The Tuscany Guide
Tuscany will overwhelm you. No matter whether you’ve lived here your whole life or you’re stepping foot in a hayfield for the first time: This region of Italy will leave you in awe, stammering, speechless. And if there is one part that will spoil you for all others, it is the Val d’Orcia. This valley of the Orcia river is Tuscany at its Tuscaniest. You know those calendars? The ones with the winding road lined with pointy green cypress trees? That road is in the Val d’Orcia. And the cylindrical hay bales that look like giant, flaxen spools of thread? Pure Val d’Orcia. Or the hills that roll like waves to the horizon? Yep, that, too. It’s no wonder that this valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“What I love about the Val d’Orcia is that there is nothing to do here,” says John Voigtmann, an expat who moved here about fifteen years ago. Voigtmann is the co-owner, with his ex-wife Ondine Cohane, of two of the most perfect boutique hotels you’ll find here (or anywhere else, for that matter): La Bandita Countryhouse, ten minutes outside of Pienza, and La Bandita Townhouse, in the center of town. “Okay, specifically, there is nothing you HAVE to do. The area is for taking in the best of Italy—culture, beauty, history—all at your own pace, without having to tick any boxes.”
Of course, if you really wanted to tick boxes, they might look something like this: wine, cheese, pasta, 600-year-old town built by Pope Pius II as the perfect Renaissance town.
But this is Tuscany, and as with any popular tourist destination, if you don’t know where to look, you could wind up eating doughy, lukewarm pizza on a sidewalk next to a tour bus. So we went to the source and asked Voigtmann for his favorite places to eat, drink, and wander. In other words, his favorite places to be overwhelmed.
Buon Gusto GelateriaVia delle Case Nuove 26, Pienza | +39.335.704.9165
“Simply the best gelato” in a town—and a country for that matter—known for its gelato. It’s tiny, there’s always a line, and give up any notion that you could actually get a table. But the gelato flavors change regularly because they’re all based on what’s local and fresh, and BuonGusto has never, not once, served a scoop that’s less than heavenly.
Dopolavoro La FoceStrada Della Vittoria 90, Pienza | +39.0578.754.025
“Dopolavoro” literally translates to “after work,” but this café slash wine bar slash trattoria slash restaurant is aces no matter what time you go. It’s big and bright and airy, which is rare for old Italy, and if the back garden is open, lucky you. Order the mozzarella with vine-ripened tomatoes. Or maybe the pici cingale. Or the pici all’aglione. Or a burger. You can’t go wrong. “It’s the perfect easy lunch spot smack in the middle of the Val d’Orcia,” says Voigtmann, “and a short pretty walk to the garden of La Foce.”
Il LeccioVia Costa Castellare 1, Sant’Angelo in Colle | +39.0577.844.175
Voigtmann has made a profession out of having good taste—in food, wine, hotels, everything. So when he says, “Please don’t tell anyone else about this restaurant—I love it too much!” it’s best to nod graciously, drive directly to this fantastically beautiful hamlet, grab a table outside, and lose your mind over a plate of homemade tagliatelle with fresh porcini. If you’re lucky, you’ll bump into Francesca or Margherita Padovani, the twin sisters who run Fonterenza, the nearby biodynamic vineyard that makes a formidable Brunello di Montalcino.
Osteria del LeoneVia Dei Mulini 3, Bagno Vignoni | +39.0577.887.300
Be sure to order…really anything you want. You can’t make a mistake with the traditional Tuscan menu. Taglioni with ragu, almonds, and local herbs; steak Florentine; roasted potatoes—all the culinary stars of the region are here. But there are a few twists to the menu as well (tuna tataki, for example). Come curious and hungry. Plus the setting is just... Says Voightmann, “A candlelit garden on the edge of this ancient Roman bath town is about as romantic as I can handle.”
Osteria La PortaVia del Piano 1, Monticchiello | +39.0578.755163
It’s a tiny osteria on a tiny block in a tiny town. Walk inside and it’s not even that remarkable. Then you meet Daria, the owner, and you fall in love. Then you walk up to the terrace and the valley unfurls before you and you never want to leave. Or as Voigtmann says more succinctly: “Black truffle pasta.” Full stop.
Osteria PerillàBorgo Maestro 74, Rocca d'Orcia | +39.0577.887.263
After a few days in farm country, you may notice that your legs are scratched from walking in the hayfields and your car is dusty beyond recognition. This is when it’s time to go to Perillà. “It’s a tiny Michelin-starred restaurant in the storybook hamlet of Rocca d’Orcia,” says Voigtmann. Sea scallop ceviche; sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi with sea urchin, salted lemon, and spinach; roasted venison with endive and apricot—the list of creativity goes on.
Podere Il CasalePodere Casale 64, Monticchiello | +39.0578.755.109
“This is an organic farm and cheese producer with a surprisingly serious restaurant,” says Voigtmann. “Their farm tour is available at noon every day and great for kids and animal lovers.” There are free-roaming peacocks to take pictures of, Pecorino to sample, goats to pet, and views to take in. No matter how long you stay here, the kids will complain that you’re leaving too soon.
Sette di VinoPiazza di Spagna 1, Pienza | +39.0578.749.092
A fantastic restaurant that doesn’t serve pasta is a rarity in Tuscany—in fact, Sette di Vino may be the only one. “I’ve been eating here for fifteen years elbow-to-elbow with locals in this old-fashioned osteria,” says Voigtmann. If you can, grab a table on the piazza, order the house wine, bruschetta, verdure grigliate, or whatever the waiter suggests, be generous with your date (the dishes are meant to be shared), and watch local Italian kids kick around a soccer ball. One more point to bear in mind: “You won’t soon forget the grilled Pecorino and pancetta.”