What does Tuscan heritage mean to you? Do you think of Florence and its famous art and architecture? The leaning tower of Pisa? Maybe the landscape of vineyards, olive groves and pencil cypresses that give us Chianti and olive oil?
My Italian friends from Lucca helped me design a tour based on their idea of their own heritage. They envisaged a tour that snaked diagonally across the region from Sansepolcro and Arezzo in the southeast to Lucca in the northwest. Chianti yes, but not the vineyards that leap to mind. Art and architecture yes. But no Florence. No Siena. No Pisa.
Here are ten experiences they don’t want slow travellers to miss.
1: Sansepolcro (Arezzo Province)
Why there? For two reasons.
1 The fresco of the ‘Resurrection’ by the hugely influential early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. You don’t have to be religious to be spellbound by it. Aldous Huxley called it the ‘greatest picture in the world’.
2 The Tuscan cigar. I don’t smoke and I think it would be better if no one did. But it turns out that tobacco was undoubtedly a major player in the history of Tuscany ever since 1574 when it arrived in the very spot we’re staying: Sansepolcro. From smuggling to women’s work you’ll hear all the pros and cons of tobacco at Roberta’s tobacco farm. Whatever your views, it’s fascinating seeing how tobacco leaves are harvested by hand and smoke-dried.
2: Anghiari (Arezzo Province)
An English friend who accompanied me on a research trip said that of everywhere we went, it’s the place she most wants to return to. Its striking position poised on a cliff edge is attraction enough. Add to that a tour of the Jacquard looms at the Busatti linen mill, and you’ll want to return too.
3: Chianti (Florence Province)
Could Chianti wine be even better if they restored all the dry-stone walling that was demolished when tractors blazed a trail through the vineyards in the 1960s and ‘70s? You can judge for yourself during a vineyard tour and tasting.
4: White Truffle (Pisa Province)
San Miniato claims their white truffles are better than the more famous ones from Alba in the Piedmont. Follow the Lagotto dog, find your truffles and relish lunch with truffles in every course (except dessert).
5: Vicopisano (Pisa Province)
When the Florentine Republic conquered the Pisans in 1406 they commissioned their star architect-engineer, Filippo Brunelleschi—famed for the dome of the duomo of Florence—to redesign the Pisan fortress at Vicopisano. My historian friend from Pisa says you mustn’t miss this magnificent castle, and he’s going to show you around himself.
6: Extra virgin olive oil
My Slow Food friends are sure you have no idea how good extra virgin olive oil can be until you taste it here in Tuscany. It deserves the same attention you lavish on wine.
7: Lucca (Lucca Province)
Lucca is so conservative that it never tore down its Renaissance walls, as if waiting for another attack. It may as well be us. And who better to show us around than a descendant of one of the noble families who ruled Lucca in the Renaissance!
8: Puccini (Lucca Province)
Baritone Mattia Campetti insists that every visitor to Lucca must hear the music of that great operatic composer Giacomo Puccini in his home town. Mattia will give you a vivid and amusing tour of Puccini’s home at Torre del Lago. Be prepared for an entertaining concert when Mattia is joined by his soprano wife Michelle Buscemi.
9: Tuscan grill
On the grill are a pig and a cow (no apologies for sneaking in two items here): the indigenous Cinta Senese pig (belted pig of Siena) and the white Chianina cow, possibly a descendant of the huge Palaeolithic aurochs. Their succulent flavour hasn’t diminished at all over the millennia.
10: Cantuccio (biscotti in English)
Every Tuscan meal must end sweetly with cantuccini dunked in vin santo, our Tuscan dessert wine.
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