If Italy can claim Europe’s most tempting cuisine, Tuscany is both its larder and its inspiration. This sun-drenched, vine-lined region is rich in slices of culinary heaven. Which makes it ripe for self-guided gourmet explorations. We’ve cherry-picked the best food and drink experiences so you can cook up your very own Tuscan foodie road trip.
Hunt for truffles near San Miniato
Throughout the year the medieval hill town of San Miniato between Pisa and Florence is a fantastic destination for Slow Food fans. Delicious produce to sample includes the tangy local goat's cheese known as formaggio di capra delle colline di San Miniato, meltingly tender Chianina beef and platters piled-high with cinta senese (indigenous Tuscan pork). But come mid-October, the townspeople have just one thing on their minds – white truffles. The truffle hunting season sees skillful locals deploying even more skillful dogs to snuffle and sniff out fragrant knobs of fungus from amid the roots of gnarled oak trees.
Get on the scent yourself on a truffle-hunting trip at Barbialla Nuova, a 500-hectare biodynamic farmstay 20km south of San Miniato. Stride beside the dogs, examine just-dug-out dirt and delight in the thrill of the hunt. Then leave with your very own-found pungent nugget of delight, to be shaved over other locally sourced treats.
Aperitivi and steak in Florence
Head east to food-obsessed Florence where aperitivi (pre-dinner drinks) are akin to a sacrosanct ritual. In fact, the complementary snacks that come with your tipple have become so copious that some smart locals are feasting on them instead of a main meal. The aperitivi scene is thriving and changeable, but spots to sip and graze in style include understated Le Volpi e l’Uva, hipster Volume and plush Noir.
If you don’t like beef bloody and blue, look away now. As that, really, is the only way to savour Florence’s iconic, chargrilled, T-boned steak: bistecca alla fiorentina. These immense slabs of prime Chianina-breed loin have a legendary status, thanks to a centuries-old tradition and a reputation as a former rebel (beef-on-the-bone was banned temporarily by the European Union in the 2000s). The best place in Florence to eat it? The bustling, shared tables of Trattoria Mario.
Chianti wineries, innovative and ancient
Chianti – the name alone conjures a glass of rich red and a horizon full of vines. Thankfully, the reality echoes the dream, as you’ll discover driving the picturesque Via Chiantigiana south from Florence. Here countless wineries shelter amid rounded hills and people talk solemnly of wine having a soul. No wonder: wine has shaped the region’s heritage, landscape and identity.
But in Chianti, past tradition also meets present innovation. Explore this duality with the Antinori family – they've been wine-making since 1385, but more recently created the uber-high-tech Antinori winery. Guided tours lead into a stunningly sculptural architectural masterpiece, past cutting-edge oenological equipment and dimly lit, barrel-filled rooms. They finish with a tutored tasting of three Antinori wines – often a citrusy Castello della Sala, a chocolatey Peppoli Chianti Classico and the intense, fruity Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva.
Farmhouse cooking lessons near Volterra
Tuscany’s bucolic back-roads wind south past outstanding restaurants delivering dishes piled high with local produce; expect cinghiale (wild boar), fragrant finocchiona (fennel-spiced sausage), sweet oven-baked red onions, modern takes on the rich miniestra di pane (bread and bean soup) and hundreds of types of pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), ranging from fresh and mild to flavourful and aged; with pecorino di tartufo (cheese infused with black-truffle shavings) perhaps the cream of that crop.
Dining highlights include elegant Osteria di Passignano near Greve in Chianti, classy Ristorante Albergaccio, near Castellina in Chianti, and Panzano in Chianti’s bustling, innovative Dario DOC, with its uber-modern take on Tuscan cuisine.
Next, perfect your cooking skills at the Podere San Lorenzo, a tranquil farmhouse near Volterra. Top home-chef Mariana will guide you through making olive oil, creating pasta and perfecting Tuscan-style desserts and vegetables (picked fresh from the garden). Then sit down with your coursemates to eat your creations in the farms’ converted 12th-century chapel.
Take the Etruscan coastal road of wine and olive oil
Cooking lesson done, continue southwest towards the Etruscan coast, stopping off en route at Bolgheri. This tiny walled medieval town punches way above its culinary weight thanks to the locally produced Super Tuscan Sassicaia. One of Italy’s most highly regarded red wines, you may detect notes of liquorice, cassis and exotic fruits amid its ruby depths. Sample it, plus feasts of fennel-flecked salami, tangy cheese and tomato-topped bruschetta at Enotica Tognoni. If you’d like to linger, check into the nearby Castello di Bolgheri to chill out in apartments beside olive groves – and get a free tour of their olive oil farm and winery.
Next take La Strada del Vino e dell’Olio (lastradadelvino.com), via more hill towns and extraordinary views, to the idyllic island of Elba. Agriturismo Due Palme, an enchanting farm presided over by the equally charming Fabrizio, makes the only olive oil on Elba that has been awarded the prestigious IGP stamp. Taste it for yourself, as you lounge beside your own converted farm workers’ cottage, surrounded by centuries-old olive trees and orange and lemon groves.
Fine wine in Montalcino, Montepulciano and Sorano
Back on the mainland, one of Italy’s premier wine regions beckons. The hills around the walled town of Montalcino produce the mighty Brunello. Check into the sumptuous Il Palazzo then sip this hefty, world famous red at inviting Osticcio – perhaps while eating a creamy risotto studded with hazelnuts, red chicory and taleggio cheese.
Next it’s east to another classic Tuscan wine town: Montepulciano whose steep, cobbled streets snake up to age-old wine cellars where vaulted brick walls frame towering barrels, and staff are itching to swap tasting notes. Two of the most evocative are Cantina del Redi and Cantine Contucci.
End your road trip still further south near Sorano at Sant’Egle, one of Tuscany’s finest organic agriturismi (farmhouses). Along with rustic-chic rooms, an utterly peaceful location and a pint-sized pool, you’ll get engaging cooking instruction on cheese and bread making, and a wealth of time-honoured Tuscan recipes using golden-yoked organic eggs, hand-rolled pasta and field-fresh veg. The best bit? Eating your creations, clustered around a farmhouse kitchen table dotted with bottles, to the sound of laughter, along-side your new-found friends.