Upon arriving in Italy for our trip through Tuscany I put pen to paper with all the questions I had and then went in search of answers for you good people. We did as much research as possible and continued to collate the list each day with every nugget of gold we came across. This post is inspired by The City Lanes Post of a similar name. He came up with 9 tips that I would have in-hand the immediate second I touched down in Tokyo. I hope we can do the same for Tuscany.
MOBILE PHONE DATA
Unlike other countries, you’re on your own in Italy. In asia we found multiple desks just past the baggage area in airports that would cater to people looking for a wireless device to hire during their time in a city. Not so Italy. I would suggest ensuring your accommodation has ample wifi for you to use and bring an unlocked smartphone so you can change up the sim card. This may be a little difficult as you may be residing in the countryside with corner shops not stocking the best sim cards and their data bundles.
UBER IS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
Uber has strong-armed it’s way into Italian life here offering a much more professional service than local taxis.
That’s why you should load Uber on your phone before you arrive. The cars are brand new, the drivers have an iPad in every car with the route for them to follow and you also sometimes get water or lollies from some drivers. In Italy we have Uber X which undercuts the price of local taxis for the same journey by 20%, so it’s a no brainer to use them and since the cost does onto your credit card you can worry about the bill (cheap) when you get home.
Get your first ride free on Sharking for Chips and Drinks – Sign up here and get a massive discount off your first ride!
TRANSPORT OPTIONS FROM PISA AIRPORT
The best way to get around Tuscany is via a hire car. But dont’t bolt out of the plane hoping to be first to the Europcar desk. The Car hire terminal at Pisa Airport is via shuttle bus that takes around 5 mins door to door. So then to best prepare you for the rush – the best seat is the front right side of the bus next to the door. This will get you to the desk first and you’ll soon be on your way.
WHERE YOU NEED TO STAY
We strongly suggest you book yourself into The Barn at Bagnaie in Chianti and use it as your base.
Set in the bucolic Tuscan countryside, the barn is your escape. It is a place where you can relax, eat well and swim. Where the sun shines and sets spectacularly over distant mountains. And where markets, vineyards and long lunches can be discovered in nearby medieval hilltop towns. Sounds like a dream doesn’t it.
This place literally has it all. a lovely spacious house, views across the hills and villages of Tuscany, able to sleep up to 6 people, a newly paved swimming pool and they even have a little old Italian Mama who will come to your house and cook you up a feast while you just sit and watch the sun go down.
Book it here: https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p421433
PREPARE TO EAT LIKE A KING
In Italy the menu always reads starter, pasta, secondi, dessert, expresso. This isn’t so much a suggestion of what courses you might participate in, but more of a running sheet telling you that you’ll be properly fed and watered by the end of the meal. It’s a big slog so don’t eat all that “free bread” they put down in front of you.
Starters usually are a rustic soup or plates of meat and cheeses, pasta is that but a serve you’ll expect for a main back home, secondi is all about great hunks of meat and dessert is usually dense cakes, panna cotta or tiramisu.
So try to lay off the snacks during aperitivo and downing a couple of choice negronis.
STOP WHINING AND START WINING
You’re now in the area of the specially categorised DOCG for Chianti Classico. Pick up a bottle of Italian wine and you’re likely to see one of these designations somewhere on the label. What exactly to these letters stand for and what do they mean?
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG): Seeing this on the label of your wine bottle means that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wine. The wine was tested a committee that then guarantees the geographic authenticity of the wine and its quality. There are currently only a handful of Italian wines that qualify for DOCG status.
It’s also worth remembering some great wines can sneak in under the radar and not be labeled as DOCG.
KNOW YOUR TRATTORIA FROM YOUR OSTERIA
It’s worth knowing the difference. My advise I was given prior to my first visit was to skip the osteria because its basically just a poncy trattoria – aka smarter versus more casual trattoria. Me and my companions didn’t quite buy that description. Instead I would follow these general rules:
Ensure you drink local wineries and around your local town. Go into the local wine shop and find out the smallest and most interesting producers to seek out. Also something I learnt on this trip – look out for the little white signs in and around your town/where you’re staying – these state who the vines belong to (they’re everywhere) so search these wineries out.
GET THE VINO LOWDOWN FROM YOUR LOCAL BOTTLESHOP FIRST
My biggest revelation came from someone who had visited Tuscany and Italy many times and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Do your research at your city’s small independent wine shops and wine bars. They love talking about wine and when you tell them where you’ll be visiting I can assure you they’ll show you who they think is worth importing to their places of work. This can then work twofold – first you find out what/who they stock and can then purchase when you get back and secondly you can plan to visit these wineries and come back a hero of the people when you pick up your next bottle at home. Basically reverse engineer your winery research.
BOOK WINE AND ALL WILL BE FINE
Something I didn’t have to do in Australia but did in Italy – you need to phone ahead to ensure the winery is open and willing to do a tasting for you. Places are quite spaced out so it’s not fun thinking you’ll get to put the feet up and find somewhere wasn’t expecting you and have other plans for the day that don’t include feeding you litres of wine. Best safe than sorry.
GO SO OLD SCHOOL IT’S NOT FUNNY
I asked the friends who took us along how they picked the new restaurants they wanted to try with us. they went seriously old school and seemed out really old Bib Gourmands and select a few places that have been open for decades but no longer reported as not flavour of the month. These are more found in your 2nd hand and charity shops – so it’s worth looking for them once you’ve booked your flights because they won’t be on the shelves you’re looking at the week before you fly.
GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH
When you book your hire car it’s best to not go for the bargain basement vehicle you usually do. Why? White roads. These are narrow, dirt roads going through the countryside. Shown on some road maps as white lines. The Italians call these strade bianche , which translates to white roads. The strade bianche are actually white – they are made of a light colored gravel. White roads are often good for hiking because they usually have little traffic. These dirt roads can be very dusty in summer and muddy in winter.
Looking at maps you won’t realise which are paved roads and which are white roads. The practical reality is they will effect timing and distance of where you need to go and arrival times for bookings. But white roads are protected and a essential part of Chianti and Italy and worth driving on as it’s usually the most scenic route you will take.
GET OFF TOURIST TIME
Tourist dinner time is always between 7-9. So you’ll find yourself sitting with tourists no matter how ‘local’ and off the map a place you think you’ve stumbled upon. Instead take advantage of apertivo hour with the locals (where you order the drink and bar provides the free food) then join them as they storm the best and most popular restaurants at 9pm after tourists have finished and heading to bed.
ROUND, ROUND, GET AROUND. I GET AROUND.
Ensure you upgrade your Tom Tom to include Italy before you leave home or be left uploading the map from your computer to your GPS for hours on end. Plus the Tom Tom will include timings for white roads you need to travel on to ensure decent timings.
And when you visit cities such as Florence and Siena don’t bother trying to score a car park on the street. The reality is Italians are bad drivers and that’s where you’ll get your car clipped. Instead look out for blue Car Park signs on the edges of the town to park up and walk into town from. It’s really a bargain – about 2.50 Euro entry and 1 Euro per hour.
KEEP THE WILDLIFE UNDER CONTROL
After visiting a couple of wineries you’ll hear the same stories about wildlife damaging the vines. Keep your eyes peeled at dusk and nighttime and you’ll also probably spot a couple of rogue boar and prancing deer on their way to feast on vines and shoots. The issue is that there are only a small number of beasts that can be killed/culled each year so the locals are in a slight pickle. Luckily you’ve brought your stomach – so try tasty options such as wild boar pasta, venison and salumi and sausages and do your tasty bit for the environment.