“The Tuscan countryside whizzed by in a kaleidoscopic whirl of shapes and colors. Green grass and trees melded with blue sky, purple and yellow wildflowers, peachy-orange villas, brown-and-grey farmhouses, and the occasional red-and-white Autogrill, Italy’s (delicious) answer to fast food.”
― Jenny Nelson, Georgia’s Kitchen
It seems unreal, but we did it – we moved to Tuscany. After living in London for three years, we decided to change our lifestyle and move into the Tuscan countryside.
The first idea was to live close to the sea (province of Grosseto), but after a long search online, we realised it was easier to rent a house in other parts of the region. We found a fantastic stone house in the Chianti area that is a part of a condominio. That means we have a few neighbours around; each of us has a separate entrance and own garden, but we share a parking area, a swimming pool, and some outdoor space.
I am sure you must have seen these big farmhouses dotted all around Tuscany. They are usually enormous and divided into smaller houses, but they form one condominium.
The area we live in is called Chianti, and it’s famous for its vineyards, hills, and wine. However, Tuscany is not only hills and fields; the landscape varies greatly, which is great as everyone can find something for themselves. This region is one of the most popular for expats to move to after Lazio or Lombardy. Tuscany has an outstanding coastline, lovely beaches, rolling hills, mountains, 120 protected nature reserves and many beautiful towns.
The region is famous for its food, wine and olive oil. Tuscan cuisine emphasises fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients. Some ingredients are unique to Tuscany which are worth trying, such as cavolo nero – black cabbage, cipolla di Certaldo – Certaldo onion, pomodoro costoluto fiorentino – Florentine tomato. However, the staple ingredients are beans, which you can find in many local dishes. This cuisine is based on cucina povera (cooking of the poor or peasant cooking), meaning no waste, and the ability to transform humble ingredients into real flavoured dishes.
An interesting fact; typical Tuscan bread (pane sciocco) a large, crusty loaf is baked without salt. It is added to salads like panzanella, and plays a vital part of soups like acquacotta, ribollita and pappa al pomodoro.
Tuscany is a land of meat-eaters – mainly beef and pork and wild game like hare and boar. You will find bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) and arista di maiale (seasoned and roasted pork loin) among the popular meat dishes. Wild boar meat is ubiquitous in pasta sauces (pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale) and also served with polenta.
When it comes to street food, you can try sandwiches stuffed with trippa (tripe) or lampredotto (the fourth stomach of a cow, braised with onion, celery and parsley) in Florence.
In Tuscany, you will find an excellent selection of cheese – best known Pecorino, and some cured meats like salami with fennel seeds. As for pasta – pici is the most typical type – thick, hand-rolled pasta, like fat spaghetti. The popular desserts of this region are Castagnaccio – a unique Tuscan cake made with chestnut flour. Another sweet is Panforte – a thick, sticky cake flavoured with almonds, honey, candied fruit and spices.
Tuscan cuisine is simply delicious, and I would recommend sticking with local dishes, as in any other region. So don’t look for pizza or risotto but focus on regional delicacies.
If you wish to find an international restaurant, usually they are situated in bigger cities like Florence or Pisa. Forget about them in the countryside and smaller villages. Saying that, we love eating Italian food, but occasionally we cook international dishes like Mexican fajitas, Thai curries and Chinese stir-fries. It is a challenge to find ingredients, especially in the Chianti region. Some supermarkets sell Asian noodles, coconut milk, tortillas, etc., but you won’t find anything more. We are still on a hunt for a good sushi place, probably in Siena, so let’s see how this one turns out.
Let’s move on to the cultural aspect of Tuscany – Florence, the town known as the Cradle of the Renaissance. Florence – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers magnificent architecture and priceless artworks. It was one of the most influential and wealthy cities in Tuscany during the Renaissance era. Florence is like one big live museum, where in each corner you can find a marvellous building or a beautiful statue. We love exploring off the beaten paths of the city and less known neighbourhoods.
There are countless other Tuscan towns and villages to see. Some of them still untouched by mass tourism like Arezzo. During autumn and winter (taking the best of the low season), we drove around and visited many beautiful places like Cortona, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Pienza, and San Quirico d’Orcia. We tried local wine, visited markets and tiny shops, and immersed ourselves in the local atmosphere. It was amazing to see them crowd-free and enjoy the sites for yourself.
As a region, Tuscany is one of the more expensive places to live and buy a house in Italy. It is because of its association with tourism and enormous popularity among international buyers. As for renting, you can find a nice place at a reasonable cost. And you get here much more value for the price than in the UK and USA.
Tuscany is a safe place to live and has one of the best qualities of life in Europe. Local food is healthy, the climate is pleasant, and there are plenty of opportunities to stay outdoors.
You need to remember that a car is a must if you decide on a rural town, don’t expect there to be public transport connections.
In the beginning, it can be hard to make friends, especially locals ones. People are more reserved here than in Rome or southern Italy. To make friends, you’ll need to make some effort.
I have to admit that some of our neighbours did not give us a warm welcome. Then we met others and we found them much more friendly and chatty. But it took some time to establish this relation.
Also, the house we rented had lots of issues and things to fix, and the beginning of the Tuscan adventure was hard. We did not have gas for a few days, so there was no hot water. It took some time (exactly one month), many calls, emails and numerous visits from the handyman and plumber to put it all in order. But then, once all was sorted, we fell in love with the place.
We live among wildlife, woods, hills and vineyards (actually, it is a hunting area – riserva di caccia). Although being a hunting area means we need to be careful. The hunters come at certain times during the year and put the signs” hunting in progress” so you can’t go for a walk or run. One day they arrived so close to our house that our dog Cesar was getting crazy, barking at them and the hunting dogs.
However, on most occasions, it is so peaceful around. The tranquillity of this place hits you instantly, and the views are simply spectacular. Wandering around, we stumbled into wild boars, deers, mantis, pheasants, various birds and a bat that landed on our terrace.
Staying so close to nature makes a real difference. I noticed being calmer and more present. We enjoyed many walks in the woods and nearby hills and explored crete senesi and beautiful monasteries and churches. Weekends were filled with outdoor activities, and the weather permitted us to enjoy the surroundings. Usually, winter in Tuscany is cold. You can expect plenty of fog, rain, wind, and sometimes even snow from October to March. However, we were lucky as the winter was relatively mild and the temperatures pleasant.
Spring has arrived, together with some rain. We still have many places to visit, before the summer starts and the hot days. It is good to know that in Tuscany, it is not unusual for the temperature to hit 40 degrees in summer. That’s why the best time for visiting are spring and autumn. Summer is too hot to wander around and to do sightseeing; it is much wiser to enjoy the beach and swimming pool.
Overall we are thrilled with the change, although in the beginning was not easy. Tuscany is splendid and the same time, full of surprises.