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Visiting Tuscany is part of many people’s dream trip, but in this vast region, it can be difficult to find the special experiences that feel like you’ve found the true heart of Tuscany – its culture, its traditions, its artisan products, and most of all the Tuscan people. Untold Italy Tours are small group tours focused on ensuring that the Italian places, faces, stories and tastes that you experience create memories that linger for years to come. Helping visitors explore Italy beyond the obvious and discover their own authentic Italy.
In this episode, we welcome Rita and Ed de la Fuente who joined us earlier this year on one of our Untold Italy tours in Tuscany. Rita and Ed enjoyed the Spring tour, visiting medieval hilltop towns, olive oil, wine and cheese producers, an iris farm and joining a truffle hunt – to name but a few. Experiencing Tuscan traditions that have existed for centuries, and enjoying beautiful Chianti wines and the delicious local cuisine (including what Ed describes as a blanket of truffles).
At Untold Italy Tours, we are excited to work with local providers and our amazing guides to offer our unique small group tours in Tuscany. Find out more about joining us on tour in Tuscany for our Spring small group tour itinerary and our Autumn/Fall small group tour itinerary. Untold founder Katy started Untold Italy Tours from a desire to share the kinds of experiences she and her family most enjoy when spending time in Italy – being truly immersed and having slowed down the pace and appreciating life and food being in rhythm with the seasons. Despite the diversity of its regions and even each town or village, there is nothing more Italian that sitting over a long lunch and hearing stories of someone’s life and land and their commitment to preserving long-held traditions.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- A couple of years ago, food lovers Ed and Rita de la Fuente from San Diego, California started discussing what their dream trips would be and how to make them a reality. Both Italy and Japan were top of the list and Italy won out. This trip would be their first Italian adventure together and Ed’s first time in Italy and they didn’t want to rush in, but take a more considered approach to what they wanted from their trip
- After settling on Italy, they were all over the place as far as itineraries and where they wanted to go. They finally picked the when and then started to zero in on the where
- Most people, on their first trip to Italy, will head for the big 3 – Rome, Florence, and Venice, maybe the Amalfi Coast or a dip into Tuscany, but despite it being their first trip, Rita and Ed went about things in a different way. On their 3 week trip, they knew they wanted to experience the classics and did indeed plan some time in Rome, Florence, and Venice, but they both love food, wine, and spending time in nature and the countryside, so they knew we wanted to spend some time in Tuscany, but that they wanted to slow things down and savor this part of the trip
- Ed found the Untold Italy podcast, which in turn introduced them to our website and to the Untold Italy small group tours, which sparked their interest as for part of their trip they were keen to include a more immersive experience
- They did 3 nights in Rome, 3 nights in Florence, and then the week in Tuscany on the Untold Italy Tuscany in Spring tour where they were able to relax and then, a few days in Venice and thanks to Katy’s recommendation, ended the trip with 3 days at Lake Garda – for a calm and picturesque ending
- Amazing as they are, the experiences that you have in the big, major cities are very different to the more immersive experiences you can have. Even if you limited your itinerary, they are generally crowded and there are lots of logistics of getting around and tickets and queues for this and that. You will no doubt see some wonderful sights and beautiful art but it can be exhausting!
- The Tuscan part of their tour meant that everything was taken care of. They didn’t have to think about any logistics and any decisions. Anyone who travels independently knows that decision fatigue is real! Everything was set up for them but at a relaxed pace
- The Untold guides, in this case, the wonderful Olivia Windsor, speak both English and Italian and know Italy really well and are passionate about the country, so are not only getting you from A to B, but can teach you all kinds of things. Olivia helped Ed and Rita pick a nice balsamic to take back home with them – by giving them some tutorials on what to look for quality-wise. Everything that they did was something that they would have wanted to book for themselves but with all of the planning and headaches taken away
- When they eventually moved on to Venice, it was a shock having to make decisions again and in fact, kept in touch with Liv, asking her advice to help them find their feet there!
- What Rita liked most about the tour was being welcomed into people’s homes. There were the olive oil and wine producers and these beautiful farms with people that have worked in these industries for generations. With it being a very small group, you could really get to know them and after seeing what they do, they would welcome them into their home and they’d meet their families and even their dogs! You can really sense their passion and generosity of spirit. It is clear that the reason they do what they do goes way beyond making money. It’s more about the true craft that they love as well as the concept of taking care of the Earth and each other. Rita and Ed found this really refreshing
- To have these intimate experiences with people that are so dedicated and focused on doing one thing – making wine, olive oil or whatever their expertise is – you also find there is a real calmness about them
- Katy hosted a lunch in Rome earlier in the year for people she works with and Arianna and Alessio, who she works with in conjunction with on the Tuscany tours, hadn’t been to Rome for 18 years, but drove down to Rome for this lunch, and brought presents for Katy too. It really shows just how genuine people are and that they will go out of their way to make you feel at home with them, part of their lives and community. This is a great example of how connected you can become with people
- Rita and Ed were also charmed by Arianna and Alessio’s passion and care. They would drive them around the countryside and Arianna would tell stories about growing up there and what the area and the people in it mean to them
- The farmhouse where they stayed as their base, was equally as welcoming. Hosted by Miranda who was welcoming and warm. Many of their favorite meals were prepared by her. They were very helpful and they actually helped us with some of our other planning as well. But it was just nice to come home there. It was very comfortable, a great breakfast in the morning. They provided plenty of extra espressos in the morning, despite being slightly bewildered by how much more espresso Americans drink!
- The farmhouse itself was pretty idyllic too. Their body clocks were off kilter so they’d be up around sunrise and would look outside their window to see the sun coming up over the vineyards with a little mist sitting over the mountain – almost an unreal scene
- No matter where you were in Tuscany, there was always an incredible view and so many opportunities to take great photos
- Ed’s favorite was visiting the olive oil farm run by Tobias and his family. He introduced them to how he makes wine and his approach to making wine and how he takes that same approach to making his olive oil. Both are made so cleanly and naturally. It was interesting that so many of the practices are organic or natural because that’s how they always have been. He processes his olive oil differently to larger producers – in a much slower and laborious method – because it isn’t about making money, it’s about knowing that the quality is going to be exceptional
- After showing them around and all the processes he invited them into his home with his parents and his kids and they fed them an incredible meal. It’s such an intimate thing to be invited into someone’s home and to spend time with them there and they did that almost daily. A beautiful experience to feel so welcomed
- Rita’s favorite was the iris farm. It was an almost magical experience. Everything the lady there produces is all natural and she cultivates honey from her own bees and she showed them her basket weaving techniques and again she created some wonderful food for them
- Katy hasn’t actually yet been to that iris farm yet as she’d not been able to be there in Spring, but Olivia was gushing to Katy that it was the most beautiful place she’d ever been to… and Olivia lives in Italy and has seen so many beautiful places all over the country!
- Rita and Ed know there’s no way they could have put together a trip to meet all of those families and experience. They knew from the itinerary that they’d be doing some of these activities, but had no idea how very personal it was all going to be
- For Katy, this is exactly what she wants people to experience from the tours. When creating the tours, it was not about just taking people to certain places, it was about helping people have a connection
- They visited a variety of quaint towns and villages, but there were a couple that stood out. They spent an afternoon in Siena, which although fairly large compared to some of the smaller towns, Rita was in awe of it and it’s definitely somewhere she wants to go back to. They also found Greve, which was close to the farmhouse, was full of charm and character
- The one thing that Katy has found unites the guest that have been on the Untold Italy tours, is that they’re all really passionate about food and wine – as is Katy, as is Olivia! So making sure people have amazing culinary experiences is key a huge part of the tours
- Rita and Ed were expecting to have amazing pasta and, of course, they did and it was to die for, but a lot of the things they were treated to, they weren’t expecting. The produce, in particular. They were there during the peak of artichoke season and had artichokes prepared in a variety of ways. Rita loved artichokes and fried sage. There were also fried squash blossoms, incredible tomatoes and all the truffles they could ever have dreamed of. Ed was surprised at the amount of truffle being served – and had what he describes as a blanket of truffle on his plate of pasta
- The truffles are fresh which means a more delicate taste than the ‘truffle flavored’ things you might come across. They actually went out on an adventure with a truffle hunter and his adorable dog Rospo. Rosp was the son of the dog that usually does it and was a little wild so they had to be careful that he didn’t eat the truffles once he found them. They found about a dozen truffles and had a ton of fun. Then aftwards they went with the father and the sons and prepared lunch with truffles and pasta, some steaks and their own wine
- They, of course, expected to have the best food. It’s Italy and everyone tells you you will. But they couldn’t believe how good it was and to come back to the farmhouse each day and having had amazing food in the day, to be like “wow this is the best I’ve ever had”. They had particularly good ravioli – made all the more delicious because they’d made it!
- They did a cheese-making class, where to start off they met the sheep – including a newborn lamb. The cheese maker and some of his sheep had even been in under the Tuscan Sun. He showed them how to make Pecorino and the batch they made together is aging now and when it’s ready it will be shipped to them
- Their cooking class produced one of Rita’s favorite meals. Camilla, who taught the class made the best cacio e pepe – a seemingly simple but delicious dish she prepared as they watched
- Ed and Rita feel that Tuscany actually exceeded their expectations. Every day was so different, they weren’t expecting the intimacy of the encounters and know that’s not easy to find. They just want their friends and family to experience it because it’s so difficult to explain it
- Most of the wine that we had was organic or very close to organic. They learned that the regulations in Italy to have organic label is very strict. They’ve been doing things this way for centuries, and it’s been passed down
- They hadn’t expected to be having so much great organic wine. It tastes cleaner and fresher – there are less sulfates and wine is not traveling long distances and even though they would have plenty each night – they never had hangovers and were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed each morning
- There’s no doubt Rita and Ed planned their time wisely and got to experience some of the diversity of Italy – experiencing the classic cities as long as the Tuscan countryside – seeming a world away. Italy has a way of pulling you in and making you want to go back and that diversity has a lot to do with it. Rita and Ed are already thinking about heading back, this time going to south to Sicily or Puglia perhaps…
- Overall they found the Tuscan tour to be an incredible experience. Along with all the intimate experiences, meeting all these wonderful artisans and eating so much incredible food, they also found guide Olivia, so much fun and found it felt like hanging out with a friend for a week. They know they’ll never forget this experience, which is exactly what Katy wants from the Untold Italy tours – to build wonderful memories of Italy that will last a lifetime
It’s such a thrill to hear Rita and Ed enjoyed their time in Tuscany so much. It’s exactly what we hoped our guests would feel having spent some time with us and our local friends across Italy. You can find out more about Untold Italy Tours in Tuscany, offering both a Spring small group tour and an Autumn/Fall small group tour.
About our guests – Ed and Rita de la Fuente
Ed and Rita de la Fuente live in San Diego, California. They are long-time fans of the Untold Italy podcast and this was their first Italian adventure together and Ed’s first time in Italy. They are food lovers and enjoy cooking as much as eating.
Places mentioned in the show
- Siena – ancient Tuscan city, south of Florence
- Greve in Chianti – a hub of the local wine industry in Tuscany
Travel the Untold Italy way
Traveling the Untold Italy way is soaking up every last minute, exploring the many different regions and subcultures of Italy. When you’re in the big cities it’s looking for those unique curiosities you can only find there or chasing after a unique experience that speaks to your passions – whether that be history, food, or creating art. Each and every one of our experiences reflects the local flavor, history and traditions of the regions we visit – which are so very different from each other.
Our style of travel includes exploring the unique tastes that draw on seasonal local ingredients. We’re about meeting local artisans and discovering the passion and dedication behind their creations. But above all, we believe in having time to explore and time to relax. And to enjoy long leisurely aperitivo and meals with great wine and even better company.
Untold Italy Tours
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to experience Italy beyond the obvious but were not sure how to organize your trip, let Untold Italy Tours take care of it for you and help you discover your authentic Italy. Come journey with us to untold regions and discover the Italian places, faces, stories, and tastes whose memories linger for years to come.
Resources from Untold Italy
- Join one of Untold Italy’s unique small group tours in Tuscany or discover our tours in other regions with the Beyond Bologna food tour and Piedmont Spring and Fall itineraries in the North, beyond the Cinque Terre in Liguria, experiencing un-touched Umbria, the beautiful isle of Capri, and Puglia in the South as well as tours of both the east and west of the island of Sicily
- Discover more about the region in our Tuscany guide, in The Best Towns in Tuscany to visit and explore, get some Tuscany itinerary ideas, find the Best agriturismo in Tuscany and find some of the artisan products from the area in Unique gifts from Tuscany
- Listen: to our other episodes on Tuscany in Episode #158 Slow travel experiences in Tuscany, Episode #113- Spring dishes from Tuscany, Episode #089 Harvest in Tuscany, Episode #79 Maremma – Exploring Tuscany’s undiscovered coast, Episode #062 Special products from Tuscany, Episode #60 Garfagnana – My Tuscany with Buzz Mccarthy and Episode #57 Tuscany’s Chianti region. The Chianti region is, of course, famous for its wine – check out Episode #144 Sip your way through the wine bars of Florence and our Episode #13 Introduction to Italian wine to find out about other wine regions and listen to Episode #039: Exploring Florence with Corinna Cooke to learn more about the Tuscan capital.
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.