Travel, Etc. --> Tips for Tuscany
Tips for Tuscany!
(As in - we wish we were visiting Tuscany!)
About 2 weeks ago, a reader emailed us to say that she and her husband were going to visit Tuscany and could we offer any advise on wineries, restaurants or other places they should visit. Unfortunately, Linda and I have never been to Italy (a deficiency we intend to correct). On the other hand, our associate Tom Landshof spent 3 weeks in Tuscany during the summer of 1999 and is our "House Expert" on Italy. (Ask for Tom the next time you're looking for just the right Italian wine). Tom wrote the following "Tips on Tuscany" and I thought it would be fun to share them with anyone who might even be thinking about a trip to Italy.
I also emailed a note to Veronica Hastings of Vin DiVino Ltd., a major importer of Italian wines. Veronica, spends lots of time in Italy, actually lived in Tuscany for a time and was married in Florence. Her thoughts follow Tom's.
Thoughts on Florence and Tuscany from Tom Landshof
Driving is easy in Tuscany, the road and directional signs are good and the rental car maps were easy to follow. More importantly, the people were terrific. There always seemed to be someone around who spoke English, but the two words "Scuzi" (excuse me) and "Grazie" (thank you) will get you almost anything you want.
Towns worth visiting are:
San Gimignano - is the best example of a Tuscan hill town, with 14 of it's original 72 towers still standing. A good restaurant is Ristorante Tre Archi Pienza - is a tiny renaissance jewel with good eating at Trattoria Latte di Luna, reservations on weekends.
Montalcino - is in the heart of Brunello wine region. Try to find Fattoria Poggio di Sotto winery run by Piero Palmucci. (tel 0577/835502) He makes some of the best Brunnello and the view is terrific. Another winery 5km southeast of Montalcino is Taverna dei Barbi. Excellent Tuscan cooking, good wines and olive oil. They have a tasting room also. Reservations are a must (tel 0577/649357/fax 0577/ 849356).
Monteriggioni - is also nice, a good example of the fortified villages of Tuscany. A good restaurant there is Osteria Bottega di Lornano.
Greve-in-Chianti - is also a good town to visit.
A Winery Stop:
A must see winery is Castello di Monsanto halfway between Florence and Sienna. Established by Fabrizio Bianchi of textile fame (my wife's wedding dress 42 years ago was a "Bianchi"), the wines consistently are rated 90+ by Parker and the grounds and caves are an experience. Call ahead and make reservations.
Avoid the lines at the Uffizi Museum by either going in the evening or making reservations in advance. It is easy and costs only a buck or two US, L2000. Telephone (055-294-883) during business hours, (6 hours different from EST) and pick a time. They speak English, you'll get a 15 minute window for entry time and a confirmation number. Go to special window when you arrive, pay cash and walk in. Spend some time in the Botticelli room. The Pitti Palace is worth the time as is the Academia Gallery. If you are so inclined, go to Feragamo's shoe museum on the second floor of the main store. The hike to the top of the Duomo is worth it. Best view of Florence and a close up view of the art work. If the line is too long, try the tower next to it.
Dining in Florence - Just over the Ponte Vecchio in Oltrarno are two neat places, Osteria de Cinghiale Bianco at Borggo S Jacopo 43 has excellent wild boar and very good Tuscan cooking. Great for lunch. The other one is Trattoria Sabatino, also good Tuscan food. We had a great meal at Il Cibero, at Via dei Macci 118r, that was a little expensive but worth it. They have tavern at the same location that is supposed to have the same food but less expensive, but I can't vouch for that as we did not try it. We thought Skip Gilli, we thought it was a tourist trap. Il Latini at Via dei Palchetti 6r was also very good for lunch or dinner. We had an elegant dinner at Il Barretto, at Via del Parione 50r, a small restaurant with good food. All the restaurants had good wine lists, with some surprises, good vintages and reasonable prices. We did not go to Enoteca Pinchiorro, the only Michelin one star restaurant in Florence I think, on either trip. It is very pricey and formal according to what we were told.
Veronica of Vin Divino's favorite places
Here are my favorite restaurants in Toscana (Tuscany) Cerbaia - La Tenda Rossa, Piazza del Monumento 9/14, # 055-826-132
Favorite Firenze Restaurants:
Acqua al Due - Via della Vigna Vecehia 40/r, 055-284-170 Belle Donne - Via Belle Donne 16/r, 055-238-2609
Cantinetta Antinori - Piazza Antinori 3/r, - great café, restaurant and wine bar, the café is the way to go.
Cibreo - Via de Verocchio, 055-234-1100 Omero - Via Pian dei Giullari 11/r, 055-220-053 Trattoria Camillo is listed in the Wine Spectator and my father has been there (two nights in a row he loved it so much), but I have not. However I will try it the next time I am lucky enough to be in Firenze.
My favorite places in Firenze:
The line at the Uffizi is worth it. The museum part that is open is not as large as the Louvre. The real David is at the Accademia on the other side of town.
The Palazzo Pitti is across the Arno and beautiful to visit. I am not sure if this exhibit is still up, but for quite some time the paintings Hitler stole from Firenze were on view. He had incredibly tacky taste in art. Near here are the Bobboli Gardens, fun but slightly strange.
It is worth the line to go to the top of the Duomo. Take time to explore this beautiful church. Those are not the real Bapistry doors, they are casts. The real ones are in one of the museums, maybe the Bargello, which is a wonderful sculpture museum on Via Proconsolo, another street leading off the Piazza of the Duomo.
Off one of the streets that run into the Duomo is a small leather store that makes these exquisite notebooks, photo album covers, many are sculptural. It is called Scriptorium. I do not have the exact address. Also off one of these streets are two house wares/kitchen stores. One is more fancy - China etc. The other is more functional.
Another great "trick": as in France their version of a hardware/ cleaning supply store is also a bit of a basic houseware store where some great cooking tableware items can be found.
The Central Market (Il Mercato Centrale) is on the Piazza San Lorenzo. The outdoor part surrounds a building. The outdoor stuff can range from good to almost great. The indoor part is more fascinating. The first floor has almost any kind of dry food item, meat, fowl and fish you would need. The upstairs is the most beautiful produce stand in all of Europe; it is like an aviary.
If you have time there is a wonderful glove store on the Via Proconsolo not far from the Bargello. It has some stupid name like chicky baby or foxy. I have been buying gloves from this man since '86. Gloves in Europe are far superior and less expensive than America. They also have numerous sizes.
A wonderful town to visit. It still has nine of its 42 original medieval towers. It can be touristy BUT it also has some of the best leather and ceramic shopping in the area. If you are standing in the main square facing the church, there is a street to your right, which has two or three leather stores. The one almost directly across from the lamp/lighting store (and I think the second one in) has exceptionally fine stuff. The guy makes a lot of it there and sells to stores in Firenze. There is a great restaurant called Dorando. It is part of the slow food movement with historic and regional recipes.
Another great town you should visit. The trip to the top of the Campanile is also worth it - another great view of the countryside. Buy Pecorino cheese here. It is one of their many specialties.
In Chianti you will be driving on the Strada del Chianti or Chiantigiana. If you can, stop at the Badia a Coltibuono winery as it is a good one. They have a wonderful restaurant. You will see many places open with tasting rooms, if you are up for it try and check a few out.
Italians are not like the French. Make some effort with a few words, and be your enthusiastic self and you will be treated well.
Salute - Veronica
July 25, 2001