Works by major players of the Renaissance? Meh. The Duomo, Leaning Tower of Pisa et al? Yeah yeah. A juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina? Now you’re talking. For gastronomes considering where to stay in Tuscany only the hotels that recognise the riches of the so-called cucina povera, embrace micro-regional culinary quirks, and treat olive oil like liquid gold will do. For gourmet breaks in Italy’s larder, here’s what’s on our specials board…
For straight-from-the-farm feasting
It’s unsurprising that Tuscany pioneered the slow-food movement (after all, they’ve been at it since Etruscan times). With fertile terra across the region, most hotels have a stash of high-quality ingredients in their own backyard and meat so fresh and local you could probably request its back story. Glamorous gourmet break spot Borgo Santo Pietro – a sprawling luxury hotel and one of the prettiest villages to stay at in Tuscany – embodies this locavore ethos, and the estate provides abundantly, supplying all the vegetables and fruit, lamb, pork, honey, eggs, nuts, herbs and some cheeses (notably pecorino and ricotta) that the hotel needs, with an eye to becoming as self sustainable as possible (fish and seafood come in first thing daily from the coast). And, there’s a vineyard too, because Italia.
And, thanks to the design nous and antique-hunting skills of the Borgo’s Danish-born owner, you’ll dine in a rustic vision made true, whether you’re surrounded by chandeliers, candelabra and arch-framed vistas in main eatery Meo Modo, or you’re watching the resident pizzaiolo work dough bases like a DJ’s turntables by the trunk of the full-grown tree growing through Trattoria sull’Albero.
Don’t miss The Farmers’ Market each Monday, where the full complement of the Borgo’s home-grown goodies is laid out for guests to pick and choose from. Or a private cookery class with Mamma Olga, who draws from her 30 years of experience to guide you through a menu of patè di fegatini (chicken-liver patè), pappa al pomodoro soup, gnudi with ricotta cheese and sage, and peposo beef stew.
Try the pigeon, which is marinated in tobacco oil and smoked before it’s roasted and served with wild strawberries.
Top table Take a private meal in the hotel’s grotto, a secluded, statue-guarded beauty spot, which goes OTT with romanticismo in irresistible Italian style.
Further afield In nearby Chiusdino, La Grotta di Tiburzi is named after a notorious local brigand, but serves excellent malfatti and pici in a cosy cellar.
For wines with attitude
God bless the Sangiovese grape – these purple clusters could be called the caviar of Tuscany’s terroir as they’re the key component of the region’s best-glugged wines: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano… Yet, surprisingly the ravishingly beautiful 12th-century Castello di Vicarello uses cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in their namesake wine. Why? Because the well-travelled owners – who’ve also bought a little of Bali to Maremma’s lush countryside via spa treatments and Asiatic antiques – were inspired by Bordeaux’s vintages.
But, despite this minor transgression, this is still the best place to stay in Tuscany for wine tasting. Sangiovese is given some fabulous supporting roles in award-winning reds and these seven hectares of vines have been lovingly looked after for two generations of the Baccheschi-Berti family. The epic tale of their fruitful growth is as romantic a vision as the Mediterranean maquis and thick olive groves that buffer them from Tyrrhenian breezes.
And, you needn’t appreciate the infusions of Slavonian oak vats or vine-training systems to be enamoured of their smoky, spicy flavours. The chefs are instructed by Aurora Baccheschi Berti, author of My Tuscan Kitchen, and simple dishes of radicchio and walnut salad or fava-bean carbonara (made using estate-grown ingredients) pair very well with the Castello’s drinkables.
Don’t miss A wine-tasting session under the stars, set at a table amid neat rows of vines.
Try the headline act: a hearty slug of Castello di Vicarello wine, preceded by a heady sniff of the clove and sandalwood accents. In the restaurant, quiz the staff on what’s in season, although you really can’t go too wrong here – we’re partial to the local ravioli maremmani (essentially, big ravioli).
Top table Ask the owners to select a comely spot in the incredibly picturesque gardens for a table for two.
Further afield Wind down the hill the Castello is perched upon to try the comforting Tuscan fare at La Vecchia Oliviera, where the menu’s earthy porcini sformatino and crostini with black kale and lard give you a flavour of the land.
For seductive dining
Casanova, Italy’s sexiest librarian, may have been Venetian, but Tuscany is the true wooer of starry-eyed lovers in Italy. It has some of the most romantic hotels, the most alluring date-night restaurants and the Val d’Orcia: a knicker-dropping view of curvaceous cypress-buttressed fields. See this hat-trick come seamlessly into play at boutique hotel Monteverdi Tuscany, a Medieval village you can stay at in Tuscany, with a church, cobbled streets, and views of the head-turning valley from on high.
It’s where to stay in Tuscany if you’re on honeymoon, and beamed restaurant Oreade is one of the main reasons why – in fact, many flock here for the exciting dishes crafted by chef Giancarla Bodoni (formerly of Miami’s Escopazzo). Its flagstone floors and laden store cupboards give it the feel of an authentic Tuscan kitchen, and the menu show’s Bodoni’s fine attunement to the estate’s seasonal produce and strong links with local cheese and charcuterie artisans.
The menu varies according to the garden’s bounty, but in summer you could expect beautiful chilled soups such as tomato with iced basil or zucchini with burrata, lemon and mint, and in cooler months meaty ragus and plentiful pici drowned in pecorino come into play. The dining draws on Tuscan stalwarts such as ribollita (vegetable soup) or scottiglia stew, refined and served with plenty of love.
Don’t miss The Enoteca: a sort of grown-up candy store for wine connoisseurs, where you can choose 32 by-the-glass picks from enomatic dispensers. Each will win over your SO, but some stand-outs include a crisp white Vernaccia di San Gimignano, sonorous Rosso di Montalcino and, of course, a steadfast Brunello.
Try the chef’s table, an engaging part of the culinary academy (one of the best cookery schools in Tuscany) where Bodoni will work her magic in front of you, preparing dinner and pouring wines while imparting culinary wisdom. It’s less hands-on than the classes, but you may be called upon to hold a large string of freshly rolled pappardelle.
Top table The terrace – why sit anywhere else when you have a front-row seat to one of the world’s most inspiring views?
Further afield You’ll only have two modes here: ‘wallowing in luxury’ or ‘do not disturb’, so it’s best you stay put – you certainly won’t go hungry. And, at just a 90-minute drive from Florence, Monteverdi makes a calm counterpoint to a city break.
For artful snacking
Drive out from Florence, past Vinci (of Leonardo da fame) and up, up into the nerve-jangling narrow passes of Palaia’s hills and you’ll find yourself at artist retreat-cum-hotel (although the line between participant and guest often blur here) Villa Lena. Creatives hole up in the central coral-hued villa for months at a time, and Gregorio, the administrator of the not-for-profit foundation run here will happily show guests around its delightfully shabby-chic interiors. And those holidaying here have the run of home-y suites, a pool, casually cool lounges and a pool hall (all hung with eye-catching pieces), and a dining terrace with the kind of Tuscan views you’ll only stop sighing over for a mouthful of handmade pasta.
With all the above going on, Villa Lena doesn’t have to go quite as hard on the food front as they do, but this is Italy, and so just down the road there’s an impressive orto (kitchen garden), where kale, tomatoes, courgettes, beans, and so much more thrive amid the wildflowers that grace every room and table. Menus taste of the land from the pungent pecorino to the fat-pocked salami to veggie platters that sing with flavour.
It’s the kind of place where you’d be quite happy nibbling away at a charcuterie board or a plate of burrata, a fuss-free salad (say, beetroot, leaves, a drizzle of lemon and dollop of ricotta), or simple plate of pasta with a slim list of excellent ingredients. Food, very much, for creative thought.
Don’t miss The organic house wines. The sangiovese red and rosé pinot grigio will become particular favourites, and rather sweetly, bottles are emblazoned with family emblems (unicorns, dragons…).
Try A little of everything; or a lot. The owners also have a truffle-hunting dog, so if visiting in season hope that he’s on top of his game.
Top table Aside from the slim risk of an acorn falling on your head (it happened to us), the terrace is the most picturesque of Tuscan perches, and the hotel’s intriguing roster of clientele mean excellent ear-wigging opportunities too.
Further afield You won’t want to go up and down the roads here too much, but you might want to wander the abandoned village of Toiano, just a short stroll away past the orto.
For those with fussy eaters
Italy is immensely welcoming to bambini; it’s not unusual to see little ones joining their parents for evening meals, and the simple pasta dishes and creamy desserts will please the picky. However, it’s possible that your child won’t appreciate the provenance of a tripe-filled lampredotto sandwich or the zingy freshness of the tomatoes in a panzanella salad. So, where to stay in Tuscany with your family is the question when it comes to food – and the resounding answer is Borgo Pignano.
This ancient village turned luxury hotel sits amid countryside where kids can roam free and has a child-friendly pool, plus a bustling summer activities programme. When it comes to mealtimes, parents can appreciate what chef Vincenzo Martella has crafted using 0km ingredients (oil from the olive groves, pasta and breads made from home-grown grains, raw products from the kitchen garden, honey from the apiary, eggs from the chickens, meat from the pigs and so on), in peace. The frescoed main dining space has a private room for families and an unfussy menu for smalls.
Don’t miss From June to September, call on the hotel’s ‘Kids’ Agents’ to set up a special kids’ table (usually at 7pm), where children can dine à la grown-ups. And set up a chat with Enzo – the longstanding farmer and gamekeeper gives very entertaining tours of the grounds which may well be food for little minds.
Try For parents, Martella’s fusilli with sea urchins, black garlic and cauliflower cream followed by the ginger custard tart with fruit and candied vegetables. For kids, a wood-fired pizza from summer restaurant Al Fresco.
Top table Secure a spot on the terrace to enjoy a long lazy lunch – it runs onto the grounds, so kids can play while parents attend to the wine list.
Further afield While there are child-friendly Tuscan restaurants in nearby village Volterra Pisa, most tend towards the traditional with bistecca alla Fiorentina and hare and boar ragu as standard – the hotel has a bit more variety when it comes to feeding youngsters.
For a cosmopolitan aperitivo
For a city break in Tuscany, Florence should be your first choice. And, when choosing a romantic hotel in Florence, you should choose one with a hell of a view. Step up, Continentale, a dreamily styled stay that’s partly set in a 13th-century tower. It’s next door neighbours with the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizzi is just around the corner, and from its La Terrazza bar you can see the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and other Florentine big-hitters.
So, it’s here you should secure a space for a breathtaking aperitivo with a chic crowd. The hotel has some very talented mixologists working the bar, so put yourself in their capable hands and order one of the signature drinks: the Johnny Collins with gin, cherry liqueur and Branca Menta; or the Mai-talian with rum, almond liqueur and bergamot soda. The zesty Vesper Martini feels elegant in old-school fashion too. And, if you get peckish, move the party to Caffè dell’Oro for Peruvian pork sandwiches or saffron risotto.
Don’t miss Ceviche and sushi in the Fusion Bar if you’ve carb-loaded a little too often – easily done in Tuscany.
Try The intriguing tasting menu at Michelin-starred Borgo San Jacopo, which breathes new life into classic ingredients, with dishes such as porcini mushroom ice-cream and oxtail tortelli with Castelmagno fondue.
Top table Take your pick – La Terrazza is a good all-rounder for the view, but we also like the riverside terrace that leads off from the Picteau Bistrot & Bar. Sneak a peek inside too – the walls are hung with works by Picasso and Cocteau.
Further afield Take brunch on the other side of the Arno at hilltop boutique stay Villa Cora, this sumptuous feast spreads out over the bottom floor, with charcuterie and cheese stations, chefs cooking on the go and a whole room dedicated to dessert.
Hungry for more? Explore our full collection of hotels in Tuscany