Written by Arlene Harris for the Mail on Sunday
Arelene Harris explores Pisa, Florence and the food of Tuscany discovering the best sandwich shop in the world!
Our Tuscan Adventure
Famed for its architectural and historical significance, ARLENE HARRIS discovers the Italian countryside also offers fun for all the family Tuscany, by its very name, conjures up images of rolling hills, brilliant sunshine,
lush vineyards and rustic farmhouses – and in reality, the region is just as pleasing. Although I had visited Florence and Pisa as a young backpacker, I had never ventured into the Tuscan countryside, so was keen to see if it lived up to its reputation.
Arriving in Florence by train, my family and I take a local bus to the village of Bacciano, a half hour drive outside the city. Travelling by public transport is a fantastic way to get a feel for a place as despite all the hauling around of baggage, it really puts you at the heart of the community as only the natives seem to travel this way – plus the idea of negotiating a hire car around the hectic Florentine streets is the stuff of nightmares.
We’re booked to stay in Villa le Botti, a beautiful farmhouse in the hills, conveniently situated right in the middle of the Frescobaldi Castiglioni vineyard – the location couldn’t be more perfect.
After a half-hour walk from the sleepy village down a dusty country lane, the silence broken only by bird song, snippets of rapid- re Italian from open doors and gardens dotted along the way, and the surprisingly loud chorus of cicadas, our stunning villa comes into view.
Privately owned but managed by Tuscany Now & More, the old farmhouse is beautifully maintained – with lush gardens, bougainvillea covered walls and a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Inside the heavy wooden door, the villa is deliciously cool and we’re momentarily stunned by its comfort, size and the wonderful feeling of it being a home from home.
The house comfortably sleeps 12 so the kids spread out and nab a bedroom each – complete with en-suite – and then set about exploring all the ancient nooks and crannies, including a reading tower, which proves to be the perfect place to escape the midday sun.
We spend the rest couple of days lounging by the pool and not venturing further than the local village for supplies – but knowing that the week will fly by if we don’t introduce some sort of structure, we make plans to explore the region.
First on the agenda is a day trip to Pisa. Taking the bus from Bacciano to Florence and then a train for the rest of the journey, the trip takes around an hour and a half – which isn’t much more than it would have taken us by car and we arrive just in time for mid-morning coffee and pastries. In comparison to Florence and Rome, Pisa is a relatively quiet place – sure there are tourists milling about, but it has a really relaxed feel about it and no-one seems to be in too much of a hurry…