family history to discover as you taste wine made from the grapes of one of the oldest farms in the region.
10. Shop and cook like a local…
Peruse the produce at the San Lorenzo central market in Florence before being taught by an English-speaking chef how to turn the ingredients into a feast. Over 5 hours you’ll learn about seasonal produce in Tuscany and how to make a four-course Tuscan banquet.
Find out more here.
11. Yes, Tuscany has a “Chocolate Valley”…
In the last decade, Italy’s annual chocolate consumption has doubled to nearly nine pounds a person, and last year, chocolate sales reached 350 million euros (per The New York Times).
Unlike the cheese, wine and tripe, the history of chocolate in Tuscany is relatively short. But one thing it does have in common is the artisan approach. From bean to bar, there are several chocolatiers who have factories in unassuming farmhouse-style buildings in a triangular area of Tuscany, from Florence to Pisa to Montecatini.
And you can visit!
Take a stroll in Pistoia’s “Chocolate Valley” and treat yourself to artisanal Italian chocolate from Armedei, Paul de Bondt, Roberto Catinari and Luca Mannori. Many of the chocolatiers in Chocolate Valley offer cooking classes, factory tours and chocolate tastings.
Some require you to book in advance but others are open during regular Italian business hours, so make sure to check before you dive in.
12. …And a whole chocolate festival
If you are a total chocoholic, then this is your Mecca. Florence holds a festival – Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale – each year in February, dedicated to the sweet stuff.
14. Learn about the art of pasta-making
See first-hand how Famiglia Martelli makes their exclusive pasta.
Visit their shop in Lari in the Pisa countryside and take some home for an exquisite spaghetti dinner at your villa-with-a-view.
17. What’s a Norcino?
Norcia, on the border of Umbria and Le Marche, is home to an ancient and respected man – The Norcino. A Norcino is a butcher who specialises in the art of charcuterie.
Simply visit one of these butchers and choose from the vast array of meats something to take home to accompany your aperitivo, or get involved in a course where you can learn the secrets of a Norcino.
If you’re stuck for ideas on how best to serve up your charcuterie, here’s a great infographic from finedininglovers.it:
18. The best accompaniment to olive oil?
Pinzimonio is quite simply fresh vegetables (traditionally carrots, celery, baby artichokes and radishes) dipped into olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper. Delightfully easy to prepare, and best tried with the first fresh-pressed olive oil of the season (olio nuovo).
Perhaps brush up on your Italian before you go, by watching this recipe in video form!
19. Italians celebrate holy days with carbs!
Nearly every special holiday in Italy is celebrated with some sort of bread, dessert or pastry.
A sweet bread is used to celebrate All Saints Day (November 1st) and has different names in Tuscany; Pan co’Santi, Pan con Santi, Pan di Santi, but they all mean the same thing: Bread of the Saints.
The bread, dotted with walnuts and raisins, to represent the saints, is eaten all over Tuscany, and served in bars with “vin santo”, a sweet fortified wine.
Why not try baking your own, with this simple recipe?
20. Savour the best til last…
Although production of mortadella began in Bologna, it is also a Tuscan speciality, made in Prato where it is flavoured with pounded garlic. As with the majority of Italian foods, it has a long and detailed history.
You can even take a tour of the specific places where Mortadella di Prato is made. The most popular (and best) way to eat this delicacy is served between two slices of schiacciata – a type of flatbread – or focaccia, and let the meat do the talking!