Winter – Time to Find the Real Tuscany

Jonah Andersson 12/29/2012
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Florence

Winter in Tuscany offers visitors a unique insight into this beautiful region, rarely witnessed by anyone other than the locals during these cooler months. You will need to wrap up warm but can benefit from fewer tourists, offering the opportunity to experience the culture, customs, food and sights in a far more personal way.

In winter the olive trees turn a magical shimmering silver and the hills are covered with a cool mystical mist and powdery snow. It’s also easier to spot the many wonderful boar, hares and pheasants that tend to hide in cooler spots throughout the summer.

 

There are also plenty of activities that are better experienced in the cooler months than in the hotter, more popular season. If you had never considered a wintery holiday in Tuscany, here’s a guide to some of the best activities to enjoy on a visit to this beautiful region of Italy.

 

Soaking in a warm thermal bath

 

When the weather cools and you’re wrapped up warm, how better to soak away your troubles than in a steaming natural thermal bath? Tuscany’s volcanic soil is rich with natural hot springs that are ideal for relaxing and pampering, often free of charge.

 

Some of the most famous can be found at the Cascate del Mulino di Saturnia waterfalls in Manciano, southern Tuscany, which are fed with thermal waters and have carved natural 37°C bath tubs in the rocks for visitors to explore and bathe in. The underground source contains sulphur and other minerals, which are believed to have cured minor ailments since Roman times. These outdoor natural falls are completely free and open to the beautiful surroundings of the great Tuscan outdoors; a truly magical winter time experience.

 

TOP TIP: For a more luxurious thermal soak, the Adler Thermae Spa offers wonderful natural thermal facilities in a luxurious setting. Day rates start from €217 per person.

 

Hitting the ski slopes

 

It may surprise you to hear that skiing in Italy isn’t restricted solely to the Alps – it’s popular in Tuscany too. As the bright leaves and foliage of charming Tuscan areas like Abetone, Amiata and the mountains of the Garfagnana and Lunigiana changes to crisp, white snow, then the Tuscan ski season really takes off.

 

Abetone’s close proximity to Florence, Pisa and Lucca makes it a particularly popular skiing destination. The slopes here offer options for a range of skill levels, including dedicated nursery slopes and relaxing tree-lined runs.

 

TOP TIP: The best time to visit is late December to February when this beautiful area is covered in natural snow, but it also houses its own artificial snow makers to ensure successful skiing throughout the season.

 

Make the most of the winter cuisine

 

Italian’s love seasonal food and winter sees some of Tuscany’s heartiest and most delicious items being utilised in a range of wonderful ways. Delicious, deep red wines, rich porcini mushrooms, delicate white truffles, festive chestnuts and hearty pastas with meat sauce are a delight for visitors to indulge in to warm away any winter chills. Plus, winter is wild boar season and it is used in pasta sauces and main courses widely whilst it’s readily available.

 

One of the most typical winter dishes in Tuscany is Ribollita, which visitors will find on the menu of almost every trattoria in the area. This satisfying soup is a classic comfort dish, filled with variations of bread and vegetables, usually including cannellini beans, carrots, cabbage and onion. Also popular at this time is Pasta e Fagioli, a hearty pasta dish cooked with cannellini beans, chilli pepper and tomatoes – perfect for the chilly winter evenings.

 

TOP TIP: Book in to La Taverna di San Giuseppe on Via Giovanni Dupre in Siena for a delicious, simple and hearty Italian meal, close to the city centre.

 

Christmas and New Year festivities

 

The festivities of Christmas and New Year make Tuscany a truly magical place, particularly in the cities like Florence and Pisa. From December 8th the Christmas lights begin sparkling and Christmas markets fill most piazzas – try the Natale alle Logge in Montepulciano or the Mercanti di Natale in Siena. Also look out for the popular Nativity Scenes, including some truly beautiful live re-enactments. Locals usually spend Christmas Day with their family, but restaurants will still be open and busy, so book in plenty of time.

 

Italians also love New Year and in Tuscany there are celebrations and delicious dinners to be enjoyed everywhere. In Florence and Siena there are a multitude of events throughout the city centre including several free live music concerts, perfect for bringing in the new year in true Italian style.

 

TOP TIP: Join the locals by gathering on the banks of the Arno River in Florence at midnight to enjoy the fireworks that greet the New Year.

 

Where to stay

 

In Tuscany it’s easy to be surrounded by beautiful countryside, yet still be only minutes from the historic cities. Siena is a lovely medieval city in the centre of Tuscany that can provide the perfect base for excursions throughout the region. Its piazza, Il Campo, is a wonderful hub for the festive season, with Christmas markets and New Year concerts.

Or stay closer to Florence to experience the wonderful culture of a city filled with some of the most awe-inspiring art galleries in the world, just minutes from sweeping Tuscan hillsides. The city boasts countless restaurants and bars, as well as iconic monuments such as the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

 

TOP TIP:  Villa Poggio Ramerino is a luxurious property, close to Florence, with warming fireplaces and a toasty sauna; ideal for staying snug in the winter months or celebrating a family Christmas in Tuscany. Prices start from €14,159/week for eight people.

 

Author Bio: Laura Wilkins has travelled to destinations all over the world and now that she’s home, enjoys working with Tuscany villas specialists Tuscany Now, writing about and exploring this beautiful region.

 

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