La bella vita, (or, the good life), is a concept that the Italians have seriously mastered! They take time out to have long meals, tend not to have the intense schedules us Americans are guilty of having, and know the value of taking time to enjoy themselves — If you ask me, we could all stand to take a page from their book.
Last spring, I was lucky enough to cross Italy off of my bucket list with an extraordinary trip to Tuscany. My husband Cole and I began the trip together in northern Tuscany, and later met up with my sister and mom down in the southern region. Blown away by the food, wine, culture and shopping, I came back completely in love with the Italian way, and was gushing about how amazing Tuscany was to anyone who would listen! If you find yourself planning a European getaway sometime soon, I can’t recommend adding Tuscany to your itinerary enough! I promise, you will not regret a minute of it.
Britt and I out shopping
Exploring the amazing town of Montalcino
Here are my top recommendations for your trip to the region:
Restaurant: Before leaving Florence, my husband and I had one of the best meals we have ever had in our life at La Giostra. The owner was a larger-than-life character (complete with tattooed arms lined with bracelets), who made us feel welcome in his ‘home’ upon entry. The menu was strictly mouthwatering family recipes that were made to order, creating an authentic Italian experience that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. The restaurant is small and sort of a hole in the wall, so I suggest you make reservations.
Hotel: Britt had already been to Italy, and wanted to go somewhere a little more off the beaten path, so when my husband and I were finished in Florence, we headed off to meet her and my mom in Tuscany at Rosewood Castiglion de Basco, a boutique luxury hotel. Our stay was beyond magical, and it felt like we were staying in a private castle. The restaurants on site were out of this world, and the amenities offered at the property could have kept us occupied for weeks (the pool is to die for)!
Shopping: My sister and I spent one day shopping in San Gemingnano, and although we never could quite pronounce it, it was a beautiful old town with great stores, amazing history and fantastic restaurants. I wouldn’t plan on wine tasting here though — There are plenty of more beautiful places to go winetasting in the countryside vineyards. If you’re looking to get a local shopping experience and pick up jewelry, leather goods and other local gems, head here for some great finds!
Britt on our winery bike tour
Stopping for lunch (with a serious view)
Winery Visits: This one isn’t a hard sell … You can literally visit wineries on your bike. Biking through the Italian countryside, vineyard by vineyard and visiting wineries along the way is a dream activity! If the weather is right, this will be a true highlight for you. Our hotel offered tours, but if you find yourself looking for one, there are a ton of different bike tours in the region. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because Britt challenged me to a bike race and ended up falling off of her bike, so I won — It’s the little things! With rustic and expansive hillsides, this is both a workout, and a great way to experience the local wine.
Cooking Classes: Britt and I crashed a cooking class my husband Cole was taking, and it ended up being one of our trip highlights! The food in Tuscany is nothing short of incredible, and we had so much fun learning how to make homemade tortellini. We also brought back some chili oil and truffle oil to cook with back at home that was unbelievably delicious. There are a ton of different one day cooking classes offered in the region, and I highly recommend finding one and having the experience of making pasta with an Italian pro.
Painting and Photography Lessons: There were two classes I came across while in Tuscany that I thought were really creative and cool: Single day art classes where you watercolor paint the Tuscan countryside, and Tuscan photography tours lead by a professional photographer. Both options are a seriously unique experience!
Other things you should know so make your trip a breeze:
Visit in the Summer: Both Britt and I wish we would have planned our trip a week later. We went in the early part of May, and I think if we had just waited two weeks, we would have had warmer weather and would have certainly taken advantage of our hotel’s amazing infinity pool. My feeling was what is the point of being amidst that beautiful landscape if you can’t be outside and enjoy it?!
Rent a Small Car: My husband wanted to drive for a lot of the trip (a great way to get around Italy), and I wish we would have known how small and windy the Italian roads could be … before we rented an Escalade! Needless to say, it was extremely hard to navigate in some parts of our travels, so I would say, stick with a small car if you have road trips in your Italian plans!
Plan to Spend Enough Time There: We moved around Italy and went city to city pretty quickly, and even though we saw a lot, I didn’t feel like I got to soak up the countryside enough. If I could do it again, I would think about renting a villa, and staying there with my family for at least a week. That way we could practice our Italian cooking skills at home, take more day trips, and could really immerse ourselves more in the language and culture of the region.
Our Tuscany trip was so memorable and definitely a trip of a lifetime! Even though there were times where our GPS wasn’t working, had language barriers and felt like we were starring in a National Lampoons movie, we seriously had the best time. Next time you’re planning a trip, consider putting Tuscany on your itinerary and living la dolce vita, a.k.a. the sweet life!
The Sweet Life By Brittany + Cynthia Daniel