After my mother confirmed that she was coming to visit in July, I immediately started to search for cheap airfare somewhere in Europe (I normally use Google Flights or Skyscanner). It’s been a while since Z and I travelled without our boys. I knew I wanted to fly to Italy but wasn’t sure where in Italy. I found a round trip ticket from Palma to Bologna for €60 so I booked it. I didn’t know much about Bologna, beside that it’s a university town and that it hosts a large children book fair. I had a feeling it would have good vibe and good food. I thought about Rome but I heard that the summer there it’s too hot and too crowded.
The plan was to rent a car and do a road trip in Tuscany: Bologna, Siena, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, then back to Bologna. (We decided to skip Florence because we were there last summer.)
Not that the highway wasn’t scenic enough, but we were in no rush and no children in the back sit so we decided to take the winding, scenic roads. The wow, wow, wow, wow route. It was as if we were driving in a painting. We saw endless fruit trees along the way and a cute vegetable stands. We bought sweet and juicy peaches and petite, tarty raspberries, which Z brilliantly infused in the plastic-flavor mineral water that we bought.
Just when I thought that I had had enough fruit for one day, we drove by a huge plum tree, that was exploding with small, sweet plums. All I could think of – besides how lucky we were to be in this part of the world (child-free) – was how many jars of jam and galettes I could have made, if those trees were growing in my back yard. Toscana is full of them.
Around lunch time we weren’t really hungry but we decided to stop for lunch because in Italy (You don’t eat because you are hungry) restaurants close at 2:45 and don’t reopen until 7:30pm. There was no way we were going to miss an opportunity to eat pasta or cheese (Luckily I came to Italy with a deep depravation for pasta and cheese). In the five days we were there, we ate as if those were our last days. After we finished a meal we were already discussing what and where are we going to eat later .
Z, the navigator, had an instinct to stop at Pistoia, a small town located halfway between Florence and Lucca. The sleepy town wasn’t exciting but the food at Diversorium Cavour was. Everything we had – from the pici with goat cheese and pistachio – to the spaghetti with fresh sardines – to the homemade anise biscuits – to the cloudy ricotta cheesecake – was out-of-this-world good. The restaurant is run by an Italian chef and his German wife .
After lunch, as we were walking back to our car, we passed by a small crowd of people, fire fighters and policemen all gazing up at an older man, swinging his body back and forth, on a five-story scaffolding. I couldn’t watch so I have no idea it had a happy ending.)
Our plan was to spend one night in Siena then to drive to San Giminiano the next day. But Siena was more beautiful – and less crowded – than I expected. We were also feeling as if we were racing through Tuscany not traveling. We ended up staying one more night.
Dinner at Vineria Tirabusciò in Sienna is must be mentioned. I love it when cooks take the quality of their produce seriously, like the charming husband & wife owners of this quaint little wine bar. Every plate that came out from the kitchen/bar was simple yet rich in flavor. From the platter of local artisan cheeses, to the Tuscan organic wine, to the pomodoro bruschetta, to the chocolate salami dessert (I know, sounds terrible, but it was absolutely DI-FUCKING-VINE. It’s basically a chocolate roulade with chunks of biscuits.)
In the morning we decided to drive to Vinci – as in Leonardo Da Vinci – to visit the Da Vinci museum. In my opinion it was rather mediocre.
Next stop, Montepulciano. Montepulciano looks like a lot of medieval villages in Mallorca. Narrow streets with long rows of stone-faced townhouses with green shutters, arched entryways with tall, rustic wooden doors, flower pots hanging from the windows and lines of clothes drying on stretched cords. There’s a church or two or three and a bell that rings every quarter hour, shops that sells ceramic dishes, straw baskets, and local souvenirs. The small difference between the Italian and Spanish towns is that the Italian towns have better coffee, pastries and food.
Each time we bumped into a delicious pastry or gelato we thought out loud how much Leo and Alex would have loved this place. We are definitely going back with our boys.
Next time though we would probably spend a night or two in a small village and the rest of the time in the countryside.
Things you must eat in Toscana:
- Pici! (pronounced “pee-chee”) Pici pici pici… I just love saying it! Somehow I’d never heard of pici before arriving in Tuscany. Pici is like spaghetti, but much chubbier. The Italian udon noodle. The official pasta of Tuscany.
- Ribolita, even if it’s 40 degrees (or 100 degrees) outside
- Chocolate Salami – Salame di cioccolato
- Any local cheese
- Agostino pastry
- The yogurt layered cake we had at Hotel Due De Cigni (five minutes from Montepulciano). I normally don’t eat breakfast, cakes for breakfast or hotel breakfasts (even when breakfast is included) but as I passed by the cake table to get tea, I couldn’t resist this one cake that looks like one of my grandma’s cakes. I put a slice on a napkin to eat later then took a small bite of it, ended up eating three slices. (The Tom Cruise look-like, hotel owner, shared with me the recipe, which I’m planing to share with you one of these days).