Written by resident Roamaroo writer, Keith Bohan.
It’s hard to do anything in Tuscany Italy without feeling like you landed a leading role in a vintage Fellini movie. From sunrise to sundown, it makes for a dreamy backdrop. Here’s a list of the most enjoyable, unforgettable experiences in Tuscany, and its capital city, Florence. These experiences were so life changing that I had to pinch my wife, Rachael, to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
That’s how it works, right?
Rise and fly: Sunrise Balloon Ride.
“Rise above it” is a cliched piece of advice in conflict resolution. But, if you have a hot air balloon, it’s actually a pretty solid plan. What better way to spend a dawning day than soaring over the Tuscan countryside?
The experience begins with a pick-up from your hotel and a direct drive to the launch site, just about the time the sun is thinking about getting up for work. While you take pictures, the multicolored balloons fill with hot air. Then, it’s up, up, and away!
Rising in tandem with the sun, we floated at the front of a four-balloon cavalcade for 45 minutes. Rachael and I spun continuously in the balloon’s wicker basket so we didn’t miss a second of the gorgeous panorama.
And, sure, we ended up accidentally landing in the field of a local farmer, but that only added to the experience. Anyway, I expected a slightly inaccurate landing after watching The Wizard of Oz documentary.
After getting back on solid ground, they had a tasty spread laid out for us: Local cheeses, meats, and bread, not to mention the earliest ever glass of prosecco I’ve ever had. Come on, this is Italy we’re talking about here.
A stunning way to start your day. And resolve a conflict.
The greatest gifts come in small packages.
Italian breakfast is different. There isn’t an egg or piece of bacon in sight. You’ll see some restaurants offering ‘English breakfast’, but you didn’t come here for the same ol’ same old, right?
No, a typical Italian breakfast is small and sweet. Not unlike Betty White.
So- in the name of cultural sensitivity- you must eat pastries for breakfast. How much of a free pass is that? Pair the pastry (or pastries) with an espresso, and there you go! You’re practically Italian. If you prefer cappuccino, go ahead and indulge. Just don’t drink it after noon or it will be a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist.
Locals and tourists alike adore Florence’s ‘Starbene’ bakery. Incidentally, it’s gluten-free, although this has zero impact on the scrumptiousness. For the non-scientists among you: Gluten-free pastries actually cancel out, like, 93% of calories.
Don’t fact-check that.
Beep-beep, vroom, vroom…
You’ve started your day like a dyed-in-the-wool Tuscan. Don’t stop now! And what could be more Italian than riding Vespas together?
I’d recommend this activity year-round, but fall is a particularly heart-swelling time of year to zip through the dancing leaves, vineyards, and idyllic Italian towns.
Giuseppe from Florencetown Tours expertly guided us through the amber countryside. We stopped off at the local market in Greve and a scenic winery. PSA: Abstain from tasting wine until you’ve parked your Vespa for the day. If an Irishman says that, you know it’s serious.
After a day on Vespas, you’ll experience Vespa-envy each time you see suave Florentians zig-zagging between traffic. The bugs in my teeth were testament to a day spent smiling maniacally on a Vespa.
It’s always 6:30 somewhere…
We’ve all heard “It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere”. In Tuscany Italy, you want that clock’s hands to align at 6:30: Aperitivo time. And although Italian Aperitivo is ‘like’ American Happy Hour, there are some key differences. In fact, it even differs from spot to spot.
In general, buying a drink grants you access to unlimited food ranging from bread, cheese, meat, and chips, to much more fancy. My favorite Aperitivo spot is actually one of the city’s simplest ones: Gosh*. That asterisk is part of the bar’s branding, this article has no footnotes.
Entering Gosh* is like stepping into the 1920’s. Kind of like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, but with Flamingo wallpaper.
You’ve got to experience this place to believe it. The owner is also an interior designer and it shows.
Aside from the Flamingo wallpaper, there is romantic lighting and slick copper tones. Most importantly (let’s be real), they have incredible cocktails. Aperitivo drinks traditionally consist of classics like the Aperol Spritz or Negroni, but feel free to experiment. Gosh* has an extensive cocktail list.
If it’s busy, prepare to wait a little longer than you’re used to for your drink to arrive. But this is Tuscany Italy: People do things slower, and it’s always worth the wait.
Now that you’ve eaten, it’s time to eat.
Oh, is it already time to eat again? You’ve really twisted my arm, Florence.
At 8pm, local favorite, Fiaschetteria Nuvoli opens its doors. Blink and you would miss the entrance, except that here will be a humongous crowd outside the door in advance of opening. You’ll get in either way, but a reservation will save you 10-15 minutes standing on line.
The building itself harks back to a simpler time: Grey stonewalls, long tables, and little caves throughout.
The food is mouth-watering. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it here. Although they literally have pieces of meat hanging from the ceilings, the vegetarian among us adored his meal, too. That vegetarian was me.
Our friend had rabbit ragu with gnocchi, a Tuscan specialty, and still talks about it. They even make their own wine! There’s a beautiful, communal, familial ambience here. Big plates, big gestures, big personalities. This is Italy after all.
Truly, Tuscany takes some beating.
My wife and I travel full-time, and Florence grasped a special part of our hearts. And, yes, it also added some ‘special’ inches to my waistline, but I wasn’t coming to Florence to eat lettuce.
From the elation of sunrise balloon rides together, to the thrill of seeing each other in the rear-view mirror of a Vespa, or even simple things like seeing candlelight flicker in each others eyes in the quiet corner of a restaurant, there’s something here for everybody.
Long after our Tuscan balloon ride, our feet still haven’t touched the ground.
Keith Bohan is an Irish writer, who travels full-time throughout Europe. Follow his adventures and misadventures at instagram.com/keithbohan