Walks of Italy Tuscan Hill Towns, Castle and Vineyards Tour

I think it’s fair to say that this was one of the best days of our travel lives. No exaggeration. It delivered everything we wanted from a Tuscany day trip and more and we recommend you seriously consider it if you’ve a spare day in your Rome schedule. You might think it expensive on first glance (it’s 159 Euro for the 13 hour tour) but believe us it’s not, it’s actually very good value considering the overall experience, the views, the wine tasting and the incredible lunch stop that you get for your money.

The pick up point in Plaza Republica was very convenient for us (it’s about five minutes walk from Rome’s Termini Station and ten minutes from the Hotel Romae). We were greeted by our guide for the day, Violet, our driver Luigi and his cute little chihuahua Kiko…

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…and found that there were just five other people on the tour with us.

A friendly atmosphere quickly developed as we drove out of Rome. We’ve taken many ‘Walks Of Italy’ Tours and we always find that our fellow travelers are open, cultured, eager to chat and generally very pleasant company indeed. Our day out in Tuscany was clearly going to be less like a traditional-style tour and more like a gentle roadtrip with friends.

The countryside was enchanting as we drove north. The sun was rising over hilltops crowned with backlit poplar trees and medieval towns, just as you expect it to be. We snapped a few photos through the van window…

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We passed out of Lazio province and into Umbria, a region known as the green heart of Italy due to it’s ample forestry and rivers. The dramatic hilltop town of Orvietta, famous for it’s wine and olive oil, stood high to our left and then we were out of Umbria and in Southern Tuscany.

Violet had given us a little talk as we drove, introducing herself more and letting us know what treats we were in for. She was very well spoken and equally well dressed; definitely the kind of guide you’d want to have when on a lush trip to Tuscany (in fact all the ‘Walks of Italy’ guides we’ve met have been the same very high standard).

As we parked outside the historic hill town of Monticchiello, Violet explained that we’d have twenty minutes to enjoy the views and explore the place; this was sufficient as it’s not a large village at all.

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We wandered, enjoyed some photography and then made our way back to the van. Violet was pleased to have us all back on time. The small group sizes that ‘Walks of Italy’ favour benefit us all; we have a more personal experience and the possibility of a prolonged conversation with each person and the guides have less names to remember and less of us to round up at each stop!

Next came the town of Pienza, where we first visited a cheese shop for a tasting.

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The five cheeses we sampled were excellent but what I’ll always remember are the varied balsamic vinegar’s we also tasted. I use this vinegar often at home but never have I tasted anything like the balsamic we were served in Pienza. It was so rich and at times incredibly thick and sweet; this wasn’t just a condiment, it was more a foodstuff all of it’s own. A dash of that with a fine pecorino and artisan bread would hold it’s own against any of the world’s finest meals, I’m certain of that.

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After the tasting we were free to buy if we wanted and then walk around the town on our own. The views from behind the cathedral were superb and we came across a group on a photography tour enjoying the backstreets – Pienza was an understandable destination, so friendly, so beautiful and relatively free of foreign tourists.

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Violet had primed us to expect a glorious lunch after Pienza but even so we couldn’t have expected the experience that awaited us at Podere il Casale organic farm (learn more about the farm here: www.podereilcasale.it).

A chalky white road took us through vineyards, slowly rising to end at the farm. A wild boar (a resident of the farm, we learned later) was rooting through a waste bin whilst goats looked on and peacocks called from the terracotta rooftop.

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We passed free range chickens and arrived at our shady table, set overlooking the dramatic Tuscan hills. What a location!

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Everything that we were to be served over the coming hour or so was organically produced either on the farm or nearby, Violet told us. The first course was rounds of ricotta cheese nestled on a bed of sundried tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant and a colourful salad.

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The table was loaded with bottles of very palatable red and white wine produced from grapes grown at the farm (a glass or two of this each loosened the group up nicely) as well as homemade spelt and chestnut bread and olive oil mixed with chilli and oregano flakes.

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Then came the wholemeal pasta, served al dente with vegetables plucked fresh from the gardens that morning.

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“We don’t serve the same thing each day,” explained the lady of the house. “Whatever we have in the garden, that’s what we serve. Our meals are completely seasonal.”

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Finally we were offered a selection of sheep and goats cheese made on the farm, paired with honey or caramelized onion…

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…followed by a fresh fruit dessert and Caffe Macchiato (tea was also offered to those who didn’t like coffee).

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Based on taste, location (what a view!) and the feel-good atmosphere created by both the group and the knowledge that everything we were eating had been created organically, this was by far the best meal we’ve ever had in Italy.

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Next we drove to Montalcino Castle. The lunch had involved a fair amount of wine but happily none of us fell down the castle steps having climbed to the ramparts for the view. It was a lovely castle in a fine condition and location; there was also a popular restaurant inside and a couple of art displays in the tower rooms that we passed on our way to the ramparts.

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Our final visit of the day was to the Montalcino vineyard where we tasted several of the wines created there.

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It was an informative session in a pleasant environment and the wine consumed there put several of us to sleep on the drive home, to be woken only at the end of the three hour drive by the van rumbling over the cobbles of Rome. 

It’s true to say that I haven’t retained all of the information about food and drink that was imparted to me on the tour. The experiences were too numerous and the wine far too free flowing for me to remember everything. But what I do know is that my attitude towards certain foods such as balsamic vinegar and cheese has changed forever and that I have images to remind me of that amazing lunch and the magnificent, iconic Tuscan countryside that looks more beautiful in person than it does in any National Geographic photograph.

To discover more please visit www.walksofitaly.com/tour_bookings

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