Cultural gems, breathtaking landscape, restaurants that never fail to deliver and one very special villa make southern Tuscany an ideal destination for anyone who wants a romantic getaway
With every holiday there is that little bit of uncertainty as to whether it will live up to expectations and here I was again with the responsibility of sorting out the details of our holiday under the very high expectations of my Mr X. But southern Tuscany - the region that best encapsulates the classic landscapes of Italy with medieval hill-towns overlooking rows of cypress trees, vineyards, olives groves and farmhouses - exceeded all our expectations.
We started our journey in Bologna (although Florence would have been a closer airport) and soon found ourselves driving along narrow roads, where each new turn gave an even more stunning view across soft rolling hills with the odd monastery dotted around. Indeed, the driving here is a reward in itself and a car is a must if you are to make the most of southern Tuscany. Before our final destination we stopped to take in the monuments and art treasures of the hill-town of Cortona. It is a pleasant little town with an amazing view of the villages and Castiglione del Lago. It was also here we were reminded of why Italian cuisine is so highly praised. Lunch at La Bottega Dell'Oste (Vicolo mancini 10, 52044 Cortona, Tel: 0575.62153) in front of the old theatre brings out dishes worthy of any Michelin star, but will only set you back around €50-60 for a three course lunch for two including a glass of wine. Don't miss the heavenly, home-made ravioli with spinach, sweet tomatoes and soft-roasted pine nuts or the perfectly cooked steak with porcini mushroom.
After our substantial lunch - which we both agreed would be difficult to top - it was time to find our villa in Montepulciano. When we rolled up at Villa Poggiano, the striking old building perched in the middle of these exceptional, natural surroundings and decorated with statues and fountains, greeted us with the atmosphere of a beautiful and peaceful home. Our suite (€260 a night; doubles €210) which was separate from the main villa was tastefully furnished with antique furniture and all the modern appliances, and the large window from our bedroom allowed us to take in the fantastic view as we woke up. Normally I always have a struggle to get my Mr. X out of bed in time for breakfast, but with service until 11.00 there was no excuse this time and once he tasted the delights he was up earlier than me - fresh fruit, locally produced cold meats and cheeses, home-made pastries and Italian coffee at its best. You can easily spend a day at the villa just relaxing by the marble swimming pool. Other options include taking the villa's bikes for a ride in the Tuscan country side, visiting the nearby vineyards or monasteries and discovering the towns of Montepulciano and Pienza, but it's also a perfect location for day trips to the great cities of art and culture such as Siena, Florence and Perugia.
For the evenings there is again a substantial choice of outstanding restaurants close by and yes, we did find one which topped or at least equalled La Bottega Dell'Oste in Cortona. Set opposite the San Biagio Church outside of Montepulciano, La Grotta (Localita' San Biagio 15, 53045 Montepulciano, Tel: 0578 757607) offers a fine and warm dining experience and superb Italian food. It is at the upper end of the scale (around €100 for two with wine), but for a very special dinner it is worth every penny.
The last day came around all too quickly, but when even Mr X is still telling his friends how much he loved his stay in southern Tuscany three weeks later, I know this one was as close to perfect as I could have ever hoped for.