Tuscany is graced with four proper seasons – a long spring, a hot summer, a welcome autumn and finally wintertime – a magical affair enjoyed very much by locals. As tour groups depart its cities, there is a serene glow over the region and especially over its cities. Galleries are not busy and some are also cheaper (the Uffizi entry fee is lower from November to February), so there’s no need to elbow your way in to ogle the Botticellis. Here’s why winter in Tuscany is a wonderous time that’s perfect for a relaxing visit.
Winter Food in Tuscany – the ultimate comfort
Food in Tuscany tends towards comfort food at its best, and dining out is a long and lazy affair. Traditional foods like ribollita and hearty bean soups are just made to take off the chill. Of course, your trip to Tuscany wouldn’t be complete without a bowl (or two) of pasta. Pici, a typical Sienese pasta, is a thick spaghetti ideally tossed with a meaty ragu– it is comfort food personified. Follow this with a Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a local dish to indulge in with friends. This three-finger-thick T-bone steak is seared on both sides yet never over cooked and ideally quaffed with a glass of Tuscan red wine within the cosy surrounds of a homey trattoria.
Italians are renowned for their fashion, and winter is a stylish season! Under your designer “piumino” (down-filled yet stylish coat), you can layer soft, locally made cashmere sweaters, woolly scarves and artisan leather gloves (I love mine from Pusateri, a historic store in downtown Florence). Splurge on a pair of classically styled leather boots from a store like the Antica Cuoieria on Florence’s via del Corso and treat them with waterproofing spray so you can enjoy them for years to come.
Swimming under the stars
Warm up from within the depths of the natural hot springs that litter the Tuscan landscape, especially in the Val D’Orcia and Maremma areas. The most famous hot spring is fancy Saturnia, however I prefer to dive into the waters at San Giovanni di Rapolano, located near Siena, that boasts both indoor and outdoor pools plus a restaurant making this a full day excursion. And as it is open until 1 am on weekends, swimming in 39-degree waters under the winter stars is a tranquil way to experience Tuscany.
This time of year, the mass of tour buses halt for the winter, which means it’s an optimum time to visit Siena. The medieval cousin to Florence, its maze-like lanes and red-bricked palaces make it a fairy tale town to explore. There is something romantic about this town off-season: visit highlights including climbing the famous tower, Torre del Mangia (worth the 400 steps to reach to top) and the Duomo (with a magnificent facade and interior, with intricate marble designs reaching all corners) without the crowds.
Ignite your senses
Beyond the city’s over 100 museums, Florence’s artisan heritage is a unique way to experience the live part of the Renaissance capital. Perfume house Aqua Flor has an enchanting showroom housed in on the ground floor of a 16th century palazzo. Its orange lampshades add a warm hue to rooms that are scented by their products all made in-house in their basement laboratory. They also host short perfume-making courses to understand scent creation within their characterful surrounds so within hours you too can become an expert in essences. This is the place to pick up a souvenir that will leave a scent-memory.
Nestling within the warmth of a cosy wine bar in Florence is an ideal way to relax between cultural pursuits. From sleek bars to traditional drinking dens, there is something for everyone. A glass of Chianti Classico not only compliments traditional Tuscan dishes but also can be enjoyed on its own to warm you up as you soak in Tuscany at this most serene time of year.
Top photo credit: Antonio Cinotti