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.
AvignonesiVia Colonica 4, Montepulciano | +39.0578.724.304
It’s what you dream of when you dream of Tuscany: Avignonesi is the Platonic ideal of a Tuscan winery, hills rolling in every direction, an estate that could be home to a royal family, and a selection of wines to impress any sommelier. “Avignonesi is the top producer of Vino Nobile,” says Voigtmann. “And its wine-tasting lunch is a great way to let a day completely get away from you.”
Casanova di NeriPodere Fiesole - SP 14 Via Traversa dei Monti, Montalcino | +39.0577.834.455
This is the place for people who are very serious about their Brunello and their food. Very serious. “It’s not controversial to say that Giacomo Neri is Montalcino’s most famous and influential producer of Brunello,” says Voigtmann. “The tasting room is always open for a visit, but a private lunch in the secret dining room is an unforgettable experience.”
IdylliumVia Gozzante 67, Pienza | +39.0578.748.176
There’s nothing about a 600-year-old Renaissance town that would make you think that the cool kids took over. Then you walk down below the church. “It’s this hipster cocktail bar that was recently opened by a group of young guys from Pienza,” says Voigtmann. “It’s in a historic building overlooking the valley.” This is the perfect place to come after dinner: If it’s warm, sit outside, but the inside is just as lively. Order a Campari spritz, the less-sweet version of an Aperol Spritz, and snack on chips as night falls over the valley. The darker the sky, the louder the music. Fair warning: “It stays open late,” says Voigtmann. “Too late.”
La SostaVia Ricasoli 48, Montalcino | +39.0577.848.230
“This new place is my favorite spot in Montalcino,” says Voigtmann. And that’s high praise from a man who knows the best wine spots. A charming wine bar that takes its food as seriously as its wine, La Sosta is one of those places the locals are loath to share.
La Vineria di MontepulcianoVia di Gracciano Nel Corso 101, Montepulciano | +39.0578.850.153
“Montepulciano is beautiful, but STEEP,” says Voigtmann. This “perfect little wine bar” is exactly the place you want to rest your legs. The selection of wine is as impressive as you’d expect from a world-class wine bar in a world-class wine town. The vibe is relaxed, the bar is small and bright, and the salumi e formaggi boards are very generous. Pace yourself—you still have to get back to the car.
MonteverdiVia di Mezzo, Castiglioncello del Trinoro, Sarteano | +39.0578.268.146
Monteverdi is a hotel, a bar, a restaurant, a wine bar, a spa, and a handful of private villas, and at the time of this writing, there may very well be plans for an opera house under way. It is mind-blowingly beautiful and luxurious. It’s somehow a tiny village and an outrageously luxurious hotel at the same time. The new cocktail lounge, Enoteca, is “probably the best cocktail with a view in the whole valley,” says Voigtmann. And yes, that’s saying something.
Podere Le RipiLocalità Le Ripi, Montalcino | +39.0577.835.641
“The drive alone is worth the visit to this stunningly positioned organic Brunello producer—and then there’s the wine,” says Voigtmann. This is a biodynamic vineyard in Montalcino that boasts some of the best Rosso di Montalcino in all of Montalcino. Amore & Magia (“love and magic”) is as lovely as the name suggests, and Sebastian is always happy to help you ship a few cases home. If you can, tour the cantina—you can’t believe anyone could do this with bricks.