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Under the Tuscan Sun

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

I know, I know. Not a very original title, but so fitting for this post. We’ve spent several incredible days in the heart of Tuscany, experiencing a slower pace of life, surrounded by beauty, fine wine, great food, and even greater friendships.

We rented a villa that could accommodate many of our friends with the hope of sharing this experience with those willing and able to join us. In turn, we’ve been given more precious memories too numerous to count. So thankful for this group of travel-loving friends.

I have neglected the blog for a few days to focus on being present and in the moment. I often struggle with this, so it takes intentionality at times for me. Well, that and I was just plain exhausted and didn’t feel like writing.

Tuesday featured a cooking (and eating!) experience with Silvio and Manuela at Organic Tuscany. Half of our group signed up to attend the cooking class, and the other half signed up to only join them in eating their creations! Located in a small village near San Gimignano, we decided to start our afternoon there.


San Gimignano is another highlight of Tuscany. Just walking the narrow streets of this medieval town is a treat. Known as the “town of fine towers,” San Gimignano has 14 remaining towers of its original 72, for this town that was likely founded in the 6th century (although some historians date it back even earlier). Today, its charming streets and main Piazza della Cisterna are idyllic to this part of Italy.

After making our way through this lovely town, stopping for a gelato from the prized and world champion Gelateria Dondoli (a must if you find yourself in San Gimignano), and a glass of wine at the Divinorum Wine Bar, we joined our sous chef friends at Organic Tuscany for dinner.

Our friends learned how to prepare and cook several classic Tuscan dishes that we all thoroughly enjoyed. Our menu included crostini with Tuscan sausage and stracchino cheese for the appetizer, spinach and cheese ravioli with Pomodoro sauce for the first course, a bonus dish of fettuccine with green beans and pesto, and a main course of Tuscan-style roast pork. As if we needed more deliciousness, dessert was an apple tart with almond frangipane butter!

Chefs Manuela and Silvio teach from their apartment in a tower of a 16th century villa outside the small town of Tavernelle. Seeing this charming apartment alone was an experience! If you find yourself in Italy, make your way to Organic Tuscany for a day of cooking (or even a week - they offer full cooking classes).

Our plan for Wednesday was to hit the Siena local market early and then join a tour of this gorgeous Tuscan town, including its spectacular cathedral. For most of our group, that’s exactly what we did. Some of us, however, elected to sleep in and enjoy the pool and our lovely villa for the day. I chose the latter! After relaxing poolside, we ventured into Greve and had lunch in the main Piazza Matteotti, then returned to our pool for a much-needed respite from the crowded streets that envelope Italy in the summer.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Siena. In fact, we have considered booking a week in this town alone (and hopefully will someday). You can’t miss the history of their Palio di Siena, walk this hilly town, or take in the majestic Duomo di Siena. Add it to your list if you’ve never been.

We arose early and made our way to Florence, the cultural center of Italy (and perhaps the Western world!). I truly love this city and could visit it on every trip. It was a terribly hot day, a national holiday, and the streets were full of tourists and locals. Yet, it was still a day to remember. Why, because I got to see my love once again…but more on that later!

We began our private tour with Silvia at the famous Ufizzi Gallery. Commissioned in the 1500s by Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, the building itself was first the administrative offices for government. Portions of it were converted to a gallery in the late 1500s. Today, the gallery contains an incredible collection of ancient sculptures and paintings dating back to the Middle Ages. It’s most known, however, for its collection of art from the Renaissance period, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Raffaello, and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo’s only panel painting, “Doni Tondo.”

We took in the incredible views of the famous Ponte Vecchio, built around 966 AD, and was the only bridge across the Arno River until the early 1200s. Once housing the town’s butcher and cheese shops, it now features gold jewelers.

We spent the afternoon taking in the various angles and views of the overwhelmingly large and ornate Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Its iconic octagonally shaped Duomo is a masterpiece and the largest masonry dome in the world without a supporting structure. After he designed and had it built, architect Filippo Brunelleschi threw away his calculations and plans so that no one could replicate it.

Equally impressive is the Baptistery of San Giovanni, with its octagonal shape and distinct walls of white Carrara and green Prato marble stripes.

We walked through the leather market and visited the Mercato Centrale, but the first floor food vendors were closed due to the holiday. We found ourselves, instead, at Trattoria Zaza. My tortellini with ham and truffle cream sauce was one of the best tasting dishes so far on this trip – that is saying something!

Of course, I saved the best for last. Upon seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze for the first time 10 years ago, I wept. Ten years later, I wept again. I just cannot fathom creating this magnificent work of art, with such realistic details as veins and muscles, from a piece of Carrara marble – a single piece no less! Please do not miss seeing this masterpiece if you find yourself in Florence.

We returned to the villa, where we were treated to the most incredible meal that our resident chefs Mark and Kim just threw together with what we had available: fresh tomatoes with pesto, Cacio Pepé, spicy green beans, a charcuterie display, cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Yeah, they just whipped this up – incredible meal with incredible friends. Oh, and we may have toasted the Queen more than once!

We ended this spectacular day sitting outside, listening to great music (shout out to Becca’s “adult party” playlist!), enjoying friendships both old and new, and soaking in the most amazing sunset imaginable. The image doesn’t even do it justice (but comes close)!

Today, we are relaxing poolside. Chuck and Kathy left this morning for Amalfi, and Jeff leaves late this evening for Rome. Tonight, we are eating at a local restaurant near our villa.

Until next time, Caio!

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