There’s no bad time for visiting Tuscany. This region is beautiful in any season, even under the rain or snow (which is rather rare there, so one can consider himself lucky if he caught a moment of snow falling and saw the famous hills covered with white powder). Anyway most of tourists choose summer months for their trip to Tuscany, when it’s joyfully green and sunny, or autumn with its impressive golden colors.
After visiting my favorite region of Italy several times in summer (read here about one of my summer trips) I was curious to discover Tuscany in winter, a season of morning fogs and soft light. So for the New Year’s Eve we booked a rustic house in Monticchiello, a small village in heart of Val d’Orcia, and the 30th December boarded the plane to Pisa.
This winter trip to the region which I supposed I knew rather well revealed that Tuscany still had plenty to surprise me! Here are some ideas which can inspire you to visit Tuscany in the low season – or be useful for your summer trip:
1. Book a day at spa
Or better two… Or the whole week!
In fact hot springs in Tuscany were the most beautiful discovery of this trip. I didn’t know much about them, only had a vague idea that there were some great spa complexes in Val d’Orcia. Only when we arrived to Bagno Vignoni, a spa town (!) 15 kilometers away from Monticchiello, I fully understood how different the natural hot springs are from an ordinary spa center. First of all, in the center of Bagno Vignoni there a huge pool full of warm water – you can even see the steam over it. It’s a public place, so don’t try to have a swim there (even if the idea looks quite tempting;)) but rather look for a spa in one of the town’s hotels. The best one is definitely the hotel Posta Marcucci which we found by pure chance and consider it one of the main successes of our trip.
Why Posta Marcucci is the best? Simply because:
1. It has two huge outside pools with an incredible view to the Tuscany hills – to be honest, I think it’s the best view of all the local hotels. The water in one pool is about 30 degrees, in another one almost 38 degrees – you feel comfortable in both of them even when the weather is chilly. There’s no artificial heating system – the water comes to the pools naturally hot and then continues its way to the river. It’s thermal water, which means it’s particularly clean, good for skin and has special treating properties.
2. The hotel also has indoors spa complex including sauna, hammam, hydro massage and relax zone. You are offered tea and some healthy snacks for free and can choose a massage or other treatment for an extra payment.
3. Posta Marcucci is a 3-stars hotel but it definitely deserves more : the level of service and the quality of equipment are excellent and the balance between quality and price is just perfect.
4. A pleasant bonus is a fantastic panoramic restaurant on the second floor : not only you can taste local dishes but also enjoy the view, probably accompanied by a beautiful sunset… To sum up, we definitely might stay more than two days at Posta Marcucci if we had a longer vacation, but already a day or even a couple of hours is a great experience.
2. Do a wine tasting
Well, this is not a specifically winter activity but when the weather is cold it becomes particularly attractive! Tuscany is famous by its world known wines such as Chianti (of course!), Brunello and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We stayed just few kilometers away from the village where the last one is produced, so opted for a degustation at one of the local aziende, the Villa Sant’Anna (at first chosen mostly because of its name but then this choice proved itself to be the best one;)
Let me precise: I’m not a red wine lover. If I have choice, I always prefer white, even with meat – I know it’s a kind of shame for a person who lives in France and to justify myself I can only add that if I have choice, I always prefer champagne…:)) Anyway I was just adored red Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – I think it’s a kind of red wine I could easily drink every time when I decide to accompany the meal with the alcohol. The main characteristics of Vino Nobile are elegance and freshness. It’s not too intense or strong, so you drink it easily, but it’s very aromatic. I’m not a wine expert but I could distinguish the earthy and fruity notes in it. Produced mainly with the grape variety called Sangiovese (80% for the wine produced at the Villa Sant’Anna but this number may vary for other wine producers), Vino Nobile also contains other local grape varieties such as Mammolo and Colorino.
Signora Simona who owns the Villa Sant’Anna and works there with her two daughters made us a visit the winery including the 16th century’s wine cellars. She’s passionate about wine and it was a pleasure to have such a welcoming and knowing guide! After the visit we proceeded to the wine tasting in the main building – and I should say it looked much more like a friendly dinner than a degustation. Simona prepared meat and cheese plates for us and served us delicious wines so generously that we started to doubt we would be able to drive back to Monticchiello!:)) We finished the wine tasting by Vin Santo – a very special sweet wine of the area made with very ripe grapes.
The result of out visit to the Villa Sant’Anna: 12 bottles of Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are ordered and will be delivered to Paris in January. It will be great to occasionally open a bottle for dinner and remember our winter trip to Tuscany…
3. Enjoy Tuscan cuisine
Not that I pretend it’s a new idea for a travel to Italy in any season (I don’t think there’s anything MORE famous than Italian food in general!) but just I’d love share with you some good addresses in Val d’Orcia.
Taverna di Moranda and Cantina della Porta
Both restaurants are located in Monticchiello, the village where we stayed, and both are excellent. The first one is situated in the cellar of an old Tuscan house and offers traditional local dishes such as a pigeon with polenta or lamb with aromatic herbs. The second restaurant has a beautiful interior, a mixture of old and modern, and also specialized in traditional Tuscan cuisine – we ordered pici pasta there, thick home made spaghetti, with duck sauce.
This is the restaurant we chose for the New Year’s Eve dinner – and weren’t deceived ! La Gotta is beautifully situated just in front of the enormous ancient church, which looks very impressive when you first arrive to the restaurant. It honors the local recipes and offers a great choice of Tuscan wines. It’s a gastronomic restaurant , so don’t expect huge portions, but the quality of food is unbeatable. The New Year’s Eve menu was special and included two starters, pasta, main course and dessert. We particularly loved home made gnocchi and also finally tasted baccala, a typical local stater made of salted cod fish.
La Bottega Del Nobile
Perfect spot for aperitif in Montepulciano. A cozy wine bar in the heart of the village offering an enormous choice of wines. You can also buy a wine card there and have a proper wine tasting – the card allows you to serve little portions from different bottles in Bottega which you choose by yourself. You also might be tempted to stay for dinner – the place is so warm and welcoming that one can hardly leave it…:)
Le Logge del Vignola
The restaurant where we ate the famous bistecca alla Fiorentina – and it was excellent! A little reminder: bistecca alla Fiorentina is a 1,5 kilo T-bone steak supposed to be shared with the dining companions. We ordered it for two and could hardly finish even if meat was just perfectly cooked and delicious. So if you plan to have bistecca alla Fiorentina for dinner, don’t add any starters and be sure you won’t opt for the dessert!:)
Historical pastry shop in Montepulciano. You should visit it both for its interiors and its desserts – and also for a stunning view from the balcony! In the morning come early to be sure to get the best table and admire the iconic Tuscan hills while enjoying your cappuccino with some pastries or even a good tiramisu…
4. Watch the sunrise over Tuscan hills
This recommendation is addressed to those who is like me obsessed with the beautiful morning light. I’m convinced that any landscape looks totally different under the first rays of sun but it is particularly true for Tuscany in winter when early in the morning the fogs lye among the hills and make them look like islands in the sea of milk and the sky becomes so golden and pink that one can hardly believe these colors are real…
If you feel yourself motivated enough (even after a hearty Tuscan dinner with a good portion of local wine), make it sure your clothes are warm enough and check the exact time of sunrise. Fortunately in winter sun rises late comparing to summer, so no need to get up early. Here is a couple of beautiful spots to admire the sunrise and take beautiful photos:
Agriturismo Baccoleno. May be one of the most recognizable postcard views I’ve ever seen !
Villa Belvedere in Podere Belvedere. The view is breathtaking but if you plan to take really good photos , you will need a telephoto camera (even mine was not powerful enough).
5. Discover unusual Tuscany
This region never stops to surprise me. I thought I knew it rather well but during this trip we unexpectedly – just by chance! – discovered the area which doesn’t resemble to the rest of Tuscany at all. I’m talking about Le Crete Senesi, the area to the south of Siena. The landscape there is scenic: grey rocky hills, woods and small medieval villages. It’s not pastoral countryside like we get used to see in Tuscany but rather wild and untouched nature.
We came across this fairy tale place while chasing sunrise near the villa Agriturismo Baccoleno. After taking a couple of photos at this picturesque spot we continued driving among the Tuscan hills looking for the good viewpoints and beautiful villages. The road kept going up, and at the top of the hill we found ourselves in front of the tiny bar with a terrace overlooking Le Crete Senesi… Morning mist was rising from the valleys while the sky was slowly clearing up until finally the sun appeared. The whole scene looked so atmospheric and unreal that it took us a moment to believe our eyes. After hours of diving in the « classical » Tuscany we didn’t expect at all such a different view!
The bar-pizzeria with the stunning terrace is called La Terrazza and located in the village Chiusure. We had several cappuccino there, as well as a piece of home made apple pie, and everything tasted heavily , especially with this kind of view! Just opposite to Chiusure, on the high hill, situated the Medieval monastery of Monte Olivieto Maggiore, which looks as if it haven’t changed since 14th century.
Exploring Le Crete Senesi was a truly breathtaking experience which left us even more impressed by Tuscany than before.
Never be afraid of the low season, chilly weather or occasional rains while traveling – visiting a highly popular place off the touristic season may be the best decision and allow you to experience things you’ve otherwise never think about. Just don’t forget your umbrella but also sunglasses, because forecasts aren’t reliable, and learn how to enjoy any weather!