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Base in Tuscany for Foodies with Young Kids

Base in Tuscany for Foodies with Young Kids

May 20th, 2009, 10:37 PM
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Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 434
Base in Tuscany for Foodies with Young Kids

Hi there,

I trying to figure out where to base my family during the Tuscany portion of a trip to Italy. We will probably visit Italy for 2-3 weeks, stay about a week in a city (Venice, Florence or Rome) and then head to Tuscany for a week or so. We'll probably go in September 2010 and will be traveling with our twins, who will be around 3 1/2 at the time.

I'd like a base In Tuscany that is in a beautiful setting in or near a town that is not too big, and that is well situated to exploring the area. I've never been to Tuscany (except Florence) and want to both relax and explore at a leisurely pace. However, my husband and I are foodies and one of the things we love the most about Italy is the food and eating out. So, I want to stay someplace close to good restaurants. We will probably rent an apartment or villa. Any suggestions on where to base?

Also, if there are any guidebooks that you think would help me, I'd appreciate that information too.

Thank you!

daria is offline  
May 20th, 2009, 11:47 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
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Now that I live in Italy I feel ever more strongly the best food to eat in Italy is not in restaurants -- or eating out -- but what's cooked for you by a single cook where you are staying -- which argues for finding a wonderful agriturismo with a wonderful cook.

The culture of eating out in Italy is much different than in the US or in France. Italy has a great food tradition, but not really a great restaurant culture, although you will find good and even great restaurants all over italy. With two small children in tow (who will be welcome wherever yo eat), you might very much appreciate having some cook family meals for you.

Most people find the touristed wine areas of Chianti and the environs of Montalcino (the val d'Orcia) to their liking scenically, with le Crete Sinese (one of my favorites) being only slightly less popular and touristed. I urge to also consider the Maremma, which is quite beautiful and has many lovely agriturismos, and in particular to take a look at area in the vicinity of the town of Montemerano.

When you describe yourselves as "foodies," it's unclear if you want a lot of novelty in your eating and inventive cuisine, or whether you want to taste the classic traditions of Toscana, classically prepared by native cooks. People don't like to hear it, but in the most popular tourist destinations, restaurant menus and dishes have been adjusted to for commercial reasons, to please non-Italians -- which isn't to say it isn't delicious. It's just moved away from being the classic Tuscan cuisine, which can be delicious as well.

If you want an education in Tuscan cuisine (or any regional Italian cuisine), that also argues for having someone prepare your meals, start to finish, with day-fresh ingredients, rather than picking items off a menu. You will have plenty of opportunities to go to restaurants for lunch. I would make your dinner meal at an agriturismo.

Also be aware that it will be impossible to get served dinner in a good restaurant until 8pm at the earliest. Another argument for having dinner in the agriturismo is that your kids can be in bed while you eat.
zeppole is offline  
May 21st, 2009, 03:07 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
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I have to say I disagree with the first poster on this subject, although they have a small point. Italy is a wonderful food culture and though some places to eat are better than others, the majority are excellent. Ask an Italian what the most important ingredient in cooking is and they will tell you it is the 'passion'. In most parts of the world, the answer would usually be '...do you want fries with that?'. I would not even bother web searching for good places to eat, go to Italy and ask the locals where they suggest. You will find authentic places to eat, obviously always avoid anywhere that has a tourist menu in the window! Its not hard to avoid these sorts of places, just dont eat next to the main tourist sites in any city and you will be fine as this is where they are to be found! If you book a villa, I would suggest a private chef. The 'chef' may even be the housekeeper, but dont be afraid if there are no bells and whistles, it will still be a treat - you have local cuisine cooked perfectly by someone who knows how.
You mention you want to enjoy the country at a leisurely place, well the countryside is beautiful - pick an authentic villa to stay in, relax, shop at the markets and take your time picking the places to eat...
DanT99 is offline  
May 24th, 2009, 10:24 PM
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Thank you very much for the insightful replies!

We are foodies merely in the sense that we are love to cook, eat, go to restaurants, read about food, eat good quality food, and appreciate food. We are highly motivated by these interests in our travel, and the food in Italy has dazzled us in the past. I have found that, in Italy, generally, we have most enjoyed the Mom & Pop restaurants and those recommended by locals above the fancy ones given the most stars in guidebooks. And, that is the type of eating we would like to do on this trip. The more authentic the better. So, I definitely appreciate the suggestion to look into an agruturismo, and will do so.

Thank you also zeppole, for the advice about where to base.

I would love more suggestions about where to base. One more thing I forgot to mention: since we will have little ones with us, I don't think a town that is too hilly would be the best this time.

Thank you!
daria is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 07:28 AM
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I suggest San Quirico as a great centro base location. The most authentic you can get wihtout tons of tourists and totally flat. Look at Casa Lemmi.
bobthenavigator is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 08:19 AM
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For little kids, Montefioralle http://www.montefioralle.info is a paradise - no cars much, amazing castellated village to run free in, located hlafway between Florence and Siena. For their foodie parents, while there are restaurants in nearby Greve, they are overpriced, and you will want to go to the country restaurants all around - one of the best is in a tiny village named, strangely enough, Piazza. There is a fairly expensive but excellent restaurant in Lamole with a truly dramtic view.
toscoman is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 09:16 AM
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If you don't want hills, and want authentic food, some places to consider for visits are Lucca and Pistoia, and thus look for a agriturismo in that area (i.e, around, Lucca, Camaiore, and around Pisa, also flat), many which have beautiful views and a wider variety of food. Also, the town of Montemerano is a foodie destination, with three or four highly regarded restaurants (including one with Michelin stars). It's a car free village with hot springs and other attractions nearby. An agriturismo near there, with an apartment with cooking facilities and a restaurant, might be ideal with small children.

In the area of the val d'Orcia, which includes San Quirico, Montepulciano, Pienza, etc., if you want authentic Tuscan or even Italian food, you really have to get away from recommendations from tourists and guidebooks -- and even then without a dedicated agriturismo, you are going to find it very hard to find menus and wine that haven't been reworked fundamentally for the tourist trade.

Also, be careful of recommendations for hilltowns that are flat on top, but otherwise require you to park downhill and walk up steep hills to get to the flat tops. The town of Lucignano in not a climb, and has authentic charms, and is almost unknown. That's true in general of the towns around Asciano, in the val di Chiania.

But when you decided you wanted to revisit Toscana but go to the countryside, was there are particular kind of experience you were seeking -- or trying to avoid? The val d'Orcia has unusually beautiful farmland, but its hilltowns have become tourist preserves, and its wine-making changed for export. The Chianti area has many almost kitschy places to avoid -- on the other hand, true Chianti wine is quite a treat. The environs of car-free Lucca have a unique and rich cuisine, which Lucchese can be almost fanatical about preserving those traditions. Lucca gets quite a few tourists these days -- and can by very muggy early in September.

Good luck trying to pick!
zeppole is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 09:31 AM
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Well, there you have it!
Maybe you should just forget Tuscany--it seems it has all been spoiled by the tourists. I should have known.
bobthenavigator is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 09:57 AM
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If you define Tuscany the parts of the val d'Orica you mentioned were mobbed with tourists and warned against in your post, who can disagree?

Fortunately, Toscana has loads of agriturismi and towns beyond the val d'Orcia and Chianti that most tourists bypass on their stampede to "Tuscany."
zeppole is offline  
May 25th, 2009, 10:07 AM
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I have a large file on southern Tuscany that is too big to post but if you e-mail me I will send it. [email protected]

Henry is offline  
May 26th, 2009, 10:24 PM
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Oh, thank you all so much! Before I had twins 2 1/2 years ago, I used this site religiously to help plan my trips, and this is the reason why. I so appreciate all of your assistance. bobthenavigator, I'm sure you don't remember me, but you've helped me plan trips to Italy before. So, I value your advice tremendously!

In response to your question zeppole, when I decided to plan this trip, I wasn't 100% sure exactly what I wanted (other than good food), having not been to this area before. But, I thought it would be nice to be near a smallish town, in a beautiful setting (meaning lovely countryside), not too far from restaurants and located someplace from which we could take day trips. Although we love wine, I have found wine tasting with the little ones to be pointless, mainly because I can't focus the way I would like.

Well, thank you again to all. I will absolutely look into all of your suggestions!
daria is offline  
May 27th, 2009, 06:40 AM
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I do recall, Daria.
Here are some rural places near the villages of either San Quirico or Pienza--my favorite location in Tuscany for exploring by car.
www.cretaiole.it Good for families
www.fontebertusi.it Not sure about less than a week

Hope this helps !
bobthenavigator is offline  
May 27th, 2009, 10:47 AM
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If you're not going to be wine tasting, you may not feel like staying in Chianti or Brunello hilltowns.

I have to say, if it wasn't for your lovely countryside requirement, i'd suggest Emiglia-Romagna, which has lovely countryside but less than Tuscany (but lots of flat towns!) but it definitely has the better food.
zeppole is offline  
Jul 8th, 2014, 09:34 AM
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Posts: 420
bookmarking this for myself...great ideas here!
europhile is offline  
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