Italy - Tuscany & Umbria
From Tuscany's rolling hills and endless rows of vines in Chianti, the patchwork olive groves, castles, historic towns and farmhouses and the gastronomic delights for whuich Tuscany is renowned, this region cannot fail to please. Known as the green heart of Italy, Umbria is a spectacular region of attractive and hisotric towns, nestled in gentle scenery with marvellous views.
Be sure that the Chianti you drink sports the Black Cockeral label on the bottle - the symbol of authenticity of the Chianti classico.
Widely recognised throughout Italy for its cuisine, Tuscan specialities rely on good basic staples such as extra virgin olive oil, vine-ripened tomatoes, beans, hams and fresh vegetables. As a major wine-producing area in Italy, the region's wines make ideal partners to the local food. Most famous for its red wines, namely Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino, there are also many good white wines here, such as the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which are generally best drunk young
You will also eat well in Umbria. Local cuisine tends to include simple, fresh ingredients, as well as more earthy and robust fare such as the funghi porcini, paparadelle with wild boar sauce, and the treasured truffles found in the region.
Locally-produced food, such as home-made pasta, panforte from Siena, grappa and wine make excellent gifts and are always well recieved back home. Weekly markets are held in many of the region's towns and villages and provide a good opportunity to pick up some bargains.
In the Umbrian region, Perugia is where the famous antiques market is held in the Giardini Carducci on the last Sunday of each month, attracting visitors from across Italy. Crafts following ancient traditions from the 13th century can be purchased in the town of Assisi.
Take a tour of the villages of the Chianti Classico wine region, discovering the main villages such as Radda, Gaiole and Catellina in Chianti, looking out for vendita diretta (wine for sale) signs along the way.
The beautifully-preserved fortified town of Monterriggoni, with its traditional town square is a smattering of authentic restaurants and trattorias, is just one of the many hill towns of Tuscany just waiting to be discovered.
The wonderful food of Tuscnay is certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences of a holiday in this region, so why not take the time to learn a few secrets to take back home with a cookery class.
Visit the collection of Umbrian paintings and sculptures in Umbria's national garllery in Perugia and relax afterwards in one of the cafes on Corso Vanucci. For some cool respite, visit the gardens of the Orto Botanico, a medieval monastic garden behind the St Pietro convent.
Enjoy a day visiting some of the lesser-known, though equally beautiful places Umbria has to offer such as Todi, Gubbio, known as the most perfect medieval town in Italy, and Spoleto, an outstandingly beautiful town.
Why not visit the shores of Lake Trasimeni for a cooling swim, and try a risotto al pesce di lago in one of the trattorias around the lake.