Tuscany Travel Tips from Giulia Scarpaleggia, Tuscan Cook & Blogger of Juls’ Kitchen

Conversations with Locals

Giulia Scarpaleggia is no stranger to the ins and outs of Tuscany, having lived in the region for more than a decade. It has been evident that she has been cooking up a storm from her kitchen, based on the sheer number of bone fide Italian recipes coming out from her blog Jul’s Kitchen. To this cooking instructor, Tuscany is a lot more than just the overcrowded squares of Florence and Siena. In this interview, Giulia left no stones unturned as she reveals her favourite eating spots, what a proper Tuscan meal is, and the other hill towns that you should visit apart from the obvious. 

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Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

What do you feel defines Tuscan cuisine?

The Tuscan cuisine that we know know is deeply influenced by cucina povera – peasant cooking of the previous century. Seasonal vegetables, beans and bread are staple ingredients. Stale bread is smartly reinvented in hearty recipes such as pappa al pomodoro, panzanella and ribollita.

What are some local dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Tuscany without trying?

It is strongly related to season. In Autumn, do not miss bruschetta – a char grilled bread rubbed with garlic and doused with olive oil. In Winter, ribollita is a must – a thick soup of stale read, beans, cavolo nero and other vegetables. Spring is all about fresh vegetables, like piselli alla fiorentina – peas with pancetta. Summer is the season of tomatoes, do not miss pappa al pomodoro and panzanella. 

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Tuscan panzanella with tomatoes and mozzarella. Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

Where are your favourite restaurants or cafés in Tuscany?

The cuisine of Agriturismo il Rigo in Val d’Orcia. Sbarbacipolla Biosteria and Bel Mi Colle in Colle val d’Elsa, Osteria Vecchio Mulino in Castelnuovo Garfagnana, Gino Cacino in Siena. So many great places.

Name one Tuscan dining etiquette most travellers miss

Do not eat pasta with your meat. They are two separate courses!

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Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

When is your favourite time of the year to visit Tuscany? 

My favourite months are October and November, when there are less tourists and the countryside is simply stunning. Plus it’s time for chestnuts, pumpkin, grapes and new olives. Nothing better!

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Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

What would you recommend travellers do to experience Tuscany as a local?

Shop at a local market, listen to what the vendors are suggesting and cook according to the season. 

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Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

Where are your favourite Tuscan hill towns?

Casole d’Elsa near Siena, Barga near Lucca and Pitigliano in Maremma.

Name one best kept secret of Tuscany

Osteria Livornese, in Montelupo Fiorentino, is an amazing restaurant to eat fish near Florence.

Where can we go to see your favourite view in Tuscany?

It’s the view from my bathroom, in the countryside of Colle Val d’Elsa. So fun! All my friends and all the guests of cooking classes love it!

What makes Italian cooking so unique? 

The cooking style is extremely simple, the ingredients are left to speak for themselves. There’s no need for overcomplicating with sauces or too many ingredients. Recipes are inspired by seasonality. 

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Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

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Fried eggs and buristo. Photo: Juls’ Kitchen

When it comes to food, where in the world is your favourite destination?

Except from Tuscany, I love London, where you can experience possibly any cuisine in the world. I’m a big fan!

WHERE TO EAT IN TUSCANY


Agriturismo il Rigo
Region: Val d’Orcia
Where: Loc. Casabianca, 53027 San Quirico d’Orcia SI, Italy
For: Organic farm food 

Sbarbacipolla Biosteria
Region: Colle val d’Elsa
Where: Via Bartolomeo Scala 11, 53034 Colle di Val d’Elsa SI, Italy
For: Vegan food

Bel Mi Colle
Region: Colle val d’Elsa
Where: Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 56, Colle di Val D’Elsa SI, Italy
For: Local Tuscan food

Osteria Vecchio Mulino
Region: Castelnuovo Garfagnana
Where: Arch 5, Voyager South, London SE16 4RP
For: Pastas

Gino Cacino di Angelo
Region: Siena
Where: Piazza Mercato, 31, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
For: Meats and panini 

Osteria Livornese
Region: Montelupo Fiorentino
Where: Viale Umberto I, 2, Montelupo Fiorentino FI, Italy
For: Fish

WHERE TO GO IN TUSCANY


Casole d’Elsa
Region: Siena
Proximity to major cities: South to Florence

Barga
Region: Lucca
Proximity to major cities: Northwest to Florence

Pitigliano
Region: Grosseto
Proximity to major cities: In between Florence and Rome

Colle Val d’Elsa
Region: Siena
Proximity to major cities: South to Florence

Florence Travel Tips from Mauro Santoni, a Teacher & Arts Enthusiast

Conversations with Locals

Mauro Santoni is a Literature, History and Geography teacher living in Florence, and has a penchant for the theatre and the Arts. We talk to Mauro about his beloved home city, why Spaghetti Bolognese is not Italian, and his favourite under-the-radar art galleries in the capital of Tuscany. 

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Photo: Mauro Santoni

What do you feel defines Florentine cuisine?

In the past, food in Florence was poor in quality. For example, in the Middle Ages, the city had to pay high taxes on salt, and this meant that bread was often baked without salt due to its high cost. Today, this tradition continues. Typical Florentine food such as ribollita, panzanella and pappa al pomodoro was often made with stale bread. Eventually, such dishes become rich and tasty, and have come to define what Florentine cuisine is all about.

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Pappa al pomodoro is a Tuscan soup made with bread, tomatoes and olive oil.

What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about Italian food? 

Italian food is not only about pastas and pizzas, and spaghetti bolognese and Hawaiian pizza are not Italian recipes!

Is there a difference between food in Florence from other parts of Italy?

Sure, every region and city in Italy has their own type of food. For instance, Florence has very simple desserts, while Sicilian desserts tend to be rich and sweet. The character of Florentine food is formed by its ingredients which are all produced in Tuscany, such as the Chianina cow’s meat, olive oil and the Chianti vineyards!

In your opinion, which parts of Florence is the best for food?

In the city centre, that would be Santa Croce and Santo Spirito.

Where are your favourite restaurants or cafés in Florence for Italian food?

For something inexpensive, that would be the traditional Sabatino in San Frediano. For mid-range prices, Il Santo Bevitore in Oltrarno is a good choice. Il Cibreo in Sant’Ambrogio would be pricey but nonetheless, it serves great food as well.

What are some local dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Florence without trying?

The famed bistecca alla fiorentina (T-bone steak that’s served rare on the inside but seared on the outside), ribollita (Tuscan soup made with bread and vegetables) and panino al lampredotto (tripe sandwich) are an absolute must to try.

Where are your favourite art galleries in Florence?

Besides the famous art galleries (Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia and Palatina Gallery), I love the Bargello. It is one of the most ancient and charming buildings in Florence with the largest collection of Donatello’s sculptures. I also love the San Marco Convent, it was entirely painted by the Renaissance master Beato Angelico.

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Photo: Mauro Santoni

What do you feel most travellers miss out on when they are visiting Florence?

I feel that most travellers miss out on the many cultural events of the city. Catching an opera at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, as the Opera was practically born in Florence with Monteverdi! Watching V.O. (English dubbed) movies during one of the international cinema festivals in the gorgeous Odeon, probably the most beautiful movie theatre in Italy for its Art Nouveau style. It is also worth catching any one of the shows in the Bargello or in Strozzi’s Courtyards.

 

WHERE TO EAT IN FLORENCE


Sabatino
Where: Via Pisana, 2R, 50143 Firenze
For: Inexpensive traditional Florentine food

Il Santo Bevitore
Where: Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66, Firenze, Italy
For: Italian food at mid-range pricing

Il Cibreo
Where: Via del Verrocchio, 8r Firenze
For: High end Italian food

 

WHERE TO GO IN FLORENCE


Bargello National Museum
Where: Via del Proconsolo, 4, 50122 Firenze, Italy
For: Donatello’s sculptures

San Marco Convent
Where: Piazza San Marco, 3, 50121 Firenze, Italy
For: Art pieces by Italian Renaissance painters such as Fra Angelico and Domenico Ghirlandaio

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Where: Opera di Firenze – Piazzale Vittorio Gui, Firenze
For: An opera festival

Odeon
Where: Cinema Odeon Firenze, Piazza Strozzi, 50123 Firenze
For: The international cinema festivals

Strozzi’s Courtyards
Where: Piazza degli Strozzi, 50123 Firenze, Italy
For: Concerts and performances