Italy is timeless: a country steeped in history, with striking scenery and some of the best food on earth. Italy is also a land of contrasts, made up of 20 different regions, each with its own distinctive culture, history and culinary delights. Nathalie Craig shares some of her favourite experiences from the boot-shaped country.
On entering the Tuscany region in Central Italy I want nothing more than to soak up La Dolce Vita. Our home base is the restored Agriturismo B&B, Tenuta Scacciavolpe, in the rolling hills of Livorno. Like a scene from Under the Tuscan Sun, the eighteenth-century farmhouse is set on 180 hectares of fertile land where organic grapes are grown for Sangiovese and Trebbiano wines along with olives for extra virgin olive oil. Each morning we enjoy a feast of freshly brewed coffee, artisan breads, pastries and freshly-laid eggs from the farm. Some days we lounge by the pool with antipasto and local wine, while others we venture to the surrounding towns and villages. In the medieval hill town of San Gimignano we spend the day climbing the famous stone towers, built as symbols of wealth and power by the patrician families who once controlled the town. In Lucca we hire bikes and take a leisurely cycle around the city’s well-preserved Renaissance walls. One sleepy afternoon we seek out a late lunch in the nearby town of Vicarello. In a backstreet restaurant, we’re welcomed by a small, spirited Italian woman offering us warm, salty focaccia pulled straight from a wood fired oven. The menu has no English translation. We speak almost no Italian, the woman almost no English. In an effort to help us understand the menu, she brings out dried pasta shapes, holding them up and matching them to each menu item as we bond over the universal language of food. In the evenings we return to the farmhouse for an organic, homemade meal. The vintage tables are set outside, with a pristine view of the sun setting over the bales of hay and vine covered hillsides.