When the fog rolls in over the undulating emerald fields of the Val d’Orcia, obscuring the tall cypress trees and medieval stone towers, time stands still. You cut into a thick steak, you sip a rich, bold super Tuscan, and breathe in the inviting Italian air, just as Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Dante Alighieri, Brunelleschi, and Puccini did. And you realize: they were onto something.
Tuscany has drawn tourists for centuries for a myriad of reasons. The Renaissance art, the world-famous wine, the charm of the medieval walled towns, the drives through the quaint countryside, the beaches on the Tyrrhenian Sea, or the inimitable Florentine cuisine, all deserve time and attention. But skip the throngs of tourists that swarm the area in the summer, and immerse yourself in the true Italian experience that is Tuscany in November.
Just strolling through the towns of Lucca, Pisa, and Siena, stepping into the beautiful churches, you’ll feel like you’re surrounded by art at all times. But a trip into the capital city of Florence is essential to visit the Uffizi to see such masterpieces as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and the Accademia Gallery for Michelangelo’s David. Not until you see this massive five-meter-tall statue in person do you understand its significance. The statue depicts biblical David just before his legendary battle with Goliath, which is evidenced by him holding a slingshot in his left hand and a rock in his right. As for Botticelli’s work, it’s interesting to note that The Birth of Venus is one of the first Tuscan paintings painted on canvas, at a time when most popular works were being painted on wood, like the Mona Lisa. November is a perfect time to visit these great works as you can skip the lines at both museums and avoid the crowds.
November marks the harvesting of olive oil — which is never as good as it is straight off the press. And it also marks the opening of the wild hare and boar season. So when you visit in November, you’re getting the best of the Tuscan foods fresh to your plate. The region is also famous for its bistecca alla fiorentina, a super thick bone-in T-bone steak that comes from the loin of a young steer in the Chianti region. The distinctive taste comes from a cut that’s cooked over coals, turned only once with the use of tongs (instead of a fork or instrument that might pierce the flesh of the meat) and is traditionally served with cannellini beans and fresh olive oil.
Long gone are the days of straw-covered bottles of Chianti being the cheapest and most uninspired of the Italian wines. Tuscany today boasts some of the most famous appellations of Italian wine. The sangiovese grape is king here with Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Nobile di Montepulciano, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano making up some of the finest wines in Europe. Look for the black rooster (gallo nero) on the seal on the neck of the bottle to show that the wine comes from Tuscany in the Chianti area. Super Tuscans, the bold reds made up of sangiovese and cabernet grapes, have become some of the trendy wines on the international scene as well. Look for standouts Sassicaia and Tignanello.
The charming towns of Tuscany that dot the rolling hillsides of the region have been enchanting travellers for centuries. And with strict regulations on their preservation (many are UNESCO World Heritage sites), you can be sure they will remain as quaint as they have been for generations. Rent a car and enjoy the scenery as you bounce around from town to town. Pick up a gelato and meander through the cobblestone streets of the medieval walled towns of San Gimignano, Volterra, and Pienza with sweeping vistas on all sides. Siena, famous for its bi-yearly horse race, the Palio, is surrounded by perfectly maintained olive groves and vineyards. And only when you see the tower of Pisa in situ do you realize it’s part of a much more impressive Duomo on the banks of the Arno River. Florence, the capital of the region, offers endless treasures in its churches, markets, and museums. And in November, all of these towns will feel like they opened their doors just for you.
Text by Laine McDonnellTranslated by Rui Chen