I’m in a tub with bubbles up to my neck, a glass of Franciacorta in hand, surveying my rustic abode. After driving down what felt like a never-ending country road, we’ve arrived in the middle of the Tuscan countryside – or more specifically, Locanda in Tuscany, Val d’Orcia.
Owned by a husband and wife team, the hotel has just nine rooms, complete with an oh-so-stylish 20-metre unheated outdoor swimming pool, which sadly at Easter, we were just not brave enough to try. Although the double sunbeds surrounding it are the perfect spot for a peaceful Aperol whilst looking out onto the rolling Tuscan hills.
The hotel’s restaurant is set inside what was the old stable and still contains a lot of the old tell-tale signs – think repurposed troughs and uneven flooring. A small menu features the best of local produce sourced from nearby farms. We’d typically start with a board piled high with charcuterie and cheese, before moving on to pasta (we ordered the cacio e pepe twice whilst we were there it was so good), sharing the traditional Fiorentina steak along with a token side of spinach and finishing with tiramisu. All this before tipsily retreating back to our room with the remainder of our (second) bottle of juicy red and lolling about in our gowns in front of the fireplace. Ideal.
Breakfast was equally gluttonous, with the chef frequently coming out of the kitchen to hand-deliver hot bits and pieces to our plate – some days a cake, other days something savoury – always gratefully gobbled up. And then, before heading out for the day we’d take our espresso on the terrace, beneath the bougainvillaea trellis, trying to adjust to the absolute quiet of our surroundings. (It took us a while to switch off from London, we could have done with another night).
A car is essential for exploring the nearby sights. It’s all about the natural springs around here and there are two distinct ways of experiencing them. First up – Bagni di San Filippo – which is the most natural. So natural in fact, you literally just walk down into the forest and find a spot that takes your fancy. In the UK there would be an entry fee, barriers, closing times, litter everywhere. In Tuscany, there’s no such thing. Couples and families alike were enjoying the great outdoors whilst we visited, with the piece de resistance being the big white cliff or ‘calcium formation’ as it’s correctly called, at the end of the trail. If the sun’s shining, it’s the ideal way to start the day but don’t forget your towel!
The second (more expensive) way is by visiting Hotel Posta Marcucci and lounging around their outdoor pools. The entrance fee is about 27 euros (although they also offer a half day entrance fee as well) with shower caps mandatory and if you don’t have your own you’ll be forced to buy one. The two pools are lined with immaculate gardens, plenty of sun loungers and yet more spectacular views of the countryside. There was something decidedly ‘Accidently Wes Anderson’ about the whole set up but we were quite into the retro vibes. Stay for the day and enjoy lunch al fresco (our chicken caesar salad would surely have won awards for the sheer number of croutons it delivered).
The area outside the hotel – Bagno Vignoni – is a pretty little village, with a buzzy collection of traditional restaurants surrounding a central thermal tank. You can’t swim in this one but the atmospheric lighting at night make it well worth spending a couple of hours.
From either of these hot spots (see what we did there?) it’s only about a 20-minute drive to the nearby town of Pienza – or as I gladly found out – the home of pecorino. As you might expect, it’s cheese shops galore, so be prepared to eat it at lunch in the form of fondue, in pasta and even in dessert – turns out pecorino ice-cream is a thing here – before taking some home for good measure. The views from up here are spectacular so take your time and grab a drink from one of the cafes by the outside walled walkway.
20 mins in the other direction will take you to Montalcino. If Pienza is all about cheese, Montalcino is all about the wine. Big Tuscan reds to be specific, this is where you’ll find the holy Brunello’s. The town largely consists of BYO restaurants and wine shops happy to accommodate. However, it’s also home to one of the most interesting vineyards we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Practising biodynamic philosophy, Podere Le Ripi offers a good value tour (which Locanda will book for you if you ask them nicely), in which you get to taste your way through their vintages, cheese and olive oil, before being shown the totally unique round cellar.
A day trip to Florence will complete your Tuscan mini-break. Your best bet is to drive to Villa Costanza which is essentially a huge car park, from which you can dump the car and get the super cheap tram into the city centre. Florence was one of the most hideously busy cities I’ve ever been to and I live in London (but it was Easter weekend), so definitely best to avoid driving into it if possible. However, we were really only there for the food and were quite content to look at all the sights from a distance. After a reviving Aperol overlooking the main square, we were ready to tackle Florence – or the tasting menu at Gucci Osteria anyway.
Massimo Bottura, the three-Michelin-star chef whose restaurant Osteria Francescana has consistently been named one of the best in the world, has teamed up with luxury brand Gucci to create Gucci Osteria. It’s part of the Gucci Gardens and Gucci museum (which you’ll get a free entrance ticket to if you’re dining with them).
We’ve got to start by saying, the whole concept is kind of a bonkers and quite the departure from his previous restaurants (it came about due to Bottura being childhood friends with Gucci Chief Executive Officer Marco Bizzarri) – but it’s undeniably fun. The people-watching alone is worth forking out for. Infinitely easier to get a reservation at then Osteria Francescana, we’d recommend dining inside (rather than on the slightly less formal outside terrace) where you can appreciate the lurid green walls, the wood panelling and OTT styling. On closer inspection, the plates are adorned with Gucci prints and even the waiters are wearing Gucci, obviously. In case you were in any doubt, at Gucci Osteria – more is more, is more.
The tasting menus follow a similarly eclectic vibe, taking you through various cuisines, inspired by Bottura’s travels. As you might imagine, everything is exquisitely presented, from the purple corn tostada to the sun rice red prawn risotto but the star of the show has to be the Emillia Burger. Presented in a pink branded Gucci box, the pork sausage patty has been infused Parmigiano Reggiano (of course), salsa verde and balsamic mayonnaise and is every bit as rich as that sounds.
Tasting menu prices start from 80 euros for four courses, excluding wine.
For reservations: www.gucci.com/osteria-bottura
From the oh-so-quite countryside with its focus on world-class food and wine to the historical hub of Florence, Tuscany really has got it all.
For more travel inspo, visit: crummbs.co.uk/bitesize-adventures