A few weeks ago I took you on a virtual culinary tour through Rome, today I’m back for the rest of that trip to venture through the streets of Florence and the wine country of Chianti. Grab your passport, get comfortable and have a snack and espresso on hand because we are eating out in Italy, Florence style!
In Rome you visit for the ancient history in Florence it’s all about the renaissance. As soon as you leave the train station you can see the difference in architecture around the city. The buildings are clearly old but have a more romantic feeling to them than they did in Rome. Busy cobblestone lined streets are full of tourists and school groups but we made our way through it and over one of the many bridges to our bed and breakfast to the Oltrarno area.
The Oltrarno is considered the artisan area with many small boutiques lining the narrow streets and locals flowing all around.
We arrived starving (what else is new?) and confused! Turns out in Florence the street numbers are doubled up with blue and red addresses. You should have seen our baffled faces when a bank was at the location of our B&B. Apparently that was the one bit of research we did not do. Luckily there was someone in the bank to direct us down the block to the proper address.
Settled, rested and checked in we asked our host where was the best place to go for lunch – his answer was Trattoria I’raddi down the street. In we walked to a charming restaurant with a giant barrel up front where the house wine was stored. The smells were incredible and my stomach grumbled as I looked over the all the different selections for lunch. We finally decided on some of the best tortellini with meat sauce I’ve ever had and pasta with fresh mozzarella. The real standout though was the accidental salad I ordered. I learned that day that I clearly didn’t know all the Italian food words. I saw burrata, I saw olives and figured whatever else came with it would be good. That other thing was tuna! Well it was good! A combination I would have never though about putting together but we devoured it and in fact if you come back on Sunday, I made my version of it for #SundaySupper.
Florence is a walkable city, unlike Rome we didn’t take any public transportation and used our feet to take us around the city. Our time to sightseeing was limited, since a good chunk was taken up by a trip to Chianti and another food tour. The two museums not to miss in my opinion are the Accademia Gallery where you can view the original David and works of Michelangeo and the Uffizi Gallery Museum. Neither allow photos inside but you can at least take a photo of the fake David right outside the Uffizi where the original used to stand. It’s not nearly as awe-inspiring but it’s certainly a lovely reminder.
Sightseeing and walking makes you hungry, good thing you can get a good steak for dinner in Florence! One of the most well known dishes is Bistecca Fiorentina. Many restaurants specialize in just serving this cut of meat – to us Americans it’s the porterhouse cut. I suggest doing a good amount of research before you walk into a restaurant to enjoy your bistecca, cost will range from 35 to 50 euros for the steak but it can feed 2-3 people with a good amount of sides and antipasto. The steak should come from Chianina, an Italian breed of cattle raised mainly for beef. It has the most flavor – a good restaurant will let you see the cut before chef cooks it. Speaking of cooking it, medium-rare is the way to go and anything else is considered an insult.
When in Tuscany one must not forget about the wine! You are just a short drive from the Chianti region and even with grey skies and no grapes on the vines the views were just stunning.
We took a day trip through the Chianti region through Wine tours in Tuscany with Angie, the owner as our guide. The tours are built so that even if only 2 people sign up they will be given, lucky for us only 2 people signed up! We met in Florence and Angie took us on the 45 minutes ride into the Chianti region. She provided us with a map on where we visiting, along with literature on wine and the vineyards we were to visit, plus a fun quiz on wine. Angie was knowledgable about the area, wine and the conversation flowed freely through the drive like we had known each other already.
Angie was taking us to two small operating and private vineyards, Castelvecchio and Solatione. Castelvecchio, our first stop is located on a beautiful villa and family run since 1962. The property stands out with an incredible Italian Cyrus tree in the center of the fields.
After a quick tour of the facility, we retreated upstairs to their tasting room. We started off the traditional Chianti – now if you aren’t a fan of Chianti wines, this is a tour to take, most are cheap and not made well. Real Chiantis are made with a minimum of 80% sangiovese grapes and the rest up to the wine maker. They are fruity, but dry and spicy at the same time. A great wine to have with your bistecca or a bowl of hearty pasta.
Next we moved on to the super tuscans, if you aren’t familiar with these wines they are blends. The winemakers have no rules to follow like the chianti and these wines are generally much more bold, stronger and expensive. Braden loves every super Tuscan he’s come across and these were no difference. This is the wine to have after dinner, the wine to enjoy with friends over conversation.
All that wine drinking makes you hungry! Angie drove us into Greve, one of the small medieval towns in Chianti. While she parked the car we had a chance to stroll in a few shops before we had lunch. Now forgive me, I was a bad food blogger and never got the name of the restaurant.
This meal is what you dream of eating in Italy is all about. There were only three of us dining but food just kept coming out, I didn’t even see Angie order all the antipasto but she did and oh my. We dined on coccoli (little balls of fried dough), fresh fried artichokes, pecorino toscano, tuscan french fries, white beans (both not pictured) and our three plates of pasta. To say that I needed to be rolled out of there is an understatement. I was stuffed but it was completely worth it. Good thing we had one more vineyard to wash everything down.
Solatione is another small producing vineyard, they only put out about 15,000 bottles per year. They have the growing capacity for more but choose not to. It’s all about taste and the best possible wine, so if that means less bottles, then so be it. We tasted their Chianti Classico, Reserve and Super Tuscan. All delicious and all came home with us. The one unusual note about their Super Tuscan, it’s not a blend but made entirely of merlot grapes. As I said, there are no rules with super Tuscans, the winemaker can do as they choose.
Just as we did in Rome, I searched out a food tour to see and eat the city. Food tours in Florence are a dime a dozen and it took a good few weeks of research before I really found one that I felt would live up to my expectations. I’m happy to say my choice was an excellent one.
We went on the tour offered by Taste Florence, the tour is 4 and a half hours long and centers mostly around the San Lorenzo area of Florence. You will get to try a little of everything that Tuscany has to offer, a comparison of prosciutto di parma and toscana (I prefer the bolder toscana), a sandwich of boiled beef that the hard workers of Florence grab for lunch, wine, and balsamic vinegars.
Our group was the perfect size, just myself, Braden and a lovely couple who also happened to be from Manhattan! I noticed a few other groups around the markets that were large and overbearing. With just four people our guide, Martina was able to make this tour a personal experience and it felt more like a day out tasting instead of follow the leader. Taste Florence knows the area and the operators of the markets that we visited, this is not just stops on a tour but where they shop personally.
Pictured above are cantucci and vinsanto, commonly paired together. You dip the cantucci (what we know as our biscotti) into the vinsanto (generally a moscato or sweet wine) to soften the biscuit and eat. This is served after a meal but this pasticceria served it right at the counter. In the center are larger coccoli filled with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella from Forno and bottom is a flaky pastry filled with pastry cream from Pasticceria Sieni.
We visited the San Lorenzo market, a large indoor market full of fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, butchers, cheese mongers, pasta makers, really anything you can think of. You don’t need supermarkets in Italy, you have places like this. We were given some time to wander and came back to have the most tender and flavorful boiled beef sandwich. It doesn’t seem like it would be much but between the bread and the parsley pesto on top, I could eat it every day. Pictured below is part of the cows stomach, it wasn’t tripe but I can’t remember the exact name. Martina asked if we wanted to try offal and we were all game. A little chewy but tasty. In Italy, they waste nothing.
Around the market at the butcher counters you will see all parts of the cow for sale, brains, stomach, liver and more. 🙂
The longest stop on the tour was for the wine, cheese, salumi and balsamic vinegar tasting at Enoteca. Settled down in the wine cellar we were able to taste prosecco, chianti classico and a super Tuscan. Along with two types of pecorino toscana – an aged and a young version, parmigiano reggiano that was so funky it almost tasted like a bleu cheese and salumi.
The balsamic vinegar went from aged 18 years that was so sweet I swore it tasted like raisins to the usual more tangy fair to drizzle on top of a salad or some tomatoes.
Of course no tour is complete without some chocolate and gelato. A tasting of artisan chocolates finished the afternoon up. We even managed a taste of the housemade chocolate hazelnut spread.
If you are in Florence I highly recommend the tour. I have a listing of all the shops we visited if you would like them, but I think taking the tour is definitely a better option than going on your own. 🙂
Also if you’ve made it to the end, you are a rockstar!
Special thanks to Taste Florence for providing a free tour for myself and to Wine Tours Tuscany for the discount. As always opinions regarding the tour are my own!