Home Chennai Roadtrip in Tuscany

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    Four global travellers tell us why the central Italian region is where a lot of Chennaiites are headed

    Of late, Indians have been turning their backs on the crowds at the Colosseum and Pantheon, and heading north, to the vistas and vineyards of Tuscany. We asked a few of our favourite Chennaiites, who recently holidayed in the region, how to make the best of the art, wine trails, cuisine and culture in the area. And if that weren’t enough, cartoonist Biswajit sketched us his opinion, too.

    By Surya Praphulla Kumar

    Bicycle diaries

    On her 60th birthday last year, Vidya Singh didn’t sit around eating cake; she went on an eight-day cycling holiday in Tuscany that her children had gifted her. “It’s a great place to cycle as it is full of vineyards, olive groves, beautiful villas and the visuals are spectacular,” she says. “But you need to be very fit as the whole area is hilly.”
    The holiday was planned by Giro Libero, a bike tour organiser. “They’d give us the day’s route (with distances, heights, etc) and we’d head out after breakfast,” Singh explains. The three took their time cycling, stopping at olive farms for tastings and to see how the oil was pressed. “Or we’d stop at a vineyard for a walk through. We’d also pick up a bottle of wine, find a shady tree and enjoy a drink,” she reminisces, adding that the city of Siena was her favourite.
    Singh’s tip is to take your time. “There are so many quaint towns to explore, so don’t rush about,” she says, recalling how they’d caught
    an impromptu violin concert outside a church and dined in a town square during a local fashion show.

    Snapshots and cheese

    While adman and photographer Sharad Haksar did pack his camera, his recent holiday to Tuscany was not about finding the perfect frame. It was about family time, exploring the Italian countryside and tasting the local cheeses. “The best way to experience Tuscany is by road. So hire a car,” says Haksar, who stayed in Montepulciano, a town in the Siena province.
    “I prefer the smaller towns, built on hilltops, which have so much character and unreal vistas,” he describes, adding that one must visit the artisanal shops, “where people work with silver and ceramic.” And when they were not exploring, they were eating. While his daughter worked her way through plates of pasta, Haksar says he gorged on pizzas and cheeses, loving the fact that “everything was homemade.”
    He suggests that travellers book rooms at local villas. “The people are warm and the serviced apartments beautiful,” he shares. If there’s anything to be careful about, it’s where you park your car. “You may see a parking board, but it could be just for residents. So double check as the penalty is steep,” he says.

    Going local

    It’s no surprise that Vipin Sachdev’s holiday was all about eating and drinking. But the owner of Tuscana insists that, while the food was great, “There’s nothing to beat the pizzas we serve.”
    His driving holiday with his wife and two daughters panned out very organically. All they took was their luggage and his TomTom (car GPS system).
    “We drove from Florence to the Chianti region. We didn’t plan which town to stop at; we went by gut. If we liked a villa in a vineyard, we’d get a room. Then we’d spend the day driving to nearby towns,” he says. However, Sachdev made sure to stay away from touristy trattorias. Instead, he’d ask locals where they ate. “Before we sat down, we’d make sure it was full of locals and that the waiter didn’t speak English,” he chuckles, adding that they tasted everything from risottos, pastas and pizzas to a variety of desserts, the staple being tiramisu. “We’d also ask the maître d’ for wine recommendations,” says Sachdev, who loves his whites.
    His only word of caution: don’t over speed. “You will get caught and the penalty is very high (around 175 Euros),” he explains.

    Mapping your journey
    ■ Getting there: Book Singapore Airlines and enjoy
    flat beds, 15.4-inch LCD screens and the ‘Book the Cook’ service on board their Business Class. (`3,30,000 onwards for
    a return trip)

    ■  Stay: It’s difficult to find a
    bad villa in Tuscany, say visitors. Check out tuscanynow.com or to-tuscany.com to book luxury villas

    ■  Must do: Visit a winery. Our pick—Marchesi Antinori (antinorichianticlassico.it), Brancaia (brancaia.com) and Castello Banfi (castellobanfi.com)

    ■  Food: Try the local beef, wild boar and pici pasta at the trattorias and osterias. Our pick—Ristoro di Lamole, in Greve (Chianti) and La Taverna di San Giuseppe, in Siena

    ■  Bring back: Pici pasta and pecorino cheese from Pienza, panforte biscuits from Siena, the wines (Chianti, Brunello), olive oil, truffles and leather shoes

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