When in Tuscany, think beyond Florence, says Dilip Kapur, who likes to spend most of his vacations under the Tuscan sun
In the 1950s and the 1960s, many among the younger generation were busy unlocking the spiritual and liberating side of travel. I, too, discovered my non-conformist self as a 16-year-old in the US. A scholarship student, living alone, I’d always wanted to travel. Although I didn’t have enough money, I decided that my initiation to this motley group of people, always on the move, was necessary to satiate the traveller in me. The next thing I knew, I was boarding one of those buses with vibrant paintings on them!
Now, after several years of travelling, Tuscany in Italy has become my go-to destination for a pleasure trip. It has a distinct vibe and the vineyards there make you want to stay back longer every time. For the love of food, I visit Umbria (on the Tuscan border) – one of the greatest places to indulge your taste buds with delicious truffles and chocolates, and your ears with jazz. Over the past four decades, I’ve taken about 30 to 40 trips to Tuscany and have witnessed a drastic transformation in its tourism culture.
With the infiltration of digital technology into travel, you can now virtually explore and discover a place much before you physically arrive there. Once there, however, I try to look beyond the obvious, and experience that facet of a destination that may not feature on a typical tourist’s itinerary. For me, it is imperative to avoid places that receive overwhelming tourist footfall.
Within a 30-40 km radius of Florence, there are beautiful, quaint towns nestled within the picturesque and rustic countryside. This is where you’ll find the best food and wine. The breathtaking view of Belluno, backed by the snow-capped Dolomites on River Piave is perfectly cut out for nature lovers. Umbria, on the other hand, is for the offbeat traveller.
The beautiful village of Castelluccio di Norcia, is located atop a hill approximately 5,000 ft above sea level. Compared to surrounding areas, Umbria is still relatively untouched by the onset of modernity. And its splendid poppy and violet blossoms are truly alluring in spring. Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea between Tuscany and Lazio, Maremma’s lush expanse and coastal countryside are best explored on foot, bike, or even better, on horseback.
I’ve spent three months with a local family in Sardinia, a large Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve even had the opportunity to stay with local families in the city of Spoleto. The hotels there are nice too, besides being fairly economical – I once dined at a 2-Michelin-star restaurant here for just 40 Euros! For something similar in Milan, you’d have to pay 150-200 Euros.
My experience has taught me that there are two things travel does to you. First, it pulls you out of your comfort zone and enables you to gain fresh perspectives about yourself. Second, it helps you discover your strengths. I have also realised that travelling is a sense of knowing that can only be felt through a city’s soul – its food, culture, people, alleys, flora and fauna. The first thing I do when I reach a place is go out for a walk, and I highly recommend you do the same when you visit Tuscany – the countryside can be a real treat to your eyes.
Over the years, I have fallen in love with the place – its narrow streets, its delicious food and its serene old-world areas. Even if it is for a little while, it makes you feel like you’re in another era altogether.
The author is an avid traveller and the views expressed in the article are his own