Eschewing the confident swag of regions like neighbouring Lazio, where Rome is the capital, Tuscany opts for a more rustic approach. That quiet confidence comes from the knowledge that main city Florence has long secured her legacy.
The Tuscan capital is home of Renaissance art and architecture, and the pride of local poster boys Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo resonates out beyond the ancient stones of the Uffizi Gallery, where their masterpieces hang today.
When in Tuscany...
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, goes the old adage. And the same should be applied to Tuscany. One of the best ways to enjoy your time there is to bypass package holiday hotels and carve out a homely niche: rent a villa, take cooking courses, tour vineyards and grab the outreached hands local experts extend to anyone wanting to embrace an authentic cultural experience.
Beyond Florence, the vertiginous Tuscan countryside scales up and out for miles. The only rivals to the natural beauty are the stunning villas housed in the region. Pick the perfect spot to serve as your base with the help of property tsars, Tuscany Now.
Owners Simon Ball and Barbara Boni nurture an exclusive portfolio filled with villas that rival Sting's Tuscan retreat. Rental companies like Tuscany Now see bricks and mortar as the cornerstone for a wider, more enriching experience and allow you to choose a villa with character and a unique backstory.
Classic Tuscan farmhouses, often nestled in hectares of Chianti vineyards and olive groves, outdo even the most modern buildings.
While dining out is an absolute must for anyone visiting the region, the pleasure of a restaurant dish only lasts until the bill lands on the table.
Taking personal cooking lessons means the secrets of delicious local recipes are yours to pack up and relive at any time, and dishes like the ones which inspired Nigella Lawson's latest series Nigellissima can be a nightly joy.
Agritourism activities are often an additional service available when renting a villa via experts who know the area and its most distinguished chefs, farmers and winemakers.
Tuscany Now's resident chef is restauranteur Anna Bini, who cracks the spine on her personal recipe books to offer bespoke classes to chefs and visitors looking to take a piece of Tuscany home with them.
Shopping for fresh produce at Florence's central Sant Ambrogio market is followed by a vigorous workout in the Bini kitchen where every pasta has its soulmate (seafood goes with spaghetti while penne offsets richer sauces and meats) and country fare becomes first class cooking – all this over a chilled glass of Prosecco.
Tuscan dishes often feature wild boar – known in Italian as cinghiale – that densely populate the countryside, and succulent beef from Italy’s Chianina cattle is the mainstay of the famed Florentine steak.
Michelangelo deftly depicted Bacchus, the god of wine, whose glass overflowed and whose cheeks flushed with the copious contents of his glass. This piece of art is easy to imitate in Tuscan life.
The region is proud home of Chianti wine, an elegant Italian red made from the Sangiovese grape and often presented in a distinctive basket-style container.
Few tables are deemed complete without a bottle of Chianti at their head. One place to get a distinguished education on the makings of Chianti wine is in Antico Podere Casanova's wine cellars.
This 17th century Farmhouse and its surrounding vineyards are run by Massimo Bucciarelli, a local winemaker whose family have been making their name in the Castellina region for six generations.
Their agritourism operation includes in-depth wine tastings led by their own classic Chianti wine, made purely from the Sangiovese grape and bearing the prestigious hallmark of all classic Chianti wines – a quality seal depicting a black rooster.
Less known but equally cherished is the rare Pugnitello grape that is native to Tuscany. Pugnitello – which translates as small fist – refers to the way the grapes grow in small, packed clusters. The wine it produces also packs a punch.
Peel back the mystery of the Pugnitello with the help of Giuseppe Olivi, whose winery and agritourism site La Sovana is nestled in the Tuscan hill town of Siena. La Sovana are one of only three local producers who are leading the revival and spreading the word about Tusan wine's well-kept secret.
Report by Andrea Maltman