Of all of Italy‘s regions Tuscany has become the most synonymous with the luxury agriturismo concept. It still has most of the best agriturismo in the entire country if not the world and stands as a shining example to rural regions everywhere. It perfected the kind of rural food and culture tourism from where the agriturismo idea evolved many years before anyone else, and standards are still remarkably high across the board. These days a high percentage of Tuscan agriturismos are organic and many provide educational classes in things like cooking and wine tasting. So you can come with the highest of expectations, but even then, a stay at any of our recommended agriturismo in Tuscany will not leave you disappointed. If there were a basic formula for the Agriturismo Tuscany Experience it might be this:
A classic Tuscan hillside farmhouse, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. The farm producing, at the very least, its own wine and olive oil and with very high quality accommodation. The food and drink will be excellent, and the business of both the farm and the hotel will perfectly compliment each other.
Here are some of our Tuscany rural highlights plus our picks for the best agriturismo in this the world’s premier agritourism destination:
(You’ll find our agriturismo recommendations for Chianti at the bottom of this section)
The Chianti region is the heart of Tuscany, and all that can be said of Tuscany is also even more true when applied to this, its most iconic sub-region, in terms of the classic agriturismo Tuscany experience and plenty more besides.
Chianti is roughly speaking in the centre of Tuscany, in that golden triangle between Florence, Siena and Arezzo.
But, as Chianti is very much synonymous with the wine of the same name it means the exact geographical area is something of a source of debate: Historically the name Chianti was only given to the municipalities of the 13th-century Military League of Chianti; Radda, Castellina and Gaoile.
But in terms of wine the name Chianti is officially given to wines from the above areas plus the areas of Tavarnelle in Val di Pesa, San Casciano, Greve and parts of Barberino Val D’Elsa, as well as two areas in neighbouring Siena; Poggibonsi and Castelnuovo. Wines from all these municipalities can be given the official title of Chianti and so to really define where Chianti begins and ends is never very clear.
How To Get There:
Near to Florence the SR222 or New Chiantigiana road leads down into Chianti from Ponte a Ema, avoiding the Firenze-Siena Highway. If you’re near Siena the best way to get to Chianti is to again avoid the Firenze-Siena Highway and take the Old Chiantigiana road north.
A Little History:
For thousands of years Chianti was a heavily forested, relative backwater, and though a rich area for hunting, first for the Etruscans then for the Romans, it remained on the sidelines of history until late medieval times.
Its aforementioned position near Florence and Siena led it to be at the centre of many medieval battles between those two rival cities and most of the old fortifications and walled towns you will see dotted around have their origins in that era.
As the renaissance era began though Tuscany generally became more peaceful and the hills and valleys of Chianti were cultivated with orchards, olive groves and of course vineyards. It also too became a favourite countryside retreat for noble families from the cities, and many of their magnificent villas are still there to be seen today; an early precursor to the agriturismo culture perhaps.
Where To Go:
The first stop for many visitors is the central hilltop town of Greve in Chianti, very much the heart of Chianti, and a lively, cultured town which makes a great introduction to the area, especially in terms of food and wine. It is particularly famous for its Enotecas, which, though fairly widespread across Tuscany and indeed in other forms throughout Italy, are something of an art form here.
Enotecas are basically food & wine shops but are very much an antidote to modern convenience stores in that they do much more than just sell. A chat with the staff in any one of these establishments will educate you on all aspects of local wine and food, and which goes with which. You will usually be offered samples of both before you buy.
The agriturismo Chianti experience is an obvious compliment to the enoteca culture, and indeed they are very similar. Though the extra advantage of the agriturismo is the ability it gives to see that usually hidden first step from farm to table and grape to bottle. You’ll find too that the owners of any agriturismo in Chianti will be equally as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their craft, and many also provide wine tasting and cooking classes.
Beyond that obvious starting point there are so many richly beautiful towns around that it almost seems unfair to pick favourites. If forced to though I might pick the ancient Etruscan town of Castellina in Chianti and the medieval fortress town of Radda in Chianti as places very much guaranteed to impress.
An off the beaten track mention too should go to the insider favourite; Volpaia, just a few km from Radda in Chianti. It’s a tiny medieval hilltop village with a 12th-century winery at its heart, and a thoroughly charming place with excellent food and wine.
To really appreciate the area having a car is highly recommended, more so of course if you are staying at an agriturismo. Though many of the main touristic towns are serviced by public transport from Siena and Florence, a car will allow you to fully experience the enchanting landscape, plus allow some nice little discoveries; Volpaia for example is inaccessible by public transport even from nearby Radda.
Cycling is very popular in Chianti, and Tuscany generally, and it could be said the entire area is one big cycling trail. It is hilly though as you might imagine and baking hot in summer, none of which though seems to put many people off.
There are also many hiking trails in Chianti, perhaps the ultimate one being the climb from near Greve in Chianti to Monte San Michele, the regions highest point at over 800 meters. It is a fairly strenuous climb to the top but even from lower altitudes you can enjoy some really magnificent views.
NEAR SAN GIMIGNANO:
(You’ll find our agriturismo recommendations for near San Gimignano at the bottom of this section)
The most famous of all of Tuscany’s medieval hill towns; San Gimignano, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1990, is a genuine treasure. Its spectacular, fortress like setting, its 14 towers and its ancient streets, alleys and squares give shining reminders of the economic and cultural richness of the region in medieval times.
How to get there:
San Gimignano is south west of Florence and north west of Siena. If you’re near Florence you can head south down the Firenze-Siena Highway before turning off on to the SP1 at Poggibonsi. Continue on the SP1 for about 20 minutes and you’ll be greeted by the sight of the famous towers above you. From Siena, again take the main highway to Florence/Firenze north until Poggibonsi and along the SP1.
The town is a famously inspiring place, and very much on Tuscany’s tourist trail, so if you’re looking for a restful piece of rural idyll you certainly won’t find it in San Gimignano’s Piazza del Duomo on a Sunday afternoon!
Having said that, as most tourists visit San Gimignano on tour buses from Florence and Siena, if you stay in the town itself or at a nearby agriturismo you can rise early and take a walk/cycle/drive into town in the quiet of the early morning when you can have it more to yourself. In the evenings too, when the buses leave, the town becomes a far more pleasant place to stroll around.
Its grandiose towers date from between the 11th and 13th-centuries and though in the earliest times they were built as refuges from rival armies they then started to be constructed as nothing more than a display of power and wealth. This turned into a sort of arms race where every noble family of the time simply had to commission their own tower in San Gimignano to be worthy of a place in local high society. They once numbered over 70 of which only 14 now remain.
Of these 14 towers, visitors are only allowed to scale the 54 meter tall Torre Grossa, which, as you can imagine has stunning views over the pale red and orange rooftops below and the rolling Tuscan hills surrounding.
San Gimignano’s piazzas are magical; the Piazza della Cisterna with its 1,000 year old drinking well and the Romanesque cathedral of Piazza del Duomo with its gothic era Biblical themed frescos are wonderfully evocative sites even with the midday tourist hordes.
Outside the Town:
Any sensible visitor to this part of Tuscany shouldn’t only stop at the town and move back to Florence or Siena; You can choose from a great selection of other small towns to visit in the area; Terricola, Montaione, Orciatico, Peccioli, Montecatini Val di Cecina & Casciana Terme to give some examples, and the countryside in the area around San Gimignano has a wealth of that classic Tuscan countryside with its winding roads, vineyards and olive groves.
The ancient European pilgrim trail of Via Francigena runs through San Gimignano too, and you can hike sections of it near the town. Along the way you can get to visit the ruins of various stop off points for the devout; Pieve della Santa Maria Asssunta in Cellole for example or Santuario della Madonna di Pancole & Santuario Maria SS. Madre della Divina Provvidenza. By the gates of the town itself you can also visit the remains of a 12th-century pilgrims shelter.
The Castelvecchio Nature Reserve is also nearby San Gimignano and is a terrific place for wilder, less beaten path hikes. It also has a wealth of local wildlife, especially birdlife, including some rare short toed eagles and peregrine falcons. It also contains the ruins of the medieval Castelvecchio Castle which sits high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the reserve and makes for a great vantage point.
The Food & Wine:
Around San Gimignano you can also find a few of what we consider to be some of Tuscany’s best agriturismo.
An agriturismo here is also a chance to experience some of their own slight variations in what you may imagine as traditional Tuscan food and wine, which tends to be epitomized by the produce of Chianti, and many agriturismos also give cooking classes.
The region is also famous for its saffron, it produces what most people say is Italy’s best, and you’ll find it flavouring much of what you will be served in traditional restaurants and of course in some of the quality home cooked meals you can enjoy at an agriturismo.
A lot of Cinghiale (Wild boar) is also eaten around here, and you will find it in all sorts of concotions; soups, stews and even salami. Especially in salami in fact; it is served almost everywhere and a (non vegetarian!) visitor to this part of Tuscany will usually be coerced into sampling it at some point.
SOUTH OF SIENA & VAL D’ORCIA:
(You’ll find our agriturismo recommendations near Siena & Val d’Orcia at the bottom of this section)
Near Siena lies more strikingly beautiful countryside. In contrast to other regions of Tuscany much of the land here, especially to the south of Siena, is dry and bare; the so called ‘Crete Senesi’. These low hills of greyish-brown eroded clay dominate the landscape giving a slightly mysterious, other worldly feel to the area.
There is even something of a desert region south of Siena; The Accona Desert, to the south and west of the lovely town of Asciano. Despite the generally harsh environment though a surprising amount of the land is cultivated using irrigation techniques.
It is mainly for pastureland and cereals, though the area is also famous for its white truffles, and you’ll find less of the olive groves and vineyards so typical of other areas of Tuscany.
That is until you come a little farther south and to the rich green and fertile Val d’Orcia. Around the Orcia River which gives the valley its name is a picture perfect landscape of classically Tuscan rolling hills and great fields of sunflowers and grains. There are many vineyards too; the vineyards of Brunello are deservedly world famous, and compete with the up and coming, nearby, Val d’Orcia DOC vineyards. Val d’Orcia was also an important part of the famous pilgrim route to Rome; the Via Francigena, and such has been the cultural and historical influence of the area that it is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can enjoy some of Italy‘s most lavish countryside while also getting a sense of the rich history of Val d’Orcia by taking the time to discover the very medieval Pienza, historically known as “Ideal City”, the small fortress town of Castiglion d’Orcia, the stunning hilltop castle at Radicofani, the ancient walled town of Montalcino or the beautiful Romanesque Abbey at Sant’ Antimo.
How To Get There:
The area is broad so taking any road south from around Siena would be ok, though possibly the best thing is to go along the Strada Regionale 2/Via Cassia on the main route to Rome. Then at Monteroni d’Arbia you could head east towards Asciano or west towards the little town of Ville di Corsano and start exploring the smaller roads. Or continue farther down to where you can go west towards Montalcino or east into the heart of the Val d’Orcia. Like in the rest of Tuscany there is a limited public bus system to the main settlements but having/hiring a car is far more worthwhile, all the more so if you are planning an agriturismo stay.
Where To Go:
The pleasant town of Asciano is a nice introduction to the area. It has much of its medieval walls still intact and many historical buildings in the town centre. Its highlight is the Palazzo Corboli which contains the museum of Etruscan and Sacred Art. It is a beautiful building and the museum is small and intimate but you’ll find many interesting artifacts from archaeological digs of Etruscan sites plus more recent art; sculptures and paintings from the 13th-century onwards plus some interesting 14th-century frescoes.
South of Asciano there is the Monte Oliveto Maggiore one of Italy’s most inspiring monasteries. Founded in 1313 by the White Benedictines, known as such for their white robes, it remains in operation today, and allows visitors.
The setting is spectacular, high on a Crete hill surrounded by cypress trees and the large building complex still feels distinctly medieval inside, with frescoes depicting St. Benedict by Signorelli and Sodoma adorning the walls. You may also get a chance to hear some of the monks sublime Gregorian chants echoing around the grounds, all in all a very interesting and affecting place to visit.
Like San Gimignano further north, Montalcino is another town on the famous Via Francigena pilgrim route, but it is perhaps more famous for producing one of Italy‘s most celebrated wines; the 100% Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino. The town is also a striking sight, again on a hilltop with the Rocca di Montalcino towering above it. It is a small place but contains two impressive old churches; the Church of Sant’Agostino and the Church of Sant Egidio, both built in the 14th-century.
Just outside of Montalcino lies another fine, still functioning monastery; Sant’Antimo which is also worth a visit, and moving to the south east will bring you to the fertile wine producing region of Val d’Orcia.
The first town you might visit there could be San Quirico d’ Orcia on the northern edge of the valley, another stop on the Via Francigena and with an equally rich religious and cultural history.
Other places of note are the nearby spa town of Bagno Vignoni, Montepulciano at the eastern edge of the valley, on the borders with Umbria, and of course in between there is the famous Renaissance town of Pienza, which has many sights, including its main Piazza and Duomo, and the former Pope’s Palace and Bishop’s Palace. It might get the most visitors of any place in this area but is an interesting, inspiring place that is not to be missed.
The wines of Val d’Orcia mightn’t have the international stature of the Brunello di Montalcino but they do make a variety of Sangiovese and Trebbiano red and white wines while Montepulciano is acclaimed for its red Nobile di Montepulciano.