I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many wonderful holidays in my life, but a recent walking holiday in the Italian countryside has bowled me over completely. New places, faces and tastes. Time to think. Peace and quiet. Fresh air and picturesque landscapes. History and hospitality. Interesting wines. Please allow me to share.
All the towns on our rural route in Tuscany have small populations, but they are big in so many other aspects. We started our walking holiday in Pitigliano, a beautiful town bordered by three rivers on three sides of the town. It is a member of the I Borghi più belli d’Italia (“The most beautiful villages of Italy”) association. Towns belonging to this association have strong historical and artistic interests and the aim of the membership is to preserve and maintain villages of quality heritage. The association’s motto is: Il fascino dell’Italia nascosta (“The charm of hidden Italy”) and that is exactly what we were introduced to when we arrived in Pitigliano as well as what we experienced for the remainder of the trip.
We left Pitigliano for Sovana and on this route, met a wine farmer with a truckload of Viognier, sharing a bunch or two for us to try. Tuscany is of course wine country and I always look for an opportunity to chat with local winemakers and try the local wines. The region is called Maremma. Traditionally a large area of Tuscany and Lazio, nowadays, it refers to a smaller area, Maremma Toscana in the Grosseto province. We walked through the Alta or Upper Maremma, the northern part of the region. Red wines we know are Alicante (Grenache), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah with a few unfamiliar cultivars like Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Pugnitello. Rosés are made from Alicante, Ciliegiolo, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Vermentino and Trebbiano are familiar whites, but they also have Ansonica. Wines labelled without varieties can be called Maremma Toscana Rosso and Rosato or Maremma Toscana Bianco. Read more.
We tasted a lovely Bianco di Pitigliano Superiore DOC from Cantina di Pitigliano (founded 1954), a winery (similar to our old cooperative system), that produces the best possible wine from grapes in the surrounding areas. The Bianco di Pitigliano is one of the first DOC classifications in Italy, a recognition that the Cantina di Pitigliano received in 1966. Of course, we also explored other famous Tuscan wines and I especially enjoy the Antinori Tignanello 2011, Pian delle Vigne Vignaferrovia 2016 and the Peppoli Chianti Classico 2021.
The town of Sovana was our next host and we spent a day to explore its numerous sights and features as it is another member of I Borghi più belli d’Italia. The authenticity of the Italians is, in my opinion, a big part of their tourism success. Other than optimising the potential of these beautiful villages, they are also the leaders in “Agriturismo” or Agritourism, inviting visitors to explore more of Italy than the popular destinations of Rome, Venice and the Amalfi. Agriturismo brings a new source of income to the farming communities and gives tourists the authentic and personal (and often more affordable) experience that has become a global tourism trend. Walking or cycling between farms and villages allows time to explore and enjoy the landscape and you’ll even have time to think about life as you make your way to the next farm for a warm bed or hearty meal.
From Sovana we walked to San Quirico d’Orcia, another beautiful town on a hill and also the site of what is probably Italy’s most photographed crop of cypress trees. (Click here). We are now in the Province of Siena, about 80 kilometres southeast of Florence. The town is named in honour of Saint Quiricus and hosts more ancient architecture, history and delightful little restaurants.
Our next stop is Bolsena on Lake Bolsena, the largest volcanic lake in Europe. The lake is popular for water sports and swimming, there are lovely cycle routes, and the surroundings are picturesque with charming hills and the medieval villages we’ve been exploring. This is where we spent our last evening. The next morning, we set off for Orvieto, a small city perched on a rock cliff. With the profile of the Il Duomo of La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, the city’s medieval aura and the typical Italian atmosphere of piazzas and cobblestone streets, I would’ve happily stayed here for a few days.
From time to time, we all deserve (and need!) a proper holiday. Time to rest and time to get out of our daily routine. Often holidays are spent between visits to family and friends and catching up on DIY, but sometimes, you need to do yourself the favour to plan a proper holiday. Perhaps you enjoy a break at the coast and hours on the beach but do challenge yourself to something more. Even if that something demands saving for.
Of course, we can make memories of everyday moments, but a getaway to somewhere you have never been opens your mind and soul in ways that you don’t even consider until you get there. Walking around the Italian countryside has done me a world of good and I wish that for you too!