As you know – I live in Umbria and I absolutely adore it. However, I do consider us the simple country cousin to the more upscale Tuscany. Think of us as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind — kind, but plain — compared to the show-stopping looks of Scarlett O’Hara.
It would be difficult to find fault with the beauty we have around us here in Orvieto. For instance, when I get out of the elevator to go to the parking garage, this is my view:
However, Tuscany is the place people picture in their dreams when they think of Italy…. perhaps even before The Big 3: Rome, Florence & Venice. And even though I spend quite a bit of time in Italy, I’m still one of those people. The Tuscan border is no more than 30 minutes from us, and I certainly know how beautiful it is. I tell everyone how beautiful it is. I have a gazillion photos of my favorite places in Tuscany that show how beautiful it is. And yet – whenever I go there, it turns out to be MUCH more beautiful than I expected it to be. This happens EVERY time, and I go there A LOT. Surely by now, wouldn’t you think that my expectations would be more in line with my reality?
I must tell you right up front that when I say “Tuscany”, I’m not talking about the whole region, which is really quite large. My “Dream Tuscany”, for those of you armed with Google Maps, goes roughly from the A1 Autostrada in the east to the Cassia (SS2) in the west, and from Florence in the north to San Casciano dei Bagni in the south. (San Casciano dei Bagni is only about 22 miles from Orvieto, and should not be confused with San Casciano in Val di Pesa, which is just a few miles south of Florence, meaning it, too, falls into the “Dream Tuscany” area. Italians don’t seem to have a problem with 2 San Cascianos less than 90 miles from each other.)
There are many wonderful Tuscan areas outside of these boundaries that I also love – Lucca, The Maremma and Cortona, for instance. But just a few weeks ago after our great stay in Lucca, which is west of Florence, we decided to have an overnight in the Chianti region. As soon as we got south of Florence, I was once again absolutely blown away by how gorgeous it was. Worse yet for the people with me, I found it necessary to practically bludgeon them with my euphoria. I’m like a teen girl whose friends must duct tape her mouth shut in order to keep her from mentioning her boyfriend One More Time. Shouldn’t I be more jaded by now?
I first discovered the Chianti area (between Florence and Siena)
and the Val d’Orcia (south of Siena)
on bike trips. I haven’t biked in either for almost 10 years, but that hasn’t stopped me from visiting them whenever I can. While Chianti is a bit far to go for dinner, the Val d’Orcia is a lovely drive – AND we get to dine in our good friend Daria’s restaurant, which is one of our most favorite places to eat, and just happens to be in one of the valley’s loveliest little towns. To sit on the terrace in the Spring, enjoying the company of friends, wonderful food and wine, and having a breeze stir the grain growing on the gently rolling hills that spread before you like green velvet waves is…….well……I DID warn you way back in my first blog that I was a “rolling green hills” person, so you shouldn’t be TOO surprised that I just can’t shut up about what a fabulous experience this is.
My off-the-cuff advice has always been to go to the Val d’Orcia in the Spring when the hills are so green they almost hurt your eyes, and Chianti in the Fall when the grape vines have filled out to their fullest. But in fact, both of them are wonderful ALL year. And then when you get tired of all that unrelentingly gorgeous countryside – head over to Umbria. Alan’s favorite beauty right now is Charlize Theron. Consider Umbria Charlize without make-up: still beautiful, but just not quite so polished.