Tuscany, scents of Italy

Julia Osseland

The story

The Tyrrhenian Sea breeze blows along the cliffs of Versilia and wafts through the Tuscan countryside, bringing with it the salty smell of the Lagoon of Orbetello. Scents of cypress trees and the warming smell of ripe wheat are borne right up to the towers of Siena, Lucca and San Gimignano. As you sit out and relax on a shaded terrace in Siena, Tuscany will come to you.

As the dawn light spreads over the Facciatone, the unfinished facade of the Duomo cathedral, you feel that the Italian Renaissance could only ever have started here. Its romantic outline is evocative of both works in the museums of Florence and the lunar landscape of the Crete Senesi. The frescos by Lorenzetti tucked away in the Palazzo Pubblico of Sienne invented nothing new. Their softness comes from the rolling hills of Gaiole in Chianti. Their colours are inspired by the changing skies over Lake Trasimeno. Crossing Siena on foot always gives the impression of walking along Via Francigena, the pilgrimage path running through the Val d’Elsa to Rome.

As the morning progresses, the streets fill with different sounds and cries. The Palio dell’Assunta race, held on the Piazza del Campo, is attended by thousands of people. The champions from the 17 Contrades and their horses are escorted by residents to the track in the city centre, but before that, the Alfieri and the Carabinieri prepare their traditional outfits and sedan chairs for the great parade.

The Palio race is iconic of Tuscany, combining theatrical splendour with popular simplicity, codified ceremonies with good-natured conviviality. Visitors are always welcome to participate in the celebrations, whether spectacular or understated. Locals gather with a couple of friends over a bottle of Chianti and a plate of finocchiona or lardo di Colonnata before dinner. This delicate balance, this union between impressive beauty and simple pleasures is what defines the region of Tuscany.

When to go?

To discover Tuscany in its true colours, visit the region in September. As autumn arrives, the vineyards are bedecked in swathes of copper and red. It is the “Vendemmia” period in the Chianti hills and those surrounding San Giminiano. Here, harvesting is a family affair. Friends and neighbours gather together to cut the grapes in the different plots.

How to get there?

Tuscany is easy to travel to, especially when summer draws to a close and the peak season ends. There are flights to the international airports of Pisa and Florence from the biggest European cities, but for those who prefer a more traditional mode of transport, the Treno Natura is a must. This old steam train travels along the Val d’Orcia and Val d’Elsa to Siena, taking passengers back in time with its waxed oak seats.

Experiences

Watch the Palio from a resident’s house

The Palio race is held twice a year, on 2 July and 16 August. This famous horse race is ridden bareback and has been organised every year since 1644, almost without fail, on the main square in Siena, Piazza del Campo. Enter a local resident’s house to watch the race from one of the balconies around the edge of the square.

Roam the truffle roads on a Vespa

Mount a Vespa and set out to explore magnificent, unspoilt roads in the heart of Tuscany with our guide who knows every nook and cranny of the area. He will share the region’s best-kept secrets with you, including a private museum, liqueur manufacture, hilltop village and the forest where he hunts truffles.

Visit a cigar factory in Lucca

The cultivation of tobacco has, for a long time, been one of the major activities in Tuscan farming, and a couple of die-hard cigar manufacturers still remain in the region today. Discover one of these factories where cigars are still rolled by hand, and learn the basics of manufacturing with a passionate cigar maker.

Our address book

Trattoria Gigi

Popular Tuscan dining

The lively and popular Trattoria Gigi is a temple to Tuscan gastronomy, disguised in the rags of a local cafe. Appreciated by night owls and foodies alike, it is run by an owner always willing to offer a glass of Grappa to thirsty clients.

Piazza del Carmine 7, 55100, Lucca

Osteria Le Logge

The grocer’s secret

As you walk through the glass doors adorned with old-fashioned coats of arms, you might expect to meet the former owners of an old grocers’ store in an aging district. One glance at the extensive wine menu, however, will soon set things straight. Today, Osteria is a hotspot among aesthetes.

Via del Porrione 33, Siena

Fattoria Il Poggio

Great simplicity

The setting of Fattoria Il Poggio could hardly be more idyllic, with simply-laid tables set out on a large lawn where children play, and views of the clear waters of Lake Trasimeno. The convivial atmosphere is unaffected and warm-hearted, reflecting the menu composed of local dishes made with organic produce.

Parco Naturale Dell'Isola Polvese San Feliciano, Castiglione del Lago

Dempsey’s

Tuscan nights

The graffiti left on the walls by clients here might lead you to expect the worst, but don’t be fooled by this libertarian appearance. Every evening, the cocktails in Dempsey’s help reinvent the art of partying in the Tuscan style.

Piazza Danti, 19 c/o Pozzo Etrusco, Perugia

D!Vineria

Hidden behind old stone walls

In spite of the crowds, the historic heart of San Gimignano still hides a few surprises. Tucked away within old stone walls, D!Vineria boasts the discreet charm of that kind of bar where you can just sit and watch people, and time, passing by.

Piazza delle Erbe 1, 53037, San Gimignano

Enoteca Italiana

In the company of the Medicis

The facade of the Enoteca Italiana is an impressive sight, and for good reason. The building is a former keep once belonging to the Medici family, which over the years was successively turned into a cartridge factory and then munitions storehouse. Today, more than 1,500 Italian and Tuscan wines are available for tasting beneath its ancient vaults.

Via Camollia, 72, Siena

San’Antimo Abbey

Inner pilgrimage and Gregorian chants

Although, according to legend, Sant’Antimo Abbey was founded by Charlemagne, the monks today carry on the ancestral art of Gregorian chants. The voices of the Augustinian monks mingle with the sound of the cicadas during vespers in the evening warmth.

San’Antimo Abbey, Castelnuovo-dell'Abate

Farma torrent

Open air thermal torrents

The warm, hydrogen-sulphide rich waters of Farma torrent have carved out natural bathing pools. Although very popular in Ancient times, this forgotten thermal site has now happily become one of the region’s best-kept secrets.

Terme di Petriolo, Monticiano

Bosco della Ragnaia

A secret garden for an artist’s dream

Plastic Artist Sheppard Craige has recreated the Renaissance in a small Italian garden hidden in the heart of San Giovanni d’Asso. From the Alter of Scepticism to the Oracle of Yourself, wander through a setting that combines strict classicism with a touch of insanity.

53020 San Giovani d’Asso, Sienne