The Italian airport food was better than what I’ve found in many Irish restaurants, but it was too late. My backpack was already on its clunky way. Sense won out, and I got on the goddamn plane.
A few weeks previously, I’d kicked off a mini-tour of Europe in the French Alps. I hadn’t bothered with a return ticket, and I had only a vague notion of where I’d like to go from the spectacular French mountain commune of Saorge, carved out of the mountain near the Italian pass.
I stayed with a friend who retreated to a French mountain hideout some years ago: one room, outdoor shower and water supply, compost toilet, and surrounded by the southern peaks of the Mediterranean Alps. In this simple life, I gorged on freshly picked fruit, salads, and wonderful vegetable stews – it was a strictly meat-free, yoga-tastic, hike-heavy, and solar powered few days. The food around here has quite a lot of Italian influences – indeed, Saorge’s most popular restaurant is the very reasonably priced and veggie-friendly Italian, Osteria Lou Pountin. Was it all in my head, or did five vegetarian days really make me feel healthier?
On to Italy
Of course, my first meal away from those ca-raaazy veggies was based on flesh, but at least it was fish. I ventured out alone but very quickly – and very unexpectedly – made a new friend in Pisa and found myself whiling away a week in a Tuscan villa.
Tuscany met all my expectations and more: I could blather on for hours about the impossibly picturesque patchwork countryside, the lush greenery, the very enchanting towers and, of course, the food and wine. And the coffee! Them Italians really do know their coffee – of course it helped that I was staying with an Italian coffee importer…
I could get used to this Italian lifestyle. In all my Tuscan travels, I didn’t come across a single bad pizza. You always know you’ll get a lovely thin base and very fresh toppings; Irish restaurants often seem to think that it’s only a pizza, so any cheap old toppings will do.
Italians eat olives, anchovies, bread, salad, and fresh fruit with wine for lunch and then nap afterwards every day, right? Or was it just me?
Some random recommendations
Italy has a reputation for being quite expensive, but cheap eats aren’t hard to find. Around Tuscany, the average price for a really delicious three course meal, sides, water, coffee, a bottle of fine Chianti, and bread came to around €35.
- Should you ever find yourself in the Tuscan village of San Baronto, Ristorante Casa di Monte really stood out. It’s a little outside town, but for just over €30, two of us had two courses, wine, and a dessert. The wild boar stew with grilled polenta was even more delicious than it appeared: soft, succulent meat perfectly complemented in a rich but not too heavy summer sauce.
- If you can’t face the queues and busyness of Florence – I couldn’t – go to Siena instead. Ristorante Le Campane worked out a bit more expensive than some other options but was worth every cent for our three courses, coffee and wine. The bill came to €62.50 for two people.