Tuscan Treasures: Italy’s Hidden Gems

Published on  

July 11, 2024

While many picture rolling green hills and miles of vines, there is so much more to Tuscany than meets the eye. The birthplace of the Renaissance, the ‘art palace’ of Italy, the city of 100 churches; Italy’s beloved Toscana has many strings to its bow. Amongst its verdant valleys lie historic landmarks and world-class culinary experiences, many hidden in ancient towns and villages, outside of the well-known tourist cities. In their own, peaceful Tuscan neighborhoods, August’s homes offer unmatched serenity, and a taste of true local living - all within an hour’s reach of international airports in both Pisa and Florence. Find out how the August team would spend a week in one of our Signature, Premium or Prime Tuscan homes by reading our guide below.

The Pantry of Italy

Few destinations in the world are more renowned for their gastronomy than Tuscany. Often hailed as 'the pantry of Italy' it boasts a culinary scene steeped in tradition and celebrating the finest local ingredients - think rich olive oil, fresh breads and sharp pecorino cheese. To accompany the food, the region is also famed for its vineyards.

Culinary Delights…

Just moments from August’s homes in Lucca, Buca di Sant’Antonio has been serving guests for centuries as one of the region’s oldest restaurants. The perfect first-night spot, its ceiling, covered in copper pans creates a warm, homely atmosphere while its menu of traditional favourites such as farro soup transports all those who visit to a bygone era, far from the hectic pace of daily life. For a pre or post dinner tipple, we recommend La Tana del Boia, a bijoux bar that’s also popular with the locals. 

Further north, in Macchino, is Bar Trattoria Lina, abundant with character, famed for its generous plates of antipasto. Just 10 minutes drive from August’s home in Cozzile, it’s open from 8am until midnight making it perfectly well-suited to a relaxed family lunch al fresco. To make a day of it, combine it with a morning visit to the nearby comune of Marliana, an ancient village lost in time in the nearby Pistoia mountains.

Elsewhere, in Montecatini Terme, authentic Tuscan Trattoria Le Prunecce, rests a mere 12 minute stroll away from our home. Hidden in the hills above the town, its charcoal-grilled Florentine steaks are an in-house speciality, and philosophy of ‘guests being welcomed as customers and leaving as friends’ shares the very same values as the August community.

Family-owned establishment, Osteria Il Maialetto is another August recommendation. Perfect for dinner with friends, visit for its lively atmosphere and the finest cuts of meat, sourced from the restaurant’s very own butcher's shop next door, and stay for the homemade desserts such as classic tiramisu and fresh fig pie.

Wine…

In Italy, the proverb ‘Il vino fa buon sangue’ translates to ‘good wine makes good blood,’ and therefore no trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to one of its celebrated vineyards. While the Chianti region in the south is the most famed, nearby vineyard Fattoria Montechairi and winery Tenuta Adamo are both beautiful estates offering in depth insights into wine-making tradition. The former was replanted in 1978, while the latter was established in 2020. Both are key contributors to northern Tuscany’s wine renaissance, and host daily tastings focussing on low impact and organic agriculture.

Everything else…

Should the local restaurant scene seem a little overwhelming, there’s always the opportunity to take a simpler, more authentic approach, visiting one of the region’s many farm shops to gather fresh produce to enjoy in the comfort of home. An August favourite is Antico Podere Cavozzi on the terraced slopes of Montecatini Alto. First established in 1951 by Gino Guidarini and Disma Dinelli, the farm is now run by their grandchildren and offers some of the region’s most exceptional olive oil. In addition to selling their produce, they also offer a range of tastings and farm tours, inviting visitors to experience life as a local.

Fattoria il Poggio is another local favourite, an 18th century farmhouse near the small mediaeval village of Montecarlo, just 15km from Lucca. Here, guests can enjoy a traditional farm-to-table dining lunch, or opt for a hands-on cooking class, learning to make fresh pasta and traditional tiramisu using secret recipes shared by the Rossi family, owners of the estate since 1962.

Art, History & Culture

Revered as ‘the cradle of the Renaissance’, Tuscany is also a treasure trove of artistic and cultural richness. Its landscape is littered with historic edifices and landmarks and while the popular cities of Pisa and Florence are famed for their emblematic leaning tower and magnificent duomo, Lucca’s own Torre Guinigi is equally impressive. A 14th century symbol of power, a climb up its 233 stairs not only offers spectacular city views, but serves as one of the only remaining mediaeval towers, having avoided demolition in the 1600s. 

For those still full of energy after reaching its summit, the best way to uncover the rest of Lucca’s past is on two wheels, renting a bike from Amici Bici. Wide and flat, the path through the city’s iconic walls offers a gentle three mile loop, with plenty of opportunities to stop off along the way to refuel. 

An alternative way to experience Lucca’s past is to spend the afternoon browsing the boutiques and its ateliers. Lining its narrow cobbled streets are an abundance of shops, many dating back centuries and home to some of the finest craftsmen in the region - from ceramicists to chocolatiers. August recommends heading to the pedestrianised street of Chiasso Barletti, where many boutiques double up as workshops, offering the opportunity to observe the artisans at work, before taking home their creations as treasured souvenirs. 

Elsewhere, in Montecatini Terme, a UNESCO Heritage Site, history and culture are combined with wellness. One of Europe’s great spa towns, Montecatini Terme’s healing waters, flow into thermal baths that date back to Roman times. One of our favourite places to reap their therapeutic rewards is at Terme Tettuccio, worth a visit for its architecture alone - a tapestry of intricate frescos and marble colonnades that date back to the 1700s. 

After a morning of wellness, a perfect afternoon is spent stepping back in time in Montecatini Alto. A mediaeval village spread across two hills, the old town centre can be accessed on foot or via the two iconic red trains of the Montecatini Funicular. The 10 minute train journey offers an easier way to reach its 290 metre summit, with beautiful views along the way.

The Best of the Rest

In addition to its art, culture, and gastronomy, Tuscany offers an array of activities for all ages, making it perfect for multi-generational stays with the entire family in tow. Golfers can enjoy 18-holes at the nearby Golf Monticantini Terme course which winds through the Tuscan hills; wellness enthusiasts can find tranquillity bathing in the abundant thermal springs; and budding astronomers can look to the stars at the nearby Astronomical Observatory in the Pistoai Mountains. 

Perfect for families travelling with children, Pinocchio Park, located between Lucca and Montecatini Terme, immerses visitors in the iconic story, created by local writer, Carlo Collodi. A tranquil spot for adults and little ones alike, spend an afternoon picnicking here, surrounded by fairytale features and enchanted gardens. The nearby ‘Oak of the Witches,’ a National Moment, is also within easy reach. The magnificent 600-year old oak with its network of 40-metre long branches rests in the woods of the Lucca plain and is believed to have inspired Collodi’s writing. 

The region even offers its own vibrant festival scene. Perhaps the most popular, Lucca Summer Festival takes place annually in July, welcoming some of the most famous musicians from across the globe - from Ed Sheeran to the Rolling Stones.

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