Rustic Family Dining at a Working Farm in Tuscany
The word “Tuscany” conjures a serene world of rolling, cypress-lined hills, fecund grapevines, and golden sunlight. It signifies an escape from modernity, back to a simpler time of peaceful afternoons on a quiet terrace with a good book, and plentiful wine. In short, to many of us, Tuscany is a place of magic.
In recent years, one of the most exciting developments in Tuscany has been the proliferation of agriturismos. These working farmhouses offer visitors the unique opportunity to escape into the allure of quintessential Tuscan life with a traditional family dining experience, or to sleep in luxurious accommodations on their farms.
During our last visit to Tuscany, my husband and I stayed near the famous medieval hill town of San Gimignano. We read excellent reviews about a nearby agriturismo called Il Vecchio Maneggio, and decided to reserve two spots for dinner.
Il Vecchio Maneggio – The Old Riding School
When we arrived a little before 8pm on the night of our dinner, I was pleased to see that we would be eating in the garden, with a stunning view of San Gimignano’s ancient towers in the distance. Tiziana, the big-hearted matron of the farm, greeted us warmly. She met us in her apron, inviting us to explore the farm grounds while she finalized dinner preparations. Her friendly, gregarious manner immediately made my husband and I feel at ease, as though we were enjoying an evening with family in a picturesque pastoral setting.
We decided to take Tiziana up on her offer to have a look around the grounds. Il Vecchio Maneggio (literally translated as “The Old Riding School”) is a picturesque farmstead of olive groves, vineyards, orchards, and saffron crops. It is dotted here and there with beehives, and is home to several types of animals, including rabbits, free-roaming chickens, and horses. There is a large swimming pool that is especially enticing on a hot summer day, and an old farmhouse, which has been lovingly renovated to accommodate guests in five separate rooms decorated in the traditional Tuscan style.
Rustic Family Dining at a Working Farm in Tuscany
Returning to the garden area, we eventually took a seat at the long farm table that was set up on the patio. There were 12 other guests who would be dining with us, and we exchanged introductions with them. On one side, we had a well-traveled family of five from Lebanon. The husband and wife were charming, and we enjoyed learning a little about life in Lebanon. I was especially impressed by their children—the youngest was only six years old—who were already fluent in Arabic, English and French. We also sat beside an amiable couple from Australia who were musicians with the Sydney Opera House orchestra.
As we became acquainted with one another, Tiziana and her family brought several bottles of Il Vecchio Maneggio wine to the table. From the start of dinner, around 8pm, to the end, at nearly 10:30pm, our glasses were never empty.
Hearty and Delicious Tuscan Flavors
Our meal began with a delicious appetizer of salami that was served along with fresh focaccia bread. Tiziana kindly prepared an alternative dish for the Lebanese family, who did not eat pork. Shortly afterward, we were served a refreshing salad of garbanzo beans and diced vegetables. The flavors were hearty and delicious, and the food was plentiful.
Our next course was plump potato gnocchi in a bright and flavorful pesto sauce, made with the fresh basil I had seen growing on the farm during our earlier exploration. In another very thoughtful gesture, Tiziana went to the trouble of preparing an additional sauce option for the children, in case they weren’t accustomed to pesto. Both sauces were spectacular, and I happily helped myself to seconds…knowing full well that more food was on the way.
Our Warm and Engaging Hostess Made Us Feel Like Family
Over the course of the evening, Tiziana’s fun and vibrant personality made itself known with her humorous comments to both guests and her family members. It was this easy kindness that made all of us feel relaxed at her table. At one point, she had everyone working together to guess what the protein was in our next course. Guesses ranged from chicken, to pork, to rabbit – and we were all surprised to learn that we were eating turkey. The meat had been marinated, and then slowly cooked until it was tremendously succulent, and falling off the bone. My husband and I agreed that it was one of the best things we had ever tasted! If only we could get the recipe for our next Thanksgiving dinner!
Mouthwatering Tuscan Honey and Apple Pastry
As the evening grew dark, and our stomachs grew increasingly larger, the amazing flavors kept coming. Next up was a light plate of local cheese drizzled with chestnut and flower honey produced by the farm’s very own bees. After this course was cleared away, Tiziana and her family served us our final dish: An apple pastry topped with whipped cream. It was the perfect way to end the meal. The baked sweetness of the apples paired beautifully with the slowly-melting cream. In spite of all the delicious food that had come before, we happily managed to clear our plates yet again.
What a wonderful evening we had at Il Vecchio Maneggio – we made new friends during our long and leisurely meal, and felt we had been welcomed into the heart of traditional Tuscan farm life. We hope someday to return to the farm and once again experience the beguiling charms of life in the Italian countryside.