Tuscany Away From the Crowds

Two hours outside of Florence there is a less-explored corner of Tuscany, in the mountainous Serchio Valley. It’s the kind of place you visit to get lost in small medieval hilltop villages and spend the day kicking back at a single biodynamic winery (winery-hopping is too ambitious; what’s the rush?). It’s also the kind of place where local knowledge goes a long way, so during a recent visit I followed in the footsteps of a local chef, Alessandro Manfredini, to find the best of the region.

I wrote about meeting Alessandro and his picks for the best of the Serchio Valley in a story for AFAR, This Sleepy Valley in Tuscany is Your Dream Italian Getaway.

After a stroll through his native village of Barga, we combed through the outdoor Saturday market where crates of heirloom tomatoes, carrots with bushy greens, and zucchini with their delicate flowers still attached filled the tables. We gathered ingredients for a cooking class at the nearby Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Hotel, where Alessandro cooks at La Veranda restaurant and leads private classes focused on everything from fresh pasta to hearty Tuscan dishes.

“Class must begin with prosecco!” Alessandro declared, handing out glasses of sparkling wine before the aprons. I chose a class on fresh pasta—several courses of pasta felt just right for a Saturday afternoon. We poured out double zero flour, cracked eggs from a nearby farm, and added a splash of olive oil. Once mixed together, we let the dough rest before rolling it very thin. We cut fettuccine and pappardelle. We filled ravioli, shaped tortellini and farfalle. The evidence between Alessandro’s perfect specimens and my rustic attempts were obvious, but with each shape, my confidence working with the dough grew.

As Alessandro placed the finishing touches on our pastas, I watched a storm come over the mountain. The next couple of hours were spent passing plates of gnocchi, pappardelle, and ravioli around the table on a shaded terrace. By dessert, the storm had passed and skies over the Tuscan hills were clear. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d watched a storm come and go.

Saturdays in real life are often frantic, moving quickly from one thing to the next. Saturdays in northern Tuscany are gloriously slow.

Tutto bene? (Everything good?)” Alessandro asked.

“Good” didn’t even begin to describe it.

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