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Two summers ago I spent a month in Italy, primarily on the Adriatic coast, and told you all about it in a series of trip reports:

The coast of Puglia's stunning waters. Spiaggia de Porto Verde. Photo by Sarah Page Maxwell
The coast of Puglia’s stunning waters. Spiaggia de Porto Verde.

I went back to Italy last summer, this time with my boyfriend and parents. We spent three weeks in various locations throughout Tuscany at the request of my father who has been dreaming of an Italian vacation for a long time. I was more than happy to oblige.

Aside from all the obvious reasons like beautiful landscapes, architecture, food, and people, I keep returning to Italy because I feel at home there. I have lived in Buenos Aires–off and on, an average of 7 to 8 months of the year–for six years now. While Argentina speaks Spanish, there is a massive Italian influence on the culture. Many Argentines are aware of and vocal about their Italian heritage. You’ll see and hear the word nonna everywhere if you keep an eye out for it, which means grandmother in Italian.

I have visited both Italy and Spain, and to me, Argentina feels much more like Italy.

The rhythm and cadence to Castellano, the Argentine breed of Spanish, mimics Italian. Italian aperitifs and digestifs are hugely popular (think Fernet, Aperol, Campari, and Cynar). Argentines drink more Fernet Branca than any other country outside Italy. Their dark hair, light skin, and frenetic hand gestures are more reminiscent of an Italian than a Spaniard. Barrio corners are populated with fresh pasta stores, cafes spilling onto the sidewalks, and men catcalling women. Everyone smokes. No one will rush you through your meal. Despite the bustling energy of Buenos Aires as the second largest metropolitan area in South America, la dolce vita can be felt in a million little ways every day if you open yourself up to it.

Photo courtesy of Lauti Sourigues
Photo courtesy of Lauti Sourigues

And much like southern Italy, many processes/institutions don’t function super efficiently. Unions and fútbol are the religions of the Porteños (people of Buenos Aires), while Catholicism presides outside the metro area. I could go on and on about the city that has become a part of who I am, but I think this post was supposed to be about Italy…

But really, who can tell the difference?

While in Tuscany last (northern hemisphere) summer, my boyfriend and I conversed with locals in our Italian lilting Spanish and they spoke to us in the mother tongue. Not every detail was understood but conversations proceeded nonetheless. I find the simultaneous warmth and drama of both countries’ peoples incredibly endearing.

Photo courtesy of Sorcha O'Higgins
Photo courtesy of Sorcha O’Higgins

Below are the highlights, my top recommendations, of the three weeks we spent in Tuscany. Apologies for the delay, but better late than never! Warning: Do not read hungry. This is about Italy for god’s sake. Today I’ll talk about our time spent around Florence, and a bit about the drive south towards Pienza which was our second destination. Part II will cover Pienza and the surrounding area and finally Monte Argentario, a low-key stunner of an island off the southern Tuscan coast.

Florence Area

We spent the first portion of our trip at Fatorria di Maino, a hotel on a working olive oil farm in the hills overlooking Florence. Technically the property is located between Florence and Fiesole, a 10 minute drive from each and a strategic location if you want a little more peace and quiet than the tourist mecca of Florence. There is a quick bus line you can take down into the city if you don’t rent a car.

Fattoria di Maino, in the hills north of Florence

Fattoria di Maino was an ideal place to begin, as everything was easy and it gave us space to unwind after the international trip. Not such an affair for me, but my parents don’t take long haul flights as often so I wanted them to have plenty of time to recover. We were all coming from South Carolina, our flight scheduled for the same day the state was evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Florence. Needless to say, it wasn’t the smoothest send off. And no, the irony of evacuating Florence for Florence was not lost on my dad who joked about it the rest of the trip. Gotta love dad jokes.

With the pool’s gorgeous views and a pretty good restaurant (order the caccio e pepe!) you don’t really need to leave to enjoy yourself. Fattoria di Maino is a huge property with old farmhouses restored into charming individual apartments. These are old buildings, so don’t expect the Ritz Carlton. I thought ours was very comfortable, with two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, an indoor living area and a large outdoor table for dining.

The staff was friendly and helpful. The front desk concierge was actually from Buenos Aires so Withers and I spoke Spanish with her for extra brownie points.

Walking distance of Fattoria di Maino are a couple places I would go back to if I was ever in the area again. One was the Trattoria Le Cave di Maiano. Tuscany is known for its beef, and this place did not disappoint.

One of my top gelato picks of the trip was at Gelateria Bella Blue Cave di Maianao, just a few more minutes walk up the street from the Trattoria.

Fiesole, a cute little town worth walking around in, is a 10 minute drive from Fattoria di Maino. The best low budget item I ate the entire trip, that honestly shocked me it was so tasty, was a porchetta wrap from the food cart in the middle of the square in Fiesole. I inhaled it so no photo was taken. It was my first time trying porchetta, and if you’re a sucker for flavorful, fatty meat, you will love it too. According to Wikipedia this is how porchetta, a pork roast, is made: “The carcass is deboned, arranged carefully, stuffed with liver, wild fennel, all fat and skin still on spitted, and/or roasted, traditionally over wood for 8+ hours. Porchetta is usually heavily salted in addition to being stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, or other herbs, often wild.” As this was the beginning of the trip, I tried ordering it a few more times while in Italy but never found one as good or as cheap as the one from the food cart in the Fiesole square.

Below are more places to eat in Florence, not all of which I tried but were recommended to me by a sommelier friend of mine from Buenos Aires who is a Florence regular (and whose palette I trust):

Headed South

From Florence we drove south towards Sienna through Chianti on a series of winding, scenic roads. We stopped for lunch at a place called Ristoro Di Lamole, which I had high expections for going in as had ben recommended to me by a good friend who said it was her favorite restaurant in Tuscany. I have to say it might be mine as well (tied for first place with x in Pienza, more on that to come). At the top of a vineyard laced mountain, Ristoro Di Lamole has fantastic views, fantastic service, and fantastic food.

The view from Ristoro Di Lamole
The view from Ristoro Di Lamole

I was delighted because in my experience, you compromise great food for a view, and that was not the case this place. The detail-oriented and kind service was icing on the f#(&!^@ delicious cake.

I would eat this truffle pasta every DAY if I could. And be fat and happy.
I would eat this truffle pasta every DAY if I could. And be fat and happy.
House made limoncello
House made limoncello

I remember what each of us ordered here because each plate was unforgettable. Mine was the fresh truffle pasta pictured above, Withers had a citrus pork dish, my dad had wild boar ragout over fresh pasta, and my mother had a veggie ragout over fresh pasta. The tiramisu was everything you’d expect, the wine list comprehensive, and the limoncello was refreshing and free.

Now, have a great weekend and go cook some Italian food!

Part II Coming Soon…

…and no, not in four months which is how long it took me to write this 😉

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