So, the thing about trying to DIY your own holiday is, it’s hard, hard work. In Tuscany, it’s no different. Vineyards, villas, restaurants, quaint towns: where you go and stay of course makes your trip. But if you’ve never been, it’s hard to find the best. So when we were invited away with Tuscany Now & More – the Italian company renowned for their top tier handpicked villas and tailor made, in the know itineraries- we jumped at the chance to let someone else do the planning. And as it involved truffle hunting and dinner with Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens, it was a definite no-brainer.
So first up, it was truffle hunting. We’d been advised to dress for the elements, so our bags were just under the 20kg mark, filled with last minute panic purchases: wellies, warm socks, rain trousers… you name it, we had it. But when we got to the property of San Miniato, the sun was out and the dogs were ready. Nice. For those of you who haven’t been truffle hunting before, we now know why they’re expensive. Those dogs work hard for their money! As we wandered around the rolling hills of the villa (we were expecting an arduous hike, and this was more of a lazy stroll, but we’re not complaining), the dogs would excitedly sniff out truffles, and the owner would then go and dig them out with his spade. Teamwork! The truffles we uncovered (by association) were largely the size of a 10p coin, making us all the more appreciative of our lunch, which was covered in truffles. Not cheap. And neither are the dogs: they told us that it takes 14 months to train a dog to hunt for truffles, and they’re worth 10,000 euros each.
Locanda di Camugliano
Aren’t we all looking for that restaurant on the side of the road that serves five-course truffle menus and prosecco made in house by the family? That’s what was on offer at Locanda di Camugliano. Crisp, dry prosecco, rustic chic interiors, and a bustling kitchen serving decadent truffle dishes. Highlights for UJ included the fried polenta/bread platter with cheese fondue and truffles (divine) and truffle and honey ice cream.
Next up, it was over to the town of Panzano to see the singing butcher. On paper it sounds odd, but it’s an eccentric good time. Dario Cecchini (the singing butcher) comes from a family of butchers – and when we say family, we’re talking 250 years, with him at the helm for the last 40. We’re not sure if he just loved Metallica and Iron Maiden or it was part of the show, but his shtick was heavy metal and prime cuts of meat. He explained how every part of the cow was used, waxing lyrical about his respect for the animal and appreciation for its sacrifice. He also talked about how important it was to look after them properly and give them a dignified death. Dario also has a restaurant serving local food, good wine, and olive oil cake. You won’t lose weight in Tuscany, that’s for sure, but you will have a good time expanding. And veggies, get ready for cheese.
Il Borgo di Petrio
Next up, it was off to our villa, handpicked by the stylish Eduardo from Tuscany Now & More; we immediately liked it here. Set in the hills above Rufina, this beautiful stone farmehouse was set on a 900 acre estates and has a pool, tennis court, and large spaces for outdoor dining… you could imagine lazy summer days here, and cosy winter ones too. The décor was tasteful, and the hills rolled on for days, with grapes swaying in the wind. A chef snuck in in the morning to make us breakfast and returned in the evening with wine.
Do you want to go on a boar hunt? We didn’t either. But it was interesting to see the dogs and hunters assemble from our window. Boars are plentiful in the region; so much so that it’s a problem, and property owners have to agree to kill 60 each year. Poor boar. On the day we were there, they hunted 16, so a good day out if that’s your trade! If you do want to go on a boar hunt, Tuscany Now & More can, of course, help organise this.
Castello Pomino and the Frescobaldi Wines
Next up it was more wine (note, UJ recommends getting a driver for your stay so you can enjoy the vino)! The Frescobaldi Wines specialise in white wine, which of course is odd for this region. They also make Vino Santo – UJ loved being given a sneak peek into their room of hanging grapes. We’d like to sleep there, please. After a home-cooked lunch, it was off for a walk through the recently refurbished Castello di Nipozzano. With beautifully decorated rooms that effortlessly merged old with the new and an XXL hot tub with views over the hills, this was definitely one to remember. UJ loved the gift store here – we got so overexcited we ended up with three bottles and two gallons of olive oil, definitely putting our luggage over the 20kg mark on the way back!
The bonus on our trip? The easygoing, affable Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens was with us, looking very at-home in the professional kitchen at the villa as he easily whipped up a seasonal dinner for our group of 15. Polenta, boar, truffles, eggs: this was a feast we won’t forget. Can Tuscany Now & More organise another Tom? Never say never.
For more information on Tuscany Now & More visit: www.tuscanynowandmore.com
Tuscany Now & More (tuscanynowandmore.com, 0207 684 8884) offers seven nights in Borgo Di Petroio from £5,074 per week based on 14 people sharing on a self-catering basis. Tuscany Now & More features a range of properties across the region and Italy and can provide private chefs, excursions and other services upon request. Airport lounge access available through en.dragonpass.com.cn.