Every year Kids Collection Editor, Nadine, enjoys a long weekend away with her husband, Colman, and without their children. This year they explored Northern Tuscany on the occasion of their 12th wedding anniversary in May.
I flew into Pisa a day ahead of Colman (he had pressing work commitments) so headed the hire car up into the hills, along quintessentially Tuscan winding country lanes, arriving at gastro hotel Tenuta San Pietro on a hazy and warm afternoon. Taking time to chill is a rarity for me, so I made a determined effort to do so with a magazine poolside, swimming a few lengths, admiring the long views down towards Lucca, and delighting in the soundscape of birdsong all around.
When lolling about became too much to bear, I met the extremely charming, knowledgeable and efficient manager, Gastone, who runs a very tight ship, and savoured an elegantly presented, perfectly wine-matched 4 course meal on the rose-scented terrace. As natural light drained from the valley, twinkling lights appeared across its breadth.
After a most comfortable night in Bellavista (as the name suggests the room has terrific views to two sides) I dutifully sampled most of the delicious breakfast buffet, including fresh cherries and homemade cake – all in the name of research you understand.
The weather that day turned out to be much more exciting than the previous with outstanding thunderstorms and hail which had all rolled on by before we (Colman having joined me) arrived at gorgeous new boutique B&B Villa Montebello. High up in the foothills of the Apuan Alps near the small town of Camaiore, it is tucked away up a very steep drive (we parked on the road and walked up having navigated enough hairpin bends already) and truly is an oasis of tranquility and charm.
The old farmhouse has been beautifully restored to Instagram-worthy perfection with soft grey walls, lots of white and dashes of pink in its four rooms and suites. Original sheep and goat barns now do duty as a stand-alone airy living room and pool house with guest fridge and honesty bar. There’s a small pool, olive tree-decked terrace, boules court, and upstairs living room. All the creation of former engineer and architect, Thomas, who has been coming to the region for decades.
This immaculately-kept B&B is just 30 minutes from Pisa, and also benefits from being at elevation, so is cooler during sweltering summers than if you were on the coast or inland. The beach clubs are only 15-minutes distant. No kids under 14 are permitted, which was a nice novelty for us! Leisurely breakfasts were delightful on the gravel terrace, with birdsong bursting all around, and consisted of fresh fruit, croissants, eggs cooked to order, fresh coffee and local cheeses and cold cuts.
Thomas is a mine of information when it comes to local restaurants. One night we ate authentic local fare in Le Tre Terrazze in nearby hamlet Monteggiori which had sensational views sheer down to the coastal plain below and out to sea with a glorious sunset. For our special anniversary meal we were feted at perfectly chosen Ristorante La Dogana, which specialises in seafood only a few minutes down the road. We definitely got stuck in to the local gastronomy! One afternoon we also went to a local town and found an enoteca, which offered 3 different local wines and nibbles, and stayed there until another deluge of rain had blown over.
Our weekend ended with lovely lovely Lucca. This town is famed for its medieval-era walls, which are still intact, and upon which you can circumnavigate (by foot – as we did – or bicycle) the town’s historic (and now pedestrianised) centre.
We stayed in delightful Mordini, the newest of the pair of upscale Lucca Boutique Apartments, which overlooks a Roman colonnaded courtyard, has fabulous designer finishes, original cotto ceilings, and is just around the corner from the picturesque amphitheatre piazza.
On our last afternoon we wandered around the town in brilliant sunshine, the rain a distant memory, visiting Baroque churches, checking out the market, and ascending the signature Guinigi Tower which famously has oak trees sprouting from its roof and terrific 360º views of town and hills.
We indulged in a leisurely late lunch, watching the world go by, a balm for the senses. All benefit of which disappeared when I realised it was 4pm and our flight left from Pisa at 6; we had to pay the bill, and the cafe didn’t take cards, so Colman had to dash to the cashpoint, then we had to run across town to collect the car, and drove like the clappers to the airport…
Oh well, we shall have to arrange another weekend away to recapture that Tuscan tranquility!