Six months working as a chef in Chianti taught me that much of the food we think of as Italian is in fact Tuscan – and you only have to ask a native to realise how significant a distinction that is in their country. Home to some of the country’s most prized olive oil, revered wines and best loved dishes – wild boar ragù, chicken liver crostini, panzanella, bistecca alla Fiorentina, pappa al pomodoro – a few days in the Tuscan hills can be gastronomic heaven. It may not be an original holiday destination, but with incredible cuisine, very drinkable local wine and stunning surroundings to enjoy them in, I return to the Tuscan sun at every given opportunity.
As in the rest of Italy, one would struggle to find a truly disappointing meal in Tuscany – there are too many humble trattorias dishing up delicious pasta to mention. With these restaurants, I’ve pulled out the ones that offer something especially extraordinary.
Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Via XX Luglio 11, Panzano in Chianti
Thanks to the Chef’s Table series on Netflix, Dario Cecchini’s humble butchers shop in the small hilltop village of Panzano has become a Mecca for foodies everywhere. Upstairs he runs a shared table dining experience, Menu del Macellaio, the butcher’s menu : six courses of meat, seasonal vegetables and local wine. Go hungry or you’ll live to regret it.
Menus start at 30€ including wine.
Osteria di Passignano
Via Passignano 33, Badia a Passignano
Set in the nineteenth-century cellars of the Marquises of Antinori (one of Tuscany’s oldest families and makers of excellent wine), this Michelin-starred osteria stands alongside Passignano Abbey, a fourth century building still inhabited by Vallombrosian monks. Exquisite seasonal menu, executed with the best local ingredients – stoneground, organic Tuscan wheat, Cinta Senese pigs raised on the Antinori family estate at Bruciato.
Tasting menu at 90€ or 140€ with wine pairing
Via Montefioralle 2, Greve in Chianti
Home to the man after whom America is named (Amerigo Vespucci), Montefioralle is a charming medieval hamlet perched on a hill between Panzano and Greve. Spare all of five minutes needed to walk around the town and then take a seat on the terrace, which offers an incredible view across the Chianti hills. Their rich wild boar ragù with silky homemade pappardelle would be my choice.
Tours & Tastings
What makes Tuscan food so memorable comes down to the quality of the raw ingredients. If you find yourself wondering what makes a simple antipasto at the River Café so very memorable, it’s in part due to the fact that they’re bringing in cheese, oils and produce straight from Tuscany. Whilst you’re here, take the chance to step behind the scenes and uncover the craftsmanship that goes into making these unforgettable larder essentials.
Castello di Volpaia
53017 Radda in Chianti
Step behind the pass at the River Café, Jamie’s Fifteen or Petersham Nurseries and you’ll find Volpaia vinegar in the larder. Take a guided tour around the beautifully preserved 11th century fortified village and enjoy a tasting of world-renowned vinegars, olive oil and wine. There’s an excellent restaurant run by the same family overlooking the medieval main square.
Podere Il Casale
Via Podere Il Casale 64, 53026 Pienza
Sandra and Ulisse are the makers of award-winning raw sheep’s milk cheeses. For almost thirty years they’ve been farming organically on the gentle hills in the Val D’Orcia region – recognised by UNESCO as a area of outstanding beauty. Come for a cheesemaking demonstration and stay for lunch in their beautiful restaurant. A truly incredible place, run by a couple whose dedication to tradition, flavour and craftsmanship is evident in everything they do.
Via del Chianti 101, Castelnuovo Berardenga 53019
To be chosen as the River Café’s ‘house’ olive oil, there has to be something pretty spectacular about Fèlsina’s pressings. Since 2001, the family have been running the ‘Veronelli Oil Project’: following the same philosophy of terroir used for wine – and they make exceptional Chianti Classico, too. Take a jeep tour through the groves and vines, before sitting down to a tasting of all of the produce from the farm – oils, wines, vegetables and homemade charcuterie. On request, their cook Antonella can prepare a private meal to round off the day.
Vineyard and farm tours start at 15 euros
Wine & Vines
From Super Tuscans to straw-wrapped Chianti bottles, the region has plenty to offer by way of wine tasting. Set aside some space in your suitcase and spend an afternoon learning more about which grape varieties would go best with your recently acquired recipe for ragù.
Cantina Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Via Cassia per Siena, 133 Loc. Bargino
The Antinori family have been making wine for over six centuries, with estates all over northern Italy. Ignore the smaller local winemakers’ disdain and take the Antinori nel Chianti Classico winery for what it is – an impressive monument to 26 generations of wine-making. Built entirely with locally-sourced materials, the building’s innovative architecture is a marked change from the traditional wineries you find dotted across Chianti. Well worth a visit, if only to learn more about this fascinating family.
Tours start at 35€
Fattoria Le Fonti
At the other end of the spectrum you have Le Fonti, a boutique winery owned by the Schmitt-Vitali family. A walk through the vines with Guido or Vicki will show you how much of their success is down to their own hard work and dedication to bottling the best wine that their biodynamic land can produce. From harvest to the final blend, it’s all down to their natural intuition and skill.
Tours from 10€
Vino al Vino Wine Festival
Panzano in Chianti
Panzano, a small town in the heart of Chianti, is home to the Viticoltori di Panzano, a group of 19 vineyards brought together by a dedication to biodynamic, organic wine-making. Each September the winemakers take over the town square to present their new Chianti Classico. A ticket gets you a proper wine glass with which to go around the stalls and chat to the winemakers themselves, before deciding whose offering you’ll pack into your suitcase. This is the spirit of Tuscany at its best, young and old brought together to celebrate their love for their produce and their region.
Occurs anually on the third weekend in September
On holiday I am forever asking waiters for recipes, scribbling notes on napkins and then trying to recreate that memorable mouthful in my grey London kitchen. Cut out the middleman and go straight to the source of inspiration – a Tuscan cookery school.
Piazza Bucciarelli 50, Panzano in Chianti
A small cookery school set up by the owners of Villa Bordoni, a boutique hotel down the hill in Greve. Classes are taught by their engaging, English-speaking chefs, elevating cucina povera to a more fine dining experience than you might find in other cookery schools. You’ll recreate the classic four course meal – antipasti, primo, secondo, dolce – as well as an introduction to Italian breadmaking, generously paired with wine from their own estate.
Prices start at 130€ for a half day class including dinner & wine
Tenuta di Spannocchia
Localita Spannocchia, 53012 Chiusdino
The primary mission of this thriving estate outside Siena is to serve as a model for sustainable, organic farming. Their farm to table cookery classes reflect this ethos and are centred on the simple but flavoursome Tuscan dishes you might find on a farmhouse table. Most ingredients come from their own vegetable gardens and animals.
Prices start at 35€ for a Pasta Making Class and 100€ for a Traditional Cookery Class
Borgo Santo Pietro
Loc. Palazzetto, 53012 Chiusdino
Both their Michelin-starred restaurant in Florence (Meo Modo) and the restaurant at the hotel are supplied entirely by the 230 acre organic farm at Borgo Santo Pietro. Cheese is made on site using milk from their own sheep, honey from their hives and chickens forage beneath their century old pear trees. Taught by the restaurant’s head chef, the Garden Gourmet class traces the journey from their biodynamic garden to the restaurant table. Traditional Tuscan Cooking is taught by Olga, a local cook who brings that sought-after nonna knowledge to the table.
Classes start from 95€ for a two hour course