This is neither the best guide to Tuscany, nor the most thorough.
It is however the kind of guide that’s the most interesting because it involves being taken by the hand and welcomed like family to a timeless country where locals showed me a kind of hospitality that runs through their bones.
In the province of Siena, change comes slow, or as Bilbo Baggins added, “if it comes at all”. Here I met Sandra Petreni, and her husband Carlo amid rolling mosaic hills of vineyards, wheat, and stands of cypress trees.
Born in Siena, Petreni’s art has been exhibited in her home region of Tuscany and elsewhere across Italy, and considering her locale of Monteriggioni, and her self-professed appreciation for the “fine things,” I had no doubt she would be the ideal guide for a low key two-day trip to one of the country’s most visited places.
“To be honest I like the finer things in life; I like the best flavors, the things with the most beauty,” she told me over an aperitif within the castle walls of Monteriggioni, a fortified town built in the 1210s by the Senese as a position to defend their homes during their medieval-period wars with Florence.
“The people here, every year they have a medieval period faire. One comes in dressed like medieval Senese and the tourists must exchange their euros for florins,” she told me, using the name of the hard currency of the Middle Ages. Atop the walls, the view across the hillocks was classic Tuscany: old buildings surrounded by vineyards and olive grows, tussocks of high grass coated in wildflowers alongside winding country roads that disappear into thickets of trees.