A visitor to Tuscany may feel like the only person ever to tread down its winding country roads, through villages so small they would disappear were he or she to blink. From the much-loved towns of Lucca and San Gimignano, to the renowned cities of Siena and Florence, to the rolling hills of Chianti, here lies some of the best cuisine in the world. Enjoy relaxing lunches in charming trattorias featuring well-known specialties or, even better, in small cafés where the menu is handwritten and no one even speaks English. Following are a few of our recommendations:
Trattoria Chiribiri, in the town center, for the osso bucca ~ a delicious lamb shank served in a light broth covered with fresh peas.
Ristorante Puccini for the Food Fantasia, a fixed three-course meal ~ seafood mousse, followed by a plate of raw shrimp, then sea bass baked whole surrounded by artichokes and tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil.
Villa San Michele, overlooking the city of Florence, for a relaxing al fresco lunch of Parma ham with melon, fresh salad and grilled chicken with rosemary.
Throughout Italy's history, more than anywhere else in the world, the emotions and rituals associated with food and wine are integral to the country's traditions and customs and are part of the Italian way of life. Most Italian meals consist of primo (pasta or rice), secondo (meat or fish), and contorno (vegetables or salad).
Tuscan food is simple yet simultaneously rich, based on the purity of the ingredients. Most dishes incorporate olives and olive oil. Vegetables such as fagioli (beans) and tomatoes are prevalent; an invigorating summer salad is panzanella, consisting of fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, bread soaked in garlic and a garnish of fresh basil. There are delicious local meat dishes as well, mostly grilled. Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a melt-in-your-mouth steak entré flavored with spinach and grilled over aromatic charcoal, is perhaps the most popular. Cinghiale (wild boar) is another staple, as is arista (roast pork). Two great Tuscan seafood specialities include cacciucco (fish chowder) and triglie alla livornese (red mullet cooked with tomatoes and oil). Finally, everybody makes it a point to order ribollita. This stew—with an endless if eclectic list of ingredients including vegetables drizzled with fresh olive oil—is perhaps the most satisfyingly Tuscan dish there is.
Tuscan wine is one the region's more vital ingredients, not surprising given the amount of countryside consumed by vineyards—most of which are dominated by the popular Sangiovese grape. Great red wines include Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. A hearty Tuscan white wine is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Major Chianti labels include Rocca delle Macie, Ruffino, Il Palazzino, Antinori, Badia a Coltibuono, Castello di Ama, Castello di Rampolla, Fattoria Selvapiana, Brolio, Felsina Berardenga, Isole e Olena, Monte Vertine, Riecine, and Tenuta Fontodi. Major Brunello di Montalcino labels include Argiano, Villa Banfi, Il Poggione, Castelgiocondo, Altesino, Caparzo, and Costanti. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano labels include Avignonesi, Le Casalte, and Poliziano.
Plan Your Tuscany Vacation