GO TUSCANY: Fabulous scenery, beaches within easy reach and interesting hill towns to visit make living the Tuscan dream a possibility, writes CONOR POPE
TUSCANY IS THE HOME of slow food but the beautiful rust-coloured hill town I’m standing in seems more like the home of no food. That’s not to say there aren’t any restaurants here in Suvereto. In fact, the town’s narrow cobbled streets are lined with trattorias with mouth-watering menus nailed to gnarled wooden door frames, promising wild boar ragù, home-cooked truffle ravioli and fresh seafood.
All this deliciousness could and should be washed down with local wine as our group sits laughing merrily at rickety tables dressed with red-checked tablecloths. But that’s not happening. It’s lunch time and all the restaurants are closed. So too are the shops and, apart from the sound of a solitary scooter buzzing through the walled town’s ancient gate as it struggles up the hill to the main square, this place is quite dead.
Peace and quiet are well and good – and a nice respite from the maddening crowds of nearby Florence and Siena – but there are cranky people here who need to be fed. Fast.
Eventually an open restaurant is found and what comes out is devoured at a pace which is anything but slow. It is only then we can appreciate our surroundings. Suvereto is undoubtedly a beautiful town – there can be few places as picture-postcard-pretty as a Tuscan hill town in the early summer – but like many such towns, a decades-long pattern of migration to newer, more functional suburbs outside its crumbling walls has stripped it of atmosphere and turned into more of a museum than a living, breathing town. What it needs is a little hustle. And maybe some bustle.
Nearby Pisa has hustle and bustle in spades. Many Tuscanophiles dismiss Pisa as a tourist trap made famous thanks to some shoddy engineering and a topographical quirk. This impression, while understandable, is wrong.
A visit to Pisa and – more specifically – the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Leaning Tower stands, is certainly a tiresome experience, with endless queuing and overpriced food of poor quality. But stay a night, away from the Piazza, and the town comes alive. As the sun sets, tour buses vanish to be replaced by locals eating and drinking in cheap restaurants hidden in the town centre’s back streets or sipping wines in enotecas with stunning views of the River Arno as it snakes its way lazily through the city.
The island of Elba is within easy reach of Pisa, with ferries departing from the heavily industrialised port of Piombino, a town best seen from behind, every hour. The island is little visited but a real gem. It is so lovely, you’d have to wonder why Napoleon was in such a mad rush to flee after his exile here following the collapse of his first imperialist adventure in 1813.