Friday, 12 October 2012

Why is Tuscan bread so bad?

Of all the misplaced expectations that visitors to Tuscany report, bread probably leads the pack. "Why is Tuscan bread so bad?", they ask. Well, if eaten the way the Tuscans eat it, Tuscan bread isn't bad, it's good. But it is unlike the crusty "Italian bread" sold in the States and, indeed, unlike most of the other breads sold in the homelands of our visitors.

Tuscan bread
Tuscan bread
Tuscan bread is saltless and contains no keepers to maintain freshness. This means that it bakes with a light-coloured and sometimes soft crust, is fine grained and turns into concrete by lunchtime. It is therefore not what you want if your breakfast or lunch is bread or toast, with butter and jam. Hotels often provide Tuscan bread at breakfast time because guests have asked for bread over the years, but the results are usually bad because the hotels have no idea of what a toast and jam breakfast is, and the guests completely misconceive the place of Tuscan bread on the table. So when you're here in Tuscany, you should either enjoy an Italian breakfast, meaning a sweet pastry and a coffee at a local bar, or buy the appropriate bread from a supermarket ("foreign" breakfast breads are, in fact, available in Supermarkets but rarely at bakeries).

For lunch, sandwich bread substitutes are readily available and extremely popular in Tuscany, forming, as they do, the basis for panini, the popular Italian take away sandwich lunch. Various forms of schiacciatina are often used to create a panino, essentially a sandwich with the major difference that butter is almost always replaced with olive oil. Many Tuscan households don't use butter from one week to the next.

So how should Tuscan bread be eaten? In essence, Tuscan bread accompanies all phases of an Italian meal except the dolce (dessert). That's why there's always a huge basket of bread in the middle of the table and also why it should always arrive at your table early on during a restaurant meal. Slices of bread, moistened by spreads of olive oil, chopped tomatoes and so on, might also be served up as an antipasto in the form of crostini, bruschetta or fettunta. Tuscan bread goes perfectly with salty antipasti such as salami and prosciutto, but remember to pour a bit of olive oil onto your bread to soften it up and add flavour just before eating it. During the pasta and main courses, you use your bread to finish off any sauce left on the plate.

In the country, the evening meal might consist mostly of dishes based primarily on bread. Indeed, when the rural regions of Italy were much poorer than they are now, bread and oil were the staff of life, and dishes like ribollita and panzanella were eaten every day. Ribollita - the word means 're-boiled' - is a winter 'soup' that consists mostly of the day's remaining bread added to a pot of white beans, vegetables and, most important of all, a kale called cavolo nero. Generations of Tuscans have survived the winter eating ribollita. Panzanella is a summer dish, basically a light bread salad that also uses up the bread left at the end of the day.

Conclusion? When in Tuscany, as far as bread is concerned, do as the Tuscans do and you'll discover that our bread is perfectly adapted to complement our delicious traditional dishes!

More about Tuscan culinary specialities.

Useful information on what it costs to eat out in Tuscany.

All about ordering coffee in Tuscany.

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Chianti Travel Guides and Chianti Tourist Information

Here I would like to provide some useful links for those seeking reliable Chianti travel guides and Chianti tourist information. The following websites are among the most comprehensive in terms of information for visitors on what to see and things to do in the Chianti area of Tuscany and also to other parts of Tuscany, Italy. At the bottom of this post, I've also placed a link to a good selection of travel guide books available from Amazon along with my recommendations.

Chianti Travel Guides and Chianti Tourist Information
A classic Tuscan farmhouse (casa colonica)
One of the first and still one of the best websites devoted to Chianti is (established 1997) which is a travel guide not only to Greve in Chianti, the market town of the Chianti Classico area, but also to many points of interest in the surrounding area. It offers an excellent owner-direct list of vacation accommodation in Chianti. I also publish articles there from time to time on different aspects of Tuscan life plus tips for tourists visiting Tuscany: Tuscany Blog. My friend and colleague, Elena Spolaor, is rapidly expanding her Chianti Blog at (1998) is a travel guide website containing a mass of useful and information on Tuscany - architecture, history, food, wine, accommodation as well as links to tourist information websites about individual towns throughout the region. Their map of Tuscany has similar links to towns, monasteries, villas, mountains and other geographical points of interest to tourists in Tuscany and also Umbria.

Another excellent Chianti travel guide is (2001). Despite its name, this travel guide website covers not only Chianti but provides tourist information on other parts of Tuscany. Do you want to gather, or simply eat, porcini mushrooms? To grill, or simply eat, a bistecca alla fiorentina? Learn about the history of the part of Tuscany known as Chianti? This site is for you!

Two smaller, more recent but increasingly popular travel guide sites are and The former provides a list of air conditioned vacation rentals among other things, while the latter offers a comprehensive list of events and fairs, and a list of market days throughout Tuscany.

My recommendations for the best Tuscany guide books are:
- for those interested in the details of history and architecture, the Blue Guides, namely Blue Guide Florence and Blue Guide Tuscany. These are excellent scholarly guide books.
- for those who prefer diagrams more than text, the best guide book, in my opinion, is the Eyewitness Travel Guide: Florence & Tuscany. This is quite a weighty book to carry but it's packed with excellent illustrated maps, cut-away illustrations of architecture and so on.

I have assembled a comprehensive list of Tuscany travel guide books available from Amazon here. Titles and some reviews of more specific interests are as follows:

Some general Tuscany guide books.
Cycling in Tuscany.
Hiking in Tuscany.
Gardens of Tuscany.
Orchids in Tuscany

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Saturday, 6 October 2012

What does it cost to eat out in Tuscany?

After researching accommodation costs in Tuscany, voyagers preparing for their visit often next ask "What does it cost to eat out in Tuscany?" The short answer is that, even at current exchange rates, restaurant prices are good and you can probably enjoy an equivalent meal for less in Tuscany than back home. Furthermore, excellent, light and healthy, takeaway foods are available throughout Tuscany. I was prompted to write this post because several tourists have told me recently that they were surprised at how cheap it is to eat here, suggesting that there might be a few misconceptions out there.

What does it cost to eat out in Tuscany
Eating out in a Tuscan restaurant - an important part of your visit to Tuscany
My colleague Elena Spolaor has provided detailed information, including sample prices, on the subject of restaurant prices in Tuscany here, but let me summarise.

Breakfast in Tuscany is usually a cappuccino and a pastry. Nevertheless, there are hotels and B&B's that provide a cooked breakfast or more often a buffet. My recommendation is to stick with a coffee and pastry.

Lunch can be a huge meal but would not be followed by another huge meal at dinner time. As a tourist, your daylight hours are valuable. I therefore recommend that you again follow local custom and have a sandwich, a panino, assembled under your guidance at one of the many paninoteche dotted around every city and town in Tuscany.

Dinner is the main meal of the day in Italy and starts at 8 pm or later. A full dinner consists of antipasti, primo piato, often pasta, main course (secondo) and dessert (dolce). However, you are under no compulsion at all to eat your way through a full meal. For many, a pasta dish and a dessert, for example, is more than enough.

If economy is important, you can avoid restaurants altogether by renting a self-catering apartment. Outside the big cities and sometimes also within them, you can rent a vacation apartment for less than it costs to stay in a hotel. You can then either cook your own meals or, for not much more expenditure, buy ready to eat hot and cold food in supermarkets and the many other food outlets for enjoyment in the relaxed environment of your own accommodation. Restaurants make their profit on the wines, so you can save significantly by buying your wine from supermarkets for consumption at your apartment.

More about restaurant prices in Tuscany.

More about coffee and coffee prices in Tuscany.

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