Tuscany is one of the top destinations in the world for agritourism. The long history of the regions love affair with food and wine dates back to the Etruscan era; although the Tuscans long ago gave up the Etruscan prohibition on women drinking wine. The options for the food and wine aficionado seem virtually endless here. With year round food festivals or sagre, clement weather nine months out of the year and choices of everything from a cooking class for one afternoon to whole semesters for those that have the time.
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In the early spring, when the rains have finished and the hills are even more lushly green than the rest of the year, the crowds begin. If you have ample time the Italian Sommeliers Association offers a certification program in Florence that could accompany a semester in one of the many culinary institutes of the region. For the typical person that does not have three spare months to learn the intricacies of Italian cuisine, spring is the perfect time to do a week long cooking jaunt in one of the myriad of villas in the Tuscan hills that have been converted to luxury hotels offering cooking classes and wine tours. Sleep the night away in a centuries old villa surrounded by vineyards, enjoy coffee and brioche before heading to a farmer's market and then spend the afternoon learning to make pasta from scratch, a vibrant tomato sauce and artichoke risotto.
When the Tuscan sun is reaching its zenith in the summer and there is nary a cloud in the sky to threaten a sudden brief thunderstorm, the options broaden. Bicycling tours going from farmhouse to winery to restaurant join their automotive cousins in showing tourists everything from how salami is made to how those grapes become that luscious liquid that should accompany every dinner. Tomatoes are everywhere, strawberries and peaches are abundant and classes and tours will always focus on fresh, in-season ingredients. August is hot. August is the month to be at the beach in Italy so most small businesses close and it is infinitely more recommended to come to Tuscany in the fall.
Autumn is the ideal time to visit Tuscany for the food and wine addicted. The grape harvest is coming in and every town from San Gimignano to Siena is awash in fellow aficionados. In some places tourists can actually participate in the harvest as a portion of the wine touring, which is about more than Chianti. Autumn is also the time for truffles. Hunters are taking their dogs out daily, digging up the delectable fungi and bringing them to restaurants and food festivals to be shaved over everything from omelettes to risotto to bistecca. The most famous area for truffles is San Miniato, and the truffle festival there is not to be missed by the agritourist. The pungent, earthy aroma lingers over the festival, inviting you to deeply inhale in anticipation of everything you are about to consume.
Peaks for travel for agritourists are in spring and fall, but classes ranging from a few hours to a week are held year round throughout the region. Booking ahead during these peak times is key to finding availability because the vast majority of the hoteliers that cater to this sector are smaller and tend to have high occupancy rates. The economic turndown has not affected agritourism in Tuscany as much as it has impacted other areas of travel so while Florence hotels have fairly wide availability for the season, planning ahead for this particular Tuscan dream is recommended. The lack of turndown also tells you just how fantastic and well appreciated the Italian reverence for food and wine is among fellow travelers.