so this is why everyone loves Tuscany
Spring in Italy. Poppies dot the farm fields and the train tracks, green is the dominant color in the produce aisle and on my walks, and it is now acceptably gelato season (though I’m not above a winter gelato).
When I lived in Colorado, I felt like the landscape was sepia-toned. Back home on the east coast, gray feels like the undertone color across the seasons, whether it be heavy clouds in winter or fog over the ocean on the Cape. In Italy, everything feels saturated. I had been looking forward to the wisteria blooms and lately they have been everywhere. The thick peeling trunk snakes up fences and buildings, and the petals (which I learned are edible after my cousin Michele ate one) cover the sidewalks. The most beautiful lilac color (which is very in this season) is so striking against the umber and yellow cityscape.
But in Toscana, the colors are all green. Layers upon layers of green: the fields are the brightest Kelly green, though perhaps here we can call it “Italian April Green” or “Pasqua Green”. In April, the fields were dotted with bright yellow flowers and the rich, cypress green standing boldly against the curved landscape. The olive trees look like fluffy pom-poms from the distance, a rich sage color planted in orderly lines on the hillslopes
I remember being at some high school event where the ice breaker was to say your favorite colors. I said green and brown and was told that was “gross”. Joke’s on them, because I was clearly manifesting spring in Toscana, which may be the most balanced and perfect color palette that nature has to offer.
Just a two hour drive away from Viterbo, Tuscany feels entirely different. My advisor in Viterbo calls our area a “typical Tuscia landscape”, a rocky collection of cliffside towns, scraggly trees, hazelnut trees, and medieval cities in between.
Toscana is like Viterbo but stretched out. The hills are more gently sloped, a rippled landscape of alternating rich soils, grasses, fluffy olive groves, and sharp, striking cypress.
Spending a week in Tuscany with my parents I finally understood: this is why everyone loves Tuscany.
By this I mean: steep, steep cobbled streets leading up to breathtaking basilicas, views of vineyards always within sight, and incredibly kind people. Rome may be for history and Milan for decadence, but Tuscany is the perfect place for some dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing.
Besides gawking at the landscape, we explored some beautiful small towns. Voltera, Siena, Montalcino, and San Gimignano.
We basically spent the days walking through churches, piazzas, and vineyards looking for good views, good food, and good espresso (for me and Dad at least). We were not disappointed.
Of the cities we visited, San Gimignano felt flat and I would not recommend it. The towers are stunning – these huge structures! How did they do it?-- but it was largely very touristy and a bit too “disneyland Italy.”
I especially loved showing my parents Siena, a town that I had visited in January. I was shocked at how crowded it was, a sign of what is to come this summer in Italy. Beyond the usual things (the cattedrale, piazza, and panforte) we went to a lovely garden for lunch. We luckily squeezed in before the lunch rush, and enjoyed some wonderful authentic regional dishes. The waitstaff was constantly buzzing around, zipping between tables inside and outside the restaurant, avoiding the peacock (yes, really) that was fawning around between the tables. It was a lovely, leisurely lunch.
We added on Volterra because it was near San Gimignano, and decided to spend the morning there. The morning turned into most of the day. We happened to find a wonderful café that was so good we came back again in the afternoon. The staff was so nice and the espresso was perhaps some of the best. Later, my mom requested a drink she had had growing up, orzata, and they made it just like Nonna used to.
In Volterra we also serendipitously met a lovely older German man and his wife, who we ran into again later on one of our meandering alleyway walks. Our conversation with him was the kind of conversation where I had wished I had been writing down everything he said. I do remember him describing this area as, “it is so beautiful, it must influence your thinking.”
This phrase has been rolling around my mind whenever I think of Tuscany. It is a landscape, so vast and yet so lived-in. The farms are old, the olive trees perhaps even older. Each village feels like a cohesive part of the Tuscan landscape, but stands distinctly on its own. Even in Siena, which is becoming a more popular tourist destination, you can still see the local school children playing soccer in the park, enjoy tagliatelle cinghiale (a pasta with wild boar), and see priests milling about.
Mid-April was a wonderful opportunity to be a passerby in this culturally and gastronomically bountiful region. It was hard to leave.
P.S. I have had a lot of wonderful guests lately! I hope to post more regularly again soon.