When to go
Tuscany can be busy with tourists throughout the summer months, although once you’ve escaped to your retreat you won’t notice. The cities of Florence and Siena in particular are best enjoyed outside the peak summer season.
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PlanesPisa’s Galileo Galilei airport (www.pisa-airport.com) is the most convenient regional gateway, but Florence and Rome Fiumicino are options; a two-hour drive from either will get you into southern Tuscany. If you're a high-flier with your own jet, there is also a small airport in Siena (www.siena-airport.it).
TrainsThe main station in Florence is behind Piazza Santa Maria Novella; Florence acts as a hub for services to other Tuscan cities, including Siena and Pisa (www.trenitalia.com). Grosseto is on the main Rome-Genoa line and has frequent express services. Once in the Tuscan countryside, however, public transport is fairly limited.
AutomobilesThe cities are best explored on foot, but there’s nothing more fun than putting the top down and exploring the Tuscan countryside by convertible. Hire classic and vintage cars from CLM Viaggi (+39 0577 287415).
TaxisYour best bet is to ask your hotel to organise pick-ups and transfers for you, as you won’t be able to hail a taxi in the hills.
This restored 13th-century villa in the hearet of Tuscany is all flagstone floors, huge stone fireplaces and ornate chandeliers; beds are draped in tasselled silks and brocade, and light bounces from gilded baroque mirrors in marble-enhanced bathrooms. Every detail is exquisite;every piece of furniture murmurs classic luxury. All 15 rooms are pretty darn sexy, but we’re especially smitten with the Maggiorana Garden Suite and it’s ‘super super king-size’ four-poster bed, exposed beams, freestanding copper tub and prvate garden. It’s the perfect couples’ retreat.
Fling some dough under the expert, private tutelage of chef Stefano Santo (formerly of two-Michelin-starred Square in London) at Borgo Santo Pietro in Italy. He’ll teach you classic Tuscan dishes for a lifetime of contented munching. And if you need more, consider a foodie-friendly tour of Italy, across Florence, Tuscany and the Amalfi coast.
Could a main course come from anywhere better than Tuscany? Make Castiglion del Bosco – an 800-year-old hillside estate with its own winery that produces a top-notch version of the region's signature Brunello di Montalcino – your villa for four nights, and settle in for several days of decadent wining and dining.
Worth getting out of bed for
– Take Tuscan cooking classes at the hotel's cookery school
– Go Truffle hunting, if the season permits
– Picnic in the vineyards with focaccia, pecorino and a bottle of Brunello
Stay at Castello di Casole – a hill-view haven in the heart of Tuscany set in a culinary utopia, with grapes, olives, lemons and saffron a few of the ingredients in plucking distance – just the place to get inventive with your pizza making.
Take a bite of a fresh-out-a-Tuscan-oven slice and all limp, regrettable crime-against-pizza take-aways are forgotten; this is the real deal. Replicating it at home is the hard bit. Which is why being schooled in the perfect pizza is a lesson worth learning. All the crucial crust-based challenges are tackled, from the dough to the toppings via the all important tomato and cheese foundation, with the added satisfaction that almost everything you use has been grown, pressed or reared somewhere on Castello di Casole's endless estate. Daring dough-flingers may find some inspiration in the pizzeria menu where combos like prawns and swiss chard and red potatoes and rosemary go up against the ever-presents. However yours turns out, though, few foodie endeavours are as fun as muddling your way through your first Margherita, so flour-faced five-year-olds will get as much enjoyment as desperate dinner party show-offs.
For many of us, travel is what we eat: new flavours, local delicacies and relaxing al fresco feasts. Grade-A gourmands tend to love things Gallic and, when it comes to getaways, Provence’s Alain Ducasse-owned Hostellerie de l’Abbaye is the cerise on France’s rich gâteau. Nearby Baumanière is a Michelin-star-spangled stay hugged by abundant vineyards. Cross the Med to Castiglion del Bosco and you can learn the secrets of the Tuscan cucina at its renowned cookery school. Thirsty? California’s cinematic wine country – valleys Napa and Sonoma – will sate you in style.
Loaded up with luxury souvenirs, escape for your country retreat – specifically, the enchanting Borgo Santo Pietro, a lovingly restored 13th century villa with a sensuous spa. Honeymooners will love the lavish Santo Pietro Suite with antique furnishings, vast private balcony and a Roman steam bath and shower. Don’t let Tuscany’s popularity with tourists fool you into thinking you can’t get away from it all here. Sip your way through ‘Chiantishire,’ between Siena and Florence, on an exclusive tour to uncover your favourite bottles of Italy’s legendary wine. Or, saddle up and explore vineyards, olive groves and medieval villages with local guides on horseback. Unwind post ride at a family-owned farm with pecorino, prosciutto, salami, bruschetta, and, of course, some of the world’s finest Chiantis. Tuscany’s allure – mediaeval hilltop villages, ancient vineyard and sun-bathing in a poolside lounger for two – can be enjoyed at every pace.
Your own convertible, an ocean-side highway and some unironic blasting of The Beach Boys – a California road trip is driving as it's meant to be. Farmhouse Inn, a romantic ranch in wine country, is a great starting point for your adventure, once you've sampled the Michelin-starred food and some local blends (and slept it off, of course). Make a stop at Big Sur for some intimate isolation and dramatic Pacific views at Post Ranch Inn. Alternatively, follow in the tyreprints of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and take your own feast-fuelled trip around Tuscany (Michael Caine impressions optional). Or, hire a car in Naples, and put Monastero Santa Rosa's address into the sat nav – you'll follow the jaw-dropping Amalfi coastline before tackling a death-defying uphill road to the hotel.