Our Week in Tuscany

Once the whole group made it to Villa Ronzano and unpacked, we were ready to start our weeklong Tuscan adventure!

Day 0: Arrival

The first night we were all pretty tired and didn't want to mess with dinner at the house. Instead, we drove into Camucia, where the train station serving Cortona and the surrounding area is located, and parked near what seemed to be the main street in search of some food. We stumbled upon a couple of restaurants located on a small square (that was being used as a parking lot) and found San Lazzaro Pizza. The rain seemed to have passed for the day so we took a table outside and ordered some pizza and wine. The servers couldn't have been more friendly and they were happy to answer questions and provide recommendations. The food was just as good as the service and we headed home for the night with full, happy bellies.

Day 1: Cortona and a Cooking Class

For our first full day in Italy, we all slept in as we were battling various forms of travel fatigue. Around lunchtime we headed up the hill to Cortona to explore the town a bit. Fortunately for us, we got one of the last available parking spots on the outskirts of town and finished our climb up the hill on foot. The city is a restricted zone for vehicles so don't try and drive into it.

View of the Valdichiana from Cortona Italy

At the top of the hill we found ourselves on a busy street lined with shops and headed for a local wine store one of the girls found online to stock up on vino. We found the store located on the Piazza della Repubblica and headed inside to check out the selection.

The store was empty when we walked in but a minute or so after our arrival the shop owner came strolling in from across the street. He was extremely knowledgeable about the various wines and recommended some higher end and mid range bottles he thought we would like. We ended up grabbing 12 bottles which we figured was a good start and took those back to the car while the ladies went off to do some shopping.

After we dropped the wine off at the car we were parched so we stopped in a local bar/restaurant and grabbed a cold beer while we waited on them to finish shopping.

Beer on a patio in Cortona Italy

By this point it was 2:00p and we were all starting to get hungry. Many of the restaurants close mid-afternoon for a while so we wandered around until we stumbled upon Ristorante Tempero. The place was packed but fortunately we were able to find a table on the patio.

Piazza della Repubblica Cortona Italy

We ordered quickly and I had some delicious bruschetta to start followed by an amazing artichoke gnocchi.

Completely full from lunch, we headed back to the villa and spent some time relaxing under the gazebo drinking Aperol spritzes and beer in preparation for our private cooking class that night.

Beer in Tuscany

As part of our package with Hill Town Tours, a cooking class was included with our stay. Our chef showed up at 6:00p and came prepared with all of the necessary ingredients to cook a wonderful meal. She also brought some homemade snacks for us to enjoy while we all cooked.

Preparing to cook an authentic Italian dinner

To kick things off, we prepared the base of the sauce for our beef bolognaise. Everyone got in on the fun and worked on various parts of the dishes. Our amazing chef, was coaching us along the way and said that it is always more fun working with groups that want the full experience rather than the ones that just want her to show up and cook.

Once we had the sauce going, she put the pork roast and potatoes in the oven to finish cooking. She started this part at home and was only finishing it up at our house due to the lengthy cook time.

Pork roast finishing up in the oven

With the sauce simmering on the stove and the pork roast in the oven, we got started on the most fun part of the whole experience. We were making the pasta for this dish from scratch and mostly by hand. we had one handheld mixer to help with the dough but other than that it was all up to us, with a lot of guidance and help from our chef.

Finally, it was time for us to make dessert, we closed out our cooking extravaganza with a tiramisu. Our fantastic chef handled the final touches of the meal and we headed outside to set the table and get ready to feast.

The food came out and the wine and conversation flowed as we enjoyed our delicious, homemade meal. While we enjoyed dinner, our chef cleaned up the kitchen which meant we could enjoy the rest of the night without having to worry about the mess. After dinner, we played some cards before calling it a night.

Day 2: Montepulciano

Kicking off our second full day in Tuscany we decided to make the drive over to the medieval hilltop town of Montepulciano, roughly 45 minutes away from our villa. First, a couple of us who were up early set off on a run through the surrounding countryside and arrived back at the house around 10:30a. After a quick dip in the pool to cool off, we showered, changed, and hopped in the car just before noon.

Similar to our experience in Cortona, we parked in one of the car parks on the outskirts of town and climbed the hill on foot towards town. We found ourselves on the streets of Montepulciano around 12:45p and set off in search of lunch.

We hopped on TripAdvisor and after looking at a few places settled on Cantine Tombesi Trecci. We grabbed a table inside and perused the menu while the waiter explained the large assortment of daily specials, all of which sounded delicious. I'm a big fan of gnocchi so, even though I had it yesterday, that was my choice. Mrs. ATX Jetsetter went with the roast duck and potatoes which was delicious.

Fueled up and ready to explore, we made our way towards the main street, the Via di Gracciano nel Corso, to do some shopping. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon and the city was coming more alive with tourists and locals milling about.

After shopping for an hour or so we wanted to grab a drink and a snack. I noticed a restaurant down a small side street which looked like it would have a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside. We headed in and were seated immediately at a table by the window and the views didn't disappoint.

We ordered a bottle of Montepulciano's famous Noble red wine and some bruschetta to accompany it. The owner, who was a larger than life personality, took a liking to our table and a few other groups and was chatting with all of us about where we were from and what we were doing in town. We had groups from Texas, Georgia, Australia, England, and New Zealand and the owner took great delight in chatting with all of us.

From the restaurant we headed back out on the main street and headed down to the Porta al Prato, the old city gate. From there, we doubled back on some side streets that eventually connected back to the main road and took in the sights and sounds of the town.

Hill Tour Tours had organized a wine cellar tour and tasting in town, though it didn't start for another hour. With some time to kill, we found another local winery/wine shop, croce di febo, and stopped to try some of their varieties.

We ordered a couple of bottles, one of which was very good though the other was awful, and took a table at the rear of the building which also had views out over the valley below.

After an hour or so, it was nearing time for our scheduled wine tasting. We climbed further up the hill, near the Piazza Grande, and found the entrance to the De'Ricci Cathedral cellar. n Our tour was scheduled to begin at 5:00p and the staff opened the doors a few minutes early to get everyone checked in. There were a few folks trying to do a walk-in tour but they were completely booked. If this is somewhere that you want to visit be sure to reserve in advance.

De'Ricci Cantine Storiche Entrance Montepulciano

Once everyone was checked-in, our guide gave an introduction and a bit of history on the Cathedral cellar. We then descended down a set of long, sloping steps that led us underground to the Cathedral cellar. The steps were originally used by horses to bring the product from the vineyards to the cellar for storage.

In the cellar, it is apparent how it got its name. Massive pillars and cross vaulted arches make the cellar resemble a Roman-Gothic cathedral. Large oak barrels line the cathedral which were used to age wine for many years, though they have since been retired and newer aging methods have been introduced.

We continued deeper underground, through two more layers of the cellar, and eventually found ourselves in the remnants of an old cave. A well was located in the center of the room and it is estimated that people from the surrounding countryside who could not access the city would use these caves for shelter. Our guide estimated that the first human habitation of these caves was almost a thousand years ago.

Ancient well in the De'Ricci Cantine Storiche cellar

With the cellar tour complete, we headed upstairs to the tasting room. On the menu for today were six different wines and some accompanying snacks. We enjoyed some of the wine so much we ended up taking two cases of it back to the villa, specifically the AERAE cuvee, Il Vignone Toscana, and the SorAldo Nobile red.

Our tour complete, we hauled our cases of wine back towards the car. The sun was just starting to set over the city and we even caught a brief Summer shower on our walk. The drive back to the villa was uneventful for us, but we saw two cars and a box truck in ditches on the sides of the road which was a reminder to keep it slow on these windy country roads..

Back at the house, we were stuffed from our day in Montepulciano so we kept dinner simple. A large charcuterie board was all we needed before turning in for the night.

Homemade Charcuterie Board at Villa Ronzano

Day 3: Lake Trasimeno

Our third day in Tuscany we decided to take a short road trip and visit nearby Lake Trasimeno. The lake is the fourth largest lake in Italy, only slightly smaller than Lake Como and is unique in the fact that it only has two small inflows and no outflows. There are a couple of towns along the lake and we settled on Passignano sul Trasimeno, located on the north shore of the lake.

We made the 30 minute drive from the villa to the lake and found a parking lot outside of town near the Sualzo Beach Club. We rented some lounge chairs and ordered drinks from the nearby bar while we relaxed beachside. Keep in mind, this is a lake so don't expect any white sand beaches.

There were many paddleboarders and sailboats using the lake and we relaxed here for about an hour and a half before deciding to walk into town for lunch. We walked along the waterfront and found a row of restaurants. After looking at the menus from each, we settled on the Osteria il Maremmano and took a table on the patio.

For starters, we ordered a baked onion dish as well as a large charcuterie board that featured many local meats and cheeses.

One of our travel friends and I had been on the search for some good beer throughout our trip and we finally found it here. We both ordered large bottles of Calibro 7, a local Pale Ale, which I accompanied with a burger and fries.

After lunch we headed further into town and found a small square near the ferry landing that had shops selling ceramics. We picked up a few souvenirs and strolled through the side streets of the town before heading back to the beach.

Back at the beach, we relaxed in our lounge chairs before heading back towards the villa around 4:00p. We made a quick stop at the supermarket in Camucia to pick up a few things for dinner and headed back to the villa. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool before a storm pushed us inside where we watched from the indoor spa.

Once the weather subsided we had a rainbow appear which transitioned to a beautiful sunset and we got started on dinner.

Dinner was a quick and easy pasta dish accompanied by a prosciutto salad and we concluded the evening, and my 29th year on earth, with a few card games before retiring to bed.

Day 4: Pool Day and Birthday Dinner in Cortona

I woke up on the first day of my 30th lap around the sun feeling older and more tired than usual (maybe it had something to do with all of the wine we had the night before). We decided to take it easy at the villa today as we had dinner plans in Cortona that evening. It was a hot day outside so the cool pool felt nice and refreshing.

Villa Ronzano Pool

We had champagne, Aperol spritzes, and beers by the pool throughout the day and used the leftover pasta from the night before as lunch.

Around 4:30p we all started getting ready for dinner and made it to Cortona just after 6:00p. Having parked in a different parking lot than last time, we had a shorter but steeper walk up to the main square.

We arrived a couple of hours prior to our dinner reservation since the girls wanted to do some shopping. The guys took seats at one of the outdoor tables on the square and had a couple of beers while listening to a local musician who was performing. He was pretty good an played a wide variety of songs including John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.

Sunset on the Piazza della Repubblica Cortona Italy

Once the shopping was completed we all met up in the main square and headed over to Al Tocco, which came highly recommended from our tour company. We found the space to be a nice blend of modern and rustic and the service was very good from the beginning. We started off with a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva while we perused the menu.

Side Alleyway in Cortona Italy

First, we went with a couple of appetizers to start, I don't remember what they were but they were delicious.

From there we moved on to the pasta course, I went with a truffle risotto.

For my main, I had a delicious pork loin served with a potato puree.

pork loin with potato puree at Al Tocco

We closed out with dessert and the restaurant brought a little something extra for my birthday.

It was 10:00p by the time we finished dinner and started making our way back to the car. The town was still active with people milling about even at the late hour.

Back at the villa we continued the celebrations into the wee hours of the night before turning in around 2:00a.

Day 5: Vineyard Tours

Today's main event was also organized by our tour company, which was a vineyard tour at the nearby Cantina Canaio. First we needed some breakfast and, having received a notice that the power would be turned off at the villa between 9:00a-1:00p for some work in the area, we headed into Camucia. We found a small bakery and ordered an assortment of pastries and coffee to hold us over until our lunch at the vineyard.

Breakfast Pastries on a Table in Camucia Italy

It was a 30 minute drive out to Cantina Canaio and we arrived to find some beautifully manicured grounds and a large main house with a tasting room and production facility adjacent.

The owner greeted us outside and gave us an overview of what to expect, first a tour of the production facility and cellars followed by lunch and a wine tasting. The production facility had quite a few large stainless steel tanks as well as a large terra cotta pot which is only used to make a certain, small batch wine. He walked us through the processes that they use and the various grape blends, with Syrah being the most common used in their wines.

Production tanks at the Cantina Canaio winery

From the production facility we descended down a flight of stairs which led to the cellars which was constructed as a long tunnel with rooms on either end. The tunnel ran underneath the house and connected it to the production facility. Here is where they aged all of the wines and bottled them for distribution.

Cantina Canaio winery bottle selection

The cellar opened up on the side of the main house and led to the vineyard. There were rows and rows of vines with roses planted on the ends. When we inquired about this he said that the roses were a great visual representation of what was happening with the soil and was a practice his family had been using for years.

Rows of grape vines at Cantina Canaio winery

After walking around the vineyard for a bit we headed up to a covered gazebo behind the tasting room for lunch. The gazebo was nestled in a grove of olive trees which the owner said they used to make their own olive oil. He also informed us that everything on the menu today was made fresh by his mother who was working in the kitchen.

We started off with a selection of small toasts covered with either white beans or tomatoes. Both were good but the white beans were amazing, especially with a little olive oil.

Toast with tomatoes and white beans at Cantina Canaio

They also brought out a charcuterie board and some additional bread for us to enjoy along with the wine.

Next was a light but tasty pasta dish in a vodka sauce accompanied by more wine.

Pasta in Vodka sauce at Cantina Canaio

To round out the meal, we had a small plate of desserts before heading inside to order some wine to go. We ended up getting a few bottles to take home to the villa along with some cases of wine and olive oil which was shipped back to the states.

Desserts at Cantina Canaio winery

Stuffed from lunch we headed back towards the villa. Along the way we decided to stop in at a local winery we had passed many times on the way to the villa along the road to Ronzano. The Cantina Fattoria Cantagallo is located in Fratticciola less than two miles from our house and was a stark contrast to the Cantina Canaio in terms of size and appearance. The vineyard and winery were run by a family and one of the brothers who ran the place had just come from working in the field as we pulled in.

Cantina Fattoria Cantagallo Entrance

He took us across the street from the house to their field which was roughly 8 acres and featured a variety of grapes in the small area. He stated that they typically make 6,000 bottles a year and they only sell their wine at the property and to a few select restaurants in town. It was a much smaller operation than the other that we visited.

Our guide was very engaging and wanted to learn just as much about us and where we were from as we did about him and the vineyard. With our tour in the field complete, we headed back to the house and went into the basement which is where the tasting room and cellar was located.

There were seven wines on the tasting with an option between a meal or no meal to accompany the tasting. Having just eaten lunch, we opted to skip the meal though his mother still brought up some delicious dishes for us to snack on during the tasting.

We had a great time chatting with our guide and his dad came in to chat with us for a while during our tasting as well. We ended up getting a few more bottles from here as well to take with us and I highly recommend checking this place out if you find yourself in the area.

Back at the house we got to work on dinner. On tonight's menu were mussels, an Italian salad, and a delicious pesto gnocchi covered with some crispy prosciutto. We accompanied this with a few bottles of wine we picked up during our vineyard tours during the day.

Homemade Pesto Gnocchi at Villa Ronzano

Day 6: Castiglion Fiorentino and a Final Dinner in Cortona

We awoke on our last full day in Italy and after breakfast at the villa decided to head to the nearby walled city of Castiglion Fiorentino. Aside from dinner later that night in Cortona, we had no real plans for the day other than exploring the village. We stashed the car in a nearby car park and climbed the hill up to the old city gates, the Porta Fiorentina.

Porta Fiorentina in Castiglion Fiorentino

Once through the gates we found a town that had the same feel as Cortona though with a much more relaxing and laid back vibe.

We kept climbing up the hill, past a few shops, until we made it to the Piazza del Municipio and a covered outdoor area overlooking the countryside below.

We sat down at a table outside of the Antico Caffè La Posta and went inside to order. I had an Americano and a croissant and, as I was finishing my order, I noticed a couple of banners for the University of Texas and Texas A&M University hanging in the restaurant. I never got the backstory as to why, but it's certainly something you don't see much in Tuscany.

After finishing up our snack, we hiked further up to the top of the hill to the Piazzale del Cassero which was part of the old fortress. From here you could see for miles across the countryside and there was an oversized bench painted like the Italian flag where we took some pictures.

We spent a couple of hours bouncing in and out of the stores in town and I picked up a very nice leather belt for what seemed like a bargain before we were ready to eat again. We ended up at Da Muzzicone which was located a block off of the main street near the Porta Fiorentina for a late lunch. If you've been reading this long it should come as no shock that I, once again, ordered the gnocchi. While it was good, it wasn't as good as some of the other ones that I had on this trip.

With lunch in the books, we headed back down to the car and made the drive back to Villa Ronzano. We spent a final afternoon in the pool before it was time for us to get ready for one last dinner in Cortona.

We made one final drive up the hill from Villa Ronzano to Cortona and arrived in the car park just before 7:00p. Making the familiar walk up the hill, we arrived at La Bucaccia a few minutes before our reservation and after a short wait we were seated.

As with many of our meals this trip, we started with wine. This time, a bottle of local Cortona Syrah.

Leuta Syrah Cortona

From there, we dove right into the menu and I'm not even going to try and remember all of the dishes we ordered, I just know that they were all delicious.

Before our mains came, we switched to a bottle of Sotiro which was also fantastic.

Finally, we rounded out our final meal with an assortment of delicious desserts.

It seems that we weren't the only ones that thought the food was good as, on our exit, we were greeted by five Michelin plaques that had been awarded to the restaurant.

La Bucaccia Michelin Awards

After dinner, there was no time for us to hang out inside of the old city. We all had to get back to the house and pack for our respective trips home. With that, this trip to Tuscany was coming to a close.

Day 7: Departure

Our amazing week in the Tuscan countryside had come to a close and now it was time to begin the long journey home. We left Villa Ronzano for the last time just before 9:00a and headed to the train station in Camucia to drop off one of our DFW based friends who was headed home via Lufthansa from Florence the next morning. From there, the rest of us made the drive from Tuscany down to Rome's Fiumicino airport for our respective flights home.


This trip was vastly different from every other European trip I've ever taken. While I'm usually go-go-go, it was nice to take a step back and relax for a week, I don't think we ever went more than 40 miles from the house during the week and we still had more to see and explore. While I don't foresee every trip I take being this slow, I will definitely try to take things a little slower in the future and enjoy the moment a bit more. Also, with plenty more of Tuscany and Italy to see, I have no doubt that we'll find ourselves back here again soon.

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