Three weeks in Florence, Italy and I was ready to get out. The city itself is a bastion of renaissance art and architecture, deliciously simple food and people eager to share their culture. But by the beginning of June, the tourist crowds were in full swing, cluttering the streets and covering up what makes the city great.
It was time to head to the country.
Ecotourism is a popular travel choice for conscientious travelers. This type of travel has been around in one form or another since the 70s. Today, almost every bussines claims to be green. It’s difficult to separate the true ecological experiences from trips that simply view nature from afar.
The Spannoccia estate embraces sustainability not as something new and exciting, but as something that is deeply rooted in its history, a history that starts in the Dark Ages.
My trip to Spannoccia was part of a food and wine writing course. The city of Florence had been a wonderful teacher and host. Coffee culture (no Starbucks here), gelato (pistachio is a classic flavor), Florentine steaks (served nearly raw), and pasta (each variety is served in a different way) make up the city’s food map, rich with history. Spannoccia draws from the same traditions.
The building itself is a mashup of styles covering the course of around 500 years of architectural history. The oldest portion is the tower, built during the Middle Ages. Inside, the floorplan has no definite flow. It’s easy to get lost. Behind the smaller kitchen is a study nook, complete with a low circular window, giving the place a hobbit-esque feel. Upstairs, off one of the hallways, is the back entrance to a dusty chapel. Occasionally a local priest holds service there. Herbs dry in the rafters throughout the estate and sparse decorations complete the rustic charm.
There are reports of ghosts. Some visitors hear noises and voices at night. With 500 years of history, it’s not surprising if there is a ghost or 2 hanging around. My trip was only haunted by good food though.
Located in the undulating hills of the Tuscan country-side, Spannoccia lives off the land. Almost everything you eat there is from its own farmland. This isn’t something new. The residents of Spannoccia have lived that way since the time it was built. Grapes and olives are grown and made into mild wines and a dark bitter olive oil. A local breed of pig, Cinta Senese, are raised, butchered and preserved as prosciutto and salumis in a cellar beneath the estate. Vegetables, fruits and herbs thrive in the warm Tuscan climate.
The meals are spectacular in a quiet way.
When the weather is mild, the groups staying at Spannoccia gather on the outside terrace for a wine hour before migrating to the patio for dinner. The food is unceremoniously brought out in courses and though each dish is recognizable, it tastes richer and less sweet than its American counterpart. Salad is made with bitter greens topped with olive oil and salt, Bruschetta is salty, crunchy, and addicting and the hand rolled past is springy and filling. Groups intermingle, sharing stories over red table wine. It’s an experience of community and freshness.
Spannoccia is a retreat from the surrounding crowded cities. It draws artists and students, travelers and foodies. The spirit of good food and long traditions is alive in the Tuscan hills.