There’s a reason why some of the world’s best film directors choose to shoot their blockbusters in Tuscany. From Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussollini to Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, those sun-baked rolling hills studded with lavender and olive groves, are straight out of central casting.
But Tuscany offers more than a celluloid fantasy – it’s also a foodie’s paradise boasting wine, olive oil and exquisite cuisine. But best of all? It’s a heartstoppingly beautiful chance to swap the bustle of the city for the incredible peace of the picture-perfect scenery. When not sampling the view, here are some other brilliant destinations I visited during a Trafalgar tour of Italy:
Cook with local flair
If there’s one thing I love it is deep-fried zucchini flowers, so when we’re told Chef Libero will be giving my friend Julie and I our own private cooking class – all organised by Trafalgar - in the kitchen of his famous Villa Machiavelli restaurant, I could have died and gone to heaven.
With our super-fresh zucchini haul ready to go (purchased straight from the market by our group that very morning. No supermarket trolleys in sight) I learn the only prep involved in the dish is whisking up a thick batter made up of flour and sparkling water. That’s it. I mean, how hard could this be? Well the battering technique Chef Libero demonstrates to us takes a few practices to master – the secret is to lightly drag the zucchini back and forward in the batter. No dunking allowed.
After a short dip in some hot oil, the results – if I do say so myself - were mouth-watering. Trays of them literally disappeared in seconds. (Note to self: maybe I could be a world-class chef if I really tried).
Enjoy lunch al fresco
After reveling in my kitchen cooking success, I find myself sitting on a sun-drenched terrace looking out over a vineyard with a glass of wine in my hand. For one minute I think to myself I must look like a star in a Hollywood rom-com. But here at Villa Machiavelli, the aforementioned restaurant tucked away in the rolling countryside only half an hour outside of Florence, this fantasy life is a daily reality.
So while I am channeling my inner-Sophia Loren, I also get to savour a heavenly lunch of local specialties. (Whatever you do, make sure you order the ravioli in truffled cream sauce. It’s indulgent but worth every heavenly mouthful)
Embrace the skills and passion of local artisans
Marta Cucchia is a woman driven by love for her craft. That is, love for meticulously creating fabric and textiles using techniques that have not changed for centuries.
In the 11thcentury church tucked away in the ancient city of Perugia that is her studio, Marta is resolutely keeping the traditional skill alive, painstakingly using an 18th century loom to re-create materials not seen since the Renaissance. For her, it is a calling, not a job, and one she feels privileged to share with visitors to her stunning workspace. I, in turn, feel privileged to have had a glimpse into such an authentic Italian experience.
Castello del Trebbio for wine tasting
Dating back to the 12th century, this fairytale castle boasts not only a rich history (the Pazzi family who built the edifice famously tried to oust the Medici clan) but a restaurant that offers a stunning view over rolling Tuscan hills and serves the estate’s famous Chianti. A heavenly spot for a glass of wine and the chance to indulge in local flavours.