Unexplored Tuscany

From family-owned vineyards to truffle hunting adventures, Tuscany offers an allure all its own.

The breeze in Tuscany comes gently with the scent of lavender and the sound of old church bells. This picturesque region of Italy is known for its rich history, Renaissance art, stunning landscapes, and fine wines and food, but there’s more to it. Tuscany offers a rustic charm that has enticed travelers from around the world for centuries. Its cities like Florence and Lucca hold their own sensual appeal—and you’ll want to spend time in both—but to truly indulge in Tuscany’s magic, you have to venture into its countryside.

There, winding roads lined by towering cypress trees lead to hilltop villages with convivial sidewalk cafes beckoning for cool drinks on warm evenings. Family-run vineyards are tucked into bucolic hillsides, and in the towns locals gather for weekend markets brimming with artisans and farmers.

The Tuscan countryside is a place where time seems to move languidly, with idyllic hours spent around tables heavy with creamy cheeses, salty meats, and exquisite red wines. This is why a trip here cannot be rushed—or even overly planned. You’ll want to be able to relax for hours soaking in the views or make an unanticipated stop to spend an afternoon wandering down the narrow stone streets of one of the many villages. Tuscany is a feast for the senses and one to linger over as long as possible. 

Exploring the Countryside

A little more than an hour’s drive to the northwest of Florence in an area known as Garfagnana is the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa. Tucked into a hillside with sweeping views of the nearby medieval town of Barga and the rugged Apuan Alps beyond, the remote resort is the perfect starting point for a Tuscan adventure.

Il Ciocco, as it’s simply known to the locals, is nestled within a 1,500-acre private park. It’s the ultimate setting for serenity with only the sounds of chirping birds breaking the silence. Elegant rooms feature plush linens, soothing cream tones, and balconies with panoramic views of the valley—perfect for sipping a warm cappuccino in the morning or a chilled glass of wine at dusk.

Being under the Marriott brand means that hotel guests have all the expected luxurious amenities, but make no mistake, Il Ciocco is authentically Italian. Rose vines crawl up the side of stucco walls and guests around the chic outdoor pool cool off with bright orange Aperol Spritz cocktails on warm afternoons. Breakfast is served on a sunny veranda before the day opens up for exploring the surrounding countryside.

Pasta 101

Il Ciocco’s cooking classes offer a hands-on taste of the region’s fare. From a trip to the local market to crafting house made pastas and gnocchi, the only thing better than the class is its resulting feast.

For a true taste of Tuscany, sign up for one of Il Ciocco’s famed cooking classes. Spend a morning with the hotel’s enthusiastic chef in the nearby bustling market in Barga before returning to the hotel to prepare homemade pasta and local dishes. There’s something about choosing the tomato yourself and cutting the ravioli with your own hands that makes it seemingly even more flavorful once you’ve gathered around the table.

To truly indulge in the flavors of the region, you’ll need to spend some time among its grapevines. Just down the road from Il Ciocco is Podere Còncori, a small, lush vineyard where for 20 euros visitors can enjoy a tour, tasting, and lunch prepared by the winemaker’s wife from their own garden. 

After a walk through the vines—and by the vineyard’s fertilizer source, a friendly donkey named Pietro—the winemaker, Gabriele da Prato, seats guests at a round wooden table heaped with warm vegetables tossed in local olive oil, platters of crostini, and freshly made pasta—all accompanied by pours of his biodynamic wines. Da Prato is equal parts artist, biologist, and host, and his wines are rich with flavor.

There’s plenty to explore beyond the table in this region as well. The Grotta del Vento, a system of caves that winds into the top of a nearby mountain is a beautiful natural treasure and a cool respite on warmer days. And trails wind around Il Ciocco, offering more dramatic views around each turn—and, of course, a chance to work up an appetite for your next meal.

It’s the area’s villages and towns, though, that makes this region ideal for a visit. Spend a few hours exploring the nearby town of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, and be sure to stop in for an apertif at the cozy Vecchio Mulino, which feels more like its friendly owner, Andrea, is hosting you in his home than at a winebar.

In nearby Barga, venture up the streets of “Old Barga” to the hilltop duomo dating back to the 11th century. The Roman Catholic church continues to hold services in its ancient nave. Just down the hill, and tucked into an old stone building, you’ll find Ristorante Scacciaguai, an intimate family-owned restaurant known for its black truffle pasta and dark chocolate soufflé. 

The Road to Florence

In Tuscany, travel is something to be savored. Rather than rushing the ride from Il Ciocco to spend a few days in Florence, plan on a full day to meander through the towns and villages in between.

Make your first stop at the mysterious Ponte della Maddalena, known as the Devil’s Bridge, just a few miles down the road in the village of Borgo a Mozzano. The unusual bridge with its asymmetrical arches was first built in the 12th century over the deep Serchio River. Locals have their own variations of stories behind the bridge, but the sign at its foot claims its nickname comes from its builder having made a deal with the devil. Whatever its origins, the old stone structure is an ideal stop for a walk—and photographs—with its mountain and river views.

The most photogenic stop along the way, though, may be the historic walled city of Lucca, known for its medieval churches and traditional Italian cuisine. A relaxing way to explore the town’s narrow streets and sun-drenched piazzas is by bicycle. The city’s tourist center offers two-hour guided bike tours perfect for seeing its highlights while avoiding its traffic. You’ll pedal around its ancient walls, through the famed Napoleon Square, and past churches and the towering cathedral.

End your ride with lunch at Gli Orti di Via Elisa, in the center of the city. If you can, snag a seat on the patio with views of the cobbled streets—perfect for people watching. The menu is extensive, but simple and elegant Italian fare and its wood-oven pizzas and house-made pastas can always be walked off with a post-lunch stroll through the charming town.

Florence and Beyond

With its historic sites and art, and world-renowned shopping and dining, the Tuscan capital of Florence is a must for any traveler. The trick to travel here though is avoiding the throngs of tourists who venture to the city each year for a glimpse of its famed Renaissance art and architecture. This is one of many reasons that Il Salviatino is the perfect destination for your visit. Just a 15-minute drive into the center of the city, the 14th-century-villa-turned-luxury-hotel sits on a secluded hillside in Fiesole at the edge of town. From its expansive terrace and grounds guests can gaze over Florence’s terra cotta rooftops to its famed Duomo in the distance.

The hotel itself offers its own historic story. Its opulent rooms feature original frescoes, high ceilings, and priceless works of art. Each room is different, but all include sumptuous linens and luxurious amenities like fragrant Florentine bath products. Manicured grounds offer a peaceful respite from the city with flowering bushes and azure fountains. Paths amble through towering trees around the estate and guests can even arrange to spend an early evening hunting for truffles with a local hunter and his friendly dog along its hillside (with the chance to eat your finds from a chef-prepared dinner following the hunt). However you spend your days, save a few hours to lounge in the quiet pool area tucked among the green hills—preferably after a luxurious massage at the hotel’s small, but sophisticated spa.

Il Salviatino is a wonderful jumping off point for numerous day trips around the region. Spend a day wandering through the nearby Chianti wine region, stopping in enchanting towns like Radda in Chianti and Greve in Chianti where cafes and shops line the city squares. Just down the road from Radda you’ll find Colle Bereto, one of the region’s most famed—and beautiful—vineyards. Visits to the vineyard must be booked ahead, but for a spontaneous sip of the wines you can stop in the vineyard’s popular wine bars in Florence and Radda.

On the Hunt

At Il Salviatino guests can join in for truffle hunting with Giulio and his dog, Eda. The truffles grow on the hotel’s property, so this is a relaxed walk that often yields several of the prized mushrooms.

Of course, you’ll want to soak in as much of Florence’s culture as possible. Its most popular spots—the cathedral, Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo’s David—are musts for any first-time visitor. But plan on also spending some time exploring the city’s scenic piazzas, historic streets, and high fashion shops—and getting hands-on experience with some of its most notable artisans. At the Galleria Michelangelo visitors can join in workshops to learn the ancient art of Italian leather making from a master craftsman—and leave with a customized and handmade souvenir. And just across Piazza Santa Croce at Aqua Flor Firenze visitors can create their own elegant perfume alongside a notable perfumer. After your “work day,” walk to dinner at Florence’s whimsical and stylish new restaurant La Ménagère, which includes a flower shop and quirky home store alongside its modern Italian menu. 

End your evening with a nightcap back on Il Salviatino’s terrace where the bartender, Luca, is as gracious as he is talented. Here, where the scent of jasmine lingers in the cool night air and the lights of Florence sparkle in the distance, it’s especially easy to understand Tuscany’s centuries-old allure.

Getting There

American Airlines offers nonstop flights to Rome, from which trains to Florence take around 1.5 hours. Lufthansa offers nonstop flights to Munich, Germany where you can connect to Florence.