Not my usual title, I know. But there isn’t really one that’s more apt. Back in September, the marvellous Mr M treated me to the most amazing birthday present – a huge surprise and something that wasn’t just a gorgeous material gift but was a symbol for something far deeper.
So when your husband does something like that and it’s his own birthday just a month later, what do you do? Well, you pull out all the stops. And so, I decided that I would surprise him with a trip to somewhere we’ve talked about going to and never quite made it – Tuscany.
I found the flights, found a car, and found the most BEAUTIFUL romantic place to whisk him away to. Tucked away in the middle of the rolling Tuscan hills, pretty much equidistant between Pisa, Florence and Siena near to a gorgeous historic towns called San Miniato and Palaia. Peace and quiet, lovely views, and the prospect of some fabulous food and drink.
Tenuta Chiudendone is possibly the best find I have ever made. You need directions to find it, which makes it feel like a true ‘off the beaten track’ kind of place. Up a snaking drive to these imposing-looking gates, but once you’re inside….wow!
The pictures of Tenuta Chiudendone had looked pretty impressive, as were the reviews. But we weren’t prepared (well, Jamie definitely wasn’t, since he had no idea where we were going) for how wonderful it would be. Perched on a hilltop, there are two gloriously large houses – one where hosts Isabella and Francesco live and the other converted into two top-notch apartments for guests like us.
The were built by the Torrigiani noble family in 1989 as a hunting lodge but have now been renovated beautifully, mixing Tuscan tradition will all mod cons. And it’s not just the inside that makes Tenuta Chiudendone lovely. The accommodation sits among 29 hectares of land complete with gorgeous view, a swimming pool TO DIE FOR, its own olive groves, a vineyard, forest, and kitchen garden. What more could you want?
Impressive huh. Not just that, we were greeted with possibly the most friendly welcome I’ve ever had and once we were shown around, were left to settle in to our new ‘home’ that came complete with some of their own olive oil and wine.
Francesco and Isabella have put together a great guide for anyone staying, complete with everything they offer, from Tuscan dinners and private chefs to things to do in the local area like restaurants, places to do wine-tasting, where to go for great walks. Pretty much everything you could think of. Then of course there’s the daytrips to Florence, Pisa or Siena. Waaaay too much for the two days we had, but plenty of options to fit any interest.
Sadly, Mr M was a bit under the weather during our visit, so R&R was high on the list. That, and the restorative powers of Italian food and wine. We spent some time enjoying the amazing views and wishing it was a bit warmer so we could use the pool, then pored over the local restaurants and took a little trip out to one of the places Francesco and Isabella recommended.
Collebrunacchi is a low-key place hidden up a nearby hill, it reminded us of one of the reasons we always love Italy when we go skiing (you might remember our trips to Sauze D’Oulx and Cortina d’Ampezzo and how much we loved the food there) – the chance to have a meal of at least four courses.
Despite our rather rubbish Italian, we managed to get ourselves a slap-up meal of antipasti, pasta – with a generous sprinkling of black truffle, everywhere in this neck of the woods in the autumn – meat, and dessert. Simple, pretty darn cheap, and delicious. The kind of comfort food that conjures up images of convivial Italian evenings full of family, fun, food and wine.
Rather contented and Mr M feeling slightly galvanised by such loveliness, we tootled back to our lovely luxurious hideaway for a luscious sleep in absolute silence and wonderful blackness.
You know when you first wake up somewhere you remember being lovely when you went to bed and you’re a bit nervous it will be as marvellous when you open your eyes? Isn’t it absolute bliss when it’s just as blissful as it was, if not better? Yes, that. The only downside was that the heavens had completely opened and our picture-perfect scenery slightly marred by grey clouds and torrential rain.
After waiting for it to stop, mooching round our unnecessarily large apartment, we decided a bit of inclement weather wouldn’t beat us, so bunged our coats on and set out to walk to nearby village Palaia, following a route suggested in the ever-helpful guidebook written by Francesco and Isabella.
Grey skies or not, there’s no denying Tuscany is beautiful. Rolling hills, beautiful views, deserted villages, hidden churches, and a new discovery around each corner. We managed to make it to Palaia just as the heavens opened again, so we could walk into the dry and warm of the local restaurant, Il Petirosso, complete with indoor pizza oven and what seemed to be most of the people in the local area enjoying a leisurely lunch.
In keeping with the old adage, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, we did just that and hunkered down for a lengthy lunch. This time bruschetta, pasta, meat and dessert. In case you hadn’t noticed, any virtuous aims went out the window as we found ourselves far too easily settling into this world of four courses at every meal. Oh, and a dessert isn’t a dessert unless it’s flaming hey!
The wonderful thing about a day like this is even if you’ve eaten so much you think you can’t move, when you’ve got to walk back you’ve got to walk back. And so ensued another leisurely wander back to our home from home to burn off a few of the million calories we’d just eaten.
Far too full to contemplate another meal, we took ourselves into lovely San Miniato for a little wander around before heading back for an evening of films and snacks. I’d love to go back to San Miniato in slightly more welcoming weather.
This medieval town sits right on top of three hills and oozes history and charm. Since the area’s home of truffles white and black, it also plays host to a huge truffle festival late in the autumn – another food event to add to the list. There are a fair few restaurants too, none of which we managed to check out, so all in all we’ve got plenty of reasons to return.
Sadly, it seemed the rain that had arrived that morning was here to stay, and we woke up on our second morning to more torrential rain. Eager to get out and about, we had to decide between a day trip to Florence or Pisa and decided on the latter, preferring to save Florence for a return trip in the sunshine.
Pisa’s about a 40-minute drive from Tenuta Chiudendone but on the way we called into the town of Pontedera, home of the Vespa Museum for a quick look. I’m not a huge Vespa fan but it was pretty cool (and free) and I imagine if you are it’s a great place to visit.
I visited Pisa once before during a grand tour of Europe I did while I was at university, but Mr M had never been. Of course, he’d heard of the Leaning Tower but wasn’t quite expecting the gravity-defying sight that is still inspiring awe from the thousands of visitors who visit every day.
Yes, we did do the cliched picture of us ‘holding’ it up with our fingers. And no, I don’t feel the need to share. After mooching around for a while, (yep you guessed it) it was time for lunch so we popped into a nearby restaurant for some pasta (for him) and pizza (for me). Only two courses this time, almost saintly compared to our indulgent meals up until that point.
Again, the rain decided to return, so we finished our meal packed inside the tiny restaurant with a crowd of other people, finishing our meal off with a semifreddo and espresso while we waited for the latest downpour to stop.
Unfortunately the rain didn’t stop, so we made it back to the car and headed home to enjoy a well-earned nap before Mr M’s special birthday dinner. Before we’d even arrived in Tuscany, I’d picked Francesco and Isabella’s brains for the best place for a special occasion. They gave me tonnes of choices but I settled on Casa Masi, a short drive from the Tenuta and ticking the box of everything I wanted – a romantic setting, great food, and apparently great service.
Never before have I driven through rain quite like it, least of all on Italian country roads. But somehow the journey through rain of biblical proportions made the arrival even sweeter. The large restaurant is split into different levels and sections so it still retains the intimacy you might want, as well as being able to accommodate bigger groups.
Being our last meal in Tuscany, we decided to go all out, starting with a mixed antipasti plate with plenty of truffle thrown in.
From that it was on to the pasta course. We knew we couldn’t skip it since I’d seen some impressive pictures of a dish served inside a cheese. Yes, inside a cheese!!
Mr M went for this, while I opted for a pesto lasagne that was utterly delicious. I’m not a huge fan of pasta at home, but there’s something about Italian pasta that’s freshly made that just tastes so much better. I think it’s all about the texture for me – none of that sloppy, water-filled stuff that sits in your stomach afterwards, but instead slightly firmer yet lighter and tasty in and of itself rather than just being a tasteless vehicle for a nice sauce.
Jamie wasn’t disappointed by his pecorino spinach pasta dish, which was indeed served in a hollowed out Pecorino. It was rich as hell and he didn’t manage to finish the whole thing, but as food theatre that’s also tasty goes, it 100% hit the spot.
Unable to resist the allure of meat, we had chosen the Florentine Steak which again had received rave reviews. We knew it would be big, but we had no idea quite how huge. A massive hunk of meat, cooked on the bone. Well, I say cooked, but it was pretty darn rare. Fine by us, but if you don’t like rare meat you probably wouldn’t want to order this.
Luckily, we’d only chosen some grilled vegetables to go with it but even so, we were definitely beaten. The meat was well seasoned, good quality and full of deep flavour, but just way too much for us. We admitted defeat graciously and even had to decline dessert, but both agreed that Casa Masi had been the perfect place for a special Tuscan meal.
Not too fussy or pretentious, with satisfying, tasty food that felt a cut above the rustic dishes you might in some more low-key restaurants in the area, yet still with that home-cooked Italian feel. A real treat, a great service to boot. The fact it was full of Italian families on a Friday night out showed that it’s clearly popular with locals as well as tourists – always a good sign.
And so we toddled off ‘home’ to our last night in paradise before heading back to Blighty early the following morning. Just writing this blog has reminded me what a find Tenuta Chiudendone was and made me kick myself that we’ve waited until now to go to Tuscany. It’s everything we had hoped for, and more. Lovely scenery, lovely people, and as much food and wine as you can dream of.
And that’s before you even get to the perfection that is Tenuta Chiudendone with its awe-inspiring views, perfect combination of luxury and homeliness and its hosts who you feel you’ve known for years after just a day or two. Of course, it depends what you want from a holiday or a weekend away, but for us it had it all – rest, relaxation, views, culture and food and drink.
The only thing that was missing was some sunshine but hey, if a break away can still be amazing in the pouring rain then that’s a pretty good sign. Nevertheless, I’d love to see Tenuta Chiudendone, and Tuscany, against the backdrop of blue skies and sunshine, so I guess we’ll just have to go back….
I paid in full for everything during our Tuscany trip. And it was worth every penny. You can book Tenuta Chiudendone online or via AirBNB. I haven’t been asked to write this review, nor will I get anything from it. I just think it’s great.
Pin this for reference later