This post is part of a series on slow travel in Tuscany which I had the incredible fortune of enjoying with the wonderful couple behind Km Zero Tours. Native of Chianti, in Tuscany, Arianna decided to take over the 13th century family stone house rental and add personal slow travel experiences visiting the local producers she now calls friends. Together with her Sommelier husband, Alessio, they take food, nature and wine lovers to discover Tuscany and meet with the real, small and genuine producers that are the soul and spirit of the region. There are no theatrical shows tricking tourists into the fairy tale of Tuscan love affairs, only sustainable, uncompromised and genuine stories about life in Tuscany through the eyes of people keeping up with the ancient traditions that made this region so unique; The goat herders, the cattle growers, the small organic wine producers, the biodynamic wine makers, the olive grove owners, the wood turning artists, the cheese producers, the pasta makers, the Tuscan villa owners and the home chefs that whipped up a feast of fresh farm to table Tuscan food by the fire place or the garden terrace. All the people we met shared their lives and lifestyle with us giving us an insight into Tuscan culture, traditions and challenges through their animals, their food and their land. An experience that came from the heart. When we travel, it is the people who make the difference.
What is Slow travel
Slow travel is a movement started off in Italy, particularly in Rome, as a protesting movement on the back off Starbucks’s first coffee store opening in the 80s.
Although there is no fixed definition, Slow travel advocates for experiencing a destination and a place like a local. It encourages travelers to take it slowly, to rent an apartment, to go do the groceries at the local stores, to understand where the food they are eating comes from, the produce who makes it, the farmer who grows it, and to basically take it all in as if one was living there.
To illustrate further. The opposite of Slow Travel is the usual check-list ticking type of travel that I am guilty off on occasion, where you just fly from place to place, tick items off a list, have no understanding of what is behind what you are seeing and simply want to cover as much ground as possible. Slow Travel is the antithesis of that.
Why is the region so fascinating?
Tuscany’s 21st century renaissance came into being through the images and the fairy tales of Hollywood movies such as “Eat, Pray, Love” or “Under the Tuscan Sun”.
Hollywood movies aside, Tuscany’s cultural importance dates back to the 16th century as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance movement. It is home to famous museums like the Uffizi, built by the wealthy Medici family, and there are 6 sites that have been included in the UNESCO protected heritage list including the historical centers of Siena, Pienza and Florence, the city with the highest concentration of Renaissance art and architecture in the world. Both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo lived in Tuscany as did important authors such as Dante Alighieri, Petrarch or Niccolò Machiavelli who gave the Tuscan dialect the substance to become the basis for the modern day Italian language.
The area is also known for its food. There are four wine appellations, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano and Brunello di Montalcino, dozens of high quality olive groves and cheese producers and a cow breed that gives the region is famous (and divine) Florentine steak.
Its iconic undulating green hills with large country houses surrounded by vineyards, plains and olive groves are the result of ancient defensive practices as the area was the center of many wars and disputes between Siena and Florence. Geographically, Tuscany extends from the Appalachian mountains to the sea but fertile hills still occupy 60% of its territory.
With such a rich heritage, culture and cuisine, it is no wonder that Tuscany is a magnet for foodies, wine connoisseurs and nature lovers. But to grasp the realities behind the idyllic tourist traps, locals advocate for Slow travel because to truly understand how Tuscany works, you have to immerse yourself in the culture, one that is sure to give anyone an unforgettable time. Else, ask Sarah how much she enjoyed her cooking class in Spannocchia Farm!
Why I would love to change my ultra-frequent traveler status for a Slow Traveling Life
I spent a few days in Tuscany with Arianna and Alessio from Km Zero Tours, an adventure they started a few years ago to show people their beautiful part of the world thought Slow Travel tours of Tuscany. After a few days enjoying the slow life, spending half day with producers, having lunches or dinners at their homes and learning about real life in Tuscany I realised that my travel style, sometimes, misses our on the beauty of simply enjoying a place without an agenda.
I used to be the extreme ultra-frequent traveler. I was somewhere in the morning, somewhere in the afternoon, somewhere before dinner, somewhere for dinner, somewhere after…I had list of places to see and things to do and I wanted to cross them all off a list. I was the opposite of slow travel.
After realising that this was not the best ways to understand or learn about a place, I went the other way. I had no plan whatsoever and I even showed up at countries without bookings and without knowing much about the place. I spent two months in the Pacific one of which I decided my plans as I opened my eyes in the morning. I went to airports without bookings, I decided on destinations based on the travel guides I could find in remote bookstores which only sold very old book copies that were tremendously outdated.
Today, I plan and read about a place before going, I try to see what would be the part I would enjoy the most and I make bookings for the essential places I don’t want to miss out on or which I know are very popular. But I leave plenty of time for serendipity. I try to get lost, I aim to discover places that are hidden, I talk to the locals, I seek the stories that have never been told. And I often travel alone. Not that traveling alone is incompatible with Slow or fast travel, but by being a solo woman, I am more likely to attract invitations to meet locals, to join their tables, to interact. People are not threatened by women but instead feel compassion, curiosity for traveling solo and I have found, in my experience, that the vulnerability invites more interaction. It is also true that being a travel blogger, my travel life is also determined and often manipulated by the needs to document every move, but I always have the freedom to choose what part of my life I leave in my memories only vis-a-vis what part I decide to let the world share in with me.
If one day I no longer have the limitations and demands of a full time job that does not give me enough time to truly travel slow, I am sure my travel planning will not have a check-list. The Slow Travel trip to Tuscany sure changed my view on travel.
Know moreAlso part of this series on Slow Travel in Tuscany