Strolling through duty-free at Manchester Airport, killing time until our flight to Pisa departs, I turn to Laura to ask if she packed her bikini.
” Did you see the pool at this place we’re heading to ? “. She says yes, but no bikini in her suitcase. It turns out I’d been a tad too ambitious hoping the Tuscan sun would still beam strong enough to kick back and lay under it for a few hours.
Temperatures in the UK are dropping however after checking the weather app I see we’ve got 4 full days of sunshine ahead of us. Maybe not enough for sunbathing, but certainly sufficient for sight seeing and scenic drives through the Tuscan countryside.
We arrive at Pisa airport and lined up at the Firefly counter to collect our car, only to be told that the excess insurance we pre-booked, from Jet2, wasn’t considered valid by Firefly, even though they’re partners.
So after nearly half an hour of discussion with the Italian man, me telling him how unethical their dealings were, and the queue of people behind us getting restless, we agreed to pay the additional 106 Euros, and left to collect our car.
The car was unwashed when we got there. The kind of dirty where someone might write ‘ WASH ME PLEASE ‘ with their finger on the hood. Both Laura and I vowed to never again rent a car from a company we hadn’t heard of before. Lesson learned.
We set off on our 2.5 hour journey to Lupaia Hotel, and drove through the rolling hills of Tuscany to get there. Upon arrival, we couldn’t believe how secluded and private the hotel was. We needed better wheels for the dirt road that lead us there, as it was quite literally, off the beaten track.
As it turned out, Hotelito Lupaia wasn’t exactly a hotel, but rather a luxury farmhouse dating back to 1622. The estate was s t u n n i n g.
The perfect mix of nature, luxury, seclusion and romance.
We were greeted by Christine, a lovely English lady who arranged for our luggage to be taken to our suite. Every room at Lupaia was different, and set within individual buildings scattered across the estate. As we checked in, we were escorted to the terrace where we soaked in the view of Montepulciano at sunset.
A few moments later we were handed a complimentary glass each of bubbles and wine. Ahhh.. both of us sat back in the sofa, relaxing after a stressful start of the day, and soon our encounter with the car rental company from hell, became a distant memory..ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic.. 😉
We entered our room with a slight sense of disbelief. Lupaia is one of those places that you want to shout about from the rooftops and let everyone in the world know how truly stunning and romantic and cosy it is, but at the same time, there’s this deep sense of conflict as it could also quite easily be the best kept secret eco resort in the heart of Tuscany, and a part of you would like it to stay that way.
We stayed in the ‘Bassa’ room, which was beautifully decorated with framed art, a variation of fabrics and textures, classic light fittings, large wooden beams, stone, vintage furniture and walls decorated with traditional Tuscan travertine tiles. This was a romantic haven for couples, only Laura and I were able to enjoy it as two girl friends, dreaming about the future when we could take our husbands to a place such as this!
After a quick shower we got dressed for dinner. We’d enjoy a 4-course set menu of traditional Tuscan gastronomy. We were seated when our server-come-sommelier Renata came over to discuss wine. Renata suggested we try the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which was a more aged version of what we had tried earlier that same evening.
Soon after our wine arrived, we were served the first course of 4. It was refreshing to try new dishes, that perhaps a carnivore such as myself wouldn’t have selected at first glance on a menu.
The first course was a bowl of Ribollita soup. Pure vegetable. I looked at the unassuming bowl of boiled vegetables with thin shavings of dehydrated artisanal bread laid over it and wondered whether it was worth the journey..
The first bite lead to the second and the third, and shortly after, found that I’d practically inhaled the soup. Every last drop. It was simple, abundantly flavoursome and hearty. A blanket of comfort laid over my tummy and I knew the next course wouldn’t disappoint, even if it was a veggie dish!
Next on the menu, was a plate of pici, also known as Tuscan handmade spaghetti. It reminded me of Laghman noodles I’d tried in Kyrgyzstan. Each strand was thick, slightly chewy, and absorbent. Every flavour perfectly captured within its pores. Only, pici is pasta,
Like most Italian pasta dishes, ingredients are simple, organic, nutritious and bursting with flavour. Each component complementing the other perfectly. A rich tomato sauce, olive oil, herbs and beef, combined to create a harmonious experience. Mouth-watering comfort food expertly crafted with just the slightest hint of heat.
Two courses in, we started feeling like two more courses might be overkill. We were satisfied with the portion sizes and slightly worried about finding space for more.
Both Laura and I kept going. (When in Tuscany, and all that..)
The 3rd course arrived and it was two pieces of chicken thighs, cooked in a rich red wine reduction with minimal spices and herbs. Delicious, but almost too much for me. I ate one and left the other for a rainy day..
There was a short break between the 3rd and 4th course to allow the meal to sit for a while.
Dessert arrived and it was cheesecake. It didn’t look like cheesecake. Not the excessive slice you’d find at The Cheesecake Factory, or even your nearest Waitrose/ Sainsburys/ Tesco. This looked more like cheesecake and flan had a baby. I took a bite, and it was game over.
I was in love.
Like a scene from a cartoon, all I could see was hearts and stars and sparkles emerge from my dessert plate. An angel created this.
A delicious honey-esque-cookie-crust at the base with a layer of dewy ricotta cheese and hints of citrus. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but this, -this was heaven on a plate. Light and zesty. Perfection.
Renata came over and cleared our table. At this stage we were satiated and sleepy. We head to the terrace for a quick night cap and then made our way back to our room, ready to dream of the meal we’d just had.
The next morning we woke and got ready for the day. We had no plan, but Christine was more than willing to show us our options. Siena, Montepulciano, Montefollonico, Firenze.. We considered the distances and opted for a day of sightseeing in Siena.
Just an hour’s drive away, we arrived in Siena ready to explore. Finding parking at the base of the hill was easy, and free, so we asked a local which bus to catch and made our way up into the old medieval city and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Laura, a horse-enthusiast, was excited to see where the infamous palio horse race is held each year, so we walked to the fan-shaped Piazza del Campo where we were greeted by one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.
We walked a lot that day, looking at shop windows, tasting all kinds of truffle infusions and looking for gifts to take home until we discovered the roman catholic cathedral Duomo di Siena.
Following the path through each room, we ended our tour at the Panorama and Duomo Nuovo, overlooking the city of Siena and of the cathedral. The sun started setting at this point which changed the terracotta tiled roofs into slates of warm gold. It was breathtakingly beautiful so I captured a few images during the golden hour.
We ended the day enjoying a slice of freshly baked pizza on the piazza and returned back to Hotelito Lupaia just in time for dinner.
On the third day we chose to stay closer to the estate. We spoke with one of Lupaia’s owners and asked for his recommendation for vineyards close by. We chose Boscarelli vineyard due to availability at short notice and was booked in for 4pm.
We got into the car and headed to the nearby hillside town and comune called Montepulciano.
Laura and I walked along the streets, through the alleys and walkways and soaked in the scenic views. We stopped for a spot of wine tasting and a cellar tour through Cantina di Ricci and tried bruschetta with pecorino, salami and sun dried tomato paste on our way out. Squisito.
I spotted some fresh whole white truffles and asked the lady how much a piece was. She picked the smallest truffle and weighed it.
‘That would be 60 Euros.’
It reminded me of a conversation I had earlier that day with Christopher Mueller, the owner of Hotelito Lupaia. I had asked him about activities such as olive harvesting and truffle hunting.
Christopher told me that guests can book a private session with a local truffle hunter and his 3 truffle hounds. [ 150 Euros for 1.5 hours ] On the hunt, if you find a truffle, you can keep it. On a good day, and in-season they’ve found up to 900 grammes of white truffles.
White truffles can fetch up to 2000 Euros per kilo. Now that’s a lucrative career! Hunting for culinary gold.
Later that day we drove to Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The light was golden as it cast its spell across the autumnal leafy vineyard.
The group prior to ours over-ran their tasting by 30 minutes, so we were given a small glass of red and asked to have a wander outside.
Laura and I took a few selfies, sat in the sun, and waited, and waited, until finally, the previous group made their tasting exit and joined us on our tour of the grounds. Our guide spoke in English the entire time, which was lovely. We looked around, smiled and batted the Tuscan fruit flies away as we navigated through the winery listening to him talk about the operational side of harvesting grapes to produce wine.
We tried 6 different wines, ranging from the Merlot to the Prugnolo, to the Vino Nobile Riserva and a Boscarelli 2007 vintage. Each with their own quirks and characteristics. I asked our guide what separates a good wine from a bad wine as I’ve tried great wines for under £10, and not-so-great wines priced considerably higher!
His answer was to pay attention to the harmony of the wine. (What I’d normally consider to be a vague statement, until he explained..)
“There are some wines that have a very short after- taste. Almost like a cut-off point. A good wine’s taste lingers, the longer it lingers, the better the wine.”
We bought a few bottles and set off back to Lupaia to freshen up and head out to another small town nearby for dinner.
That night we enjoyed our last Tuscan supper at Ristorante 13 Gobbi ( 13 Hunchbacks) Montefollonico.
We were told it’s a trattoria where the husband serves and the wife cooks. The owner came over with a menu as we made ourselves comfortable at the table. There were 5 courses available, but we didn’t think we’d need more than 3, so opted for a smaller selection.
I ordered one of my favourite starters, the beef Carpaccio. Thin slices of raw meat spread over a plate with peppery rocket leaves.
My starter arrived and to be honest, it didn’t look very appetising. A plate with meat and a few leaves..
When I took a small bite, my mouth exploded with flavour. Olive oil, lemon, pepper, truffle. So simple, so fresh, so tender. Having tried Carpaccio in the south of Italy before, THIS was by far, the best carpaccio I’ve had. Every bite was a joyful experience.
For the second course, I tried the infamous pecorino cheese wheel pasta. Pasta is cooked with cream, salt and pepper, then tumbled in a huge barrel/ wheel of pecorino cheese. I’d seen this on Facebook before and thought it curious, but when I tried it, oh my goooood, it was divine.
Every strand of pasta delightfully covered in cheesy goodness. If you haven’t tried Pecorino Romano before, it’s quite a strong cheese. Similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but stronger in flavour, and tangier. Highly recommend you try it, given the opportunity.
For the third course, Laura and I ordered Tiramisu for dessert. Tiramisu consists of lady fingers, coffee, mascarpone cheese, liqueur and cocoa powder. I had tried Tiramisu before, but never really liked it as some people can get quite heavy-handed with the coffee or liqueur. On this occasion, the taste was very mild. The pudding overall was nice ( a cup of tea is also nice) but not really much to write home about. It seemed the cheesecake I’d tried at Lupaia was a clear winner and nothing would compare to it on this trip.
On our last day, Laura and I slept in for a bit, waking at 10:30, just in time to catch the last half hour of breakfast. We enjoyed a selection of cheese, meats, artisanal bread and scrambled eggs. Cappuccino was on the way..
Breakfast at Lupaia was always centred around the kitchen. The kitchen being the heart of the estate, and the heart of any Tuscan home really. I loved the layout, the lighting, the colours, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and the array of foods laid out every morning for guests to help themselves to. Yum..
Soon after breakfast we took our coffees outside to soak in the sunshine and view of Montepulciano for one last time. Laura then head back to the room to pack and I felt inspired to walk the grounds and capture a few details..
An hour later I joined Laura and we checked out, saying goodbye and thanking the staff for a stay that exceeded all expectations. The room was beautiful, food was made with love and grounds were well maintained and kept true to its original features. Staff were approachable, friendly, helpful and genuinely interested in ensuring guests have a relaxing stay.
I asked Renata to send me the Chef’s cheesecake recipe, and she took out her notebook to write down my email address. I saw some of her annotations and didn’t realise Renata was making notes on the wines we’d sampled throughout our stay. ..that explains why her customer service and wine recommendations were spot-on, every time.
Laura and I got in the car and set off back to Pisa Airport with sad faces. Back to the real world. Boo.
On the way to Pisa, we drove via Florence and on one occasion were nearly run off the road by an absolute maniac of a driver. If you ever find yourself in the fast lane on a highway in Italy, don’t be surprised if the car behind you hangs off the back of your car like a dangling earring you can’t shake off. Regardless of how fast you’re going. You just need to get out of the way and stay in the middle lane apparently. We did, but potentially no fast enough, so the Italian man slowed down, crossed to the middle lane (we were in the 3rd at this point) and proceeded to shout at us using words I cannot even understand. All I remember was him flinging one of his arms in the air, raging on, and on and on at us. Laura was calm, cool and collected being the expert driver that she is, but I was shaking. No one likes to be shouted at by a complete stranger, and I have no time for people with road rage. EVERYONE wants to get somewhere quickly..
Further into our journey back to Pisa, we were halted to a standstill at the toll gate between Florence and Pisa. No one knew what caused the traffic jam, but no one was prepared to form a queue and wait it out. More rage ensued, people were tooting their horns, and we witnessed a car intentionally rear-ending the car in front. This was highly unpleasant. We were both worried about our rental car getting damaged, so I took out my phone and started recording, -just in case.
We finally made it to the leaning tower of Pisa, before returning our car, we enjoyed a quick stroll past the tower, observed hundreds of tourists attempting all sorts of creative poses involving the leaning tower, took a few selfies, and stopped for a spot of lunch ( and enjoyed a much-needed glass of Peroni after the drive we just had!)
Regardless of the shenanigans on the roads, we had an amazing short break in Italy and look forward to returning again one day. Hopefully with our future husbands in tow..
Address: Località Lupaia, 74, 53049 Torrita di Siena, Italy // Phone: +39 0577 668028 // BOOK HERE
Address: Via di Montenero, 24, 53045 Montepulciano SI, Italy // Phone: +39 0578 767608 BOOK HERE