Nibble Wander

A Weekend in Tuscany

August 27, 2015
Weekend in Tuscany

A weekend in Tuscany. My body relaxes and my heart and mind collectively smile. Just saying it aloud causes a collective sigh from anyone within hearing distance. Now, those of you who know me know that I am not one to romanticize Italy. In fact, I recently guffawed at a dramatically idyllic  New York Times article written by a man who had just honeymooned through Italy with his wife in their vintage rental car. Italy can be magical (especially if you have an unlimited budget), but like most places, it does have its flaws. But Tuscany, the Val D’Orcia region in particular, is a place where I feel magical. A sort of weightless ease that I’ve found only once before: on the porch of the house I grew up in.

Weekend in Tuscany

I fell in love with the Val D’Orcia the first time I stepped foot out of the car at the agriturismo we frequent. It was so quiet that it was almost unnerving, the air so fresh that my then cold-addled head didn’t know which way was up. But, my Italian was adamant that I would enjoy this weekend in Tuscany, for my 29th birthday, even with a raging head cold. He was right.

Known for the production of some of Italy’s most sought after wines, the Val D’Orcia stretches south from Siena to Monte Amiata and is characterized by its famous landscape. So famous, in fact, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004:

The landscape of Val d’Orcia is part of the agricultural hinterland of Siena, redrawn and developed when it was integrated in the territory of the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. The landscape’s distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes. (via the UNESCO website)

When you think Tuscany, I guarantee the picture in your mind is of rolling hills in hues of brown and green, and the winding roads lined with Cypress trees that are splashed on every postcard and travel guide you have. In fact, the first time I watched the sun rise from our bedroom at the agriturismo, I thought as though Mr. Darcy would crest that low hill with his brooding brow and high-waisted pants. The glowing light would hit him just perfectly from behind so that he appeared other worldly. You know what I’m talking about ladies. The end of the otherwise snooze-worthy Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice was decidedly the best part.

A Weekend in TuscanyOur morning view (photo credit: Rebecca Danks)

Whenever we have guests visiting us in Rome, we make it a habit to spend a short two-day weekend in this region. Over the last two years we’ve gone so many times (my Italian has been frequenting these places for over a decade), and delighted so many friends and family, that I thought I should put it down on paper and share the wealth. I’ll let you know where to stay, what to visit, and most importantly, where to eat! Other than that, get yourself a GPS when you rent your car and just follow the beautiful winding roads wherever you feel you are being taken!

Where to Stay

Weekend in TuscanyAgriturismo Podere Agogna (photo credit: agriturismo website)

When we spend the weekend in Tuscany, we always stay at Agriturismo Podere Agogna. This charming, still-working farm is off the beaten path. Literally. The small dirt and gravel road that leads you deeper into the country eventually veers off to the left and ends at this magnificent property (at night you are likely to see some wild boar and porcupines cross in front of you on the road). Don’t come here looking to relax by the pool with a drink – there isn’t one. But that’s the beauty of it. This is the kind of place where you sit at the large table on the porch with your friends, a bottle (or two) of wine, playing charades until the early hours of the morning. Bruna and her husband Pasquale are delightful hosts, greeting you at any time of the day when you arrive and making sure your stay is nothing short of remarkable. Ask them for a tour of the grounds and you’ll see Via Francigena, the old trade route running from France to southern Italy, right in the backyard (it’s been common to spot hikers, backpackers, and others finding their way down the road, offered coffee and other refreshments by Bruna and Pasquale). Make sure to check out their cellar, which they carved into the side of a rocky hill, that contains their homemade marmalade, wine, and other goodies. Do I even need to mention how magnificent breakfast is? You’ll enjoy a multitude of homemade cakes, marmalade, and coffee on the beautiful outdoor porch.

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in TuscanyVia Francigena road marker on the grounds of the agriturismo

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in Tuscany

Where to Eat

Weekend in TuscanyTerrace at Osteria La Porta (photo credit: restaurant website)

It’s hard to pick a favorite of anything, let alone a favorite restaurant in a country admired the world over for its culinary traditions. But I can say, without a doubt, that Osteria La Porta is my favorite restaurant in Italy. Quite possibly the world. I kid you not. And lucky for you it just happens to be in Monticchiello, a small town in the Val D’Orcia, less than two miles from the agriturismo I mentioned above. To be quite honest, I have very few pictures of Osteria La Porta or its delightfully delectable food. Why? Because I’m too busy stuffing my face. The menu changes seasonally, but some things they do exquisitely all of the time: roasted piglet, braised boar cheek, roasted pigeon, and my Italian swears by the savory pie of porcini mushrooms with pecorino (a regional specialty cheese) and truffle.

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in Tuscany

Daria, the owner, is welcoming and very accommodating. She speaks several languages and makes sure to take every order personally, allowing her to interact with people from all walks of life. She is delightful. Make sure to ask her to recommend you some wine (she is also an experienced sommelier), they have a huge selection, but make sure it’s one of her brother’s wines. He is a vintner in nearby Montepulciano and makes some fantastic Tuscan reds.

Weekend in Tuscany

Osteria La Porta is closed on Thursdays, and because it’s a small place, with an even smaller terrace, make sure you book in advance whether you are going for lunch or dinner. Do I even need to tell you to book a table on the terrace? I mean, look at that view.

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in TuscanyMonticchiello

Weekend in TuscanyEntrance to Monticchiello (La Porta is directly to the left)

What to Do

Weekend in Tuscany

The really nice thing (ok, one of the really nice things) about this region is that you can easily reach a weekend full of destinations without driving for more than thirty minutes in any direction. One of the must-see Renaissance towns in the Val D’Orcia is Pienza, a cheese-lovers paradise where pecorino is the name of the game. Pienza has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, and its small side streets, unique local-made goods, and overall sense of warmth, make it a welcoming addition to any weekend in Tuscany. Make sure to stop in to the Duomo to look at the cracks that run the length of the major foundation walls, created by the slowly sinking hillside. This church is a survivor!

Weekend in Tuscany

If you happen to be in Pienza at lunchtime, make sure to stop into the utterly delectable Sette di Vino for a flavor-filled meal of bruschetta (make sure to order the sheep’s milk ricotta with spring onion), grilled pecorino with pancetta (Italian bacon), local cheeses and meats, and one of the best house red wines you’ve ever had. Sette di Vino is a small place, with an even smaller kitchen, and is closed Wednesdays. Make sure to get there early for a nice seat in the Piazza!

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in Tuscany

Pienza is a captivating town to see, so after lunch just wander the streets and take in the Tuscan way of life.

Weekend in Tuscany

Weekend in Tuscany

Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about all of this awesomeness! It’s obvious that there is much more to do in Tuscany than what I’ve proposed here, but I’m more interested in really immersing myself in the Val D’Orcia and you really can’t do that if you’re rushing from one stop to the next. Spend your time really taking everything in, enjoy relaxing outside at the agriturismo, spend four hours at dinner, go for a walk, and most of all ENJOY!

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38 Comments

  • Reply Sarah September 1, 2015 at 12:47 am

    Breathtaking pictures! And the food! Thanks for the tips!
    Sarah recently posted…e by Jose AndresMy Profile

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 1, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed…and now I’m thinking about food!

  • Reply Couplertw September 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Tuscany was never in the top of my list… but with posts like this is surely climbing,
    keep the good word

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 1, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      I’m glad I could sway you! I always thought it must be overrated because not everyone can love it. But, it isn’t. I can see why everyone loves it!

  • Reply Lieurene Tran September 1, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I love all the pictures you took, Tuscany looks beautiful! I’ve been wanting to go ever since I first saw that movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun” and now with this post, my desire to go there fueled even more.
    Lieurene Tran recently posted…Chichen Itza – One of the 7 world wondersMy Profile

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 2, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Tuscany is beautiful! I hope you get there some day! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Reply Conor (The Continental Drifters) September 3, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Awesome. For some reason I always think Tuscany is chok-a-bloc full of tourists. But you fantastically scenic photos tell a different story! Monticchiello looks like something out of a history book! And the cheese, and meat, and wine! Heaven!
    I’ll have to add it to my ever growing bucket list 🙂

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 4, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      Don’t get me wrong, Tuscany can be full of tourists. But, it never feels overwhelming or crowded. And the scenery makes it SO worth it.

  • Reply evankristine September 3, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    oh tuscany is so beautiful! you captured its beauty so well and thank you for sharing it to us <3

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 4, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      My pleasure! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply Lucy Smith September 3, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    You’re photos are incredible! I really love them. Osteria La Porta looks so good. I love italian food so this has now been added to the food bucket list
    Lucy Smith recently posted…WTW Travel Tunes: September EditionMy Profile

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 4, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      You won’t be disappointed!

  • Reply Nikita September 4, 2015 at 4:11 am

    Your pictures make me wish I was in Tuscany right now!
    Nikita recently posted…Why Mount Royal Tams is the Equivalent of HappinessMy Profile

    • Reply nibblesipwander@gmail.com September 4, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Thank you! They make me wish I was there right now, too! Haha.

  • Reply Kay Dougherty September 4, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    I’m starting to drift from planning a couple weeks in Puglia next year to contemplating spending a month or so in Italy. I haven’t been there in about 6 years and this made me realize how much I miss it! Thanks for both the memories and the inspiration.
    Kay Dougherty recently posted…How to have a good experience swimming with Whale SharksMy Profile

    • Reply Emily September 5, 2015 at 7:07 pm

      My pleasure, Kay! I hope your return is everything you wish and more!

  • Reply Andrew September 6, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Pienza looks like a such a lovely town to explore slowly of an afternoon with your camera, before finishing with some lovely food.

    • Reply Emily September 6, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      It really is, though I prefer the food first so I can at LEAST walk off some of the calories 🙂

  • Reply Josie September 10, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Emily,
    Your travel M.O. is exactly like Conrad’s and mine. Tootling around one sweet location for days — or even weeks — is preferred over “lets hit the big tourist sites and move on to get it all in in one day” kind of travel.
    We spent a gorgeous 10 days in an area of Tuscany just north of Agriturismo Podere Agogna, (which looks so charming and inviting). Sant’Andrea a Cellole, a beautiful estate and olive grove, is located just outside Tavernelle. As house sitters, we got connected up with the owners at Cellole through a house sitting website. They offered 10 nights free lodging in return for 3 days of harvesting olives. We thought it sounded fun and romantic — and it was. The 250 olive trees were a hobby of the owners — resulting in just enough oil to use, give some away as gifts, and to sell to travelers who stay in their 3 apartments on the estate.
    Once done with the olive harvest we had 7 more days to wander, walk, discover, eat, and relax.
    Tuscany certainly has a vibe. This is a place of romance, steeped in rustic history, drenched in wine and incredible food.
    I really want to go back and spend a 4-hour meal at La Porta!
    Wishing you safe and happy travels,
    Josie
    Josie recently posted…Travel Photo Roulette #111, Theme: Repeating ShapesMy Profile

    • Reply Emily September 13, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      WOW. Josie, that sounds amazing! I feel really lucky to be able to slow travel around Italy since I’m currently living here. There is so much to see that so many people coming through miss! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply Nikoleta Míchalová September 17, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    WOW it is such a nice place! How come I have never hear of it before???
    Nikoleta Míchalová recently posted…Anti-travel guidesMy Profile

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Now you have and you can add it to your travel list! It’s worth it!

  • Reply Ryazan Tristram September 20, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Great article!! I will be visiting Tuscany next spring and your article will be handy for my upcoming trip. thanks for sharing! x
    Ryazan Tristram recently posted…The Great Budapest ExperienceMy Profile

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      I’m so glad it can be helpful to you! Enjoy your trip in the spring!

  • Reply Bethaney - Flashpacker Family September 20, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Beautiful! Food is such a huge part of travel to me and Italy really ticks this box.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted…5 Amazing US Road Trip Itineraries for Your Bucket ListMy Profile

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Food is possibly my favorite part of travel! There’s no way to understand a culture better, in my opinion.

  • Reply Chris September 21, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Wow!

    You’d captured it (and me) with the photos alone!

    What a weekend indulgence to have almost on your doorstep
    Chris recently posted…Galapagos: Last days…My Profile

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      I know, sometimes I can’t believe it. I’m glad you enjoyed, Chris!

  • Reply Isabela Mariano September 21, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Oh, wow. Your photos are lovely! 🙂
    Isabela Mariano recently posted…Things Off My List | I See BelaMy Profile

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you so much!

  • Reply Trisha Velarmino September 21, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I totally love Tuscany!!! Looks like someone had a pig out weekend too. The food looks amazing!
    Trisha Velarmino recently posted…Dear Girls of the World: Stop Underselling YourselvesMy Profile

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      All of my weekends are pig out weekends! I DO live in Italy…I just can’t help it!

  • Reply The Educational Tourist September 21, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Oh, my Italy is magical, isn’t it? What inspiration!! I need to go back. What a beautiful place. Thanks!

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      My pleasure! I hope you get back sooner rather than later. If you’d like any tips when you head back this way, just let me know! I’m happy to help.

  • Reply Bridget - The Recipe Wench November 14, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    I loved this article! I, too, feel like Tuscany is Heaven on earth! We usually just go to Montepulciano, but now that I’ve read this article I see more reasons to go explore beyond Montepulciano. The last time we were up there, hubby said he’d like to spend several nights instead of the 1-2 we usually spend. Oh man am I onboard with that!
    Bridget – The Recipe Wench recently posted…Italian Style Meatballs and SauceMy Profile

    • Reply Emily November 17, 2015 at 9:20 am

      Bridget, there are so many places within an hours drive from Montepulciano! I hope you get to explore more – it’s SUCH beautiful countryside. If you want any tips, let me know! I’m happy to help!

  • Reply Elizabeth November 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Looks lovely. Some great tips.
    Elizabeth recently posted…Quality Gourmet Cheese Platter for the SensesMy Profile

    • Reply Emily November 17, 2015 at 9:22 am

      Thanks so much!

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