Coordinates: 43°21′00″N 11°01′00″E
More than once I have been captivated by a location used in a movie. So entirely fascinated, as to organize a trip or deviate from another in order to visit the place that captured my heart. That is how I arrived at the picturesque town of Positano on the Amalfi coast in 2002 and, most recently, to the Tuscany region in Italy.
Under the Tuscan Sun
Chianti wines, touring through amazing scenery, an exorbitant Bistecca alla Fiorentina - like those seen in The Flintstones - nightly bonfires at a dreamy apartment, plus excellent company had a leading role of my version of the Under the Tuscan Sun movie.
We stayed in the Tavarnelle Val di Pesa community, at a vineyard that operates under the agritourism concept since they produce wines and olive oil in the facilities. It’s almost eighteen acres have been cultivated for over eight hundred years. Although most is dedicated to the Sangiovese vine, the principal grape in a Chianti, at Poggio al Sole (Italian for sunny hill), they also harvest Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The owners, of Swiss origin, perfectly combine their roles as hosts and producers, allowing guests to participate in their elegant and slightly poetical production process. They believe that perfect balance is achieved using casks of different woods during the aging process; just like an orchestra achieves beautiful harmonies with a variety of instruments.
We first went to Panzano, where we visited its Sunday farmers market and the recognized Dario Cecchini butcher’s shop. Antica Macelleria Cecchini is an official tourist stop where all go searching for its Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
More Wine, Gelato and Expresso Coffee
As many villages in the area, Panzano is small, picturesque and has spectacular sights. While walking through it, you find osterías (traditional establishments that only offer wines and a limited menu), gelato (Italian for ice-cream), parks, good espresso and the church. We tried it all!
Resting the Soil
Some say that, while walking, one discovers details that get lost when traveling by car. So, armed with a map, we ventured out to explore the paths surrounding the vineyards. On the way, we observed a tractor alternately plowing the ground between the vineyards. When we asked why, we learned that every year the process is inverted to allow the ground some rest. We also found a forsaken ranch that picked my son’s curiosity. Braving over his apprehension, he decided to explore it!
Rain and Hospitality
Surprised by raining, we made a detour towards the town of Sambuca to look for a taxi. Instead, we found a group of kind ladies who sheltered us in the communal center where they had met to weave. While we waited to be rescued by our agritourism hosts, they even offered us cookies! Their hospitality reminded me of to the people of Puerto Rico. We learned that the town is famous for the Roman bridge and not for the anisette by the same name. This liquor comes from another region in Italy called Civitavecchia.
They recommended that we visit San Giminiano for its peculiar landscape of mismatched towers. These towers do not represent a planned architectural style. They were built in the XIV century by wealthy families, trying to demonstrate their power and wealth. In this epoch building materials were costly because they were hard to find, so a higher tower meant more wealth. Today, it is possible to climb the highest tower (grossa in Italian) as part of a visit to the Civic Museum.
Heritage Site, da Vinci and White Grapes
Other curiosities that we learned in our trip to this charming walled city:
(1) Its historical center was recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage site for its feudal look.
(2) Leonardo da Vinci, renown for the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper paintings, also designed war tools such as machine guns, tanks and armors.
(3) The vine Vernaccia, from San Giminiano is the only white grape in Tuscany that has controlled denomination of origin status (Wine Museum).
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I know and, to my understanding, a required destination in Tuscany. Although it is known as the Renaissance art capital, you do not have to be an art lover to appreciate its famous Ponte Vecchio (Italian for old bridge) rising over the Arno River and it’s well-preserved XVI century architecture. The first time I visited, I turned a corner and came across what looked like a painting, but was in fact part of the pink, green and white marbled Cathedral’s structure. Wow! And once again, it stole my breath away!
More than the David
It is possible to appreciate Tuscany’s capital even while walking among the thousands who come to meet the David by Michelangelo at Piazza della Signoria and other points of interest. You will surely find someone to snap your picture! We walked through alternate streets and discovered: a carousel in the old city center; bicycles decorating storefronts and even a building that housed an old thermal bath.
The Tuscany region offers so much that one week is not sufficient, especially when you combine rural and urban areas and you need to factor in transportation time. You can sum it up by visiting its main points of interest or, as we did, decide to ritornar (Italian for to return) and know what was left on our list: Siena, Collodi, among others.
Conscious Tourism Practices:
1) Support local inns.
2) Promote attractions with sustainable practices.
3) Sponsor farmers markets.
4) Explore the destinations by walking or cycling.