Breathtaking landscape and simple village life simply refreshing.
OUR 1,445km road trip began at 6 o’clock on a sunny Saturday morning mid-July.
The journey required two days’ drive, departing from the east of Holland and heading towards Tuscany.
We aimed to cover 900km on the first day, driving on the German and Austrian autobahns (highways) and making pitstops every two to three hours along the way.
We arrived in Sterzing, the Austrian-speaking part of Italy around five in the afternoon, in a town called Vipiteno where we spent the night at a bed-and-breakfast inn frequented by travellers from northern Europe heading for holidays in the south.
The second day on the road was mapped out to be a more relaxing drive, as we were only about 500km from our ultimate destination – a villa in Arsicci, a very small Appenine village in Tuscany situated at about 850m above sea level.
We arrived there at around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, long before sunset that happens around 10 in the evening in the summer in these parts of the world.
For a family group with four couples and five children in total, we rented a seven-bedroom villa for one week.
The three-level stone farmhouse included a 5,000sq m private wooded park, a swimming pool, children’s playroom, recreation room with a bar, dance floor and a platform for a band.
It was absolutely beyond our expectations.
Tuscany is a stunning feast for the senses.
From sprawling vistas of golden sun-kissed meadows, lush green hills and mountains sparsely dotted with centuries-old stone villas and farmhouses to carpets of daffodils, sunflowers and lavender growing wild in the fields and imposing cypresses standing guard on the mountain sides, it is a breathtaking landscape that stretches as far as the eyes can see.
In its rolling hills and valleys lay its well-known secret, a rich gastronomy brought about by its very own produce: Chianina cattle raised in its land and known the world over; white truffles hiding under its grounds and extra-virgin olive oil liberally sprinkled on almost every dish.
You can trace the origins of the famous bistecca ala fiorentina to this region.
On one of their drives, my brother-in-law and his wife stumbled upon Ricordati di Me; a restaurant perched on an awkward hillside with an unassuming gravel driveway, in the town of Caprile.
They had lunch there and couldn’t wait to share the experience with us.
To illustrate, here’s Tuscany in a capsule.
Fresh, real and wholesome food, grown in its own land, prepared simply and deliciously by its chef and owner, Franco in a rustic setting and without fanfare.
Out here, there are no famous celebrity chefs, no fancy ingredients or raw materials flown from all over.
Just simple people who know the land and have a passion for cooking.
There is no menu to read either.
Franco came to our table and “discussed” with us in Italian, which we understood to be that he’d prepare food based on whatever ingredients were available, to which we nodded si si in reply.
It is almost surreal to be writing about Tuscany, a world so disconnected from strife and human suffering.
I was standing in a Dutch supermarket aisle when a friend called as news broke of MH17.
We had just arrived in The Netherlands four days prior.
That was a flight route we have frequently flown in the last five years.
He just wanted to check where we were at because a Malaysia Airlines plane flying from Schiphol Amsterdam airport to Kuala Lumpur was shot down somewhere in the Ukrainian skies.
My reaction was just one of disbelief, until we saw the news.
I am still in Holland as I write this. The Dutch have gone on with their lives and whatever semblance of normalcy is left, especially for the families.
But this is what we do. To honour the dead, we have to keep on living.
With all the sorrows in current times, Tuscany gives me hope and inspiration that beauty still exists in this world. That there are places that lift your soul and remind us about what is essential in life.
It has been a summer full of sadness and remembrances; bittersweet and yet, still beautiful.
I have Tuscany to thank for that.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Melinda is a marketing executive, entrepreneur and writer who moved from the Netherlands to KL. She loves scuba diving, good food and wine, and is happy to be back in the tropics.