Some years ago I visited Tuscany for the first time. Together with my love, I toured all the highlights…wonderful, but rather too touristic for me. And to think that I was travelling in October, which is the low season. Considering this region’s popularity, I decided to try and find Tuscany’s other side for Local Hideaways. For this region has a certain romantic flair: wherever I am in the world, people are always talking about Tuscany or dreaming of going there and many books have been written on the subject. This is hardly surprising, for in addition to its famous art treasures, popular cities, quaint little villages and the well-known sloping green hills covered with cypresses, Tuscany also boasts some incredible wines and a wonderful cuisine: the “complete package”, so to speak.
But did you know there are several mountains in Tuscany? I didn’t! That is, until I went looking for Local Hideaways in this popular Italian region and met Ilaria. Together with her husband Stefano, she runs an Agriturismo in the foothills of the Apuan Alps (the northern part of the Apennines) in the northern part of Tuscany. Such a different environment, where time seems to have stood still and where the chirping of birds and ringing of cowbells determine the pace. Hardly any tourist here to be found. The snowy mountain tops contrast magnificently with the vast fields and spectacular waterfalls run through the rugged rock formations… enchanting and rugged are the key words here. The environment is perfect for hiking, mountain biking or other outdoor activities. But it is also an inspiring and relaxing place for the creative minds. While enjoying a perfect espresso at the local bakery/ice cream parlour/bar on the Fivizzano town square, the Italian picture is complete: the beautiful baroque fountain, donated by Cosimo De Medici III, stands proudly on the square where daily life is played out in a wonderful spectacle.
But another, more sober side of this region is painfully exposed when visiting the sleepy village of Vinca. Here, an impressive tour takes you along the plaques that bear witness to a large massacre that took place here during World War II. The contrast with the serene surroundings could not be greater.
Another determining image of Tuscany are the marble quarries. At first, I thought I was seeing snow-covered mountains, but on closer inspection I realised they were large marble quarries. And then there this hidden place in the mountains that appears to have come straight out of a fairy tale: Isola Santa. I have never seen such green waters, and the contrast with the waterfront village beyond is ‘picture perfect’!
Leaving the mountains behind me, I cross Tuscany in order to visit two more Local Hideaways in the southern part. Both are located near Montepulciano…this is Tuscany as seen in travel brochures: green hills, cypresses and medieval villages. Local Hideaway ‘Monteverdi’ has a sweeping view of the Val d’Orcia, rather like an enormous painting that constantly changes colour. This Hideaway is the very special project of American Michael L. Cioffi, who has restored the century old hamlet Castiglioncello del Trinoro to its former glory and turned it into one of Tuscany’s most luxurious accommodations.
In the foothills of Montepulciano, a charming place to visit, is an elegant Hideaway with an ecological and creative élan. Its owners touched me with their view of life. Naturally, the owners will be able to point out where to go to experience that ultimate Tuscan ‘slowlife’…even in the high season. And what a joy it is to discover the surroundings and to be travelling through the picturesque countryside and such medieval villages as Monticchiello and San Giovanni d’Asso….their names alone have a lyrical sound to them. And of course, there are wonderful restaurants galore, all serving incredible Italian cuisine and ditto wines…..this is what is so great about travelling through Italy and the fact that around every corner is a bar that serves great coffee or a lovely aperitif!
And then, unfortunately, the time has come for me to return home, but I feel reborn! A true renaissance that has brought me many wonderful impressions and meetings! And, I hope, enough inspiration for you to go ‘under the radar’ in Tuscany!
Esther van Onna – Founder Local Hideaways. June 2016
Local Hideaways Toscane: www.localhideaways.com