I avoided visiting Italy for a long time. The Italian propaganda lurks from every corner: Italy is one of the most touristy destinations, everyone goes or has been to Italy, ”Italian” pizza is everywhere, there are famous Italian neighborhoods (Little Italy) around the world, literally, everything screams ITALY! in your face. We often eat pizza and pasta at home. Italy is so popular that it has become a kind of a classic. I visited Venice and Verona on a guided trip as a part of a European excursion when I was 16. Since then I avoid guided tours like vampires avoid garlic unless a tour is the only way to see the place – more on the topic another time. I’ve seen many pictures and agree that it’s a beautiful place. It just never attracted me. Until June 2017.
Where to go for a week in the summer? Somewhere we haven’t been to, a beautiful, delicious place bursting with history and stories… E. and I choose Tuscany. We both love art, dreamy landscapes, and pretty little side streets. Wine, pizza, pasta, and gelato are additional temptations. I anticipate the trip without being overly excited – I am convinced that I will like the place but be too impressed.
Visiting Southern Europe in summer is a challenge for those who don’t enjoy the heat. Guidebooks suggest that the best time to visit Tuscany is in the fall. Too late, we feel adventurous and pretend to ignore the oven heat.
Despite some opinions to skip Pisa, we add it to our Tuscan itinerary. So far, I have never seen any UNESCO World Heritage Site not worth visiting. We don’t take pictures of us pushing The Leaning Tower of Pisa (what a shame!). Unconditionally, the best part of Pisa is along the Arno river where one enjoys bridges and colorful views as a background. Tiny, colorful streets are also very pleasant to stroll.
Florence is nice but dirty and too touristy. It doesn’t win us over – we like the small towns of San Gimignano and Lucca more. The initial plan was to visit Siena as well, but the medieval festival during this time has closed off the city center and the famous piazza. Pity!
Small towns and villages look similar but each one has its own charm. I regret that none of us drives. It seems like the best way for town-hopping is by car if one wants to explore a bit further and off the beaten path. The trains and buses provide some connections but we quickly find out that this way of transportation is not the best option for more distant places.
This part of Italy has a very specific atmosphere. The feeling of artisanal craftsmanship is everywhere: from the small shops with local, often handmade products, to the gelaterias on every corner. Little vintage perfumeries selling handmade soaps and essential oils quickly catch my eye. The smell of Italian leather fills up the streets. A friendly signor insistently invites us to try his truffle pesto. Probably family-owned restaurants with vintage Italian interiors make you expect that pin-up girls will serve your food and drinks.
I secretly hope that ”real” Italian pizza tastes different and better. It does! There are no sophisticated combinations so typical for the pizza anywhere else, just simple pizzas with tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin oil (Neapolitan-style) or with salami. I’ve never expected that such simple alternatives would taste so good! Pizzas are cooked in stone ovens, often before your eyes.
I wonder aloud whether the tomatoes in the pasta dishes are from cans, just like probably in the rest of the world. My suspicions are quickly refuted: the tomatoes in my pasta are not only freshly cooked, they taste amazing! I don’t dare to have any more suspicions regarding the Tuscan cuisine. Not even when E. tries a pasta dish with lampredotto, a Florentine dish. The cheerful waitress assures us in advance that if he doesn’t like it, she will gladly change the dish. A very impressive gesture when you know what ”lampredotto” actually is. Not only doesn’t he faint or throw up, he actually enjoys it despite that he never eats such animal parts. I decide to not share the delight.
I not only liked Italy but (unexpectedly for me) I fell in love. With the small towns, the fragrances, the flavors, the romantic, rustic atmosphere of the Tuscan wine region. I’d like to come back in the fall to explore further. To discover and photograph even more mind-blowing landscapes. Clichés can be wonderful!
– Delicious and authentic food
– Amazing gelato
– Rustic and charming atmosphere
– Beautiful photographic opportunities
– Some areas are very touristy
– Exploring more distant towns is not very convenient for non-drivers
– With some exceptions, the arrogant attitude at museums. Even ”prego” (please, you are welcome) sounds pretentious and with high-self esteem.